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Rinker on Collectibles: Top Ten Changes in the Last Five Years – Part I

by Harry Rinker (02/01/12).

In “Rinker on Collectibles: Twenty-Five Years and Counting”— the 25th anniversary column—I informed readers that I planned to share with them a Top 10 list of changes in the antiques and collectibles field in the last five years. Before doing so, I asked readers to e-mail their suggestions as to what changes should be included on my list and asked Dana Morykan, a friend and colleague, to post on www.harryrinker.com the two December 2007 “Rinker on Collectibles” 20th anniversary columns in which I identified and analyzed the Top 10 changes in the field since this column’s birth. Sufficient time having past, and the 20th anniversary columns being posted, it is time to reveal my Top Ten list. Like David Letterman, I will start at the bottom of the list and work my way up to my Number 1 pick.

10. The Accelerating Loss of Friends

I interpret friends in its broadest meaning. My friends include people, periodicals and institutions. The same applies to loss. Loss is more than death or demise. Loss also involves departure and absence.

Early today, I opened my travel address list for Portland, Ore. Jeff Hill, the publisher of a West Coast trade newspaper who passed away on Sept. 17, 2002, was still included. It seems like only yesterday when Jeff and I were sitting in his living room discussing developments within the trade. Except for Chris and Chuck Palmer and a few close friends, I wonder who else remembers Jeff, one of the most brilliant analyzers of trend the trade has known.

The loss of individuals one knows is a consequence of growing old. Keeping a list, even thinking about it, can lead to depression. Names such as Susan Bagdade, Ralph Kovel, Norman Martinus and Sam Pennington come immediately to mind. What does not come easy is a list of individuals who have replaced them. How many giants can the antiques and collectibles trade lose before the impact is measurable?

[Author’s Aside: My short list is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. A full list would include many more than 100 names.]

Consolidation reduced the number of publishers specializing in antiques and collectibles titles by more than two-thirds in the 1990s and early 2000s. Hence, the demise of any consolidator or survivor has serious consequences. When Random House reduced its House of Collectibles title line—especially price guide titles—little concern was raised. It was assumed other trade publishers would pick up the slack.

The loss of Collector Books was a major blow. Collector Books served the middle portion of the collecting marketplace. Several of its ceramic and glass titles were the bibles for their respective collecting categories. Authors, such as Gene Florence, exited gracefully. The Schroeder family has my admiration and respect for the contributions they made to the antiques and collectibles field’s knowledge base and for staying the course as long as possible. Collector Books will be missed.

“Antiques and Collecting Magazine, formerly Hobbies, has merged with Collectors News, re-emerging as Treasures. The Graham family—Dale (who passed away in February 2010), his wife Francis, and his son Gregory—were an integral part of the trade for more than half a century. It is hard to imagine the trade without them.

Connie Swaim just announced her retirement as a full-time editor at AntiqueWeek. Kyle Husfloen, who served as editor for The Antique Trader when it was under the capable ownership of Ed Babka, and later Landmark and KP Publications (F+W Media, Inc.), now lives in California and contributes only occasionally.

There is a fine line between waxing nostalgic and becoming maudlin. Concerned that I am crossing this line, it is time to move on.

9. Changes in the Price Divides within Collecting Categories

Pricing within an antiques and collectibles category has never been linear. Prices divide into levels or plateaus. In a new collecting category, the number of levels between the bottom and top are few. As a collecting category grows in sophistication, the number of pricing levels within it increase. A major collecting category, where the high-end unit price is in excess of $100,000, can have more than a dozen pricing levels.

Price levels enable buyers (collectors) to enter the marketplace at affordable price points—“something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone,” borrowing the opening lines from lyrics for “A Comedy Tonight.” The number of buyers involved is one of the measures of a collecting category’s strengths.

The concepts of scarcity and rarity were redefined in the past five years. Many items once consider scarce by collectors proved to be extremely common. In some cases, the number of pieces entering the secondary market flooded it, especially at the bottom and in the middle.

Collecting involves bragging rights. Collectors want to own examples their counterparts do not. When everyone owns the same things, the fun and collector interest vanishes. When a collecting category is thus impacted, the collector exodus is greater at the bottom and middle than the top. The wealth divide between the wealthiest Americans and the middle and lower classes is a perfect analogy, especially when one factors in the declining number of middle class Americans.

The middle price levels in collecting categories are shrinking. In some instances, they have or are disappearing. The possibility exists that in the future, there will be some collecting categories where the only collectors are those focusing on the top one to three percent of the objects in the category. Since the number of buyers for middle and low end material will be minimal, prices will plummet in order to attract buyers.

