What Will The Next Generation Collect?

It is time once again to peer into my crystal ball; at least it would be if I owned a crystal ball. I do not. The lack of a crystal ball does not negate my ability to foresee the future. Predict, rather than foresee, would have been a safer word choice, but I must uphold my reputation for putting my neck on the line.

Carol Bergeron, who sells on Ruby Lane.com (www.rubylane.com) as Antiques on Canaan Street, wrote in a recent e-mail: “A current concern seems to be that maybe the tide has turned so far that the new generation has no need or interest in collecting. They are ‘into’ other things …” Carol is not correct. Collecting is an integral component of our individual and national psyche. There will always be collectors. The question that needs to be asked is what will they collect?


We would love nothing better than to have our children and grandchildren treasure and collect the same things we do, especially family heirlooms. Alas, we live in a real, not an ideal world. While our children and grandchildren embrace our passion and desire to collect, their collecting focus is different.

Two truisms are at work. Today’s young collectors (1) collect the things with which they played while growing up; and (2) are influenced by decorating and media trends. There are links to the past, but they are tenuous and subject to breakage as memories lessen.

Historically, fashion, the kitchen, movies, music, television and toys were the principal indicators of future collecting trends. Fashion trends—from clothing to hairstyle—seem to have lasted longer in the past than the present. Age frequently clouds perception. The length of time has not changed. Compare a 1999 fashion magazine with one from 2009. The style changes are subtle, slight differences in cut and color scheme but still basically the same. The emphasis is on designer brands, a collecting trend that reared its head in the mid-part of the current decade. Style histories offer clearly defined fashion looks for the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. A representative fashion look for the 1980s and 1990s remains a work in progress. Given the eclectic emphasis throughout these decades, finding common ground may be impossible. The ear from the 1980s to the present is one of multiplicity. If true, future collecting will be even more specialized than today.

America became collecting-conscious in 1980; i.e., individuals understood that objects had potential long-term secondary market value. Two and one-half decades of hoarding and speculation followed. The bubble burst five years ago. When this current economic crisis ends, hoarding and speculation will reassert themselves.

The early 1980s is also significant because it heralded the arrival of the individual credit card with higher and higher spending limits, the specialized mail catalog, and the growth of specialized mall stores catering to smaller and smaller specialized customers. The large supermall with two to three major anchors spread across America. These developments changed our lifestyle and buying habits. It caused a quantum jump in how and what future collectors will collect. The trend is irreversible.

Where We Buy

Today’s brides are far more likely to register at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn than at a large department store like Nordstrom or Macy’s. The family kitchen is no longer furnished from a single source. Furnishings come from a wide variety of sources, e.g., Costco, IKEA, K-mart, Walmart, Williams-Sonoma and other specialty kitchen retailers. Dinner is often pre-packaged food prepared in a microwave or cooked on a grill. Few cooks still roll their own pie crusts. In fact, few still bake pies.

We live in an era of pre-packaged, mass-produced products. While choices are broader than ever, affordability rests with the limited choices available on Big Box shelves. Big Box stores have a revolving merchandise policy. Product designs often are on the shelf for less than year. As a result, future collectors may have to hunt harder to determine of what their childhood actually consisted than they will to buy it back. There are no Costco, K-mart or Walmart printed catalogs, such as those issued by Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck, to document goods sold. Electronic catalogs are not archived. Sunday and daily newspaper inserts are discarded. We are reaching a point where the only way we will identify what we owned in the past is if our parents or we saved it.

I walk the aisles of Costco, IKEA, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Sears, Walmart and other Big Box stores, as well as those of Nordstrom and Macy’s, once a year or more, spending extra time in the household and toy sections. Some of what I see will be collectible by 2030 and antique by 2060, if not earlier. I hope the percentage is small, but I suspect otherwise. Old timers say a silent “thank God I will not be here to see it” prayer. I will not be here either, but I would very much like to be. The joy is in collecting, not what is being collected.

Why Today is Not Like Yesteryear

The movies are the one constant between generations. However, the 1999-2000 “Star Wars” licensing debacle ended the strong commitment to pre-release movie licensing. The time period between movie to DVD and cable continues to shorten. Coupled with the studios’ desire to create one to two blockbusters per month, the end result is a short shelf life. Far too many films are designated as instant classics. What happened to “Monsters, Inc.,” “Cars” and “The Incredibles”? If not for an occasional cable TV appearance, they would be gone and forgotten. Their videos and DVDs are gathering dust. Collectability requires a longer exposure to product. Once again, the individual consciousness supersedes that of the group. Specialized taste equals specialized memory equals specialized collecting.


Much has been written about the attention span of today’s youth and young adults. We live in a 30-second sound bite era. Channel surfing supports this. In the mid-20 century, music stars had careers that lasted 30-plus years, albeit the Beatles’ “America” era was only seven years. They aged gracefully, holding their audience and adding to it. Today we have out-of-shape, 60-year-old-plus rock and punk rock musicians doing revival tours. Parents bring their children as a bonding exercise, but to what end? The kids could care less. Woodstock celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. If you were 18 at the time, you are now 58 and facing the prospect of working well past your initial retirement age thanks to the current economic downtown. You are not who you were then and neither are those who performed. Time is the enemy.

Rap music will someday be part of oldies radio and collectible. I dread the thought, but it will happen. In 2030 classic car shows will feature mini-vans and SUVs. Chances of finding a Model-T Ford will be slim. “Nonexistent” is the correct word, but I do not want to shock those who still collect early Fords.

The Golden Age of television program licensing ended in the late 1970s, largely the result of shows shifting to adult rather than family content. While some might argue that the soccer-mom syndrome, i.e., involving the kids in a maximum of after school activity, and cable television also contributed to the decline, it already was underway prior to their arrival.

What Will Be Collectible?

Barbie, Bratz, Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger, My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be collectible in the 2020s. Princess material has potential. The craze has shown surprising staying power. Say goodbye to GI Joe. He lost the battle. Barney and Elmo will be in the landfill or Goodwill. Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Fisher-Price are questionable. Fisher-Price is the dominant toy brand at the moment. Even though the bulk of its products are infant- and toddler-related, they may have hidden collecting potential.

I see no future collectability for video games and the machines on which they are played, or computers. I favor cell phones. Collecting requires diversity and display ability. Style sameness is a deterrent.

What will the next generation collect? The answer rests with your children (if under 30) and your grandchildren. Pay attention to the objects they use repeatedly. Watch for memories to develop. Ignore the fly-by-night, trendy items. Love and favorites are the keys.

You are only an observer, not judge and jury. We live in an era when we no longer dictate our children’s and grandchildren’s tastes. They have minds of their own—minds that are made up far more quickly and earlier than the generation in which I grew up.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on http://www.gcnlive.com 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 letters will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049. You also 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. 2009

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