Rinker on Collectibles: Values You May Not Have Considered

There are no fixed values in the antiques and collectibles field. Value depends upon buyer, time, place, and a host of other circumstances associated with the sale. Value is transitory and complex. Value before and after purchase is non-existent. It occurs only during the brief interval when a buyer takes out his wallet, checkbook, or credit card to pay for an object.

Just as there is no fixed value, there is no one set value. A single object can have multiple values. Different buyers look at the same object through different eyes. What makes an object valuable to one turns it into junk to another.

In the twenty-first century, antiques and collectibles have four principal values: (1) collector, (2) decorating, (3) reuse, and (4) investment. Collector value is the retail value a collector will pay for an object assuming he does not own one and wants one. Collector value was the dominant secondary market value from the late nineteenth century through the mid-1980s.

Decorating value replaced collector value as king-of-the-hill in the early 1990s. Decorating value comprises five separate values: (a) WOW / pizzazz, (b) conversational, (c) nostalgia, (d) decade, and (e) enhance/support a traditional or trendy decorating style. Decorating value accounts for more than fifty percent of the antiques and collectibles sold today.

Buying for reuse is increasing. Reuse stresses the functional, utilitarian nature of the object. The object is used for the purpose for which it was manufactured. Reuse works because the prices for objects in large segments of the antiques and collectibles secondary market—clothing and accessories, dinnerware, flatware, furniture, jewelry, musical instruments, and stemware—are cheaper than new. Why pay more when an older and often better quality object costs less? There is no need to be concerned about damage. Since these objects are mass-produced, they are easily replaced.

Investment value describes a collecting category’s masterpiece (ultimate units) and upper echelon objects, those pieces whose value is resistant to shifting collector interest and economic trends. Although small in number, less than one percent of one percent of the objects in a collecting category, these masterpiece and upper echelon objects represent twenty-five to thirty percent of the total worth of all the objects in the collecting category. Think of them as members of the antiques and collectibles Billionaires Club.

These are the traditional values upon which I and other trade writers focus when doing market analysis. However, there are other values, perhaps not as important but equally valid.

Stop reading! Think about what you just read, take out a piece of paper, and make a list of other possible values. When you are done, proceed.

My list has nine additional values: (1) ahhh, (2) curiosity, (3) cute, (4) granny, (5) just for nice, (6) neat, (7) no/junk, (8) smile, and (9) ugly. Nine sounds awkward. I certainly should have been able to think of ten. I did have old on the list but removed it. Old is no longer a value. You add the tenth. Meanwhile, I want to discuss the values on my list.

Occasionally during an appraisal clinic someone will hand me an object that elicits a loud, extended “ahhh” from the audience. The sound is spontaneous, unsolicited. The “ahhh” indicates universal admiration. This is a value. Objects capable of producing an “ahhh” sound should and do sell at premium prices.

I wish I knew everything there is to know about every antique and collectible, especially their use. Alas, I do not. There are times when someone hands me an object, and I am stumped. It happened just last week at an appraisal clinic. Someone handed me a 1920s/1930s spring-loaded tube-like device that shot a dime-sized disk with about two dozen quarter inch needles protruding from it into something. The person wanted to know what it was, not how much it was worth. While I did not know what it was, I told him I could provide a price. A puzzled look swept across his face. “Your object has curiosity value,” I replied. The mere fact that no one knew what it was produced value.

The antiques and collectibles trade is filled with WHAT’S ITs. Pictures often appear in trade papers and collectors club magazines. I suggested he send a picture to the Early American Industries Association. Several of their members love to tackle the identification riddle.

Cute is a “chick” value—warm, fuzzy, emotional, sentimental, etc. It is an object a guy would not be caught dead owning. The object can range from a frilly vanity-top figurine to a tear-evoking mother and child print.

Granny value is not the same as chick value. Granny value refers to any object that a grandmother sees and thinks: “This would be perfect in little X’s room.” Although Granny value most often applies to objects for female infants or youngsters, it has a male component. Color plays a role—pink for female, blue for boy. Infant toys are a popular buy. Granny value also has a nostalgia component. Grannies buy items associated with their childhood and/or that of the children they raised. “You had one of these in your room when you were growing up,” they explain.

Although just-for-nice is a phrase many associate with the Pennsylvania Germans, it applies universally. Individuals buy antiques and collectibles simply because they like them. If asked to explain why they like them, they cannot. The feeling is instinctual. The object brings them deep personal pleasure.

Just-for-nice is not a decorating sub-value. What is just-for-nice for one person may not be just-for-nice for another. Decorating values have a broader appeal.

I love neat things. These are unusual objects, often not found within an established collecting category, that are fun to own. They range from functional to decorative. Most are fun and funky. Others are historic, e.g., an embroidered patriotic piece with a picture of a sailor in the middle purchased during the 1908 world tour of the Great White Fleet. Years ago I devoted an entire column to the concept of neat things. I plan to dig it out and post it on my website, www.harryrinker.com.

Is no/junk value really a value? Have you ever seen some of the items passed off as shabby chic? When a culture displays its junk and discards as a decorating style, it is troubled. I have no problems with cash from trash, i.e., making utilitarian objects out of rejected material. I have no sympathy for cash from crap. Crap belongs in the landfill. Alas, there are individuals who feel otherwise. Hence, no/junk value is reality. I may not like it, but I am obligated to report it.

When conducting appraisal clinics, I watch the audience’s faces. An “ahhh” is rare. Smiles are more common. When the entire audience breaks out in smiles, it is clear that the object I am examining has appeal. Smilers buy only when an object is cheap. In this instance, cheap is less than affordable. Most individuals are content to smile and walk on. They are one of the toughest customers to hook in the antiques and collectibles buyer’s pond.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard or used the phrase, “It is so ugly, it must be worth something.” People are attracted to ugly objects for their grotesqueness, repulsiveness, shock potential, and/or just plain ugliness. Many are primitive or crudely made. Outsider art falls within this category. Thanks to the Emperor’s new clothes phenomenon, we are forced to keep negative opinions to ourselves in today’s politically correct society. Few individuals are willing to describe these pieces for what they are—UGLY, UGLY, UGLY!

I considered drool value. However, this is not an independent value but one linked to collector and decorator value. When a collector or decorator sees a top notch piece, they drool. I teach sellers to watch for this phenomenon. When it occurs, charge full price. Do not negotiate. Drool indicates the buyer is hooked.

I would love to learn what values were on your list that did not appear on mine. E-mail your thoughts to harrylrinker@aol.com. Thanks.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out www.harryrinker.com.

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 and is archived on the Internet at www.goldenbroadcasters.com

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, $16.95), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via www.harryrinker.com.

Copyright Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2008


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