8. Consolidation Counter Revolution

The antiques and collectibles trade witnessed consolidation throughout the industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. Large media corporations bought trade publications and publishing companies. Several added show venues to their holdings. The vertical holdings company seeking to capitalize on the savings consolidation offered appeared to be the trade’s future. While Landmark and Krause were American corporations, DMB World Media was British based. Foreign invasion does not always have to be military.

Consolidation also occurred within the auction community. Sotheby’s went on a buying spree. Even Bonham’s entered the arena. Individual and regional auction companies fell prey to the lure of quick and easy cash. Who can blame them?

What all these buyers failed to recognize is the personal, individual nature of the antiques and collectibles business. Antiques and collectibles is an industry where individuals want to deal face to face, not with a phone bank of callers based in “God knows where.”

A counter revolution is underway. AntiqueWeek and its sister publications are back in the hands of Gary Thoe and his wife. The field breathed a collective sigh of relief when the news was announced. Ted Hake, Dan Morphy and others regained control of the auction firms they helped create. DMG World Media has sold some of its consumer shows and is in the process of selling others.

Consolidation still rears its ugly head, albeit now in the form of alliances rather than outright purchase. Greg Martin, who broke away from Butterfield & Butterfield to create Greg Martin Auctions, is now aligned with Heritage Auctions. The jury is out on whether the maxim of “there is strength in numbers” will apply.

When I assembled my Top 10 list, I pledged to myself to hold the series to two columns. It will not happen. The series will be three columns in length. I never feel the need to justify my actions, although I offer an occasional explanation. Since no general history of the antiques and collectibles trade exists (there are several high-end histories) nor am I aware of anyone writing such a history, I view “Rinker on Collectibles” as a chronicler of the trade’s journey through the latter half of the 20th century and first part of the 21st. Hence, I favor length over brevity.

Finally, now that readers see where I am heading, I want them to have more time to send their recommendations for the top portion of my Top 10 list. E-mail me at harrylriker@aol.com.

—————————————

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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7 Responses to “Rinker on Collectibles: Top Ten Changes in the Last Five Years – Part I”

  1. Dan Borsey says:

    Great Article Harry. Look forward to part 2.

  2. Nick Ryan says:

    My thoughts Harry, the antiques trade has been around a long time before you or I came on the scene and will be here a long time after we have gone, there will always be a new Harry Rinker climbing up through the ranks.

    In general most antiques do not enter the market place without face to face contact, be it a deceased estate or someone downsizing their living arrangements or their collections, until a human actually sees and values and the item is offered for the sale it is all face to face, this aspect will never change.

    Once the item gets to the retailer, well then it is open market how it is disposed of, trends and times change, many people attempt to cut out the middle man by using for instance eBay but they may not be realising the best price, you pays your money and takes your chance.

    Alan Carter who produces Carters Antique Guide here in Australia has produced his last guide book, someone will step in and fill the gap Harry, it may not be immediately, but they will.

    I await the next 2 articles with interest.

    Kind regards, Nick

    • Mr Ryan, I cannot imagine Mr Rinker’s inner reaction to your comment, twice stated, that “there will always be a new Harry Rinker.” I’m sure it was not meant to offend.
      To these statements of yours I’d like to say, “I wish!”
      yet the reality is otherwise. First, Harry Rinker is unique in his knowledge, his expression, his intelligences (IQ and EQ). If there is anyone who’s given his lifesblood to the antiques field in such measure I don’t know who it is.

      Second, they don’t make ‘em like that any more. The level of erudition in our business is going the way of dumbed-down America in general, with some exceptions of course.

      I’m happy to see solid writing in some publications devoted to antiques, and it’s mostly from the boomer generation. Go into any antiques store in California and you will see lots of tags with “pretty blue vase” and “very old antique rocking chair.” (!) Compare this with items descriptions in an old high-end auction catalogue, and swoon with horror. Mr R. knows the language, the beautiful, precious, poetic, precise language of antiques.

      A small-time antiques dealer in a small-town mall for the last fifteen years, I am seeing our hairs whiten, our steps slower, and we women don’t heft the armoires from sale yard to truck like we used to. Our business is thriving and our neighbors are also doing well,but where is the next generation? In the couple of dozen or so dealers in our town I don’t know anyone under fifty-five. Most of us are in our sixties and seventies and we’ll all go with our boots on,but who will come after us? and who will care, as we do, about more than the bottom line?

      A visit to a small, exquisite antiques store in Santa Monica (CA)introduced me to a woman in her late sixties who’s lovingly tended her shop for thirty-two years. She is alone and none of her younger family are interested in the business. She is sad that a “next generation” has not showed up there either.

      Mr Ryan, I am afraid that there will not be another Harry Rinker no more than there will be anothr Betty Anne Nelson (beloved owner of our mall). Let us appreciate them to the dregs while they are still with us.

