As part of a series here on TheTikipedia, we're going to post interviews with some of the avid collectors in the tiki world. The first interview is with PolynesianPop, aka PolyPop, aka Adrian Eustaquio. He's a collector of tiki mugs, and has over 1,000 mugs in his collection. Welcome, PolyPop!
Who are you?
Adrian Eustaquio aka PolynesianPop or PolyPop for short. The term Polynesian Pop was coined by Sven Kirsten. I chose to use it as my “tiki” name as a nod of respect to the creators of the genre, many of which were Filipino immigrants like myself. Mixologists such as Ray Buhen, Tony Ramos, Mariano Lucidine, Bob Esmino and Ray Barrientos and carvers such as Andres Bumatay and Milan Guanko. Not to mention others that contributed to the escapist environment such as Dick Santiago and Leon Lontoc. These are the real guys that worked behind the bar, in the kitchen, and on the stage. Without them, the Polynesian Pop genre may not have existed (at least the way we know it).
How did you get into tiki?
Tiki was something I always had an interest in for as long as I remember. My father was a theme park architect so I grew up surrounded by his drawings and renderings of themed buildings, parks and restaurants. I always admired these grand places that took you to another world.
The real hook for me however, came in the mid-1980s when my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows in a church ceremony followed by a reception at Don the Beachcomber in Marina del Rey. I vividly remember how the tropical décor and exotic menu transformed my experience and I thought it was just about the coolest place I’d ever walked in to. I wanted to convert my living space at home to look just like Donn’s! From about that point forward I was drawn to anything with a Polynesian theme or vibe. To this day, I just can’t get enough of it.
Where are you located?
I grew up in Southern California and currently reside in Corona.
How did you get into collecting tiki mugs?
Tiki mug collecting was something that happened by accident for me. In the early 1990s I started collecting Coco Joes and HIP tikis after a visit to Hawaii. They were all over the place there – in the hotel gift shops, ABC stores, etc. I brought about a half dozen of these things home and put them on my entertainment center amongst a group of other kitschy-cool stuff I liked. If I found anything similar at garage sales or thrift stores I’d naturally, bring it home to add to my collection.
One day, the person I was a dating at the time brought home a half dozen Tiki Leilani mugs after spending a Sunday at a local flea market. She paid $2 for the whole set. Because I didn’t think they looked right sitting next to my Coco Joes collection I ended up putting them in a closet and there they sat for YEARS.
It wasn’t until I had walked into a friend's tattoo parlor late one night that I realized what they were. After hanging around in his back office for a little while he showed me a couple of custom art pieces he had made for a local exhibition. They were leaning on a bookshelf full of tiki mugs and other Hawaiian objects. The way he had everything arranged and displayed looked so cool to me so when I got home that night I pulled those mugs from the closet and found a way to display them with my other Hawaiian items and that was the catalyst that began the mug collecting for me.
This was all pre-internet and pre-eBay so it was antique malls, thrift stores, swap meets and garage sales where I found my early mugs. For quite a while I thought I was a little bit weird too because I didn’t know anyone else who liked the same stuff.
Approximately how many mugs are in your collection?
I started collecting tiki mugs somewhere around 20 years ago so I’ve got about a thousand mugs in my collection now. Unfortunately, I only have about 600-700 of them displayed at the moment since I’m working on another space to display the rest. I don’t pick up as many mugs as I used to as I have most of the vintage ones I’ve wanted in my collection and have no desire to overpay for the super-rare ones. Also, as the years have passed I’ve become more picky about what I spend my money on.
What is it about tiki mugs that appeals to you?
I look at tiki mugs as pieces of art. I really enjoy the differences of each mug – their design, color, character and creativeness. They certainly add personality to a room, party or gathering and make drinking anything more fun.
What interests me with the vintage mugs is the journey and stories behind them. Some of these vintages mugs are 50, or more, years old so they’ve had long and probably interesting lives; attending Polynesian floor shows every weekend, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, stolen with sentimentality and ultimately, displayed with reverence in someone’s home bar. Imagine what kind of stories they could tell if they could talk! Imagine how many miles they’ve traveled in their lifetime to ultimate end up with you!
