I am staring into the abyss. It is dark, foreboding, and bottomless. The walls jut out in dozens of different directions. Obstacles, large and small, block every possible passageway. A faint light in the distance is fiery red. Movies such as “Lord of the Rings” featuring scenes of hurried flight over collapsing bridges above flowing lava flash through my mind. The urge to turn and run is overwhelming. I have no choice; none whatsoever. There is no turning back. Accepting fate, I take the plunge.
My abyss is the auditorium at The School, the former Vera Cruz (Pa.) Elementary School and home of Rinker Enterprises. Although my staff has done an excellent job packing most of the objects in my collections, my office, The Puzzle Pit, and the large office which houses 20 years of records relating to the books produced by my staff, remain. I have a week to complete the task.
I made the most difficult decision I ever faced. Everything that cannot fit into Linda’s and my new home in Kentwood, Mich., has to go. The option of buying a second home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and moving the bulk of the items still at The School to there is off the table. The raison d’etre is simple. If we do this, where would we put everything we took to Michigan when we move back? Our Kentwood home is 2,800 square feet. A future move will most certainly require additional downsizing.
A day before I returned to Pennsylvania, Pat Mooney finished building shelving to house archival file boxes and books in the two Kentwood storage areas. There is now room for everything moved to Michigan. If all goes well, there will be enough space for an extra 25 to 30 archival file boxes. The auditorium currently houses several hundred such boxes. Which do I choose?
I view my collections in broad terms. My libraries are collections. Although I have written primarily about my antiques and collectibles libraries, I own extensive research libraries relating to the American mule-drawn canal era, the Moravians, the Pennsylvania Germans and the History of Science and History of Technology, plus trade catalogs and author-signed books. There are dozens of secondary library collections, such as a full run of Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy novels, more than 500 merchant/trading stamp catalogs and a collection of early paperback novels. None of these made the move to Michigan.
Mentally, I divide my collections into major and minor groups to clarify my thinking. Major collections include American Canal memorabilia, boxed board games, Hopalong Cassidy collectibles, The Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles educational materials (including hundreds of objects used to teach authentication), jigsaw puzzles, Pennsylvania German objects (most of this collection made the move to Michigan) and “The Closet” (the toys from more than 20 years of my annual Christmas toy buying column). There are hundreds of minor collections ranging from a full set of Beanie Meanies (a sarcastic approach to Beanie Babies) to every fast food premium (including duplicates and triplicates) from “Star Wars: Episode 1.”
Ideally, I would like to find a buyer for each major collection. I have no requirement the buyer will keep the collection intact. My assumption is the buyer will keep what he/she wants and sell the rest. Since most of the collections are already packed and no inventory exists, the buyers will have to rely on my verbal description as to what the collections contain.
I constantly wrestle with the option of donating all or parts of some of the collections to museums. There is museum quality material in my major and many of my minor collections. Two concerns prevent this. If the objects in my collections had been in a museum, I would never have owned them. By donating objects to a museum, I prevent another collector from experiencing the same joy of ownership that I did. Having worked in the museum profession, I am aware of the argument that donating things allows a larger audience to share and learn from them. However, I am first and foremost a collector and in kinship with those who think likewise.
Museums are often building and collection rich and cash poor. More and more museums are asking donors who make major donations to also provide a cash endowment to help maintain these collections. It is a fair request. During my trip east, I appraised a paper ephemera collection donated to a 501(c)3 [non-profit] museum and worth in excess of $100,000. The collection tripled to quadrupled the size of the museum’s holdings. I have rarely (a term I use sparingly but which applies in this case) seen a collection of such depth and breadth. The collection came without a donation to maintain it. The museum has to decide whether to retain the entire collection or sell a portion of it to raise the necessary funds to preserve the rest.
I approached several museums about buying several of my collections. I priced the collections at less than half of their fair market value. I had a museum that was very interested in acquiring my jigsaw puzzle collection. When a curator came to visit, he took one look at The Puzzle Pit and decided the collection was too large for the museum to handle. He asked me to let him know when/if I decided to auction the collection.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, the dispersal process already has begun. A buyer has purchased the Rinker Enterprises reference library (auction catalogs, books, files and photo archives), price guide copyrights and electronic data bases. It is a beginning. The first sale always is the most difficult. Now that the gate is open, other collections can move through.
The next week of packing will be painful. First, what Rinker Enterprises records, if any, will be maintained? The page proofs and other records for most of the price guides produced by my staff and myself have been retained. Does anyone care what corrections were made to the initial drafts? No is a reasonable answer. Do I attempt to pack the paper for recycling or simply put it into a dumpster? The latter is the easiest solution.
Although Rinker Enterprises has been dissolved, the accountant recommended retaining the last five years of financial records. It is time to send the first 15 years to the dump. There are five cabinets filled with everything from old insurance policies to personnel records. I viewed many of my employees as family. How can these records have no value?
Several file drawers contain a complete runs of “Rinker on Collectibles” and “The Rinker Report,” more than a dozen other columns I wrote at one point or another, and more than 100 articles. My ego, if nothing else, says these should be maintained for posterity. If true, who should do it? If me, it means my heirs inherit the dispersal problem. Is there a university or museum library that might want them? Again, would anyone take them without a donation to maintain them? It hurts to consider sending over 25 years of work to the Dumpster.
Second, I have to decide what goes to Michigan and what stays. Since the mover could not fit everything into the moving van during the January move, a second pick-up will be made in a week or two. I made a wish list of what I would like to take. It is too long. I look at it several times a day trying to decide what to eliminate. Thus far, I have crossed nothing off. I keep praying for a miracle that the space in Kentwood will magically increase while I have been away. What are collectors if not dreamers?
Finally, I am more cowardly that I thought. I came east resolved to finish packing and begin implementing a dispersal plan. The latter will not happen. There is no firm dispersal plan. It is still brewing; an excuse really. The decision to sell is one thing. The actual selling is another.
As a result, I have to make another two- to three-day trip east in April to go through those unopened boxes that have been in the auditorium since my move to The School in 2000 and to organize everything into piles for private treaty sale, auction, eBay, or whatever.
Who said you cannot postpone fate? I am doing a good job.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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