Rinker on Collectibles: Waxing Nostalgic about Becoming a Septuagenarian
I am a septuagenarian. Unlike some I know, I never hesitate sharing how old I am. My age is not an embarrassment. Given my lifestyle, I am astonished I have survived this long. Assuming the maxim “the good die young” to be true, what does my longevity say about me? This is a rhetorical question. Please do not answer it.
The only thing that saddens me about becoming a septuagenarian is that I am no longer a sexagenarian. There is something sexy about sexagenarian, besides its obvious first three letters. My parents were old in their 50s. They thought and acted old. My generation, the pre-Baby Boomers who grew up in the late 1940s and 1950s, established that their 60s were a time in which hormones governed their lives and life remained filled with challenges, fun and excitement. Sixty is not old; neither is 70.
I never accepted decade shift as a chronological definer. The world did not experience a shift in anything except a calendar page between Dec. 31, 1999 and Jan. 1, 2000. Nothing magical happened to me between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. I was the same person the day after my birthday as I was the day before. Officially, I was a year older. Because of the way Americans calculate birthdays, I already was 70 for 365 days. I began my 71st year on October 1. Hence, as each day passes, I am 70 years, ___months and ___ days old.
[Author’s Aside #1: The last sentence above reminds me of the information found on funeral cards and tombstones. The dead certainly do not care. A reasonable person can do the mathematics provided the day, month and year of birth and death are known. Having just written this, I just experienced a “eureka” moment. I have no desire to have a standard tombstone epitaph. My tombstone will feature a picture of my NOITAL license plate beneath which is the caption: “His License Plate Said It All.” Why stop there? I am going to have a digital clock installed that provides the exact number of days, hours, minutes and seconds since I died. While I will not care, hopefully it will bring a smile to some.]
There are several links between my birth year and my career in the antiques and collectibles trade. I assumed the editorship of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices” in 1981. Although my museum/historic site career began in 1966, when I was 25, I date my involvement in the antiques and collectibles trade from the “Warman’s” editorship. Hence, I have been part of the industry for 30 years. If asked how long I have been around, many in the trade would offer a much higher number. No problem. When I am not doing the mathematics, it seems longer to me as well.
My weekly “Rinker on Collectibles” was launched in 1986. It will celebrate its 25th anniversary this December. In 1986, column 1,300 was not even a glint in my eye. Now, it is 12 weeks away. The next milestone is column 1,500. I am carefully considering if this is a mountain I wish to climb at my “advanced” age.
I learned that I would become Home & Garden Television’s “Collector Inspector,” when I was 60. I had just finished celebrating my 61st birthday when the first show aired. I was “batching” it at the time, living at The School, the former Vera Cruz (Pa.) Elementary School. While I was not a Hippie in the Sixties, I had three great years in my early 60s.
While most careers have a built-in obsolescence—the older you become, the less valuable you become—an antiques and collectibles career acts just the opposite. Knowledge in the field is cumulative. The longer you are in the game, the more you learn; the more you learn and the more valuable you become. Whether a person becomes a national treasure, font of wisdom or whatever term applies depends on his/her ability to stay current. I am loathe to quit, not wanting to waste the knowledge that I worked so hard to acquire and unwilling to pass up the opportunity to keep learning more.
Some individuals grow old gracefully. Do not count me among their number. Thirty years ago, I was one of the trade’s young bucks. Now, I am among its old farts, although flatly denying any connection to the industry’s traditionalists—once a renegade, always a renegade.
[Author’s Aside #2: The fact that one can be a young buck at 40 is one of the many curiosities in the antiques and collectibles trade. While there are old-timers who entered the trade in their 20s, most began their careers in their mid-30s to early 40s.]
While I still think and act young, I am not moving as fast as I once did. I take medication for cholesterol, diabetes and gout. So far, my blood pressure is fine. I am overweight. Hence, my stamina is not what it used to be. I am paying for the good life this industry has given and continues to provide me.
I am losing more and more friends to the grim reaper. Two decades ago, I thought little about this. Those passing away were a generation ahead of me. Now, they are my age or younger. It is my generation’s turn. We are the senior citizens of our industry. When it is your turn to hold the torch, it is hard to let go. I have not been as conscientious as I should have been in identify and befriending the next generation of industry leaders. The problem with being on top is that it is too much fun.
I was in my 50s when I first put forth the concept that collectors stop collecting in their early 60, hold on to their collections for another decade and begin disposing of their collections in their early to mid-seventies. As I begin my 71st year, I am proof that the concept is valid. I assumed that I would be the exception—collect until I die; and, to some extent, I will be. However, I no longer collect with the enthusiasm of 10 years ago. I sold The School and am downsizing my holdings. Linda’s and my house in Kentwood is full. There is no more room; and, Linda has put her foot down on our buying another house in the development just to house my things.
As I have grown older, I have become more attuned to the passage of time, a commodity that seems to go faster the older one becomes. Sofia turned 6 in June. Was she not born yesterday? Has it been 11 years since I celebrated the turn of the century? Time’s increased speed has had a serious impact on my “To Do” list. Projects take longer to accomplish than earlier. Linda argues that I take on too much. My schedule always has been overcommitted, but I accomplished it by working long hours and sevens day a week. Nothing is work when you love doing it. Now, I can no longer work into the early morning hours as I once did. Overnighters are out of the question. I do not want to turn back the hands of time, just slow them down.
I multi-tasked before multi-tasking was popular. As I have grown older, it has become harder. While I am more than willing to blame it on the demands created by modern technology, I know the problem is me. The desire is there, but the mind—not the body in this case—is weak.
In my early 60s, I was current and tuned into each new generation as it arrived on the collecting scene. This changed over the past five years. I am having trouble identifying with the Millennials. In the past, I discovered linkages between my generations and those that followed. The Millennials are different. Trying to understand them better is one of the reasons I returned to the college classroom. This semester I am teaching freshman seminar, public speaking and writing. Although I interact with the Millennials, it is clear there is a major disconnect in interests. I am trying hard to grasp their lifestyle and media interests. My concern is that this is a “silent” generation of collectors. It has no interest in establishing a long-term relationship with things. Buy it new, use it, buy an updated version as soon as it becomes available and discard the old, even if it works.
Ten years ago, I was in age denial. While I want to think I still am, I am no longer certain. I find myself thinking more and more about my age—not a good thing.
To end on a positive note and, as I stated earlier, I have no intention to age gracefully. If anything, I plan to become more cantankerous, opinionated and obnoxious. I will not ever give up this crazy business and the objects associated with it.
If there is a God, I am going to die buying an antique or collectible, not selling. If this fails, I will settle for a moment when I am in the process of sharing my thoughts about the industry. Maybe my tombstone needs a third feature, a line reading: “Grumpy and Stubborn to the End.”
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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