How do you choose whether to acquire a mug or not? Do you look for specific things?
It’s simple for me. I buy what I like. I mostly don’t care who made it, if it’s rare, if it’s worth a lot of money, etc. For example, one of my favorite mugs is the simple black Moai mug that was prevalent in many Polynesian restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s not a rare mug and it’s certainly not worth more than about $10.
Are there any mugs you specifically avoid? If so, why?
Nothing specific other than whether I like it or not. I know people who will automatically buy every event mug or specific maker’s mug because they feel their collection has “holes” if they don’t have a complete set. Personally, I think that’s a waste of money.
What's your favorite item in your collection, and why?
I get asked this question a lot from non-tiki people who see my collection for the first time. The truth is I don’t really have a favorite of anything in my collection. Sometimes I think my favorite thing is the locally-carved Rarotongan tiki I bought in the Cook Islands during my honeymoon. Other times, I think it’s a 4-mug set that I had custom made for my daughter’s 1st birthday. Sometimes it’s a furniture piece that I invested some time and money into building or restoring. In the end, I realized that I can’t pick a favorite simply because I like them all collectively. Like a family, team or group—it’s the sum of all parts, not an individual piece that makes a collection great.
How do you display your collection?
I approached how I displayed my collection from an architecturally themed perspective and as such, have them organized in a specific way. For starters, I have 2 rooms in which my collections reside. The first room is a traditional, South Seas themed space that I built called The Desert Oasis Room in which every wall is covered in some sort of natural material; bamboo, lauhala, bac-bac, etc.
Authentic tribal carvings from all over the world including Hawaii, Cook Islands, Fiji, Philippines and Papua New Guinea to name a few, adorn the walls while my vintage mug collection including pieces from many now-defunct Polynesian palaces of yester-year such as The Tikis, Kahiki, Kona Kai, The Islander, Mauna Loa, Hawaii Kai and many more are displayed on bamboo shelving.
Vintage mugs and Artist mugs are grouped separately. Along the top perimeter of the room, my artist mug collection surrounds you. The mugs here are mostly limited production, artist proofs or one-off/custom glazed and are grouped by artist while my vintage mug collection adorns the length of one wall and is grouped by style and/or color.
The second room I’ve setup is a gallery space and art loft on the second floor called the Lowbrow Loft. Here, the walls are adorned by art pieces including gallery prints and/or one-of-a-kind commissioned artist paintings including original work by Sam Gambino, Doug Horne, Daniel Gallardo, and Heather Pleasant to name a few. Like the Desert Oasis Room there are plenty of mugs on display including limited edition event mugs, modern day restaurant and bar mugs and objects gathered and collected from travelling around the South Pacific, Caribbean Islands and Central America.
Technically, I have a third room full of Tiki collectibles but they all belong to my son. He calls his space Christian’s Hut and he’s got a respectable tiki mug and art collection including original art and carvings, two of which are published in lowbrow art books.
What are your favorite places to collect (ebay, flea markets, etc)?
My favorite spots are still flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales. For me, it's like an alternate form of treasure hunting. Nothing beats the thrill of finding that one-of-a-kind collectible out in the wild! I still get a HUGE rush out of that!
eBay didn’t exist when I first started collecting so it’s certainly changed the game of this hobby. It feels very sterile to me though. To me, buying a mug through eBay is simply the act of making an online purchase. Just type in what you’re looking for, pay for it and boom, a couple days later it arrives on your doorstep. Someone else found it in the wild. Someone else got the smoking deal. What’s the fun in that?
What's your buying style? Cheap or nothing? How much would you spend at the top end for a rare piece?
I’m still accustomed to paying lower prices for mugs and other collectibles because it's hard for me to accept the current market pricing for collecting. I understand that there’s a greater awareness for tiki ephemera now so that is certainly going to drive up prices. Personally, I don’t do much high-dollar buying though, if at all. If it’s a must-have collectible then, maybe. But, I give myself reality-checks all the time. For example, there are mug makers who ask $100, $200 or more for their mugs or bowls. Personally, I’d rather buy that 32” LCD TV or PS4 that my kids have been bugging me about.
