Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2013

An Antique Is Anything Made Before 1980

Shortly after I wrote “Rinker on Collectibles” Column #942 entitled “An Antique Is Anything Made before 1963” in April 2005, I received an email from Bruce Chaney of Roanoke, Indiana, that read: “You are the reason that we go into so many ‘antique’ shops and malls and see nothing but secondhand furniture and junk!  So many of the younger generation have no idea what an antique truly is now.

“If you consider post-WWII items as antique, you should keep your opinions to yourself, for you certainly are not knowledgeable, but quite ignorant.”

If Bruce had difficulty with the 1963 date, what follows should drive him over the edge.

As 2013 nears its end, a viable working definition for an antique is anything made before 1980.  This is not a statement I make lightly.  I have been thinking about and testing the concept for several years.  I am convinced the argument is valid.

Let’s begin by doing the mathematics.  1980 is 34 years ago.  At first glance, this hardly seems to be enough time for anything to become antique.  Even I was skeptical when the definition first occurred to me.

The traditionalist position that an object must be 100 years old to qualify as an antique fell by the wayside in the 1980s.  Some antiques and collectibles theorists replaced 100 years with 50 years.  When applying the 50-year rule, my previous definition of an antique as something made before 1963 appears correct.

November 22, 1963, marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  For those over 55, it seems like yesterday.  For those under 55, it is ancient history.  Memory is one of the elements that must be considered in developing the definition of antique.  The day after the 50th anniversary, I listened to a television reporter describe the individuals whose memories of that day were solicited for viewing on the evening news as “people of a certain age.”  The age of political correctness has plummeted off a cliff.  I am one of those “people of a certain age.”  How much simpler and with greater clarity would have been the words “individuals over the age of 55.”  What the reporter was trying to avoid was saying “old people.”  I am one of those as well.  Clearly, 1963 was a lifetime ago for the reporter.  The 1960s are in high school and college history books.  Contemporary America is a 21st century concept.

Rinker’s 30-year rule—for the first 30 years of anything’s life, all its value is speculative—was one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in shifting the date forward from 1963 to 1980.  Although I have been considering shrinking the time involved in the rule from 30 years to 25 or 20 years for more than decade, I resisted doing so.  In the 21st century, the Internet can create a dependable, traceable, and trustworthy secondary market for an object in 10 to 15 years.  The Internet has shortened the speculative value period.

I am not a fan of a decade dating, although talking about objects from the Thirties, Forties, Fifties and so forth is commonplace in the antiques and collectibles industry.  My two previous dates for defining an antique were 1945 and 1963.  Yet, 1980 is the correct date.  I selected 1980 because it corresponds to the election of President Ronald Reagan and America’s shift from the libertine, social cause focus of the 1960s and 1970s to a more conservative approach, one that continues to dominate the American mindset in the mid-2010s.

In identifying a date that denotes a shift in the American lifestyle, another key component in defining an antique, I like to compare America five years earlier and five years later.  In this case, what was life in America like in 1975 versus 1985?

Locate a picture of the same person taken in 1975 and in 1985.   The differences will astonish you.  Gone are the long hair, the polyester leisure clothing, and the bright psychedelic colors.  In fact, if you compare the 1985 picture with a picture taken in the 1950s, the 1985 appearance, forgetting body aging, will appear closer in resemblance than that of the 1975 picture.

Reagan conservatism impacted the entire country.  America needed time to recover from the “isms” of the 1960s and 1970s.  The Cold War, which officially ended in 1991, was winding down.  Reagan increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union.

When Reagan assumed the presidency some interest rates for loans exceeded 20 percent.  By the beginning of his second term, the interest rate had fallen to as low as seven percent.  A sense of relief was felt throughout the business community.

Reagan was “The Great Communicator.”  He instilled a sense of confidence and determination in Americans.  He healed the divides that separated many of its citizens.

1980s is the date when America became collecting conscious.  “Old” things suddenly had monetary value.  American mothers started to save rather than throw things out.  The collectible market came out of the closet and spread like wildfire.  By early 1990s, it was challenging antiques for king-of-the-hill status.  The mid-1980s witnessed an explosion of antiques and collectibles periodicals, reference books, and price guides.

However, the coming of age of the first part of the X Generation, those individuals born between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s, is the strongest argument for the 1980s date.  This is the generation that spawned the Yuppies (young urban professionals) and Dinks (double income, no kids).  Earlier generations looked to the past.  Generation X and the Millennials (Generation Y) that followed look to the present and future.  Their collecting interest focuses on what they had and grew up with, not what belonged to their parents or earlier ancestors.  They are the color television generation.  The digital age begins when they are in their early to late thirties.   They cannot answer the question: where were you when you heard President Kennedy was shot?

In 2014, objects from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s are ancient and objects from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s are old.  The hot collectibles decades are the 1980s and 1990s.  A recent issue of AntiqueWeek contained an article on Jurassic Park memorabilia.  Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” movie premiered in 1993.

[Author’s Aside #1:  I closely follow the subjects of articles and material featured in auction reports that appear in antiques and collectibles periodicals.  They are a good barometer for determining what collecting categories are hot, in decline, in a state of slumber, or vanishing.]

I divide the “antiques” marketplace into three chronological sectors: (1) antiques, (2) collectibles, and (3) desirables.  Antiques and collectibles have trustworthy secondary markets that can be tracked.  Desirables are contemporary materials whose secondary market is speculative.  If an antique is anything made before 1980, what are the date periods associated with collectibles and desirables?

Collectibles are objects that date between 1980 and 2000, a shorter time period than I normally assign to the collectibles market.  The 2000 date is somewhat arbitrary.  I will be the first person to admit that nothing magical happened on January 1, 2000 or January 1, 2001, depending on the date selected to mark the beginning of the 21st century.  America on January 1, 2000/2001 was no different in its mindset than it was in the 1990s.  Trusting “The Force,” I know objects made after 2005 have not reached collectibles status.

A dilemma exists.  I cannot identify any year after 1980 that serves as an indicator of a major attitude in the American mindset.  Americans in 2014 think very much like Americans in the late 1980s.  1980 was 34 years ago.  Using 1919/1920, 1945, 1963, and 1980 as the years that mark identifiable divides, the longest time between a shift in mindset was 25 years.  The digital age has divides, but they are not sharp.  Not everyone entered it at the same time.  There is no one seminal event that defines it.  I considered September 1, 2001 but rejected the concept.  The result is the definition of an antique as anything made before 1980 may apply far longer than definitions involving the earlier dates.

Accepting my definition of an antique will be difficult, if not impossible, for some individuals involved in the trade.  Before rejecting my concept, think about it.  If you do not like 1980, what date after 1963 would you pick?  No fair picking an earlier date.  Email your suggestions to: harrylrinker@aol.com.

[Author’s Aside #2:  Why now?  When “Rinker on Collectibles” reached Column #1300, 25 complete years, I considered retiring.  I did not because of a desire to write about the impact of the digital age on the antiques and collectibles trade.  Since then, I became aware of the overwhelming number of major collections in hundreds of collecting categories that will enter the market in the next decade.  I want to write about this impact as well.

Once I passed Column #1300, I set a goal of another 200 columns.  Whether I achieve or surpass it is irrelevant.  This is “Rinker on Collectibles” Column #1400, the halfway point.  I wanted the column to be memorable.  I trust it is.]

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.gcnlive.com.

SELL, KEEP OR TOSS?  HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group, $17.99), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via www.harryrinker.com.

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