RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #1036 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2006 
Top Ten Changes In the Last Twenty Years - Part I

As “Rinker on Collectibles” approaches its twenty-year anniversary column, I have been reflecting on the changes that have occurred in the antiques and collectibles field during this period.  The past twenty years have witnessed change, perhaps more so from the mid-1990s to the present than during the first decade of this column’s existence.  These changes have profoundly impacted the antiques and collectibles trade as we knew it.

Several months ago, I began making a list of the changes that have occurred during the past twenty years.  I asked several individuals to send me their suggestions.  Surprisingly, none of them responded.   I suspect I did not hear from them for two reasons.  First, no one likes to think about change, especially when it has a negative impact on the status quo.  Second, they were well aware that I was capable of thinking for myself.

My goal was to develop a Top Ten list that I could share with my readers.  When the time arrived to write this column, my list was much longer.  Working with Dana Morykan, a friend and senior advisor, I eventually cut and combined to reach my goal.

The arrival of the antiques malls is not on my Top Ten list.  The birth of the antiques mall predates the beginning of “Rinker on Collectibles,” albeit by less than ten years.  Although it reached its maturity during the first decade of this column’s existence, I concluded its earlier arrival excluded it.  It was a difficult decision to make.

Since I want to comment on why I selected each of the changes on my Top Ten list, I am devoting two columns to the subject.  Also, I decided to rank the changes in order of importance.  Many of these changes occurred simultaneously.  Further, they impacted one another.  Ranking them makes sense.

#10  End of collecting as a hobby

I grew up in the 1950s.  I cut my collecting teeth, as did so many others of my generation, on the Big Three—coins, rocks, and stamps.  I acquired baseball cards to swap, paste in albums, and use to make a motor-like sound as the spokes of my bicycle wheels struck them.  I played with my toys, many of which were handed down from my father and uncles.  Not once did I even think about my things as future investments.

My first memories involve collecting.  As a young adult in the late 1960s and 1970s, I discovered Hobbies and Spinning Wheel, two magazines with far greater appeal to me than The Magazine Antiques.  It was a period when individuals were more interested in learning about the history of antiques and collectibles rather than how much they were worth.

Collecting as a hobby died in the early 1980s.  By the end of the decade, the primary information people wanted to know about any object was how much it was worth and where it could be sold to achieve that value.  The 1980s were a period when secondary market values in a collecting category could double in a period of months.  The impact was universal, from fine art and antiques to post-1945 collectibles.

The early 1980s witnessed an investment flurry in the antiques and collectibles marketplace.  The recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s dampened the enthusiasm somewhat, but the buoyant optimism of the early 1980s returned by the mid-1990s.  The market hiccupped once again as the twenty-first century began, but 2006 has seen record prices set in collecting category after collecting category, from fine art to cast iron cookware.

The investment mentality has turned antiques and collectibles from fun things to collect to commodities.  There are no indications that this attitude will change in the decades ahead.

#9  Development of a Collecting Consciousness

Antiques and collectibles became front page news in the 1980s.  Stories about record-setting sales appeared on the front pages of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  Individuals suddenly realized that the things they had been throwing out could be valuable and started to save them.  The antiques and collectibles supply side dramatically changed.

Collectors began to buy new and hoard.  Rather than allowing time to decide what would be collectible in the future, collectors began buying new product in anticipation of future collectibilty.

Further, they did not buy one, they bought several.  Often this buying mode became contagious.  The result was artificial scarcity that opened the door to a new arrival on the antiques and collectibles scene, the scalper.

Many hoarders did not understand that a time period of thirty plus years is required before a stable secondary collecting market is established.  After ten years, sometimes less, they began sending their product back into the marketplace.  Instead of the profit they expected, they had difficulty selling their items for what they initially paid for them.

In the mid-1990s PBS and cable television channels, e.g., Home and Garden Television, discovered the popularity of shows about antiques and collectibles.  In 2000 close to a dozen antiques and collectibles shows were being aired.  Today, the number is much smaller.  With the exception of the Antiques Roadshow, most new shows last only a season or two.

