RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES —
Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017
The concept of time travel defies logic. H. G. Wells and a host of science fiction writers suggest otherwise. Thus far, their time travelers’ fictional journeys into the past and/or future are restricted to paper and/or film. They are imaginary not real.
During the course of my antiques and collectibles career, I have traveled back in time on multiple occasions. I cannot attest to the possibility of actual travel into the future but have taken such journeys multiple times in my dreams. My time travels into the past are personal and involve total immersion. No time machine mechanism was involved.
It is important to explain what I am not asserting. A visit to a museum with historical room exhibits, such as the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, a historic home, like Mount Vernon, a “living history” historic site, for example, Colonial Williamsburg, or a folk life or military reenactment is designed to expose attendees to the past. The difficulty is the immersion occurs in the present. One senses the past but is more an outside observer than an active internal participant.
I have been fortunate to have a number of experiences where reality disappeared and the past appeared. While some lasted only a few minutes, others went for hours. The experiences had one thing in common. They were journeys back into my earlier life and not beyond.
[Author’s Aside: During my junior year at Hellertown-Lower Saucon [PA] Joint Junior-Senior High School (rah, rah, rah), I enjoyed a brief career as an amateur hypnotist. I read Morey Bernstein’s “The Search for Bridey Murphy,” published by Pocket Books in 1956, as part of my research. The book recounted amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein’s efforts to help Virginia Mae Morrow regress back in time to become Bridey Murphy, her earlier Irish ancestor. Age regression became the rage. Scholarly research proved Bernstein’s claims false. That being stated, I practiced age regression on several of my hypnotized subjects, with their permission of course. Based on my experiences, no one will ever convince me the concept is a hoax.]
Until recently, my most memorable trip back in time occurred during a Los Angeles home segment taping for HGTV’s “Collector Inspector,” which I hosted. The home was textbook Modern, built in the mid-1950s. It was pristine inside and out.
When I opened the door, I stepped back in time. The house was newly furnished when it was built. Nothing had changed in over 45 years. The mid-1950s furnishings and accessories were there. This was not a Hollywood movie set. This was real. All of a sudden I was 21 again – mentally and physically. I have no memories of taping the segments for the show, only of being, as Ronnie Milsap sang, “lost in the fifties.”
This was an “Architectural Digest” gem. George Jetson would have felt at home. The Fonz and his friends would have been out-of-place. The furnishings were not high style but they were stylishly contemporary. Turquoise, copper, and chrome colors were everywhere.
It required several hours after I left the house to accept that I was back in the real world. When I close my eyes, I still see each of the rooms and the spectacular view of Los Angeles looking out the picture window in the living room.
In the course of my career, I have been privileged to visit several homes whose exterior and interior had changed little to none since they were first occupied. Although none were as pristine as the Los Angeles home, I still welcomed the brief opportunity to travel back in time.
The above is a prelude to my most recent time travel experience. In early May 2017, Barb Jersey, owner of Wonder Woman Estate Sale Gallery in Lansing, Michigan’s Oldtown, asked me to assist her in selecting material from an estate in north central Michigan to be taken to her gallery for sale. The deceased and her mother had been antique dealers. The lakefront home had a 2,700 square foot basement that Barb warned “was loaded.” Always ready for a new adventure, I agreed.
I had some indication of what I would find before arriving. Barb already had conducted one Gallery sale of material from the estate. Prior to the opening of the first sale, she asked me to come over to Lansing to assist her with pricing objects. Two shelves were filled with pieces of Bryce Walker Glass Company’s Rosette pattern glass. “This is only part of the Rosette collection,” Barb explained, “There is more up north.”
Upon arrival, I immediately headed down into the basement. It took only seconds to realize that I had walked into a warehouse that time had forgotten. Someone locked the door 40 years ago and threw away the key. Row after row of wooden shelves easily over 20 feet long by eight feet high were filled with antique ceramics, glass, metal, and assorted collectibles. Trunks, boxes stacked on boxes created rows, and nineteenth and early twentieth century furniture was scattered throughout. Sensing that I was overwhelmed, Barb shouted: “Are you here to help or stare?”
When encountering a situation such as this, I first do a quick walk through to get a sense of the material with which I am dealing. The difficulty with a walk through is the need to resist the temptation to stop and handle the goodies. As I was about to complete the walk through, I suddenly realized I had traveled back to 1985. The basement was filled with objects that perfectly matched the categories in the 19th edition of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices” which I edited. I was about to handle objects I had not encountered in quantity since the early 1990s.
Barbara asked me to start reviewing the shelves of glass. I was told to select those pieces that would appeal to estate sale attendees and set aside those that would not. For every piece I selected, I set aside 20. One shelf contained several stacks of glass cup plates. Aware of the large number of reproductions, copycats, and fantasy items produced in the 1970s and 1980s, I had low expectations as I picked up the first cup plate and pinged it with my Bic. It rang like a bell. Fifty similar tests also proved positive. The stacks were early American pressed glass cup plates, which booked at prices from $45.00 to over $200.00 in the 19th Edition of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices.” I immediately called Barbara over to show her what I discovered. She took one look and said, “Leave them. I cannot sell them for a dollar each.”
The balance of the day was a lesson in 1985 antiques that have little to no desirability in today’s secondary marketplace. A decision was made to leave behind an eight-foot shelf section filled with Phoenix Bird China. Other objects that failed to make the cut were several full Noritake dinnerware services, a collection of flat irons, nineteenth century drop leaf tables and chairs, household ceramics and glass, Goss China and Crested Ware, every trunk, numerous textiles, and boxes of books and magazines. All were in salable condition. The problem is they did not fit the “somebody will buy it” criteria.
After selecting enough items to fill a truck, the basement still gave the appearance of being full. An estate liquidator will buy what remains. The owners asked Barb and me if it made any sense to first take the items to a local flea market and offer them at “your choice for a dollar.” Our answers were simultaneous, “No.”
After I left and thought about what had happened, the story became obvious. A point was reached when the mother and daughter could not sell the objects for the price paid for them. Rather than sell at a loss, they stored the objects in the basement until a time when the market recycled and the objects regained popularity with modern collectors and other buyers, a commonly held belief by 20th century dealers. Little did they realize the day would never come.
On a final note, before I left, Barb asked me to check the antiques and collectibles reference books still remaining in the first floor library. There I found a full run of Warman’s from the 7th though the 33rd edition. I edited the 15th through the 30th editions. I also found early editions of my “Warman’s Americana and Collectibles.” The obvious conclusion was that these gals knew who to trust. I drove back to Kentwood with a big smile on my face.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.