Why People Stop Collecting – Part I

In packing my author-signed book collection, I came across a duplicate copy of the Beginner Books’ edition of “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back” (New York: Random House, 1956, 1986) signed “Dr. Seuss.” I stood in an autograph line at an American Booksellers Convention and watched Theodor S. Geisel sign it, my method of validating all the signatures in my collection.

When the opportunity to obtain a second copy arose, I thought: “Connie Swaim of AntiqueWeek collects Dr. Seuss memorabilia. I bet she would like a copy.” Good intentions aside, the two copies remained together on my bookshelf for more than a decade. I never sent Connie the extra copy predicated on the subliminal assumption that “the book might be worth something someday, and I would be a fool to part with it.” Although I have long professed my collecting has never been about the potential long-term value of my things, I occasionally succumb to the subconscious voice that whispers, “How do you know?”

Harry RinkerPreparing my collections for moving is a traumatic experience—what do I keep, what do I give away, what do I sell (writing this causes me to twinge; thinking about it drives me to edge of madness), and what do I store (an act I swore I would never do, but find impossible to resist)? I am blessed in one sense. I do not have to sell to pay bills or ensure my retirement.

[Author’s Aside: My retirement is in the far distant future.]

I am ready to part with the autographed copy of “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.” I considered sending it to Connie as a surprise. However, I remembered reading or hearing that she no longer collected Dr. Seuss material. Not wanting to waste a perfectly good object on someone who no longer would appreciate it, I called Connie to ask about the status of her Dr. Seuss collection. When we failed to connect by phone, I e-mailed.

Waiting for her response, I started thinking about why people stop collecting. While I have written extensively about why people collect, I have only touched upon why people stop collecting as an afterthought in earlier columns. It is time to deal with the subject in its entirety.

[Author’s Aside: When viewed from a collector’s perspective, what follows in this and its companion columns is very disturbing. I accept full responsibility. While my e-mail to Connie was the catalyst that moved the question to the front part of my brain, the idea obviously has been fermenting in my subconscious for some time.]

I asked Connie two questions: (1) do you still collect Dr. Seuss/Grinch material? and (2) if not, why did you stop collecting? Connie stopped collecting Dr. Seuss/Grinch material six years ago. Her response to the second question reads:

“I was finding it too difficult to find truly vintage items. The Web was being populated by new Seuss items. Once Universal Studios put in a Dr. Seuss theme park, there was just a ton of Seuss merchandise, plus the new Grinch movie also brought a lot of new merchandise. I didn’t want to buy all the new stuff, but then I kept thinking maybe I needed to buy it to make the collection complete, but the shear volume was too much for me. When I did Internet searches (where most of my buying took place as finding Dr. Seuss items in malls was extremely rare), I could never get the searches to bring back truly vintage items with any accuracy. It just wasn’t fun anymore. But, I still have the entire collection. By the time I decided to move in a different collecting direction, my collection was worth about one-quarter (or maybe one-eighth) of what I had paid for it originally. I couldn’t bear to part with it. So, I have about 10 giant plastic totes of Seuss material just sitting in a room. Since I don’t see it every day, then I don’t get stressed out by the fact that it is just sitting there!”

Wow, talk about fodder for a column or two or three. Using Connie’s thoughts, I began making a list of reasons why people stop collecting. By the time I finished, the number of reasons stood at 16. The list will get longer in the days and weeks ahead.

Collectors are orderly individuals who think categorically. They do this in order to keep track of what they own and where it is located. As I ordered my list, I identified five basic reasons why individuals stop collecting—personal, financial, availability, contemporary material and issues arising as part of the collecting process.

Personal reasons to stop collecting fall into five subcategories: (1) age; (2) divorce: (3) pressure from the spouse or kids; (4) death; and (5) emotions. There are two key questions when considering age: (a) when do collectors stop collecting and (b) when do collectors give serious consideration to disposing of their collections?

The answer to the first— when do collectors stop collecting?—is in their early to mid-1960s. Retirement is the culprit. Few individuals are able to sustain their income level in retirement. Retirement requires cutting back. Cutting back forces the collector to examine his/her discretionary spending, the primary financial source for buying antiques and collectibles. The collector faces questions he/she thought would never be asked: (1) how much more do I really need and (2) can I use the money for a better purpose? Previously, these were questions the collector could readily answer. Uncertainty now prevails.

