Rinker on Collectibles: The Role of Chance in the Antiques and Collectibles Trade

Chance definition 1(a) is the unknown and unpredictable element in happenings that seem to have no assignable cause.

The Free Dictionary defines chance as “1(a) the unknown and unpredictable element in happenings that seem to have no assignable cause; 1(b) a force assumed to cause events that cannot be foreseen or controlled, luck; (2) the likelihood of something happening, possibility or probability….; (4) a favorable set of circumstances, an opportunity….” These definitions suggest there is a mystical aspect to chance. Situations happen for which there is no logical explanation.

William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem “Invictus” concludes with these lines: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Does any individual have full control over his destiny? Outside forces, any one of which can alter the course of events, abound.

Auctioneers, collectors, dealers, show promoters and others actively involved in the antiques and collectibles trade can relate countless stories about their good luck, fortune or whatever term appears to apply. No matter how much they attribute the final outcome of the story to their trade prowess, skills and/or talents, the role of chance, fate and destiny lingers in the background.

While spiritual, I am not religious. I attribute no religious connotations or explanation to the many unexplainable situations I have experienced throughout my life. I give no credit to God, Buddha, Mohammed or any other religious deity.

One of my publicity stills from “Collector Inspector.”

I acknowledge the relationship between chance and mysticism. I have an academic, scientific mindset. I am more comfortable with indisputable proof than conjecture. Rather than speculate about cause and effect, I accept chance for what it is—chance and nothing more.

Author’s Aside #1: I wish I was more familiar with probability theory, the branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of random phenomena. Yet, what interest would a probability theorist have in explaining why a collector suddenly finds an object he/she has sought for decades during a last minute, let’s-stop-here visit to an antiques flea market, mall, shop or show or why an object brings 10 times its estimate at an auction as a result of heated bidding by two individuals with whom the auctioneer never had any previous contact?

The balance of this column is devoted to stories about my personal experiences in my antiques and collectibles career. The stories are meant to stimulate my readers’ thinking about how chance played a role in their involvement in the trade. It ends with a request to share the resulting stories with me.

My stories cover two subjects—an opportunity and a group of objects. I avoided stories about occurrences that resulted because of deliberate groundwork on my part. In these instances, I was the master of my fate. In the stories that follow, I was not.

In the late 1990s, I worked with two production companies to develop pilots for television series. In “America Loves Antiques and Collectibles,” I did two verbal appraisal segments and was the “Andy Rooney” closer. Although the pilot aired on 75 PBS stations, PBS said no to the concept. In late 2000, I was one of three hosts in a television pilot produced by a Florida-based production company. The production company took the pilot to an industry exposition and failed to sell the show.

In May 2001, Jason Sacca, a producer for “CBS Sunday Morning,” contacted me about appearing in a segment about why people collect. Sacca, reporter Rita Barber and a film crew came to my home/office at the former Vera Cruz (Pa.) elementary school and spent several hours taping a conversation with me.

Author’s Aside #2: There was no chance involved in this appearance. Previously, I had appeared a as a guest on more than 100 television shows, including “Oprah” and “Martha Stewart Living.”

Chance became involved in the events that followed. The segment in which I appeared was to air on Sunday, June 10, 2001. It did not. It was pre-empted by a story about the execution of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. Although Sacca told me the collecting segment would air the following week, I did not believe him. Shows are planned months ahead. Unused segments usually wind up in the trash.

The Hopalong Cassidy 10-piece bedroom suite.

The show did air on June 17. I did not bother to watch. Richard (Rick) Green, who lived in Sun City, Ca., did. While brushing his teeth in his bathroom, he had his television tuned to “CBS Sunday Morning.” When he heard the segment on collecting, he left his bathroom to watch. Rick had an idea for an antiques and collectibles television show that needed a host. On Monday morning, June 18, I received an e-mail from Rick indicating that he was aware I had no idea who he was, had an idea for a television show, and thought I was just the type of host the show needed. I sent him tapes. Rick pitched the idea to 44 Blue, a Studio City-based production company, who pitched it to Home & Garden Television. The first episode of “Collector Inspector” aired in October 2002, a few days after my 61st birthday.

During the taping of the first season, I asked Rick if he had watched “CBS Sunday Morning” on June 10. He told me he had not. He was out of town. What is the probability that I would owe my television career to Timothy McVeigh? It was pure chance. 

In 1990, the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage decided to do a special exhibit entitled “Hoppy, Gene and the Lone Ranger.” I agreed to loan several dozen objects from my Hopalong Cassidy collection for the exhibit, which also traveled to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Several months prior to the opening of the exhibit, I appeared on Ken and Daria Dolan’s “Smart Money” on FNN (Financial News Network). As our interview ended, Ken asked, “If you could have any antique or collectible that you do not own, what would you want?” Without hesitation, I answered, “the complete Hopalong Cassidy 10-piece children’s bedroom suite.”

Less than a week later, I received a call from an individual living in Dotham, Ala., who had watched “Smart Money” when I made my request. He owned the Hopalong Cassidy 10-piece bedroom suite and would consider selling it if we could agree on a price. However, he did first have to check with his two sons for whom the Hoppy bedroom suite was purchased to see if either wished to keep it. Days lingered into weeks. Finally, we struck a deal.

Now that I owned the Hoppy bedroom suite, I had to figure out how to get it from Dotham to Pennsylvania. I took a chance and called the planners of the “Hoppy, Gene, and the Lone Ranger” exhibit. “How would you like to include a 10-piece Hopalong Cassidy bedroom suite in the exhibit?” The planners immediately said yes. “It is in Dotham, Alabama. You will have to move it to Los Angeles. When the exhibit is over, you can ship it back to me in Vera Cruz.”

There was no way I could have predicted or planned this. The circumstances were pure chance. Yet, I admit without doubt or hesitation that I know this was inevitably meant to happen.

A set of four Fire King Splash Proof Black Polka Dot mixing bowls.

These are just two of my “chance” stories. There are many others, like the time I visited an out-of-the way antiques shop and found a Fraktur containing the name of my great, great grandmother or the time I just happened down a country road and found a nest of Fire King Polka Dot bowls waiting alongside the road for trash pickup. 

I do not consider myself lucky. I learned not to gamble when a Boy Scout Scoutmaster won 27-cents from me at a poker game at a campout. It was a time when candy bars were a nickel. I have never bought a lottery ticket nor placed a coin in a casino slot machine.

When I spend my money, I want something tangible in return. This is one reason why I collect. I am the master of my fate—good, bad or indifferent. Yet, there are moments when I wonder. When I think about them, the memories are positive. Chance has been good to me. I hope it has been for you as well.

Please share your antiques and collectibles stories about chance by emailing them to harrylrinker@aol.com. I look forward to reading them.


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.

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