ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #1016 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc.
Globalization of Collecting – Part II:
Americans are the principal driving force behind the globalization of collecting. First, America has a higher percentage of collectors than any other nation. Second, America is the world’s lifestyle leader.
Thanks to surveys commissioned by eBay’s Collectibles Division, we finally have hard statistical data about collecting in America. The eBay data reveals that just over 60% of Americans collect something. I think that number is low. My gut tells me the figure is closer to 75%, if not higher. When I talk about collecting percentages with members of the trade living outside the United States, 75% is the number they use.
My international friends believe 50% of the members of the United Kingdom collect, 35% to 40% of Australians, and 20% to 25% of Europeans. This is very soft data; opinion more than hard fact. The consensus is that growth is slow and steady in the United Kingdom and Australia and rapid in Europe.
Having traveled and lectured in Canada and done a personal appearance in support of eBay’s Canadian website, I know there is a strong collecting community in Canada. My impression is that the percentage of Canadian collectors is higher in the eastern provinces than in the western provinces, British Columbia being a possible exception to the western rule. As to overall percentage of collectors, my best guess is that it is between 25% and 30%.
Asia is the great unknown. Collecting contacts between East and West are minimal. Prior to the Internet, discussion focused primarily on Japanese collectors. Japanese collectors played a major role at West Coast antiques and collectibles auctions, flea markets, and shows through the 1990s. Their role has lessened somewhat due to Japan’s recent economic decline. However, their influence still is felt.
The Internet revealed the Asian collecting community is much broader. EBay has independent websites in China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan. At the recent eBay’s Collectibles Summit held in Las Vegas in early June, members of the American coin and stamp communities spoke openly about the positive impact Chinese collectors are having in their markets. One need no further proof than this that collecting truly has become global.
The argument that follows is highly jingoistic. I openly acknowledge this. All I ask is that you keep an open mind as you read it.
America is the world’s lifestyle leader. America’s worldwide impact began immediately following World War II. While America most certainly did not win World War II single handedly, it used the war and the period immediately following to spread its popular culture and lifestyle expectations worldwide.
Following World War II, the world became enamored by three major American influences—movies, music, and television. These major categories were supplemented by clothing styles, fast food, and toys. Travel anywhere in the world today, and you will encounter a “touch of home” virtually everywhere. The language of the Internet is American English. The entire world is learning to speak “American.”
America’s post-1945 movie influence began with its “B” movie westerns and colorful musicals. Its dominance began in the late 1970s, fueled in large part by the Star Wars trilogy. In the 1980s, American films were released in Europe and elsewhere abroad anywhere from a few weeks to a few months following their release in the United States. This allowed time for language dubbing.
I was in Florence in May 2005 when the last of the Star Wars films premiered. It premiered on the same day as in the United States. American films now premiere on the same day worldwide. No one wants to wait any longer.
In certain European countries, e.g., France, laws were enacted to limit the number of screens showing American films in order to ensure the survival of that nation’s film industry. Even in India, where there is a vibrant Indian film-making industry, American films continue to draw well at the box office.
American music is heard everywhere in the world, from the leading concert halls to the underground cafes. Popular American music groups, from Country to rock, draw larger audiences on their world tours than they do in the US. Think back to Michael Jackson’s and Madonna’s Asia tours.
Who exactly were the Beatles? While it is true they were an English rock group, would they have achieved the worldwide fame they did without the support of the American music industry? The American music industry took the Beatles to worldwide prominence.
When using “American” to describe America’s worldwide influence, it is necessary to think in the broadest of terms. Most American products are no longer manufactured in America. This does not matter. The fact that the product was designed and marketed primarily in America is the critical point. When Americans adopt a foreign product, whether inanimate or animate, and become its principal consumer, it makes the product in essence American.
American music and movies aside, America’s greatest post-1945 worldwide impact has come through television. The exportation of 1950s and 1960s American television shows abroad taught the world English and an admiration for things American. This fact is not well understood by American collectors.
During a visit to Australia in 2000, I assembled a collection of Australian television guides from the 1950s through the 1970s. I was surprised to see how many of the shows were American. In fact, half or more of the top ten shows on Australian television in the late 1950s and early 1960s were American. This was an eye opener.
I now know that the Australian experience was typical, not atypical. Rick Rosner, one of my 1963 Lehigh University classmates, was the executive producer of Chips. In a conversation with Rick, I remember him telling me that at the peak of its popularity Chips was syndicated worldwide in over fifty countries. At the time the number did not impress me. It does today.
Movies, music, and television are important because of the large number of licensed products they generated. These products are the heart and soul of post-1945 collectibles. Further, a far greater variety of licensed products were sold in America than abroad.
Foreign collectors tend to be traditionalist collectors, i.e., their focus in on art, antiques, antiquities, books, coins and currency, the decorative arts, and stamps. Having stated this, change is in the wind. Younger collectors are focusing more and more on post-1945 material. During a recent visit to Freiburg, Germany, I was pleased to discover a store devoted exclusively to collectible and modern movie and television memorabilia, with a strong emphasis on action figures. In the past, a specialty shop dealing with lead soldiers would have been a far more likely find.
As foreigners’ interest in post-1945 collecting grows, foreign collectors will look more and more toward America as the source of supply for material for their collections. America is the great mother lode. Americans had access to a greater variety of product, they saved more, and they have been collecting and hoarding it for a far longer period of time.
One needs no further proof of this than to talk with eBay power sellers of collectibles. Everyone brags about their percentage of foreign sales. Further, these sales are worldwide. While one expects the traditional mix of English-speaking countries and Europe, Central and South American and Arabic buyers also are part of the mix.
My next “Globalization of Collecting” column will explore the similarities and differences between the American and worldwide collecting communities and identify some of the problems that need to be overcome to achieve unity.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out www.harryrinker.com.
You can listen and participate in Whatcha Got, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, Whatcha Got streams live and is archived on the Internet at www.goldenbroadcasters.com.
HOW TO THINK LIKE A COLLECTOR (Emmis Books, 2005; $14.95), Harry’s new book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via www.harryrinker.com.