Harry Rinker’s Hypothetical New Book: Not Appropriate for ‘The Big House’

I am addicted to the cable channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM), much to the chagrin of my wife Linda who finds many of the movies dated and boring. Robert Osborne, TCM’s host, quotes Lauren Bacall as saying, “every movie is a new movie if you haven’t seen it before.” I agree. Further, once is not enough. “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” never age. I see something new each time.

Every movie genre, from film noir to westerns, fascinates me. Gangsters and public enemies, thanks in large part to Prohibition and the Depression, were among the major news stories in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The movie industry was quick to capitalize. Gangster movies made stars of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. Never turn down a chance to see “Little Caesar” (1930) or “Scarface” (1932).

Harry Rinker“The Big House” (1930), a gangster classic directed by George Hill and starring Wallace Beery, Robert Montgomery, Chester Morris and Lewis Stone, made term “The Big House” a generic term for prison. “Send him to The Big House” or “He’ll do his time in The Big House” appeared in dozens of subsequent movie scripts.

Movie lingo appears in my writing. In the past, I assumed readers had no trouble understanding the references. This is no longer the case. My references have become dated and, alas, obscure as I have grown older. “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” I now take time to explain them. The Big House is synonymous with the slammer, the pen, penitentiary, correctional facility, and prison, hence its appropriateness in the title.

A California attorney acting on behalf of a client ordered a copy of my “How to Think Like a Collector” (Emmis Books, 2005). The client was incarcerated at the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles, the location to which I was to send the book. I filled the order. Two weeks later I received a blistering e-mail from the attorney asking why I cashed her check even though her client had not received the book. I sent the book using the United States Postal Service’s media mail rate, not the fastest way to send a package. It takes a week or more for a book to travel coast to coast. I informed the attorney that I had sent the book as requested. A second e-mail demanded an immediate refund. Since I encourage those involved in selling antiques and collectibles to adhere to the “customer is always right” principle, I sent a full refund; evidence that I do practice what I preach.

Shortly thereafter, the missing book arrived back in Brookfield, Connecticut. The “Return to Sender” label from the “IRC – Mail Unit” had the “Contents Unacceptable” box checked. The mailing envelope was opened and resealed. An employee of the Pitchess Detention Center reviewed my book and made a judgment that it did not belong in The Big House.

I was conflicted. Should I be angry or should I be flattered that my book was deemed inappropriate? I settled for amused and bothered.

"How to Think Like a Collector"

"How to Think Like a Collector"

What was in “How to Think Like a Collector” that caused law enforcement personnel to decide it was dangerous? The book describes what motivates and drives the collector. If a burglar or other criminal-type is going to steal antiques and collectibles, he is more likely to fence them to a pawn broker or consign them to auction before offering them to a collector. High-end fine art is the exception to this rule, but it is not covered in “How to Think Like a Collector.”

The chapters describing how the market works, how prices are determined, and separating period pieces from reproductions, copycats, fantasy items and fakes might intrigue the criminal entrepreneur. He first would have to identify universal concepts within the specifics and second have a sophisticated knowledge of the broad antiques and collectibles marketplace to apply them. My book is innocent. Or is it?

Asking questions is part of my thinking process. All questions are fair game. Dangerous questions fascinate me. I formulated two doozies.

If I received a request from an individual, never in my wildest dreams imagining that the person had criminal intentions, asking me to recommend a list of books to gain insight into how the antiques and collectibles marketplace functions, what books would appear on the list? “How to Think Like a Collector” would be near the top. A theory book explaining and analyzing the inner workings of the antiques and collectibles marketplace does not exist. A few how-to books, i.e., how to become an auctioneer, appraiser or dealer, etc., deal peripherally with the subject. Michael Mendelsohn’s “Life is Short, Art is Long: Maximizing Estate Planning Strategies for Collectors of Art, Antiques, and Collectibles” provides tidbits of information about the high-end market scattered throughout its chapters. The absence of an antiques and collectibles marketplace theory book conveys a clear message. Publishers see no market for it.

Finding a publisher for any new antiques and collectibles title in 2010 is difficult at best and nearly impossible in the least. Antiques and collectibles publishing editors lament: (1) it already has been done, (2) who will buy it, and (3) give me something new that has not been done before and has a ready-made 5,000 plus copies market.

“What interest would there be in a book providing criminals with information needed to successfully steal and sell antiques and collectibles?” I asked. I found my answer frightening. There is a market, a big market. Individuals can find information on how to build bombs, commit suicide, reconfigure a gun’s triggering mechanism to convert it to an automatic weapon, and a host of other illegal and semi-illegal activities on the Internet. Given this, “Successfully Stealing and Disposing of Antiques and Collectibles” (SDAC) is a marketable title. A price of $75 or higher, even for an online e-book version, is reasonable for such a niche title. The potential gain far exceeds the price.

Creating a chapter outline is the next step. Once done, it will become the heart of a formal book proposal. SDAC divides into three sections: (1) identifying what is worth stealing, (2) acquisition techniques, and (3) disposal options with emphasis on how to use them without leaving a trace while still maximizing your return.

Ask A WorthologistPart I includes chapters that focus on how to (a) distinguish between objects that are and are not worth stealing, (b) separate the more desirable high-end pieces from middle and low-end pieces, and (c) understand a myriad of value considerations ranging from aesthetics to condition. It ends with a chapter devoted to spotting and understanding market trends.

Part II opens with a separate chapter for the key sources of supply, e.g., museums, historical societies, public institutions, private individuals, etc. A full chapter is devoted to packing and moving objects to avoid damage during theft. Part II ends with a chapter on how to store objects until such time as it is safe to liquidate them.

Part III devotes a chapter to each major selling source—auctions, dealers, pawn shops, private collectors/investors, and scrap buyers. Two chapters, the first focusing on the European and English-speaking markets and the second on the Asian and South American markets, provide a global perspective. A concluding chapter discusses secondary sales options ranging from museums to industrial decorators.

I can write this book, albeit based on hearsay as opposed to actual knowledge. While I doubt if a mainstream publisher will accept it, there are fringe publishers who might. If not, I can self-publish, especially in this age of print on demand and e-books.

If I decide to go forward, I will need to consult an attorney. What legal responsibility, if any, do I have regarding those individuals who use my information and those who are victimized by its use? Is the person who provides the plans for a bomb as guilty as the person who makes and uses it? The one thing I do not want to do is spend time in The Big House.


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 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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