Why People Stop Collecting – Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of columns focusing on why collectors stop collecting. It completes my initial thoughts. However, it is not the last column I will write on the subject. Thus far, I have received more than 75 e-mails and letters from readers who responded to my request to share their thoughts. Once I have read and digested the many thoughtful comments, I plan to write a final column identifying and discussing the reasons not on my initial list.

I identified five primary reasons—personal, financial, availability, contemporary material and issues arising from the collecting process—why collectors stop collecting. Previous series columns discussed the subcategories within the personal, financial and availability categories.

Harry RinkerContemporary material divides into three subcategories: 1) reproductions (exact copies), copycats (stylistic copies), fantasy items (forms, shapes and colors mimicking an historical time period but never existing in that time period), and fakes (objects deliberately meant to deceive); 2) licensed product; and 3) stepped up manufacture of collectible material. Reproductions, copycats, fantasy items and fakes have plagued collectors since ancient Rome. In 2010, the production, distribution and deceptive selling of reproductions, copycats, fantasy items and fakes is a multi-million dollar business.

Historically, advanced collectors and specialized dealers assumed they could distinguish between period pieces and reproductions, copycats, fantasy items and fakes. As the manufacturing of these items became more sophisticated, this ability lessened. When the quality of Nippon reproductions and copycats equaled that of period pieces in the 1990s, many of the advanced collectors sold their collections and withdrew from the marketplace. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Twice shamed, many collectors stop collecting.

More and more companies are licensing their historic image. Coca-Cola is the leader, but owners of historical character and personality rights are not far behind. In many cases, the licensing rights include duplicate period forms. Because of the lack of an adequate hobby protection bill, many of these items are not marked as modern. Further, many manufacturers issue collector editions (a designation that literally means the manufacturer will produce as many examples as customers are willing to buy) or limited editions that number in the tens of thousands. Any edition containing more than 10 copies is not limited.

If the collector does not buy this contemporary licensed material when it is new, he fears the prospect of paying more for it in the future. Hence, he buys now. If he would wait, he most likely would be able to buy it for a dime on the dollar. Waiting is not part of the collecting mindset. When a collector wants something, he wants it immediately. When a collector spends more on contemporary rather than historic examples, something is amiss.

The same buy-it-now-or-wait dilemma occurs when the collected category is still being manufactured. Barbie is an example. In the 1990s Mattel increased its annual production of Barbie varieties and added special holiday and designer issues. Many were targeted toward adult collectors and not little girls. Exclusives, Barbie variations sold only by one merchant—usually a Big Box store—added to the problem. As the 1990s ended, a serious Barbie collector had to spend in excess of $25,000 to buy every example made in a single year, providing he/she could locate them. Barbie turned out to be a very expensive young lady to date. Since I do not want to be accused of picking on Barbie, let me make it clear she does not stand alone. Matchbox, GI Joe and his many reincarnations, and Beanie Babies are other examples.

Collections grow. Spouses believe antiques and collectibles breed and give birth at night. What else would explain their waking up in the morning and discovering a piece they never saw before? While in theory, a true collector can always find room for one more, the sad truth is collectors can and do eventually run out of space. Lack of space is one of the subcategories of issues arising from collecting. Insurance, security, the lack of ability to find enjoyment and the call of another Siren are others.

Ask A WorthologistCollectors like to view their collections. Storing objects creates hidden guilt, a feeling the collector is not doing justice to the objects he acquired. I visited with an individual who collects children’s book illustration art. Every wall of every room in his house is covered with framed examples. His only display choices left are the ceilings or building an addition onto his home. He has the contacts and funds to buy more. But, where would he display his new acquisitions? He has no interest in archiving it in storage cabinets. We parted with no solution in sight other than to stop collecting.

I am surprised by the large number of collectors who do not insure their collections. Forget cost for the moment. The real reasons are: 1) collectors often do not want anyone else to know what they own; 2) making and maintaining a collection inventory is a gigantic pain in the butt; 3) collectors do not want to know what their things are worth, especially if they have declined in value; and, 4) collectors do not want to pay the costs involved with a professional appraisal. They would rather acquire a new object than spend the money on insurance or an appraisal.

