Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2018

Column #157, But Who's Counting

[Author’s Aside: This is the first “Rinker on Collectibles” column that proposed the concept that an antique was anything made before 1945.]

“Rinker on Collectibles” is officially three years old. The column has grown and matured during the past three years. It is time to reflect upon those changes and plot the course for the years ahead.

The principal motivation behind “Rinker on Collectibles” is to sing the praises of the twentieth-century, mass-produced, inexpensive collectible. I want collectibles to enjoy the same level of respectability as antiques in the minds and hearts of auctioneers, collectors, and dealers. Great strides have been made in achieving this goal.

In 1989 more and more people have begun to realize that collectibles are an integral part of today’s antiques market. Today’s collectible, tomorrow’s antique is a truism that we simply now accept. There remains a hard core of traditionalists who continue to look down their noses at collectors of bicycles, cowboy memorabilia, lunch boxes, and puzzles. Their number is dwindling. I believe this column is partially responsible for the shift.

Collectibles are “hot.” First, they are affordable. Second, they are available.

More than ever, the twentieth-century collectible is the affordable segment of the antiques market for the beginning collector. Established collectors do not seem to mind this fact either. There are millions of collectibles selling in the fifty cents to twenty-five dollars range. Affordability of collectibles has turned Americans into a nation of collectors.

The upscale trade magazines and newspapers run article after article declaring early American furniture as a “hot” collectible. Who can afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to buy the premier objects? Who wants to pay thousands of dollars for a second-rate piece? Yet, this is what is happening in early American furniture and many other “blue chip” segments of the antiques market.

Go to any garage sale or estate auction in suburbia or the countryside. Almost everything you find is twentieth-century in origin. These are the treasures of your grandparents, parents, and childhood. Do not deny your heritage. Glory in it. There is nothing wrong with collecting twentieth-century material. In fact, there is everything right in doing so.

When “Rinker on Collectibles” began, I used 1900 as the dividing line between antiques and collectibles. In the past year, I began to seriously question the validity of this date. I now feel that a far better date is 1945.

Yes, I now firmly believe that the vast majority of objects made before 1945 should be classified as “antiques.” This is a frightening admission since I was born before 1945. My physical appearance differs significantly from that of three years ago. I have a great deal more gray hair. Three years ago, I could see without glasses. Now I wear bifocals. I blame the computer for my eye troubles, but my optometrist tells me it is merely the aging process.

Well, I might be growing old physically, but I remain young in heart and mind. Perhaps this is why collectibles and their collectors appeal to me. They never grow up. The collectibles collector is vibrant, enthusiastic, unpretentious, and sharing. There is a sense of excitement in the collectibles community that I simply do not find among antiques collectors.

More and more of my future columns will be focusing on objects from the post-1945 period. World War II had a profound effect on the way we live. New technologies led to a wealth of new products. There are very few items from the 1950s that are not already established parts of the collectibles field.

But, the reason for my shifting emphasis is not the products themselves, but people. The majority of the American population was born after 1945. As they begin to buy back their youth, they are going to need guidance and cheerleading. I hope to provide both through this column.

The first “Rinker on Collectibles” column ended with the following paragraph: “My remarks will be opinionated and occasionally controversial. I may like antiques and love collectibles, but I do not worship them. I have developed a reputation over the years for saying what I think regardless of the consequences. You won’t always agree with my version of the truth.

“The one thing I do promise is that I will do my best not to be dull.”

The letters to the editor that this column has evoked and the hate mail file in my office are good indicators that I was right. I have created a fair degree of controversy. Hurray—I am delighted. The opinion columns are designed to make readers think. I suspect that at my present rate, I am going to offend everyone at some time or another. Before you get too angry, read everything that I have written. I bet you will be surprised with how much of what I wrote you agree with.

In case you missed some of my columns, I am pleased to report that many of my early columns have recently been reprinted in book form. “Rinker on Collectibles” (Wallace-Homestead, 1989) is available at your local bookstore or from a number of specialized antiques and collectibles book dealers.

Recently George Theofiles, a friend and poster dealer, called my attention to the fact that more and more of the opinion columns that I write are being done from the point-of-view of the collector. I am not aware that I have made a conscious effort to do this. I am a collector. I am not an auctioneer or dealer.

George argued with me that there is a need for a person who will frankly discuss the cares and concerns of the collector. Too many of the articles and columns in the antiques and collectibles trade publications are highly positive, protective, and supportive of current business practices. The traditionalists clearly are in control. The old ways are the right ways. As an industry, the antiques and collectibles field strongly resists change.

Further, the field had no Ethics Committee or Better Business Bureau. I doubt if there will ever be one. Instead, the field relies on editors such as Sam Pennington and Tom Hoepf and columnists such as myself to serve as the field’s moral consciousness. It is often a painful experience for all of us.

I have grave reservations about responding to George’s request. I have no desire to foster the concept that there should be an adversarial relationship between collector, dealer, and auctioneer. Each needs the other. Since I have little time and not a great deal of love for the hunt, I rely heavily on dealers and auctioneers to help me build my collections. I have a great deal more fun collecting a package from the UPS driver at my office than I do sloshing around in the mud at Brimfield.

Reservations aside, I do plan to write a number of columns in the years ahead that discuss the needs and concerns of the collector. They most certainly will be opinionated and, as a result, controversial. “Rinker on Collectibles” was removed from “Antique & Auction News,” the paper in which it began, because of the controversy it created. If other papers choose to do the same, so be it. Fortunately, there will always be papers with the courage to air all points of view.

Finally, the one thing you can expect is that I will continue to tout the joys of collecting and the fact that it is perfectly okay to collect virtually anything no matter how weird or strange it may be. Too many individuals are willing to attach a snob value to older, more traditional collectibles. It is acceptable to collect McLoughlin board games, but kitsch to collect board games from the 1950s. It is fine to collect baskets, but it is absolutely unacceptable to collect toilet paper. BULL___. The joy is in the collecting and the excitement that goes with it. It is the act, not the things, that is important.

I have plotted an ambitious course for “Rinker on Collectibles.” It is subject to change. I will not allow the column to become predictable. Hopefully, it is sufficient incentive for you to keep reading “Rinker on Collectibles.”

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

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 on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.


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