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Rinker on Collectibles: The Myth of the Guaranteed Collectible

by Harry Rinker (08/21/12).

“Better safe than sorry” was one of my mother’s favorite expressions. Unfortunately, I was never a faithful listener or follower of my mother’s advice, much to her regret. My mother’s coffin has been rubbed round inside due to the number of times she has turned over in her grave because of a comment I made when I should probably have kept my mouth shut and opinion to myself.

I mention this because I received an e-mail from Shawn Surmick of Blandon, Pa., that reads: “I was wondering how you deal with collectors and speculators who truly believe that the items they are buying now are going to be worth a lot of money in the future. I am not talking about items that do have the potential to increase, such as high-end coins, currency, pre-1965 comic books and some antiques. I am referring to mass-produced, store-bought toys, modern-age comics books, Magic the Gathering game cards, and video games. Is it best to even enter into a discussion with these individuals or just let it alone?”

The safest approach is to avoid discussing the topic of future collectability with these individuals: first, they know more than anyone else; second, they are deaf to any opinion that does not agree with their own; third, they are misguided optimists, assuming past practice could not possibly apply in their case.

Sitting atop the cabinet unit mounted above the credenza to the left of the desk housing my computer is a wooden cross to which a Ty Stinky Beanie Baby is irreverently nailed. The rectangular plaque above Stinky’s head reads: “KING/ OF THE / FOOLS.” The caption on the bottom of the cross and base is: PRESENTED / TO / HARRY L. RINKER / SPEAKER OF THE TRUTH/ FROM THE DEALERS IN / CENTRAL INDIANA WHO / REFUSE TO SELL TY ITEMS.” It is signed by more than 25 dealers. It is among my proudest possessions and a tribute to my “call it like I see it” approach.

During the height of the Beanie Baby craze, I was known as “The Beanie Meany.” I appeared on numerous radio and television shows trying to convince listeners and viewers that the Beanie Baby craze was a speculative bubble. “This too shall pass” was my warning.

Occasionally, I was asked to be part of a panel as the opposing voice to the Beanie Baby devotees. I remember one instance when a proponent said, “Beanie Babies are the Hummels of the future.” It took me more than 30 seconds to stop laughing.

The Beanie Baby advocates did have their days in the sun. But a dark cloud descended over the Beanie Baby realm in late 1999. The rains came, and they lasted longer than 40 days and nights. The speculative dam burst in 2000. Today, the lake behind the dam is bone dry. Like the Kingston Trio’s “Charlie,” who rides Boston’s MTA in perpetuity, Beanie Babies are the craze “that never returned.”

[Author’s Aside: I reached an awkward age, an age where the analogies I use often fly over the heads of my younger readers. Recently, I was working with a young grant writer at Davenport University and used the phrase “Hang ’Em High.” A blank look swept across her face. “You do know what I mean?” I asked. “Does it have to do with curtains?” she replied. “Hang ‘Em High” was released in 1968. I was 27 years old at the time. This is not a phrase from my youth but my adulthood. The whole incident had a “go ahead, make my day” quality.]

Early in the movie “The Graduate” (1967), Mr. Maguire (Walter Brooke) asks Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) to step outside during a cocktail party. “I just want to tell you something. Just one word . . . plastics . . . There is a great future in plastics.” The next time someone wants to talk with you about the long term collectability of a contemporary collectibles, ask them to step outside. Tell them there is “just one word” you would like to share with them: “Pogs.”

Who remembers pogs? If you are younger than 25, chances are you do not. Those who do, especially those who speculated in them, most likely would prefer to forget them. In 2012, the landfill is final resting place for 99 percent of them.

The Pogs game became a craze in the early 1990s. Similar to Menko, a 17th-century Japanese card game, the 1990s version traces its origin to a game played in the late 1920s on the island of Maui in Hawaii. POG was a juice brand consisting of passion fruit, orange and guava. Maui natives used the juice’s bottle caps as playing pieces. Blossom Blibiso, a teacher at the Waialua Elementary School in Oahu introduced the game, which she played as a child, to her fifth-grade students in 1991. STANPAC Inc., the company who provided milk caps for the Haleakala Dairy on Maui, was shipping millions of pogs a week to the islands. By 1993, the game swept across the United States.

Pogs are an example of the bandwagon effect and the impact of oversupply on an immature collecting market. Growth was exponential. Game companies, fundraising organizations and Disneyland were a few of the thousands of organizations that produced pogs. Fast food chains such as Burger King, McDonalds and Taco Bell gave away pogs premiums. Collectors found it impossible to keep track of the number or quantity.

