Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017

Millennials' Impact on the Antiques and Collectibles Trade: Part I

I was born in 1941, at the tail end of the Greatest Generation. I had Depression Era/World War II parents. The first Baby Boomers appeared in 1946. As a result, I fell into a generational crack. I had a foot in both generations. Generational crack members have a choice to conform to the mores of the previous, those of the following generations, or be free. I chose free which explains my strong sense of independence and a life dedicated to making it impossible for anyone to put me into predesignated boxes or categories. I enjoy being a loose cannon as opposed to a generational conformist.

As a youngster and young adult, I was more aware of being part of a decade rather than a generational designation. There were no Greatest Generation or Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomer designation, used to describe individuals born between 1946 and 1964, was not coined until 1974. Baby Boomers are a creation of the advertising industry.

Throw the sociologists and demographic researchers a bone, and all hell breaks loose. Identifying generations, studying them, and creating generational stereotypes became de rigueur. I remember life before television. I also remember life before individuals were assigned and expected to reflect generational box characteristics.

Generational stereotyping, one size fits all, is now part of the American cultural scene. Academic experts, advertising gurus, and media pundits weigh in with a level of expertise that is so intimidating that few question its validity. Time is no longer allowed to work its magic. Instant understanding is the order of the day. Speculation of the attributes and characteristics of the generation following the Millennials already has begun.

Rinker’s Thirty Years Rule – For the first 30 years of anything’s life, all its value is speculative – applies. It takes 30 years for an object group to develop into a trackable collecting category. If Millennials represent individuals born between 1980 and 2000, the first graduating class leaves high school in 1998 and the last in 2018. Half the generation is just starting out life as adults. They still are in the process of shaping their future and beliefs. What guarantee can anyone provide that the Millennials’ opinions will mirror those of their generational counterparts born 20 years earlier or their own generation 20 years from now?

Experts cannot agree on the proper name for the generation or when the generation begins and ends. Generation Y, Generation Me, Echo Boomers, Peter Pan Generation are among the many synonyms for Millennials. While MetLife uses 1977-1994 as the birth dates for Millennials, researchers and demographers prefer a date in the early 1980s. Although 1996 appears to be a popular end date. Others push it into the late 1990s or early 2000s. Demographers Will Straus and Neil Howe use 1982 to 2004 for the birth dates assigning a caveat that these numbers are tentative until the generation comes of age.

Because of a strong desire to belong, some individuals born in the late 1970s or early 1980s feel they are between generations. Whether a cusp or a crack, they have trouble identifying where they belong. Generation Catalano, The Lucky Ones, Oregon Trail Generation, or Xennials are terms used to describe this group.

Further, a 2015 Pew Research study revealed that only 40 percent of those individuals born between 1981 and 1997 identify themselves a Millennials. Of those born between 1981 and 1988, 43 percent identified with Generation X. Asserting that Millennials feel no connection to the past is incorrect. At least, they look back one generation.

[Author’s Aside #1: This long introduction is based upon the phrase “Ya can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Millennials are a highly complex generation. One size does not fit all. However, from this point forward and in Part II Millennials is used in its broadest context with the same caveat set forth by Straus and Howe.]

Millennials are having so much fun growing up that they are delaying their right of passage from adolescent to adulthood. Many still live at home with the majority of their living expenses being borne by their parents. Their private space consists of their room and perhaps a few corners of the house. Limited space is not conducive to collecting. It hinders display and storage. Stuff the room is not as much fun as stuff a house.

Although living at home increases Millennials’ money capacity, it is not saved. If the Millennial has educational loan debt, it could be used for this purpose, at least this is what parents of Millennial live-ins tell their friends. In reality, it is good time capital. Young Millennials party hardy. Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the craft beer capital of the United States. A walk down Iona Street on a Friday or Saturday night is ample proof. The atmosphere is similar to an early 1960s Lehigh University House/Frat Party weekend.

Millennials spend their money on exhilarating adventures and experiences – dining out at farm to table restaurants, exercising, traveling, and attending and playing sports. Few see antiquing as an adventure even though it involves travel, exercise, the element of a hunt, and fun. Once a high priority for people with discretionary income, antiquing has fallen off the Top 10 List of Fun Things To Do On A Weekend.

When Millennials finally leave the nest, they often rent rather than buy. Millennials, especially if they are single, are unable to make the 20 percent down payment required to buy a home let alone qualify for a 30-year mortgage. In 2017, rental rates are often equal to a mortgage payment. Further, rental units are small. Separate dining rooms are non-existent. If the renter is lucky, a dining room table can find a home in a portion of a Great Room.

The dining room plays a critical role in collecting. When entertaining family or friends was in-home centered, the homeowner needed dinnerware, flatware, linens, stemware and the furniture pieces in which to store them. In 2017, less than 50 percent of the homes being built have dining rooms. Millennials do not want them. They would rather have a large family room or a man cave. Dining room related antiques and collectibles are at record low values. If you need proof, visit an estate sale on its final day.

The more things a person has, the more likely he/she is to collect. Collectors are materialists. Millennials are anti-materialists. They do not desire more than they need. If they acquire a new version of an object, they throw the old one out or, because of their strong social consciousness, donate it to a recycling charity. Saving it, if for no other reason than memory’s sake, is an alien concept. The

Millennials’ inability to value the accumulating of things, especially antiques and collectibles, has strongly impacted the sale of antiques and collectibles. Generation X was the first generation to reject family heirlooms, telling parents to “get rid of that junk before you die.” They taught their children well.

Antiques and collectibles, whether a collection or family heirlooms, were once viewed as a sign of respect for the past and a reflection of good taste. In 2017, they are more likely to have a negative connotation. “Out with old, in with the new” is the Millennials’ battle cry. Owning brand name items appeals to some, but most are content to shop at Big Box stores or Crate and Barrel. Crass has become class.

[Author’s Aside #2: In the course of my career in the antiques and collectibles field, I have watched Corning dinnerware, Pfaltzgraff dinnerware, Mikasa glassware, and other post-World War II material achieve collecting category status. I have no desire to live long enough to see Ikea furniture and Pottery Barn products and like items achieve the same.]

As the Captain of the “RMS Titanic” probably did not say, “this is only the tip of the iceberg.” Part II will explore additional Millennial social and economic mindsets that impact the antiques and collectibles trade. I plan to end the column on a positive note. It is not all gloom and doom out there.

MILESTONE POSTSCRIPT: With this column No. 1612, “Rinker on Collectibles” celebrates its 31st birthday. Written a month before its release, I already have blown out the candles on the birthday cake and started writing the initial columns for the 32nd year. Thanks to my readers, editors, and publishers who have made this column challenging and great fun to research and write. 

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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