Rinker on Collectibles: ‘But, It’s ____’ Queries Part II

The first “But, It’s ____’ Queries ” column focused on five examples: (1) but, it’s old; (2) but, it’s my grandmother’s; (3) but, it’s just like the one I saw at/on ____; (4) but, it’s listed at $____ [in the price guide or some other source]; and, (5) but, it’s less than I paid for it. At the column’s conclusion, I asked readers to identify “but, it’s ____” I failed to cover. I received more than a dozen e-mail responses.

The above “but, it’s ____” have variations which I also covered. A reader suggested another “but, it’s my grandmother’s” variant that I missed—“but, it’s my grandmother’s, and she was 99 when she died.” When told an object belonged to a grandmother, my immediate response is to ask: when did she die? The standard reaction is a startled look on the face of the asker. I explain that the date establishes the last possible day grandmother could have acquired the object. The assumption that grandmothers received everything they owned on or before their wedding date is a myth.

My mother was born in 1907 and married in 1929. I have the shell cameo attached to a gold-plated chain that she wore on her wedding day. I also have two shoe boxes filled with her jewelry. With the exception of the shell cameo brooch and a 1930s Marion Haskell pin—by far one of the ugliest pieces of jewelry I have ever seen—the remaining jewelry dates from the late 1940s through 1977, the year my mother died. More than 95 percent of the pieces are costume jewelry, more generic than designer in style.

I own seven quilts made by my great-great-grandmother, who was born in 1828. When did she make the quilts? The answer is between 1905 and 1907. Granny was living with a granddaughter who wanted to keep her busy. The granddaughter put her in front of a sewing machine and said: “Sew, Granny, sew.” Granny made quilts for every member of her large, nucleated family and some extras beside.

“But, it’s great-grandma’s and it is at least 200 years old—mother died when she was 89, grandma when she was 95, and great-grandma passed away at 83” is another variant. As a former mathematics major, I know when things add up correctly and when they do not. Not is applicable in this instance. Back in great-grandma’s day, there was a new generation every 25 years. Even if each woman acquired the object on the day of her wedding, 100 is far more likely than 200.

How could I have forgotten “but, it’s real ____?” Of course, it is real. If it can be seen, it is real. If it can be touched, it is real. There are no unreal antiques and collectibles—uncool maybe, but never unreal! Real is a meaningless term in the antiques and collectibles field.

The same applies to “but, it’s genuine.” Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition defines genuine as “really being what it is said to be.” Old or new, each object is what it is said to be.

“But, it’s original” is a bit trickier. The antiques and collectibles trade assumes original to mean as first made without alteration. With apologies to Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise, assuming does not “make it so.” At the Antiques Forum sponsored by the Historic New Orleans Collection that I attend, one of the attendees commented that a mentor told him: “There is no such thing as an original furniture finish.” Time eliminates originality.

“Period” is the correct term for a piece that exists in the same form, shape and condition as first made. Period applies only to an object’s initial period of production. Later copies are not period in the true meaning of the word. They are reproductions (exact copies), copycats (stylistic copies) or fakes (examples deliberately made to deceive.)

“But, it’s rare.” If it was mass produced, it is not rare. If it is handmade, it is not necessarily rare. Rare is the most misused work in the antiques and collectibles trade. The survival rate for objects exceeds the projections of even the most optimistic members of our trade. Scarcity is a better word choice.

Rare survives because of its false connection to value. In the 21st century, desirability is the key to value. Condition and scarcity, once members of a primary value triumvirate, are now key secondary value determinants. In today’s Great Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It economic times, if there is no buyer, there is no value.

Since several years have passed since I did an eBay advanced search for rare, I did one. “Rare” appears in 725,810 listings. “Rare” should be banned from use in the antiques and collectibles trade. It is another meaningless word.

“But, it’s Aunt Mary’s, and she had a lot of money.” I have met individuals who hold college or university degrees and are not educated and those who do not and are. The same applies to individuals with money. Having money does not imply good taste. As Joyce Chapman pointed out in her June 22, 2011 e-mail, “Aunt Mary often had neither good taste nor knowledge.”

The antiques and collectibles industry has a problem calling crap crap and ugly things ugly. In this age of political correctness, it is impolite to offend. While normally compliant (I am aware some may find this difficult to believe), occasions arise when I cannot keep my mouth shut. I have found “this is a piece of sh*t” works.” No one is ever confused about what I mean.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Taste differs from one to another. However, there is no excuse for failing to develop a strong sense of aesthetics. Individuals need to learn to recognize good line and form and to continually work to improve their perception. If I am going to be accused of snobbery, I prefer aesthetic snobbery.

“But, it’s pure gold.” “Bullsh*t” (I could not resist using this word) is another word that is rarely misunderstood. It is among my favorite expressions. Gold is not Ivory soap—99 44/100-percent pure. There is no pure gold. Even “pure” gold contains other metals, such as copper or silver. Pure gold is 99.95 percent gold, although modern refining techniques can produce gold that is 99.9999 percent pure. Pure gold is not found in the antiques and collectibles marketplace.

The purity of gold is measured in karats: with 24-karat designating “pure” gold by mass; 18-karat gold is 75 percent gold and 25 percent other metals by weight; white gold is created by adding nickel, manganese or palladium to yellow gold; rose or pink gold is created by adding 25 percent or more of copper.

Because 24-karat gold is soft—too soft to be used in jewelry—18-karat is used in high-end jewelry in the United States and Europe, while 20-karat and 22-karat jewelry is produced in Arabic countries and India. It is worn only on special occasions.

When testing jewelry or other objects for gold content, it is essential that the test scratch extends beneath the surface. The surface of a gold-plated object will test positive. While the English and other European countries have hallmarked gold for centuries, the United States did not adopt the karat marking system until the early 20th century.

“But, it’s marked 22-karat on the porcelain” is a “but, it’s pure gold” variant. A 22K (or evena 24K) backstamp was a promotion tool used to market inexpensive 1950s and 1960s earthenware (clay or mud based) dinnerware. Virtually impossible to remove, the amount of gold is minimal, worth a fraction of a cent.

High-end porcelains, furniture, picture frames and other decorative arts often contain gilding. While the quality of the gold is higher, once again its value, if it could be removed, is minimal.

With gold now valued at more than $1,700 per troy ounce, put aside the “pure gold” mindset and think 8 karat, 10 karat, and 14 karat. The melt value of a very good condition $20 gold piece now exceeds $1,300. Gold items now often have more melt than collecting value.

Although a few “but, it’s ____” remain on my “think about it” list, I welcome more. E-mail your suggestions to harrylrinker@aol.com.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s 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..

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. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. 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. 2011

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