RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #1038 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2006
Top Ten Changes In the Last Twenty Years - Part II
Two more columns to write and “Rinker on Collectibles” will celebrate its twentieth birthday. Since I love clichés, you will just have to forgive me for stating that “it’s been a long time coming.” I decided over a year ago what the topics for the final two text columns that preceded the anniversary column would be. I wanted to share my Top Ten list of the most significant changes that occurred in the collecting community during that period.
The countdown began in a previous column. In case you missed my choices, they are as follows:
#10 End of Collecting as a Hobby
# 9 Development of a Collecting Consciousness
# 8 Grading Revolution
# 7 Value Revolution
# 6 Consolidation – Newspapers, Periodicals, Publishing Houses, and Shows
It is time to reveal the final five changes that constitute the top half of my list. Can you guess what my first choice will be? It is not eBay. Read on.
#5 Information Explosion
The beginning of “Rinker on Collectibles” coincided with an explosion of information about antiques and collectibles, an explosive force whose shock wave continues to grow. There have been times over the last few years when I wondered if there was anything left to learn. Of course, the answer continues to be yes.
In the 1980s, the information explosion occurred on two broad fronts: (1) a major increase in the number of regional trade papers and the development of specialty trade papers and periodicals and (2) a tripling of the number of general antiques and collectibles price guides and a twenty times plus increase in the number of specialized price guides.
As prices of antiques and collectibles increased, the interest of the general media was attracted. Major newspapers ran stories on record-setting auctions, collecting trends, and the investment potential of specific collecting categories.
Beginning in the late 1990s, television discovered antiques and collectibles. Most shows enjoyed a one- to four-year run. The staying power of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow is impressive.
The antiques and collectibles information base expanded tenfold plus with the arrival of the Internet. Admittedly, the information’s accuracy needs to be constantly questioned and interpreted. Assessing it also requires a skill base still outside the purview of many Internet users. At the moment, this information base is still in its juvenile age. Maturity is a decade or more in the future. How are we going to handle the future prospect of too much information; far more than we can possibly digest?
#4 Globalization of Collecting
In the twenty-first century, collecting is global, due primarily to the communication revolution made possible through the Internet. Collectors around the world are now in contact with each other. Local auctions attract international buyers thanks to services such as eBay’s Live Auctions. Objects are selling and being shipped over greater and greater distances.
In late summer 2006, I wrote a four-part “Rinker on Collectibles” series on the globalization of collecting. The columns are posted on harryrinker.com, my website.
Although the globalization of collecting is in its infancy, several long-term trends already are evident. First, collecting categories ultimately will be divided into two main groups: (1) those whose objects can be sold on the international market, e.g., Lallique and Barbie, and (2) those objects whose market exists solely in their country of origin, e.g., presidential collectibles and Roseville pottery. Second, the role of foreign buyers in the American marketplace has increased, thanks to their desire to buy back objects that originated in their countries. Third, young collectors worldwide are emphasizing aesthetics and quality industrial design. Today, the focus is on the object and not country of origin.
Curse it or embrace it, eBay’s impact on the antiques and collectibles community has been profound and revolutionary. It is hard to believe that eBay is only eleven years old. It seems as though it has been around forever.
Whether you view eBay’s impact as positive or negative depends upon where you stand in the trade. Most buyers and collectors love it. Some dealers turned it into another revenue stream while other dealers ignored it and condemned it as the “Great Satan,” responsible for destroying the trade they knew and loved. Antique malls and antiques shows initially saw a decline in customers and dealers. However, surprise, surprise, these trends are slowly starting to reverse. Antiques trade papers whose income rested primarily on classified advertising were the hardest hit.
EBay showed us exactly how much material still remained in private hands—far more than any of us realized. EBay sellers flooded many collecting categories. Prices dropped, especially for commonly found items. Further, in some collecting categories so much material was offered that collector demands were completely satisfied, and the secondary market collapsed. EBay has clearly demonstrated there is (1) a limit to how much material any collecting category can absorb and (2) a price at which an object simply prices itself out of the market.
EBay is a leader in the globalization of collecting. It has increased the buyer and seller community tenfold. EBay is the driving force behind niche collecting. Prior to eBay, there were less than 1,500 measurable collecting categories. Today that number exceeds 30,000 and continues to grow.
The wonderful thing about the antiques and collectibles marketplace is its resilience. It adjusted to the painful changes that occurred with the arrival of the antiques mall in the early 1980s. It already is adjusting to the changes created by eBay. The future of the antiques and collectibles marketplace is bright.
The field looked askance at those of us who took a “this too shall pass” approach to eBay. However, recent developments suggest we may have been right. Although eBay’s foundation was built on its Collectibles Division, its expansion into other sales areas has resulted in less and less attention being paid to collectibles. In fact, eBay’s Collectibles Division has been merged into its Home Division. One gets the feeling that eBay feels it has maxed out the growth potential in collectibles and now needs to focus its primary emphasis elsewhere.
Is the antiques and collectibles field approaching the end of the eBay revolution? The truth is that it is closer than many individuals think.
#2 Collectibles achieve a Life of their Own
When I became the editor of Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices, the price guide included less than five hundred collecting categories. When I introduced Warman’s Americana & Collectibles to the trade, I added another four hundred and fifty categories to the collecting community. By the mid-1990s, collectibles shared equal billing with antiques.
I was not responsible for the collectibles revolution. Ted Hake of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles deserves as much or more credit than me. Tom Hoepf and Connie Swaim, AntiqueWeek editors, helped by running feature articles and columns focused on post-1945 objects. Within the space of ten years, 1985 to 1995, collectible titles enjoyed a 5 to 1 or higher ratio compared to antiques titles in the offerings from trade publishers.
A recent ABC News story about the questionable Paul McCartney Beatles-Era bass guitar offered in Guernsey’s Dick Clark Auction noted: “Rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia is a booming $250 million business.” Collectibles certainly have “come a long way, baby!”
#1 Demographic Changes
The changing demographics of the last two decades top my list of those events which produced the greatest change within the antiques and collectibles field. Demographics have a direct impact on what and how we collect.
Where do I to start? The lengthening of time between generations, greater longevity, smaller families, increased mobility, a growing divorce rate, population shifts, and access to technology are just the beginning. Although life on the surface in 2006 seems very much like life in 1996, the undercurrents of demographic change are creating hidden and subtle changes that are just now beginning to surface.
You do not have to look hard for the evidence. Many traditional collecting categories are fading from view with little to no hope of revival. Even many 1950s collectibles have become passé. Today it is more about ME than the past.
This is my list. How about your list? What do you think are the Top Ten changes that have impacted the antiques and collectibles trade in the last twenty years? What is on your list that is not on mine? I really would like to know. E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.