In the 1990s insurance companies became aware of the potential loss involved in antiques and collectibles. As a result, many homeowner policies now limited the amount of loss that can be sustained for antiques and collectibles, just as they do for precious metals, firearms and jewelry. Because antiques and collectibles loss is not well documented, quotes per thousand for Fine Arts (Marine Inland) insurance are high. Most collectors refuse to pay and accept the risk of loss as one of the risks associated with collection.

Collectors are more willing to trust a security system, a cost that continues to increase. The annual maintenance cost often exceeds $500.

A security system is only the first line of defense. Security also involves screening visitors and deciding how much of the collection the collector will share. Visitors can range from friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow collectors to a spouse’s and/or child’s friends. The collector has to be conscious of how he and others talk about his collection in public. Although little has been written about this, collectors live with a sense of fear that someone is going to steal the prize pieces.

This fear, coupled with some or all of the other issues raised throughout this series, begin wearing on the collector. As the pressures mount, the collector reaches a point where collecting is no longer fun. Collecting and maintaining the collection becomes work. When collecting is no longer fun, it is time to stop. This is my philosophy. I identify with it. Although I have come close to stopping collecting several times in the past decade, I have always encountered something that renewed my faith and rejuvenated my enthusiasm. I know many collectors who were not as lucky.

A surprising number of letters and e-mails I received from readers offering their thoughts on why a collector stops collecting stressed that collecting is an addiction. Once a person starts to collect, he cannot stop. All he can do is stop collecting one category and begin collecting another. However, in fairness, I have met a few individuals who have quit and walked away. They did not hear another Siren’s call.

I will always collect. I am typical and not atypical. Collecting is as integral to my life as is breathing. I no longer add to some of my collections for many of the reasons noted in this series. Fortunately, there is always a new Siren’s call to answer. Good times occur when the Siren is accompanied by several of her sisters. A true collector falls in love with all of them.
It is not too late to add your two, three, four or five cents to this issue. E-mail me at harrylrinker@aol.com or send your letter to Stop Collecting, Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT 06804. Thanks to all those who have responded thus far.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK? I would like to know your thoughts about why people stop collecting. The stack of e-mail responses from my readers continues to climb. Again, my thanks to those who have e-mailed. If you did not, please do. Send your thoughts to me at harrylrinker@aol.com or Stop Collecting, Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT 06804.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his 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: http://www.harryrinker.com.

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. 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. 2010

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  1. Joyce Rau says:

    I think the point we are missing here is that as we grow older and our needs change. Some change careers, or divorce a life long spouse in the quest for what makes us “feel Alive” again; for a new experience. What has worked before is no longer fulfilling. What once was passion has fizzeled not because or drudgery or lack of loyalty but for lack of interest. We have been there; done that if you will excuse the cliche, time for something new. Can that spark be reunited? I think quite possibly under the right conditions and circumstances.

  2. Jean Sutton says:

    I agree with the response dated 3/6/ about why people stop collecting. Over the years my collecting has changed due to life changes. I first collected antique furniture, because I thought it was often cheaper than new, and/or it would keep its value or time (or increase), rather than decrease.
    Then as my children arrived I wanted smaller things and began collecting framed old prints. Many of mothers and children, then I went to Parrish (which is not very collectible now). Lately I’ve collected costumer jewelry–some junk, and some with value. Smaller and smaller over time. I have a large collection of art pottery and ceramic pitchers (hall, Bauer), but since I move more now in my later years, things get broken or damaged. I have considered selling off many of those kinds of things, since it hurts so much to see things chipped, cracked, or actually broken by storing too long, having friends help you move. Each time I have moved it has been to smaller and smaller quarters , which also pressures me to sell off. I love touching my pottery and re-=arranging it, and as I have aged I have bought display cases to reduce how much I must wash and dust them. So all these aging things, divorce, and other life changes have impacted my collecting. I still love to find something that’s distressed and needs cleaning, or a small fix to make it shine, but small spaces also limit that. I stopped doing shows after I hit fifty, too much lifting. So there’s all my reasons, hope it helps with the information gathering.