The Pog craze occurred at the same time as collectors’ initial infatuation with eBay. The first pogs sellers realized profits of more than 1,000 times cost. Collectors paid premium prices for examples they thought were “rare,” having no concept whatsoever of the meaning and relevance of the word. A worldwide speculative bubble ensued.

Like Beanie Babies, pogs were designed to appeal to youngsters. Because players kept the pogs won during game play, some adults viewed pogs as encouraging gambling. Pogs play became addictive and a distraction at school. The end result was a hue and cry in school districts across the world. By the mid-1990s, pogs were banned.

The pogs craze ended in the mid-1990s. The collector speculative bubble was even shorter than the Beanie Baby one before it burst. Yet, during the peak of the collecting craze, pogs collectors touted long-term collectible future of pogs just as the proponents of Beanie Babies did in the mid- to late 1990s.

[Author’s Aside: It occurred to me at this point that I could have used fad rather than craze in talking about the pogs phenomenon. According to dictionary.com, a fad is “a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group.” It was not until the 10th meaning for craze that I encountered “a popular or widespread fad.” The first meaning for craze was “to derange or impair the mind.” Hence, craze is the better choice when talking about collecting trends.]

“Rinker on Collectibles” readers are aware of my proclivity to go off on tangents. The earlier eBay reference caused me to reflect upon eBay’s role in providing the stimulus for a number of short-lived collecting crazes with accompanying speculative bubbles during the 1990s. The telephone calling card collecting craze followed the same collecting/speculative track. Telephone calling cards took four to five years—rather than two—to traverse the route. Essentially, all speculative bubbles follow the same route. Time is the only variance.

Guarantees, especially long-term collectible guarantees, ended in the late 1980s. Do not be fooled by the current gains in the high-end of the antiques and collectibles market. There are no blue chip antiques or collectibles. Remember, this too shall pass. While I may not live to see it, my ancestors will.

No matter what the current evidence suggests, no one will convince me that a 9.0 or higher grade Action Comics #1, introducing Superman, will sell for a million dollars or more in 2138. At the moment, auctioneers and investors equate comic books with autographs and coins, a major miscalculation.

Time is both a friend and an enemy. Beware of those who measure time only in decades. Superman turns 75 in 2013. He is only three years older than me. Superman’s first long-term test will come in 2138. If I am lucky, I will be a footnote in history. Will Superman be more than that? Superman’s next test will be in 2538. How do you think he will do then? The ghosts of our Renaissance forebears already know.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site..

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2012

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3 Responses to “Rinker on Collectibles: The Myth of the Guaranteed Collectible”

  1. Hello,

    I thank you for writing this excellent article. I fully agree that it may just be best to avoid the topic altogether with the kind of individuals who truly want to believe that certain items will be worth a lot of money in the future. I was actually ‘verbally attacked’ just for showing this article to some of these individuals. Another point I would like to make is that during a true speculative bubble; most collectors engaged in the bubble will band together and attack any outside voice of reason. It would appear that all common sense goes out the ‘window’ when emotions are involved (not to mention significant financial investment as well).

  2. Lisa Mull says:

    Hi, Harry:

    As usual, you’re right. I can’t even sell a batch of 3 “rare” Beanie Babies on eBay for $10. They sell for $1 each at Goodwill.

    I just have one critiscm, and I hope you’ll forgive me, as you write so entertainingly. You don’t mean you hope your ancestors may see blue chip collectibles. “Ancestor” means predesessor in family. You are the ancestor to your descendants.

    Sorry for mentioning this. I was brought up by an attorney and an English major. Ask my sisters (and our ex-husbands); we can’t help ourselves!

  3. Terry Mangum says:

    “Beanie Babies are the Hummels of the future.” – Thanks for starting my day out with a good laugh! As an auctioneer, almost everyday I have to share with clients the news that their precious items are worth a lot less than they believe. They produce 30 year old appraisals, receipts, price guides (lol) pie in the sky listings from Ebay, etc., to try and justify their beliefs. In spite of my background and experience, they do indeed know better than me and tell me how they plan to hang on to these things, “until the market comes back.”
    When I suggest that perhaps we are only half way down the hill, price wise, for some of these goods, they look at me as if I just took their wallet!
    Keep up the good work Harry. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts

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