ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #1036 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc.
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.
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
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
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
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.
mentality has turned antiques and collectibles from fun things to collect to
commodities. There are no indications that this attitude will change in the
Development of a Collecting Consciousness
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Consolidation – Newspapers, Periodicals, Publishing Houses, and Shows
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.
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.
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
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
Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out
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
HOW TO THINK
LIKE A COLLECTOR (Emmis Books, 2005; $14.95), Harry’s new book, is available at
your favorite bookstore and via