Is everything worth something?  The general public definitely thinks this is the case.  Alas, most value expectations are dreams and not reality.  This lesson remains largely unlearned in 2006.

#8  Grading Revolution

In 1986 collectors and others accepted the concept that antiques and collectibles would show signs of play and use.  In 2006 collectors want antiques and collectibles to look like they were just made, even if they are over fifty years of age.  The trade went from a top condition grade of excellent to near mint and mint.  Today, we have gradations of mint.

Those that have been around a decade or more remember the arrival of Mint in the Box (MIB), both as a grading concept and store.  Ultimately, NRFB (never removed from the box) arrived.  Items from the 1980s have to be MIB to achieve top dollar, and any post-1990 item has to be NRFB.

Professional grading services now serve the coin, comic book, trading card (non-sport and sport), and stamp markets.  These objects are encapsulated so they cannot be touched.  The investment graders are looking to expand their impact.  Will the day come when your favorite teapot or vase is encapsulated in a plastic display box that you cannot open?  Careful how quick you answer NO.

The grading revolution also impacted on the question of what constitutes a complete collecting unit.  In 2006 the complete unit consists of the object, the box in which the object came, the packaging in the box, and all the literature and promotional material that was in the box.  In some cases, you need the box in which the boxes came.  Has this gone too far?  I believe it has.

#7  Value Revolution

In the 1980s, collector value, i.e., the retail selling price of an object at an antiques shop or show, was the dominant antiques and collectibles value.  Today, decorating value, i.e., what a person would pay for an object to incorporate it in a decorating scheme, has become the primary value governing the majority of antiques and collectibles.  Reuse value, i.e., the utilitarian, functional value of an object, also plays a factor.

The ever-increasing dollar spread between the high-end and low-end objects in a collecting category is another aspect of the value revolution.  In many cases, the high-end examples have reached a price point where they are no longer affordable by the collector of average means.

The recession of the late 1980s revealed that there is a price point at which every antique and collectible will not sell.  When that price point is reached, the secondary market for that collecting category shuts downs.

In some cases, collecting categories have priced themselves out of existence.  Prices reached such levels that collectors simply stopped buying.  Many of these categories have failed to recycle.

Beginning in the late-1980s three factors—condition, scarcity, and desirability—determined value.  From the late 1980s through the late 1990s, condition was the most important of the three.  Today, desirability is king.  Condition has been relegated to second place with scarcity a distant third.  By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, it is highly probable that market analysts will drop scarcity from the Big Three.

#6  Consolidation – Newspapers, Periodicals, Publishing Houses, and Shows

In the mid-1980s the antiques and collectibles newspapers, periodicals, publishing houses, and shows were largely family-owned businesses, built and resting largely on the personalities of those who founded or managed them.

Consolidation began when Chilton acquired Wallace-Homestead and Landmark acquired the Antique Trader group.  Landmark followed an aggressive policy, acquiring several independent newspapers and publishing houses.  Chilton was eventually acquired by ABC, who eventually sold its antiques and collectibles, crafts, and sewing titles to Krause.  Krause eventually acquired Landmark.  Ultimately Krause was acquired by F+W Publications, who recently sold to Abry Partners LLC.

Krause also purchased several antiques shows.  Enter the dmg world media, an English company, who acquired AntiqueWeek and several antiques shows.  EBay also became involved in the consolidation frenzy when it acquired Butterfield and Butterfield and several other auction houses.

The jury still is out whether or not consolidation’s impact has been positive or negative.  EBay sold off its auction holdings.  A Texas firm’s attempt to consolidate antiques malls failed.  The leading consolidators are now quiet.  If anything, it is independent startups that are fueling what little growth there is in the field.

This is the bottom half of my Top Ten list.  Can you guess what the next five will be?  I think you will be very surprised by my first choice.  Here is a hint.  It is not eBay.

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.

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