RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES: The Donor Age Has Arrived

On Friday, October 5, 2018, I was a guest on Mike Ivankovich’s “What’s It Worth?….Ask Mike the Appraiser,” an antiques and collectibles talk radio show that airs on Friday morning between 9:30 and 10:30 AM on WBCB 1490 in Levittown, Pennsylvania.  The show streams live on television.  For more information go to www.wbcb1490.com.

I met Mike in the early 1980s, shortly after I became the editor of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices.”   At the time, Mike was focused on creating and maintaining a secondary market for Wallace Nutting furniture and prints.  His “Collector’s Guide to Wallace Nutting Pictures: Identification & Values” was published by Collector Books in 1997 and updated in 1999.  Collector Books also published his “Early Twentieth Century Hand-Painted Photography” in 2005.

When not chasing down all things Wallace Nutting, Michael worked and still works as an auctioneer.  When we talk, we often share our thoughts on current trends in the antiques and collectibles field.  Mike’s insights often open new pathways to travel in my analysis of the antiques and collectibles trade.  Today, Mike bills himself as a Home Downsizing Consultant, a smart shift in focus in respect to disposing of antiques and collectibles in the 21st century.

During our radio discussion, we explored current trends in the field, especially how to dispose of the myriad of things no one seems to want.  Mike said, “We are now in the Donor Age.”  When asked what he meant, he explained that he now advises clients to consider donating objects that still have a use but no one wants to buy at an auction or yard sale to a charitable organization.  He has no more respect for the concept of sending unwanted material to the landfill than I do.

Before I could ask him how he felt about the use of a liquidator, our conversation moved in another direction.  Had I asked, he might have answered that the charitable deduction possibly might exceed the amount the liquidator was willing to pay.

            [NOTE:  This column focuses on issues centering around a charitable gift tax deduction for objects not money.]

On the surface, a tax deduction for charitable purpose is appealing.  In reality, most individuals are not in a position to take advantage of it.  A charitable tax deduction is only possible if a person or couple itemizes deductions.  In previous years, only 30 percent of taxpayers did this.  With the new standard deduction being raised to $24,000 for married couples coupled with state and local tax deductions now limited to $10,000, fewer individuals are expected to submit itemized deductions.

Charitable organizations that do accept objects, such as colleges and universities, historic sites, museums, and other 501c(3) organizations, are concerned that taxpayers may be less inclined to donate if they do not receive a tax benefit.  Although ideally, individuals should donate to help communities, special causes, and other charitable enterprises for altruistic reasons, some receive additional motivation from the tax savings.

Removing the possibility of a tax benefit, the question remains of what to do with all the utilitarian objects whose only value is their potential reuse.  When I wrote “Sell, Keep or Toss: How to Downsize a House, Settle an Estate, and Appraise Personal Property,” published by House of Collectibles/Random House in 2007, the first step I recommended was to divide things into piles (1) to be kept: (2) offered to family; (3) sold, (4) donated, and (5) tossed.

When working with individuals who are downsizing or selling the contents of an estate, the first myth I dispel is that “there is a buyer for everything.”  Although true in theory, it is not true in the real world of secondary market sales.   The issue is not whether there is a buyer, but how much time and effort must be expended to find that buyer and how much (more often than not, how little) is the buyer willing to pay.

The initial cost of an object is directly related to its resale value is another myth.  There is a modicum of truth to the assumption that the more expensive the initial cost of an object, the higher the probability that it has strong resale value.  “An object is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it” offsets the previous assumption.

In 2019, auctioneers, estate sale professionals, dealers, and even estate liquidators are becoming increasingly selective in what they accept to sell or buy.  The same holds true for buyers at garage/yard sales.

Eliminating items beyond repair, which should be sent to the landfill, individuals who are downsizing or disposing of an estate and estate sale professionals who do “everything in the house” sales still find themselves left with a rather large “it is too good to throw out” pile.

The “too good to throw out pile” consists of reusables, items in very good or better condition whose reuse function is the same as their initial use function.  Rather than being relegated to the dump, they need to find their way to new owners.

            [Author’s Aside #1:  Admittedly naïve, I assume individuals would rather pass usable items to people who will use them, even if the act results only in a “thank you,” rather than throw them out.  I have no respect for the “if I cannot sell it, I am going to throw it out” crowd.]

            [Author’s Aside #2:  There is a difference between reusable and being reused.  In closets, basements, garages, and sheds around the world are objects in reusable condition whose use is no longer applicable.  Recently, a reader sent me a picture of an O. F. Smith Co. Moline, Illinois, slackjack, a tool for lapping valves in an automobile engine.  Although in usable condition, its time of use has passed.]

The next step is to divide the “too good to throw out” pile into two piles.  The first consists of objects whose time of use has passed.  If they do not have collectible or display value, then the landfill is a possibility.  Before sending things to any landfill, read Chapter 13 entitled “Junking It” in my “Sell, Keep or Toss.”

The second pile consists of objects that can be and are likely to be reused by somebody.  How does one find these individuals?

During a recent community garage sale, a home had this sign in front of it: “FREE / IF YOU CAN USE IT, YOU ARE WELCOME TO IT.”  No more proof is needed to understand that disposing of things is not always about the possible money they might bring.  When I drove by later in the day, there were a few unclaimed items but over 90 percent of the objects had vanished.

Resist the temptation to indiscriminately pile the “too good to throw out” material into boxes and dump them at the nearest charity pickup box or drop them off at the door of a charitable store.  Take time to do two things.  First, research the charitable options in your area.  Second, sort the material.  Not all charitable organizations take everything.  Be a good Samaritan, sort the material, and take the respective piles to the best redistribution source for each.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army are the tip of the redistribution network.  Investigate the activities of local church groups, civic organizations, ethnic community organizations, and other possibilities.  A quick internet search revealed organizations such as Baby2Baby, Dress for Success, Habitat for Humanity Restore, National Furniture Bank Association, One Warm Coat, and Pickup Please, a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America.  None of these organizations will buy your things.  These organizations see that your objects wind up in the hands of a person who needs them.

Linda and I grew up at the tail end of the hand-me-down generation.  Although largely family focused, objects also found their way to others.  No money changed hands.  In some cases, there was not even a thank you.  No acknowledgment is necessary if what a person does seems right and creates a good feeling.

Mike Ivankovich is correct in identifying a Donor Age as a key component of the antiques and collectibles trade.  I embrace Mike’s concept.  I hope my readers will as well.


Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com.  Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.

 

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