Why People Stop Collecting – The Final Word

At the conclusion of each of the four columns in the “Why Collectors Stop Collecting” series (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV), I asked readers to share their thoughts on the subject. I received more than 80 e-mails and letters. Responses came from the United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands. Many were single spaced and more than a page in length. I thank everyone for the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their comments.

In the series, I identified five main reasons why people stop collecting: personal; financial; availability; contemporary products accompanied by reproductions, copycats, fantasy items, and fakes; and issues involved with collecting. Based on my readers’ observations, I missed several subcategories in the personal and issues involving collecting areas and overlooked a global consideration in the financial area.

Harry RinkerA reader blamed his collecting addiction on his advanced collector parents. It is nature versus nurture. The only way to negate this unhealthy nurturing was to stop collecting. I recommend he look in the mirror to reveal the true culprit.

Although I wrote about the aging process, I did not give adequate attention to health issues. A decrease in a collector’s physical ability to walk, grasp or lift impacts his participation in the hunt and his ability to interact with his collection. Second, the cost of health care often creates a dent in a collector’s disposable income and can even force him to sell some or all of his collection to pay insurance and/or health care costs.

I covered issues resulting from the death of a collector. I should have also focused on the death of a spouse or friend. Most collectors do not collect in isolation. They have a partner, even if it is someone who is just along for the ride. Collecting is an act that is most rewarding when shared. Several respondents talked about the negative impact from the loss of a collecting or non-collecting spouse, fellow collector or friend.

Several collectors indicated they stopped collecting as the result of helping another collector downsize or dispose of a collection or collections as estate executors. A bad experience can be the catalyst to stop a collector dead in his tracks.

When considering divorce, I focused on the issues raised when divorce forced the sale of a collection. Two readers reminded me of additional consequences. In one case, the spouse claimed the collections were so valuable, they could provide a lifetime income for the collector. The spouse had the collections appraised at replacement cost, a value that is all but impossible to receive upon sale but accepted by the courts. The spouse received the house and business. The collector discovered it was impossible to generate enough money to live comfortably from the sales. A second reader noted that her spouse argued that the money she spent on her collections was an indication of her mismanagement of funds; one of the primary reasons he was seeking a divorce. It is a cruel world when a spouse signs the divorce papers and exits with a parting shot of: “I hate antiques.”

In an age when multiple marriages are common, a new partner can impact a collector’s life. While I always think of love as responsible for collecting, it can have a negative effect. A new spouse requires space, space which reduces the amount of display space previously enjoyed by the collector. If the collector moves in with his new spouse, the likelihood of his having the same or more space for his collections is slim to none. The new spouse may demand he get rid of them. Add the possibility that the new spouse may not like the hunt, his collecting friends, and/or the amount of time spent on the collections. Love might conquer all, but not this situation. Something has to give; and, it is often the collections.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child. I understood as a child. I thought as a child. But, when I became a man I put away childish things.”

—First Corinthians, Chapter XII, Verse 11

A reader wrote that he stopped collecting his childhood treasures when he became an adult. He was told by acquaintances that adults do not play with toys. His friends were agents of the Devil. Of course, adults collect and play with childhood toys. Collecting is memory-driven. Some of the fondest memories are from childhood.

Far too many advanced collectors become haunted by questions they should not have to answer. When is enough, enough? What have I done? Is there something more to life than collecting? The frequency of these questions increases as the collector grows older.

Reassessing priorities is dangerous. One collector stopped collecting after 9/11. The Twin Towers tragedy resulted in a major reevaluation of his priorities. Collecting no longer seemed as important as it once did. Another collector had an epiphany and believed God told her to put aside material things (her collection) and use her time and money to help others. I have shied away from suggesting any links between collecting and religion in the over 23 years I have written “Rinker on Collectibles.” This, in spite of the fact that temples and churches were sites of some of the earliest documented collections. While I am unaware of any passage in the Bible, Koran, or other religious text that prohibits collecting, I am certain some biblical scholar can cite one.

Collecting is global. A reader from The Netherlands lamented that the arrival of the Euro resulted in a price inflation that made many of the things he liked to collect too expense for his pocketbook. The weak dollar has had a major impact on American collectors buying abroad. The Great Recession has eliminated the disposable income of many collectors. Collecting is not fun when one cannot buy.

In the area of collecting issues, one reader stopped collecting because there was nothing left in his collecting category for him to collect. “When you own the best, what is left?” he asked. Another raised the same issue, but refocused his collecting interests toward collecting illustrator art from children’s books. He knew the category was so vast that he could never assemble a “complete” collection.

An advanced collector is skilled at spotting variations. Fueled by the desire to assemble as complete a collection as possible, the collector is always on the hunt. A reader stopped collecting when he could no longer tell the difference between the objects in his collection. All of a sudden, they all looked alike. The uniqueness of each object vanished.

Ask A WorthologistCan there be too much of a good thing? One collector stopped collecting Coca-Cola items because his family, friends and acquaintances kept giving him Coca-Cola items as presents. Most of the presents were modern day reproductions, copycats, fantasy items and fakes. Unable to tell his friends he did not want nor appreciate their generosity, he quit collecting. My second wife Connie had a similar experience with salt and pepper shakes. She acquired a few examples as a youngster. Before she knew it, she had received more than 50 pairs as gifts. She disliked them, so much so that she left the collection with me when we divorced.

I research the objects I buy. Each purchase takes me on a new journey. One collector wrote that he stopped collecting when he learned everything he wanted to know about a collecting category. Note he did not say “everything” there was to learn. His education level had a limit.