Few collectors take a cold-turkey approach to ending their collecting. Instead, the process is gradual. The collector devotes less and less time to the hunt. He reaches a high level of contentment with what he already owns. Many of his collecting contacts such as other collectors and dealers fade from the scene. A sense of isolationism arises. His collection becomes his primary companion.

Most individuals retire with a sense of optimism, especially if they planned well. However, time and circumstances change. A sudden downturn in the stock market, increased inflation and other economic woes quickly affect the retiree’s sense of long-term security. Gradually, the collection does not seem as important as it once did and its potential worth the possible answer to a prayer.

The end of collecting does not coincide with the sale of the collection. Collectors reach this point in the mid- to -0s. Like Connie Swaim, collectors have a difficult time letting go. Many collections are not sold until their owners die. Alas, when the collection is sold, it only brings a fraction of what the collector assumed it was worth. The time to sell to achieve maximum return is usually within a very small window of opportunity. Hanging on until he has to sell is one of the worst decisions a collector can make. The truly happy collector is the one who dies with his/her collection intact.

Ask A WorthologistDivorce, especially if it is highly contentious, is a disaster. A forced sale against a preset clock is tantamount to achieving only a fraction of what a collection is worth. I avoid divorce appraisals. The end result is lose-lose, never win-win.

Few spouses, partners, significant others or whatever politically correct term you want to use, collect the same thing. In fact, in most situations one person is a collector and the other is not. The hidden resentment often suppressed by the non-collecting person rises to the surface in a divorce. Forcing the collector to sell his prized possessions is one method of getting back at him or her. Likewise, if each collects the same objects, an “if I cannot have it, then neither will he/she” attitude develops. While hell may have no fury like a love scorned, it pales by comparison to a collector scorned. I have seen couples fight harder for their goodies than their children.

I have just started on this matter. As I look at my list, I am thinking at least two, possibly three more columns are required to fully explore this topic.

[Final Author’s Aside: The copy of “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back” still rests on my desk. I promised Connie I would send it to her, and I intend to keep that promise. The question remaining is: when? It is not as simple as putting the book into an envelope and taking it to the Post Office.]


REQUEST—I would like your help: What have you stopped collecting and why? I am as interested in your answer to the first part of the question as I am to the second. Send your thoughts to me at harrylrinker@aol.com or Stop Collecting, Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT. 06804).


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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  • Mike Mattis

    I know it’s early in your assessment of collecting vs non-collecting but here’s a response.
    I started collecting fotball memorabilia about 25 years ago. I specialized in game advertisement, posters, ticket stubs, programs and cards, the ephemera of the game. It was a kick to find some gem stashed away or meet some old player who didn’t mind sharing his stuff and/or his memories. I didn’t then think about the possible financial return but of course as time went on, I found there just MIGHT be a net return.
    Then along came the big business guys like Topps, Fleer, Upperdeck,Sportflicks and all those many, many thousands of player cards with fancy borders and slick finishes. Card manufacturers came out of the woodwork, flooding he market with their sets, subsetes, sub-subsets and specialty cards.
    Then along came those guys who “evaluate” a card and all of a sudden the card that I paid 50 cents for was being sold for $50 or $100 — just becuase it had been “evaluated.” You know what I mean.
    Then along came the not-quite fraudulent purveyors with so-called “game-worn” uniforms and “game-played” balls, and people lining up to get an autogaph from some star player — only to sell it for a profit.
    The joy went out of Mudville for me about that time. So now my collection sits in a room, with the door shut, out of sight, out of miind.
    I will say that one good thing to come out of this — and I still look for them — is my collection of old football board games from 1950 and before, especially those from the 1920s and 1930s. I like the graqphics, they dispolay well and I don’t spend a lot for them and don’t expect to get a lot for them when the time comes.
    So now I’m moving on to look for old nautical things — items that I know are at least true to the time, have not been bastardized and probably will hold their value for a while — at least the good stuff will (I think).
    I will be looking fordward to your upcoming columns on this subject. As I do have a space in a collective, I see some trends — right now, of course, everyone is holding on to their buckswhile we undergo this “financial adjutment” period. Some joke, eh?
    Thanks for the read,
    Mike Mattis

  • mimi

    This is not so romantic an observation, mainly because it has been my own personal dilemma when it came to terminating my collecting. The economy. Everyone is getting so tired of using that as an excuse for just about everything, it has become cliche. I lost my house, which I had owned outright, after listening to some stupidly bad advise. Had to move to a tiny home to rent, and realized that I just couldn’t afford to pay for 2 large storage sheds to hold all my worldly possessions. Sold most, am trying to sell quite a few more and have stopped scouring for the time being There are many people in my situation, but we just hate to use that damn cliche.

