Rinker on Collectibles: The Lackaloot Conundrum

During a recent WHATCHA GOT? telephone guest interview, Ron Shuler, a Santa Claus collector, mentioned the lackaloot disease, an increasingly serious collector affliction.  According to Ron, the disease occurs when a collector is out of funds and an object that he/she wanted for years, if not decades, suddenly appears on the market.

Ron’s lackaloot closely relates to my “God Means Me To Own It” buying approach.  For those readers who are unfamiliar with this concept, there are three criteria an object has to meet in order for me to buy it.  First, the object has to be in a condition that meets or exceeds my expectations.  Second, the object has to be offered at a price I am willing to pay.  Finally, I have to have the funds available, albeit not always in my wallet, to buy it.  I have encountered thousands of objects that met the first two criteria but not the last.

As the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close, the issue of lack of purchasing funds has become an increasing concern among collectors.  Deep down inside, collectors cannot conceive of an inability to buy something they desire, especially knowing they will love it once they own it.  Reality requires denial and is not a friend of collectors.

After carefully considering if lackaloot is a collecting disease, I have concluded that it is not.  It does not even come close to the “I will make certain no one but me will own it” disease experienced by some auction attendees.  Instead of a disease, the lackaloot is a conundrum, one of many faced by addicted collectors.

On the whole, collecting is driven by discretionary income.  Few collectors establish annual collecting budgets.  Instead, they live with the steep rises and falls of their discretionary income cash flow.  Ideally, collectors prefer a cash flow that allows them to follow a simple purchasing path – when I see and want it, I buy it.  In a collector’s mindset, the ability to pay should never be part of the purchase process.

On February 1, 1953, CBS launched “You Are There,” a television show hosted by Walter Cronkite.  The series re-enacted famous historical events.  CBS News reporters, dressed in modern-day outfits, reported on events ranging from “The Death of Socrates” to “The Oklahoma Land Rush.”  The series’ last episode aired on October 13, 1957.  Cronkite’s closing line for each episode became a classic: “What sort of day was it?  A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times…all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

The older I get, the more I find myself starring in a continuing “You Are There” episode.  Events and developments that remain current in my mind are ancient history to the vast majority of individuals now involved in the antiques and collectibles trade.

I was there before Parke Bernet became Sotheby’s, a pair of American Chippendale drop-leaf tables set a record price of just over $300,000.00, the advent of antiques malls, the first issues of “AntiqueWeek” and “Maine Antique Digest”, the birth of the personal computer, and eBay.  I am not an antique.  I am a relic heading toward fossildom.

As a doting but far from senile senior citizen, I find it increasingly difficult to refrain from using the phrase “I remember when.”  Remembering when helps me understand how and why the antiques and collectibles trade has evolved.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the opportunities to buy antiques were limited.  Collectibles as a separate segment within antiques did not exist.   The principal buying sources were auctions, ranging from country auctions to cataloged auctions run by “big city” auction galleries, antiques shows, and antiques shops.  Antiques shows were local, held once or twice a year, and usually featured fewer than 50 dealers.  Antiques shops were scattered throughout the countryside, a necessity for those collectors who relished in a day spent “antiquing,” an activity that was not an every weekend event.  “The Magazine Antiques” ran advertisements from the high-end dealers.  Middle range periodicals, such as “Hobbies” and “Spinning Wheel,” had small display advertising and a classified section.  The “Antique Trader,” founded by Ed Babka in 1957, was still relatively new.

Given the above, collectors planned their yearly calendar around show schedules, key auction dates, and antiquing trips to the countryside.   This approach allowed collectors a chance to recover from a spending spree and accumulate more discretionary income.  It also was a period when the demand for antiques often exceeded supply.

The arrival of the antiques mall in the late 1970s created a new sales venue.  In reality, the antiques mall was a compilation of antiques show booths in a single location.  Collectors still had to travel to it.  Few collectors visited every week.  Again, the pause between visits allowed the collector to build available discretionary income.

Although the antiques and collectibles flea market had its start in the early 1960s (Gordon Reed opened his first Brimfield flea market in May 1960), it was not until the 1970s that the flea market concept spread nationally.  I remember (sorry, I could not help myself) attending Brimfield in the early 1980s when antiques dealers outnumbered collectibles dealers.  This changed by the end of the 1980s.

At first, regional flea markets were held one, twice, or three times a year.   By the middle 1970s, monthly and weekly flea markets began.  Renninger’s added its “antiques” section to its Kutztown Market in 1974.  Again, because collectors were required to travel to them, their impact on collectors’ discretionary income was limited.

The arrival of the worldwide web and internet auction sites, such as eBay, changed everything.  Every minute became an opportunity to buy.  eBay buying became an addiction, initially because it was competitive and cheap, especially when it cut out the middle dealers in transactions.  The desire to acquire quickly exhausted the discretionary income of collectors.

The increasing sophistication of the internet antiques and collectibles sales venues has further impacted a collector’s discretionary income.  There are dozens of “live” weekly catalog auctions from galleries around the world.  Gallery auctions compete with websites such as EBTH (Everything But The House) for buyers.  In response, many auction galleries, such as Heritage Galleries in Dallas, conduct weekly online auctions for middle market material that falls outside the per lot dollar limited preferred for large catalog sales.  eBay has become a dealer showroom more so than a competitive auction site.

The internet has created an “I want it and I want it now” sales environment.  Buyers do not want to wait.  Thanks to the internet, sellers can react quickly to buyers’ demands.  The number of individual storefront antiques and collectibles websites is growing exponentially.  Many are highly specialized.   The era when socialization was an integral part of collecting is vanishing.  In some instances, it is gone.

The lure of the hunt has been replaced by a sense of immediacy.  Although “cash is king” always played an integral part in the antiques and collectibles community, few collectors had unlimited financial resources.  As more and more face the lackaloot conundrum, collecting becomes more and more choice-driven.  The fun and joy of collecting is impacted.

There is an important caveat to the lackaloot conundrum.  Collectors have an uncanny way of finding the money to purchase something they “cannot live without.”  Whether it be payments over time, a bank loan, a post-dated check, or selling something they no longer need as badly, collectors always will find a way.

Collectors are not lookers.  They are buyers.  There is no enjoyment going online or to a flea market, mall, shop, or show if a collector is not in a position to buy.  Although not one of the primary reasons for the decline of antiques and collectibles collectors, it may be a contributing factor.  I have made a note to think more about this.

What are your thoughts?  Email them to harrylrinker@aol.com.

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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