A good friend, a major collector in his category for more than 25 years, sold his collection as a unit. When he e-mailed to tell me, I was momentarily shocked. His reason said it all: “I had an offer that was too good to refuse.”

I deliberately did not attribute the above observations to a specific reader. In many instances, more than one reader covered the same ground. Some asked that their names not be revealed. I am breaking precedence to credit Werner Wolf with a final thought on why collectors stop collecting:

“Here is a wild theory for you . . . Perhaps some of our more primitive drives from early man affect both the start of collecting and its cessation. Do we go through a hunter-gatherer phase in our 20s and 30s that spurs us to nest (first-time home purchases) and to collect? And, are our later years in the 60s and 70s still laden with the knowledge that we will soon be left on the ice floe by the tribe, our hunted and gathered trophies worthless? We still carry DNA codes from our prehistoric ancestors. Perhaps collecting and dispersing stem from stored cultural patterns.”


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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  • Thank-you for your informative articles on why collectors stop collecting. My story is much the same as many others before me.

    I closed my warehouse and store when my husband became ill.
    All of my nieces and nephews got to take what was meaningfull to them with the provision that if they tired of the item they could sell them and the proceeds were to go to my son.

    When my husband died and I sold my larger home to move to a senior apartment complex in Northern California I found that
    there was no room for my treasures. Going from 4000 sq ft. home of space to 1200 sq. ft. made storage the only option. After almost a year of $9180. of storage fees I realize that the items were out of sight and out of mind.

    I have taken some cases and wall space in a local antiques mall with the intent of disbursing my treasures. My website is now filled with items I had traveled around the world chasing the thrill of the hunt. The joys were great traveling with other dealers and friends to places far away
    and interesting. Life adventures that give memories that last a life time. I think they were more important than the treasures found. The stories attached to each trip were laughable and precious.

    What was, was and what is, is. I am hoping others will enjoy
    the beautiful items and they will bring whimsey to their lives and make them sigh at the joys of havings such lovingly collected items.

    Best regards,
    Karyn Shaudis
    Nightingale Antiques
    Sonoma County, California

  • Kelly

    As a child, I spent countless hours following my mother around to various flea-markets and antique shops.I dreaded it.When a store was spotted,I knew instantly that I would be standing around for at least 2 hours looking at things I could not touch.I could never understand why my mother was driven to collect so many pieces.

    I grew up and didn’t care to collect anything.I lost my career due to illness and faced a financial crisis.How was I going to support myself? I found myself at a garage sale looking for linens as they were affordable.

    I also spotted a few pieces of Cambridge glass.I walked over, picked it up and was delighted at it’s beauty.The clarity and color made me feel happy for a brief moment,so I bought it!

    When I came home,I began to research to find out the pattern and maker.I found it and about fell over when I saw the sale price.I began picking up a piece here and there and decided to try and sell a piece or two myself.

    From there I began to sell full time and found a niche.It dawned on me that those long hours of standing around looking at that boring old glass served me well decades later. I also began to collect,so my experience as a child came full circle.

    In the last two years,I noticed a great majority of sales were overseas, and this alarmed me.I realized that I was selling pieces of American history and in time there will not be much left.This heightened my desire to collect.

    I also decided to involve my daughter and grandchildren.I allow them to touch and enjoy these treasures.I tell them about the history of each piece and encourage them to give some of my things as gifts to their fiends hoping to encourage a new generation of collectors and maybe rekindle the interest of former collectors.

    Let the children touch and hold.Implement collectibles into their lives and show them how they can be of benefit.Teach them everything you know and share the history.This is one way to sustain the tradition of collecting and American history.

    Kelly Williams
    Vintage Vine Antiques
    Oak Grove MO.

    • Kelly

      Hello Gerald.

      I am deeply sorry to hear about your situation.Would it be possible to keep the store open only on certain days and sell on line?Or possibly lease part of the store to someone?


  • Harry & Antique community: With much sorrow and saddness i have come to the end of my life….i am so depressed. I have been in the Antiques Business since 1982. Yup, in my case have parents who are know in Retirement Home and aging very fast. Frail and just day to day. I have absolutely no one that even has the slightest interest in what im doing running a Beautiful little Antique Shop. Have been proudly selling to the world over the years. I am at the end. Can Not see any future for me. Devestated, even my lawyer told me to close the business.___have sisters that have no care about continuing what i have been doing. Close the business no life, No wife, equals no son, no daughter…nothing to live for. gerald

  • Maggie

    Gerald: I’m so sorry to read your post. I think the older and/or more ill we get, the more trouble we have moving forward and letting go of the things that we think make us who we are. I try to remember that everything changes and when it does, normally better things come forward. Things come full circle. The economy is so bad people just don’t have the disposable income they once did. But they will again.

    I know the pain of aged family members to care for and the emptiness that fills many of our days. I hope there are happy days in your future, sincerely. I would suggest, and only suggest, that maybe giving of oneself would bring peace and contentment to your heart once again. There are so many ways in which to share yourself and in doing so fill up the voids in our own lives.

    Things are just things, love and friends are the true valuable assets we have. Hang in there sweet man.

  • Joyce Rau

    Gerald, I can so emphathize with you. When my children were small my husband and would take them on trips and invariable stop at some roadside Antique/collectible shop. Like Kelly, they spent countless hours “waiting”, not allowed to touch, as we scoured the shops for treasured items. Little did we know then our real treasures were our children; they are older now and have all move out of the house and I am left with a museum and a lifefime of memories. I am having trouble moving on surrounded with all of these memories of the past and so have decide to make a clean break of it and clean out once and for all. Though difficult for me to let go of so many things associated with many happy years with my children growing up, I am finding that the more I let go the more free I feel.

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