  • Carla Gordon

    I’ve lost interest in collecting primarily because I do not have the space to keep things. Second, almost all of the antique shops I used to browse through are closed.

  • jame

    The things I collect are the things I love: teapots, Native American fetish carvings and jewelry. My acquisitions came to a halt when my job security vanished last year.

  • Nancy

    I stopped collecting bluebird dishes because they got more expensive than I was willing to pay, and when my mother died, I took her bluebird collection.
    I’ve almost stopped collecting hats because I’ve almost run out of room.
    Time for collecting and enjoying the hunt is scare at this point, as well.
    And, I’m getting older. Guess I fit all your criteria for one who stops collecting.
    Drat, I used to be a lot more fun….

  • John Pasiut

    I, already for many years feel, the main reason for losimg interest in aquiring things is the internet, particularly ebay.
    Now let me just explain, I have collected a lot of things and of different themes, and there was always something on my mind that I wanted to find and buy.
    But then suddenly this item was available on ebay not only one no 27 pce. and in all varieties, and they had a price, no they had no price they were auctioned off and the highest bidder worldwide got the item.
    I stopped then and there, meaning I still have not bought this item I am talking about just now and I never will, and should I change my mind its there on ebay, always!
    And this applies also to the auctionhouses with their liveauction features. How many times have I sat in an small lonley auctionhouse on a sunday afternoon waiting for that item to be next, and I bought it mostly cheap but sometimes I paid more than it was worth because of the time and effort spent and the opportunity might not arise so soon again.
    In short the hunting sucsess can not be fulfilled by combing through lines and lines and pages and sites and what have yous on this blasted media, and its bad for your eyes not to mention your psyche.
    Off course I have been with it very early and there are advatages and one of them is this story right here.
    Thank you.

  • Debbie Miller

    I don’t believe I’ll ever stop collecting. I get collections just by organizing my belongings and putting like items together.
    Some things I stop collecting and know I will never recoup my losses (such as the tubs and tubs of Ty dogs). I may even start giving them away or selling them when I can.
    Some things I just stop collecting but keep, admire and love them although I don’t add to them. However, I’m not yet ready to part with them and may even add to them at a later time.
    Some things I start collecting by obtaining another by chance or purpose. I consider a collection to be at least three.
    So, I suppose I’ll always be in a state of flux. Stopping, starting and on hold with all of my collections.

  • I collected glass paperweights with a furious passion until my wife asked me to move some of that “clutter”. I packed it all up into boxes and stuck it in a corner of the studio where it remains. No more clutter ,but I still see something once in a while that I cannot resist and I add it to my stash of “clutter” in the studio. Heh, heh!

  • fongbong2

    Collecting is part thrill of the hunt, part thrill of the item itself. And today, many are financially hurting, but money aside, I realized I have all I need. So now I’m going back through my 3 collections item by item, and re-enjoying each piece all over again. It’s just as thrilling today as they day I first found it. Why buy a piece, hold it in my hands as I look it over for the fist time, then relegate it to storage, rarely to be seen again?

    I’ve stopped collecting the items themselves, content with recording (collecting) the current SALE PRICES of them by auction houses.

    And the inevitable bad purchases I’ve made as part of the learning process, I’ll sell.

  • Don

    A contributary cause for neglect of collecting is the brazen commercialization of antiques by such venues as “Antiques Roadshow,” and other similar value systems. While the information from experts is often fascinating, the underlying premise–your stuff is possibly worth a fortune–turns me off. Collecting to make money seems somehow corrupt (I may be the only one who feels this way) but a hobby should not be about making money. If I buy a bass boat, I should not be expected to catch sufficient fish to pay for the boat. Similarly, I have never made money on my old cars–they are fun to work on and to drive. The pleasure of a hobby–the enjoyment–is for me its own reward.

  • Lisa

    Love your musings, Harry, and look forward to what ever-else you have to say. I’ve enjoyed the other readers’ responses, as well.