What are your holy grails?
There are a few pieces that I’d love to add to my collection such as the Blue Hawaii Tiki Bob or Islander Bumatay for example, but I wouldn’t call them holy grails. I learned to resolve with myself a long, long time ago that I will never have a “complete” collection, so that eliminated the need for me to acquire everything. A result of that is me not having any desire to overpay for any mug to try and “complete the set.” To put it in perspective, if I paid say, $1,000 for that ultra-rare “holy-grail” mug or collectible my collection would STILL not be complete. It will NEVER be complete. There are simply too many one-off or ultra-rare pieces in other peoples’ collections to ever make that possible.
How often do you trade?
Rarely if ever. Believe it or not, I’m not super obsessed with the hobby in that way. If I am presented the opportunity to make a trade that makes sense for both parties then, sure. But I don’t really pursue that at all and I'm really never approached with it.
Has anyone ever given you something you actually wanted for your collection? (Besides your spouse, etc.)
Interesting question. The answer will vary based on the person doing the giving. If it’s a tiki person then yes, I’ve received some great stuff for my collection. Anything from original art made specifically for me or my Desert Oasis Room to ultra-rare bar items, tiki mugs or more. If it’s a non-tiki person then no, I’ve never gotten anything that I’ve actually wanted! I know it’s the thought that counts so I’m not implying anything negative by that. They usually, simply don’t know what tiki is.
Do you collect anything else other than tiki mugs?
I really enjoy collecting old Hawaiian, Hapa Haole and Exotica LPs. I think the cover art is really great and the music is even better. As far as Hapa Haole is concerned, it’s a lost genre that is just about extinct. When the industry began abandoning the vinyl format a lot of this music disappeared because most of it was never brought into the CD or digital format. I would argue that these LPs are just as collectible. Plus, the music itself is an integral part of the escapist experience for sure.
I also collect authentic/tribal carvings (mostly masks), tiki carvings including masks and poles, rum decanters, cocktail glasses and swizzles. As mentioned above, I have a decent collection of Coco Joes and HIP idols as well as a respectable salt/pepper shaker collection. Oh, and of course, vintage menus and a some matchbooks. Lastly, I have a closet full of vintage Hawaiian shirts (over 200) from such makers as Iolani and Alfred Shaheen.
I still have to figure out how I'm going to display a lot of this stuff!
What else do you enjoy that would be considered “Tiki?”
Well I certainly think the cocktails are great. I think the craft cocktail movement of the last decade owes a lot to the world of tiki. Although the craft cocktail movement started just a little bit before the tiki resurgence, it was the timing and popularity of the new awareness of tiki that I think contributed to the momentum of the craft cocktail movement gaining a foothold in today’s bar environment. If you think about it, sitting in a prohibition era themed craft cocktail bar or Cuban themed craft cocktail bar is not much different than sitting in a Polynesian Pop themed bar – we go there for a finely crafted drink and the escapist experience.
Do you think that Tiki is a fad or here to stay?
It’s hard to say. Someone asked me once if I thought tiki was growing or dying. My honest answer is “I don’t know.” Personally, I hope it doesn’t get too large. I’d hate for the tiki events we enjoy to turn into something like ComicCon. The more popular a genre gets the more diluted it gets and in my opinion it’s extremely diluted already. Speaking for myself only, I am certain that it is something that will be a part of my life until the day I die. I really do feel connected to it. It has become a large part of my personality, my home and my daily/weekly rituals. I've said it before and I’ll say it again, “I can’t get enough of it!”
Do you have any final tips for other tiki mug collectors?
My biggest piece of advice is to buy what you like and dare to be different. Display the stuff that’s unique to you and your personal tastes. That’s what’s going to make your collection different than everyone else’s. Many of the pieces in my collection are things that I picked up when travelling the globe. Each of these pieces has its own story and is unique to MY collection. It's a reflection of my personality, the things I like and the places I've been. And that to me is what the spirit of collecting is all about.
Thanks to PolyPop for taking the time to participate in this interview!