Why People Stop Collecting – The Final Word

At the conclusion of each of the four columns in the “Why Collectors Stop Collecting” series (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV), I asked readers to share their thoughts on the subject. I received more than 80 e-mails and letters. Responses came from the United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands. Many were single spaced and more than a page in length. I thank everyone for the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their comments.

In the series, I identified five main reasons why people stop collecting: personal; financial; availability; contemporary products accompanied by reproductions, copycats, fantasy items, and fakes; and issues involved with collecting. Based on my readers’ observations, I missed several subcategories in the personal and issues involving collecting areas and overlooked a global consideration in the financial area.

Harry RinkerA reader blamed his collecting addiction on his advanced collector parents. It is nature versus nurture. The only way to negate this unhealthy nurturing was to stop collecting. I recommend he look in the mirror to reveal the true culprit.

Although I wrote about the aging process, I did not give adequate attention to health issues. A decrease in a collector’s physical ability to walk, grasp or lift impacts his participation in the hunt and his ability to interact with his collection. Second, the cost of health care often creates a dent in a collector’s disposable income and can even force him to sell some or all of his collection to pay insurance and/or health care costs.

I covered issues resulting from the death of a collector. I should have also focused on the death of a spouse or friend. Most collectors do not collect in isolation. They have a partner, even if it is someone who is just along for the ride. Collecting is an act that is most rewarding when shared. Several respondents talked about the negative impact from the loss of a collecting or non-collecting spouse, fellow collector or friend.

Several collectors indicated they stopped collecting as the result of helping another collector downsize or dispose of a collection or collections as estate executors. A bad experience can be the catalyst to stop a collector dead in his tracks.

When considering divorce, I focused on the issues raised when divorce forced the sale of a collection. Two readers reminded me of additional consequences. In one case, the spouse claimed the collections were so valuable, they could provide a lifetime income for the collector. The spouse had the collections appraised at replacement cost, a value that is all but impossible to receive upon sale but accepted by the courts. The spouse received the house and business. The collector discovered it was impossible to generate enough money to live comfortably from the sales. A second reader noted that her spouse argued that the money she spent on her collections was an indication of her mismanagement of funds; one of the primary reasons he was seeking a divorce. It is a cruel world when a spouse signs the divorce papers and exits with a parting shot of: “I hate antiques.”

In an age when multiple marriages are common, a new partner can impact a collector’s life. While I always think of love as responsible for collecting, it can have a negative effect. A new spouse requires space, space which reduces the amount of display space previously enjoyed by the collector. If the collector moves in with his new spouse, the likelihood of his having the same or more space for his collections is slim to none. The new spouse may demand he get rid of them. Add the possibility that the new spouse may not like the hunt, his collecting friends, and/or the amount of time spent on the collections. Love might conquer all, but not this situation. Something has to give; and, it is often the collections.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child. I understood as a child. I thought as a child. But, when I became a man I put away childish things.”

—First Corinthians, Chapter XII, Verse 11

A reader wrote that he stopped collecting his childhood treasures when he became an adult. He was told by acquaintances that adults do not play with toys. His friends were agents of the Devil. Of course, adults collect and play with childhood toys. Collecting is memory-driven. Some of the fondest memories are from childhood.

Far too many advanced collectors become haunted by questions they should not have to answer. When is enough, enough? What have I done? Is there something more to life than collecting? The frequency of these questions increases as the collector grows older.

Reassessing priorities is dangerous. One collector stopped collecting after 9/11. The Twin Towers tragedy resulted in a major reevaluation of his priorities. Collecting no longer seemed as important as it once did. Another collector had an epiphany and believed God told her to put aside material things (her collection) and use her time and money to help others. I have shied away from suggesting any links between collecting and religion in the over 23 years I have written “Rinker on Collectibles.” This, in spite of the fact that temples and churches were sites of some of the earliest documented collections. While I am unaware of any passage in the Bible, Koran, or other religious text that prohibits collecting, I am certain some biblical scholar can cite one.

Collecting is global. A reader from The Netherlands lamented that the arrival of the Euro resulted in a price inflation that made many of the things he liked to collect too expense for his pocketbook. The weak dollar has had a major impact on American collectors buying abroad. The Great Recession has eliminated the disposable income of many collectors. Collecting is not fun when one cannot buy.

In the area of collecting issues, one reader stopped collecting because there was nothing left in his collecting category for him to collect. “When you own the best, what is left?” he asked. Another raised the same issue, but refocused his collecting interests toward collecting illustrator art from children’s books. He knew the category was so vast that he could never assemble a “complete” collection.

An advanced collector is skilled at spotting variations. Fueled by the desire to assemble as complete a collection as possible, the collector is always on the hunt. A reader stopped collecting when he could no longer tell the difference between the objects in his collection. All of a sudden, they all looked alike. The uniqueness of each object vanished.

Ask A WorthologistCan there be too much of a good thing? One collector stopped collecting Coca-Cola items because his family, friends and acquaintances kept giving him Coca-Cola items as presents. Most of the presents were modern day reproductions, copycats, fantasy items and fakes. Unable to tell his friends he did not want nor appreciate their generosity, he quit collecting. My second wife Connie had a similar experience with salt and pepper shakes. She acquired a few examples as a youngster. Before she knew it, she had received more than 50 pairs as gifts. She disliked them, so much so that she left the collection with me when we divorced.

I research the objects I buy. Each purchase takes me on a new journey. One collector wrote that he stopped collecting when he learned everything he wanted to know about a collecting category. Note he did not say “everything” there was to learn. His education level had a limit.

A good friend, a major collector in his category for more than 25 years, sold his collection as a unit. When he e-mailed to tell me, I was momentarily shocked. His reason said it all: “I had an offer that was too good to refuse.”

I deliberately did not attribute the above observations to a specific reader. In many instances, more than one reader covered the same ground. Some asked that their names not be revealed. I am breaking precedence to credit Werner Wolf with a final thought on why collectors stop collecting:

“Here is a wild theory for you . . . Perhaps some of our more primitive drives from early man affect both the start of collecting and its cessation. Do we go through a hunter-gatherer phase in our 20s and 30s that spurs us to nest (first-time home purchases) and to collect? And, are our later years in the 60s and 70s still laden with the knowledge that we will soon be left on the ice floe by the tribe, our hunted and gathered trophies worthless? We still carry DNA codes from our prehistoric ancestors. Perhaps collecting and dispersing stem from stored cultural patterns.”

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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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