    I’ve collected horse figurines since I was about 7–51 years. I now have hundreds, in every manner you can think of, such as salt & pepper shakers, door knocker, pens, bookends… and in a huge variety of materials (the first was copper. Now I have jade, blown-glass, horsehair on wax, etc). I still buy one or two a year for myself, but kind of stopped a few years ago when I started receiving unicorns (not the same!) and my darling mother-in-law gave me a tacky, LARGE (of course) horse and carriage that I have to display prominently. I think that cured my horse collecting.

    Many of the “good” ones are behind glass doors in a cabinet. I am leaving the collection to my granddaughter, whether she wants them or not.

    I have also collected creches (nativities) since about age 7, and receive about one a year. I still love them, and “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? as I see them only at Christmas time, so unwrapping them is great fun. I intend to do a book about them. I have quite a few. 100?

    I’m sort of collecting salt & pepper shakers, now, and adding to my paperweights, and then I have lots of items from my parents–Chinese snuff bottle collection, stuff from a great-uncle circa 1900, and I don’t even know what else. I’ll collect or keep anything, if left to my own devices.

    We have a 4 bedroom house for the two of us, and to me, that looks like a lot of space for collections. Unfortunately, my husband thinks things are too cluttered. I think it looks sterile, like a hotel. I have my own room where I keep most of my stuff, but I am literally tripping over things. I’m trying to sell some things on eBay to keep the peace, but seem to smuggle things in as another goes out the door. Sigh. It’d be easier to get a divorce than to change my ways. Then I’d REALLY have to downsize, and I don’t know which would be worse!

  • Michael Maclaire-Hillier

    ‘Why I stopped collecting’
    I owned antique shops here in the UK (over 20 years ago now) and dealt in Meissen porcelain, French clocks, French cabinets and fine antiques. I loved collecting and sometimes bought a piece that I could have sold for 20 to 50 times what I had paid. In those days I did need the money but I loved the piece more than money and kept it as my staff who combed the country would buy items to sell and we could re coup the money quite quickly. I still love my collection and it is full of rare and very expensive (nowadays) items. I stopped collecting as with the amount of burglaries nowadays I realise how dangerous it is. I have burglar alarms, hidden cameras, electric gates, every window is barred with serious metal to stop people getting in and I still do not feel safe. I do know that a burglar will go to any home for a television or computer or any salable electric item but they will usually not be ‘serious and dangerous’ burglars who have fire arms. I was burgled over 20 years ago by intruders with guns and I was tied up but after that I still kept on collecting.
    I have now stopped collecting and am very seriously thinking of selling my collection as I wish for a ‘normal’ life and do not need the added hassle that a fine collection needs nowadays. Also where I spent vast amounts of money on acquiring items I would now rather go on a very fine holliday (as I cannot afford both).
    For a collector eBay has in one way spoilt things as you can find vast amounts of items where years ago it was not possible but the internet has done that as well.
    There will always be room for shops selling very fine and expensive rare items but for ordinary collectable items eBay has in one way spoilt things although if someone wants to but an ‘instant’ collection and has the money to spend, eBay is fantastic. The whole point of collecting was fun and took time and you had to travel but nowadays it can be done with your fingers on a keyboard.
    Michael Maclaire-Hillier

  • zac

    I’m always churning my stuff, buy a clock, sell a clock, buy a lamp, sell a lamp. My house is my store and my inventory is the stuff I use every day. I have so much vintage cookware and have sold so much more. I’m sitting in my room with my stuff and nearly every object, from the vintage t shirt I’m wearing, to the Wasilley chair I’m sitting in (15 bucks at Goodwill), to the Harmon Kardon 930 with Bose 901’s I’m listening to has value and I bring in stuff every day. I have a 30 year rule. Things are at their peak of value at 30 years old. Right now for me, the 1970’s is hot. I’m always looking to improve the quality of my collection over time so I’ll sell the inferior object if possible. I do this for money and some times that’s a priority. I’ve sold a ton of vintage t shirts and sunglasses but it’s like the football guy up there said, corporations dilute the collector’s cache to the point where a cool vintage t shirt looks like old navy or vice versa. They kill the goose every time. I’ll never quit collecting but I’ll always be selling as well. Otherwise it’s too much stuff.

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