  3. Nick Ryan says:

    Constance, I would never wish to offend anyone, as to my comment twice stated, I have re-read and cannot see where I made the comment twice, you may have to point that out to me.

    Are you saying then that when you first got into antiques there was NO one else selling antiques except the oldies, you say a friend has been in the game 32 years so she started in her 30′s, there are plenty of youngsters interested in antiques, they may not have accumulated much of the knowledge yet, but will in time, I have 2 sons in their 30′s one detests antiques and the other loves them, but is busy with his family at the moment.

    People do not amass years of knowledge without putting in the hard yards often starting early on, like our Harry and he is a one off as we all are, but I can well imagine an old gent 30 years ago with a wealth of knowledge in his retirement, wondering the same thing, as Harry started out on his antiques journey.

    Maybe Harry should take an apprentice to pass his knowledge on. I am sure there are options to do this in the States as there our in many countries, often government funded.

    I know several people around the world with a passion and dedication to match Harry’s and whilst I do not want to take anything away from Harry and his great service to the trade, he is not alone. And no one is indispensable.

    It heartens me to read your comment that you are thriving & doing well as are your friends businesses, Harry wrote an article about the downward trend in antiques a short while ago and had very little response from dealers indicating otherwise, this positive trend remains the same here as well, in Australia. Keep up the good work!

    Kind regards, Nick

    • Hello Nick,

      My misunderstanding of your intent, I apologize. And your statement about no one being indispensible is a higher truth to which I ascribe, I am really glad to find it here!

      A confession: I am not an erudite, but I recognize one when I meet her/him. Also, my experience is limited to California north and south. I am more than glad to be “wrong”, as the positive view is my favorite in any situation and the realest when we make it so.

      In our town, we coincidentally all established businesses within the same five years, give or take, and we were in our thirties and forties. It’s still the “same gang” with no heirs in sight. I too know people with a serious passion
      who are under fifty, but they tend to be collectors, artists and decorators, not shop owners, appraisers or writers on antiques. But this doesn’t mean the thirty-somethings are not out there, right?

      Thank you for all your thoughtful comments and great attitude. May the very best antiques beat go on and on all over the world.

      all the very best to you, Nick.

      Constance Walsh

  4. Nick Ryan says:

    Hi Constance, thank you for your lovely reply, I live in a city (as proclaimed by Queen Victoria, the last city she ever proclaimed as a city before her death, and the fist one for that matter) We have a population of approx. 24,000 people. There are 6 antique shops.

    One is owned by a lovely elderly lady about to retire at 80
    She has had a shop more years than she cares to remember.
    And has seen many come and go in this city.

    Another by my friend Bev who has had a passion for antiques for years and was a full time teacher until she took early retirement and opened a shop, something she does not regret at all.

    Another is owned by a youngish guy the son in law of a local bric a brac collector, he siphons off the better more saleable gear to his shop, has another job and only opens on the weekend.

    3 others are owned by people of various ages and all are doing well given the current ‘recession’ We are on the only major route between Sydney and Canberra and a favourite stop point for a break, that helps :)

    As one shop closes another opens, I have thought a couple of times of opening my own shop but I would find it hard to let go of a lot of things as I love them all.

    My favourite times are when,I am in say Bev’s shop and a person comes in with a bag or box and disgorges the contents on the table, or better still leaves them to be pawed over at our leisure, always an exciting time for me :)

    All the best to you Constance and your group of dedicated shop owners. And to keep the positive view, our replacements are out there just waiting to take the plunge, they just don’t know it at the moment. LOL

    Kind regards, Nick

    PS. I saw your dealer profile “Mojave” on the net, oh you can tell you are a Pro. photographer, your pictures stand out well above the others. Photography is also my second passion and it is so good to be able too mix the two.

  5. Nick, your wonderful descriptions are so familiar, only the names have changed. Although our high-desert town has a larger and scattered population, we too have about a half-dozen shops, all within a quarler mile or so on the main highway, as it is it most towns.

    That person coming in off the street with a bulging bag, or with the classic question: “Do you buy stuff?” does make our eyes light up (most of the time). Even more exciting is the phone call: “My (grandmother, aunt, mother, great-uncle) died and I don’t want to keep anything. Can you come over?” And off we go, often up a wash-board dirt road heading miles into the desert. We’ve had, my friends and I, adventures that defy belief or description. “My Life as a Small Town Antiques Dealer” wants to be written.
    Your small town sounds charming.

    Our web site is a positive embarrassement, somebody’s idea that we should have one & did it himself. It has not been updated in years! Maybe we should revamp it …

    You are welcome to email me directly if you would like to continue sharing stories.

    Constance

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