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 email@example.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..
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