Everyone is a Collector of Collections

Photo credit: www.hiandlois.com

As my readers are aware, I am a fan of the Sunday Funnies.  The “Hi and Lois,” Sunday, March 25, 2018, strip triggered a thought that has been in the back of my mind for some time.  Everyone is a collector of collections.

            [Author’s Aside:  Brian and Greg Walker write the strip.  Robert “Chance” Browne and Eric Reeves do the artwork.  Brian and Greg are the sons of Mort Walker, who created the strip.  Robert “Chance” Brown is the son of Dik Browne, who first drew it.  The Flagston family first appeared in Mort Walker’s “Beetle Bailey.”  The Flagston family consists of Hiram, (father), Lois (mother and Beetle Bailey’s sister), Chip (slovenly indolent teenage boy), Ditto and Dot (twins), and Trixie (baby girl).  “Hi and Lois” debuted on October 18, 1954 and is distributed by King Features Syndicate.]

Dictionary.com provides these definitions for a collection: “1. the act of collecting; 2. something that is collected: a group of objects or an amount of material accumulated in one location, especially for some purpose or as a result of some process….”  Notice anything missing?  There is no indication of how many objects it takes to make a collection.

This collection of thimbles from the 1930s-70s sold for $24.50 in March 2018.

UKOLN, an archival website of the University of Bath, England that was active between August 2013 and July 2015, provided this answer to “How Many Items Make A Collection?”: “There is no minimum number of items for a collection—in theory it is possible to have a collection containing only one item!  Collections can also be very large, and typically, large collections will [be] divided into a number of sub-collections.” Theory aside, it takes more than one object to make a collection.

In a late 1980s “Rinker on Collectibles” column (see pages 17-18 in “Rinker on Collectibles,” published by Wallace Homestead, 1989), I created “Rinker’s Rule of Ten.”  The column noted: “Rinker’s Rule of Ten is quite simple.  When someone asks me whether something is collectible, I ask myself one simple question.  Would I own ten of them?  Think about this for a minute.  A real collection requires at least 10 items.”

When writing the above, I was thinking about an antiques or collectibles collection.  Two is the start of a pile.  I chose 10 because 10 antiques is a commitment to make the pile bigger.

This collection of Czech glass sold for $64 in January 2018.

Starting in the 1970s, the size of collections grew.   Collections containing hundreds of objects became common.   By the mid-1980s, advanced collections numbered in the thousands.  Estelle Zalkin claimed her thimble collection had 10,000 examples.  My jigsaw puzzle collection exceeded 5,000.

10 is a fun number.  Besides defining myself as a dedicated accumulator, I also described myself as a collector of collections.   The former Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School which served as headquarter for Rinker Enterprises starting in 1991 and my home and office from 2000 to 2010, had 14,000 square feet of space.  I filled a great deal of it with stuff, more stuff than anyone needs.

At a minimum, I had over 250 collections to which I added items regularly.  For two years, I challenged myself to start a new collection each month.  In most months, I created more than one.

This collection of NFL football beer bottle caps sold for $30 in March 2018.

I loved it when someone asked me: “Do you have a collection of ___?”  I always hesitated before I answered.  Most of my collections contained material that if reorganized could become a collection.  For example, I did not collect cookie jars.  Yet, if I gathered together the cookie jars that were in my cowboy and TV memorabilia, canister, ceramic, and glass collections, I could easily have assembled a collection that exceeded 10 in number.

Assume for a moment that 10 is the magic number to define a collection.  Now broaden the concept and accept the principle that 10 of anything constitutes a collection.  Forget about restricting the concept to antiques and collectibles.  Open the door wide.

Look around.  How many collections of 10 do you own?  Do you have 10 different pairs of shoes, 10 different shirts, a dinnerware service for 10, which is six to a dozen sub-collections of 10 forms, 10 books, 10 of anything?  When rearranging the kitchen panty at Linda’s and my home recently, my helper and I discovered over a dozen boxes of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda.  I never knew Linda was a secret Baking Soda collector.

This collection of Harry Potter items sold for $41 in March 2018.

The truth is that everyone is surrounded by groups of tens of things.  Everyone is a collector of collections, even those who profess to be the most ardent minimalists.

There are counterarguments.  First, some will argue that a person can own 10 similar objects and not think of them as a collection.  The dictionary definition of a collection is unclear as to whether it is necessary for a person to be conscious that he/she is creating a collection in order for the object group to be considered a collection.  I argue that the person does not.  Collections can exist on their own.  If they are not recognized as such, it is the fault of the owner and not the objects.

Second, a collection must consist of objects that are no longer in continual use.  Tell this to a toy collector or a jewelry collector.  They will laugh heartily.

This collection of Disney ornaments sold for $45 in October 2014.

A secondary argument is that a sufficient amount of time must pass before an object passes out of its initial utilitarian or decorative function to collectible status.  This argument is fallacious.  Desirable crazes such as Beanie Babies, Hallmark and Radko Christmas ornaments, Wade Cottages, and collector edition collector plates achieved a high level of immediate collectibility almost immediately after their creation.  The fact that their secondary resale market has collapsed is irrelevant.  Value plays no role in defining what is and is not a collection.  Those who retain these objects still own collections of them.

Lois Flagston does not understand that her son Chip’s collections are the modern equivalent of a cabinet of curiosities.  Each new item Chip acquires is an opportunity to discover and learn.  Each adds to his sense of adventure, excitement, and passion.  Look how Chip describes his finds – save, really old, and amazing.  Chip’s collecting is providing him with a healthy respect for the past and a desire to preserve and understand it.

Individuals such as Chip are critical to the longevity of the collecting community.  Chip’s finds are not junk but treasures.  Rather than discourage collecting, parents and others should encourage it.  Collecting and the ability to imagine and question are intimately linked.

Finally, Chip is the child inside all collectors.  His awareness and astuteness is refreshing.  It is time for those nonbelievers to wake up.  Everyone is a collector of collections; and, there is nothing wrong with this.


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.

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