Rinker on Collectibles: What’s the Next Hot Collecting Trend?

As I slowly rub my hands over the large crystal ball in my office, the mist inside begins to clear. I am searching for a word, a word that will tell me what everyone in the antiques and collectibles trade wants to know: What is the next hot collecting trend? If I am lucky and a word appears, its validity will have an accuracy level equivalent to that of the answers provided by Mattel’s Magic 8 Ball.

I can spot trends, albeit I miss some. I can predict trends, but not with one hundred percent accuracy. If I could, I would not be writing this column. I would be retired and living off the wealth my predictions generated. As you can see, I still am writing this column. When I have money to invest, I put it into a mutual fund, savings account, and another more reliable investment opportunity. There is less risk.

I have no desire to trigger a collecting trend. I do everything I can to avoid this. I am a reporter, not a trend maker. I want solid evidence that a trend is happening before I write about it. By writing about it, I help foster it. I see no way to avoid this.

Can I and others in my position within the trade start a trend? The answer is yes. It is an awesome power, one which occasionally is abused. Although everyone in the trade believes our market is laissez faire, it is not. The antiques and collectibles market is reactive and manipulated. If you have any doubts, consider the role Martha Stewart or the publication of a new collecting/price guide plays in determining what is hot and not.

Whenever anyone asks me to identify a future trend, I question his motive. It is never altruistic. If it is a reporter or editor, he wants a scoop. Collectors and dealers seek insider knowledge so they can financially profit from it. Being the first horse out of the gate in the antiques and collectibles business is an advantage. EBay proved this.

There are individuals who prefer information about an unknown collecting trend remain buried. Publications attract new collectors. Prices increase, often doubling and tripling. Collectors who paid low prices to assemble a large collection lose their advantage. When an author approached several collectors of 1950s/60s Tiki Bar collectibles for permission to use items from their collections as illustrations in a new book, they refused to cooperate. The collectors wanted the collecting and decorating worlds to remain ignorant of the possibilities of the wonderful world of Tiki Bar collectibles.

I receive dozens of e-mail newsletters. Most get no more than a passing glance. However, when “Military Vehicles / Military Trader Militar-E-News” arrives, I take the time to read John Adams-Graf’s editorial. Since e-mail newsletters often contain no volume or number identification, it is difficult to cite them. The quotes and information that follow are from the April 11, 2008 e-mail newsletter.

John starts, “‘What’s the next great collecting trend?’ Not a week goes by that a dealer or collector doesn’t ask me this question. Folks have seen me preaching (usually after a lot of ribs and a few pitchers of Diet Coke), but honestly, I don’t have any better idea than anyone else in the hobby.” John receives an A+ for his honesty.

John noted that he had missed recent increases in the value of bayonets for a Springfield M1903A1 and M1 Garand as well as WWII seat-pack parachutes. “Why did I miss these trends? Well, I probably was fixated on something else—you know how collectors can get! We can’t see the forest because we are too buy searching through the piles of leaves looking for that ‘special rare’ leaf!”

Identifying hot trends is fraught with difficulty. First, many of these trends occur within tertiary or lower level collecting subcategories within a larger collecting category. While the number of dealers and collectors involved in a trend can number in the low hundreds, it is more likely the number is below fifty. The age of universal hot trends is over. We live in an eclectic era.

In the twentieth century, collecting categories numbered less than 1,000. The number now exceeds 30,000; a statistic eBay considered low when it released it two years ago. Collecting is specialized. A major collecting category can have fifty or more collecting subcategories. Some secondary categories can have dozens of tertiary subcategories.

Holly Azevedo, an MFA in Professional Writing student at Western Connecticut State University (Danbury, Connecticut) and I are researching Victorian children’s jewelry. Cartes de visite (CDV), tintypes, cabinet cards, and other period photographs are a primary research source. Wishing to acquire a few examples for illustration purposes, I checked out eBay and struck gold.

Alas, I also encountered intense competition. While I wanted the images because of the jewelry the children wore, other collectors sought them because of hair style (images of girls with long hair are highly desirable), period clothing, dolls, pets, or toys the child held, photographer or photo studio, and location. This list by no means exhausts the potential subcategories. I am certain I was the under-bidder for an image of a young girl wearing a necklace and holding a squirrel to one of the “pet” collectors.

The nineteenth century personal photo image collecting field is far more complex that I imagined. When the next person brings me an album of old family photographs to appraise, I am going to examine it with a far different value mindset.

Second, niche collecting is isolationist and inbred. The number of players is small. Everyone knows everyone else. While a few collectors prefer to remain in the closet, they reveal themselves when buying. In less than five days of buying on eBay, I identified twenty-five plus regular buyers for the images I sought. EBay’s new bidder identification security method is easy to crack.

Several of the eBay sellers had over 5,000 feedbacks. I asked several sellers in my payment letter if they would consider going through their inventory and putting together a direct sale offer. One replied that because the competition is so strong on eBay and turn around time so quick, he has no interest in or time for direct sales. I have yet to receive an offer from either of the two sellers who said they would consider direct sales.

Victorian cabinet cards, CDVs, and tintypes are a hot collecting category. Now that you know this, what are you going to do about it? You probably are going to do the same thing I am—absolutely nothing. Unless you plan to become an active collector in the category, you could care less.

“Who cares?” is one of the most frightening questions in the antiques and collectibles trade. Actually, it is the wrong question. “How many people care?” is a far more scary question. If you add “How long do you think they will care?” your hair will turn white.

Collectors and dealers always overestimate the number of individuals who care in any given collecting category. They are blinded by their passion for the category. They cannot understand those who do not share their feelings.

Further, they are blind to the continual aging of those who share their passion and to the failure of the next generation to hop aboard the bandwagon. In their mind, their favorite collecting category is always hot.

In examining why bayonets became hot categories, John Adams-Graf says, “Well, in both cases, research became available.” I agree. Assuming we are right and you read this article carefully, you have insider information on a potential new hot collecting trend. Now, what are you going to do about it?

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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