Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2018

An Antique Is Anything Made Before 1963

An antique is anything made before 1963. I have been hinting at this for the past three years. It is finally time to come right out and state it.

This proposition is not going to be popular, even among some of the more progressive thinkers in the antiques and collectibles trade. Too bad! It has never been my goal to win a “Mr. Popularity” contest. My goal has been to analyze trends and developments in the antiques and collectibles trade and report my conclusions.

It has been over a decade since I put forth the proposition that an antique was anything made before 1945. Viewed as “head of the curve” at that time, this definition has gained widespread acceptance.

1945 was sixty year ago. The vast majority of auctioneers, collectors, dealers, and others associated with the antiques and collectibles trade accept that as a long time ago. 1945 was a convenient break point. It marked the end of World War II, the growth of suburbia, the arrival of women in the workforce, America’s emergence as a true world power, and, most importantly, the beginning of the television era. Life in America in 1948 was very different than life in America in 1938. Americans thought, acted, and lived differently.

Americans tend to think in decades, e.g., the Fabulous Fifties, the Psychedelic Sixties, etc. Rarely does a shift from one decade to another represent a significant change in lifestyle. Those who experienced the change from the twentieth to the twenty-first century know nothing changed radically between 1999 and 2001. Although the temptation to use an even decade year, e.g., 1950, 1960, 1970s, etc., to define shifts in lifestyle or in this case collecting trends is great, it does not make sense. One needs to look for an event or series of events that trigger such a shift, and then ask in what year did they occur?

When asked when the twenty-first century began in America, future historians will cite September 11, 2001. The 911 tragedy changed America’s mindset. America’s role abroad in 2005 is very different than its role in 1995. America is far more polarized—economically, politically, socially, religiously, etc. In 2026, the question that will define the twentysomething and thirtysomething generations will be: “Where were you when you heard the planes hit the twin towers?”

Generations are separated by the questions they can answer. Where were you when you heard Pearl Harbor was bombed? Where were you when you heard President Kennedy was shot? Where were you when you heard man landed on the moon? Where were you when you heard the Challenger exploded? Where were you when you heard the Columbia exploded?

The impact of many of these events was felt worldwide. The Kennedy assassination is an example. Some questions are national in scope. The Challenger explosion is an example. If you live in Europe, a critical question that will separate generations is: “Where were you when you heard the Berlin wall fell?”

I know where I was when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I was three months old and living in a crib in Dundalk, Maryland. My father was employed by Bethlehem Steel and was working at the time in the Sparrows’ Point ship building yards. Obviously, I have no personal memories of the event. In fact, I have no personal memories of World War II, not even V-E or V-J day.

Most long-term personal memories begin at age six or seven. I am sixty-three. Putting these two pieces of information together, the simple truth is that you have to be almost seventy years old or older to have any personal memories about where you were when you heard Pearl Harbour was bombed. Pearl Harbor has been relegated to the history books and the History Channel.

Where were you when you heard President Kennedy was shot? I was in the basement of the library at Washington University in St. Louis where I was attending graduate school. President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Forty-one plus years have passed since that tragedy took place. If long-term memory begins at age six or seven, this means that you are highly likely to be fifty or older if you can tell personal stories of where you were when you heard President Kennedy was shot. The result is all the twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, and vast majority of fortysomething collectors have only read about the Kennedy assassination in a history book. The 1950s and even the 1960s is a long time ago to the generation who grew up following the Kennedy assassination.

America in 1960 was a very different country than America in 1965. America in 1960s was still experiencing the return to prosperity and world power status introduced during the Eisenhower era. The country was optimistic and content.

The mid-1960s was a period of great change. It was an era when social causes, ranging from banning the bomb to saving the whales, became a central focus. Civil rights questions tore the national apart. Opposition to the Vietnamese War polarized the country. Beatniks and Hippies were harbingers of the Age of Aquarius. The Beatles came to America. Polyester arrived on the scene. Colors became bright and bold. Abstract design reigned. Peter Max and popular Pop artists such as Andy Warhol were cult heroes. America became home to the drug culture.

If you were a 1950s conservative, the mid-1960s was a cultural shock. America and the world had turned upside down. Adapt and change or be left behind. “Do not trust anyone over thirty” had a far broader meaning—reject any established tradition and lifestyle. I like to tell people I survived the 1960s and 1970s. Having grown up in the 1950s, I see a distinct parallel between the Eisenhower and Reagan elections and their impact on the American lifestyle.

Car collectors define a vintage car as a car that is between twenty-five and forty-nine years old. An antique car is fifty years old or older. A 1955 car is now an antique. I like the way car collectors define their category because the date constantly moves forward.

Until this column, the car collectors were ten years ahead of my 1945 date in defining what is antique. Now I am eight years ahead of them. By the time the antiques and collectibles trade stops debating the issue and accepts 1963 as the new key date dividing antiques and collectibles, chances are the trade and car definitions will coincide.

If an antique is anything made before 1963, how do I define collectibles and desirables, the other two units that comprise the complete “antiques” collecting market? For the moment, I am defining a collectible as anything made between 1963 and 1980. Although an even decade, I like 1980 as a dividing point primarily because of the lifestyle shift immediately following the first Reagan election. Antiques and collectibles are joined together by a trustworthy and stable secondary resale market, albeit with the market currently as trendy as it is one has to question what “stable” really means. A desirable is an object made after 1980. Desirables have a speculative secondary market.

I confess that I am looking long and hard at 1980 as the end date for collectibles. My head tells me to change the date to somewhere in the mid- to late 1980s. The problem is that I have no firm lifestyle shift to which to attribute it.

Further, such a change seriously challenges a rule I have touted for years, Rinker’s Thirty Year Rule which states “for the first thirty years of something’s life, all its value is speculative.” Has the time come to put this rule under the microscope and see if it still applies? Rinker’s Thirty Year Rule was created before the arrival of the Internet. Clearly, the Internet has and remains in the process of redefining how the antiques and collectibles field operates.

I am not ready to take off my thinking cap quite yet.

In addition, I would very much like to learn your reactions to what I have written. E-mail me at harrylrinker@aol.com or send your thoughts to Rinker on Collectibles, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049.

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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