RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES —
Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017
Return with Us to Those Thrilling Days of YesterdayThis column is not about a Texas Ranger and his horse Silver whose epic journey began with a radio broadcast of Detroit’s WXYZ on January 30 or 31, the exact day is open to dispute, 1933. The thrilling days I am referring to occurred in 1982 during the preparation and publication of the 16th Edition of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices,” the first edition I edited. 1982 was 35 years ago. It seems like yesterday.
Those who argue that a person cannot go back are wrong. A person can revisit the past and should from time to time. There is much to learn. If nothing else, a return provides a base date set to measure what has transpired in the interim – good, bad, or ugly. Change is a given, especially since the arrival of the digital age. Because change usually occurs gradually, it often goes unnoticed. A look backward spotlights change.
I considered titling this column “A Return to Simpler Times,” a period when antiques were king-of-the-hill and the number of collecting categories was fewer than 500. Collectibles were in the closet, albeit there was an ambiguous category called “Americana.” It did not quite fit the antique mold but lacked definition.
I rejected the title because assuming the editorship of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices” was a thrilling and heady time for me. I embarked on a learning curve that consumed most waking moments. Stanley and Katherine Greene, the new owners of Warman Publishing, wanted the existing format revised and shifted from publishing every two years to annually.
In celebration of this, the 1,600th “Rinker on Collectibles” column, I decided to look back at the 16th edition of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices” and see how auctioneers, collectors, dealers, and others viewed the antiques market at that time.
“Warman’s” compact size, 5 1/4 inches by 6 1/4 inches, made it easy to carry or stash out of sight in a dealer’s booth. The principal purchasers were auctioneers and dealers. Although “Warman’s” was sold in bookstores, it had yet to find a general audience.
Pattern glass collectors were the one exception. E. G. Warman loved glass, especially pattern glass. Previous editions were glass category heavy with the first third of the book devoted to pattern glass patterns. The 16th edition contained 654 pages, not counting the front matter and index. 150 pages, over 22.5 percent of the book, were devoted to pattern glass. Given the collecting market of the times, pattern glass received too much attention. Reducing pattern glass coverage was at the top of my “to-do” list of changes.
[Author’s Note: By the 19th edition, the front pattern glass section was eliminated. Pattern glass was moved into the alphabetical collecting categories listings and greatly reduced in size.]
Can you identify the general collecting category for the following 10 collecting categories that appeared in the 16th edition? Award yourself a bonus point if you can describe two or more examples within a collecting category.
9. Rose Tapestry
Do not look at for the answers at the end of this column. Researching antiques and collectibles is an adventure. If you have a copy of the 16th through the 19th editions of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices,” you will find the answers there. If not, try the internet.
In reviewing the category listings, I was struck by how many categories were form related. The 1980s were the Golden Age of form collecting. The list includes baskets, bells, cup plates, cruets, epergnes, fairy lamps, miniature lamps, muffineers (sugar castors), mustache cups and saucers, nodders, pickle castors, rose bowls, salts, shaving mugs, toothpick holders, trivets, and wash bowls & pitchers. I doubled checked to make certain cups and saucers and tumblers were not included. They were not. Shortly after becoming editor of “Warman’s,” I visited a tumbler collector. The collection numbered in the high hundreds and featured examples from several dozen crossover art glass and other glass subcategories. Glass and ceramic miniature shoe collecting was popular at the time but considered more a hobby than a serious collecting category. The shoe category eventually made its appearance in “Warman’s Americana and Collectibles.”
Collectors’ clubs existed in support of many of these form collecting categories, for example, cup plates, rose bowls, salts, toothpick holders, and trivets. The Open Salt (www.opensalts.info/) and Toothpick (http://nthcs.org/pages/home/1) clubs survive, each with an active internet website. Others have disappeared or combined with other collecting categories, such as the Pressing Iron and Trivet Collectors of America (www.pressingironandtrivetcollectors.org).
The number of specialized ceramic and glass collecting categories showed the leadership role these two general categories played within the early 1980s antiques marketplace. Although the primary emphasis was on manufacturer, other factors added to the sophistication. For example, in ceramics individual patterns, such as (Adams Rose, Autumn Leaf, Indian Tree, and King’s Rose), colors (Mulberry China) and patterns with multiple sub-types (Gaudy Dutch, Gaudy Ironstone, Gaudy Welsh, Famille Rose, Spatterware) increased the list. A similar list of categories could be made for glass.
While textiles, with the exception of samplers and Stevensgraphs, was a general category, most metals had their own category—brass, copper, ironware, pewter, and silver. There was no category for gold. “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices” documented the low-high and middle priced antiques market. When I assumed the editorship, I issued a dictate that objects listed had to be available in the antiques flea markets, shops, and shows frequented by the average collectors.
In 1982, a separate collectibles marketplace was in its infancy. A few collectibles collecting categories, such as advertising, banks (mechanical and still), Depression glass, dolls, toy trains, toy soldiers, and toys (wooden, cast iron, and pressed steel), were included, an indication of the foothold collectibles were gaining. For those readers who are aware of my collecting interests, it will come as no surprise that cowboy collectibles appeared for the first time in the 16th edition of Warman’s.
The 1980s and the 1990s was the golden age of the printed general antiques price guide, expanded in the mid-1990s to a general antiques and collectibles price guide. At the time, I argued that I cared little if a person bought the Antique Trader, Kovels’, Schroeder’s, or Warman’s price guide. What I did care about is that the person bought the same title year after year and kept them on a shelf as a reference to note the change in the past and present marketplace. In 2017, I doubt if few individuals involved in the trade have a price guide run dating before 2000. Who uses printed price guides these days? Most are high-end auction picture driven. Their relevance to what is found in the field is minimal.
A recent incident provided the inspiration for this column. An auctioneer/estate sale manager asked my assistance to identify material for a catalog sale from an estate assembled by an antiques collector during the 1950s through the 1970s. A gorgeous rainbow spatterware platter was among the pieces I set aside. The auctioneer had no idea what it was. He told me he would have probably put $50.00 on it and sold it in the general sale. One sold recently at auction for over $11,000.00.
The lesson is simple. Forgetting, or worse yet not knowing, the past can cost a great deal of money. A few 1980s, 1900s, and 2000s price guides in a reference library, assuming they are reviewed and consulted, provides a person in the antiques and collectibles trade with a competitive edge.
For those of us who entered the antiques and collectibles trade in the 1970s and 1980s, these were thrilling times. I know I cannot live in the past. But, revisiting it once in a while brings a smile to my face and a satisfaction that what I learned then has served me in good stead for close to 50 years.
POSTSCRIPT: “Rinker on Collectibles” has experienced many milestones. I never dreamed it would continue as long as it has. This is column 1,600, a milestone only in that it is a one hundred numbered column. Column #1612, marking “Rinker on Collectibles”’ 31st anniversary is the next milestone. I continue to debate with myself how many more milestones await after that number is reached.
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.