Our 10th Anniversary Special Feature
Thoughts on a Decade of Collecting
 

By Mike McLeod, Robert Reed, Glenn Erardi, Anne Gilbert,
John Sexton and Harry Rinker

Ten-year anniversaries, whether in marriage or in business, cause introspection and a glance or two over the shoulder. World events, the price of gas, eBay, the Internet, online auctions, the aging of America ­ all have had an effect on antiques and collectibles.

For our 10th anniversary edition, we asked several writers what they thought were some of the greatest changes in the antiques field over the past ten years and which collectibles they thought had done well over the decade. Here are their thoughts.


Robert Reed, ACNS News Service

The steady maturing of America's people has proven to be one of the major influences on the antiques and collectibles industry. Research the marketplace today, and you might just find that a first edition of the Dr. Seuss favorite Cat in the Hat is now worth more than a first edition of the 19th century Mark Twain classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Times continue to change. The trends, we find, are more towards color and compactness and somewhat away from the expansive and expensive. Victorian glass has fewer and fewer admirers, while generations of collectors keep re-discovering the rainbow effect of Fiesta ware.

A few things like vintage postcards, we find, are probably more popular than ever before ­ except maybe when they emerged early in the 20th century.

I salute Southeastern Antiquing Magazine as it marks its 10th anniversary of accomplishment. Our own Antique and Collectible News Service celebrates its 20th anniversary this year as well. May the future years always be as kind.


Glenn Erardi, The Collector

While there's no doubt that over the last decade eBay and other online auction sites have had an unprecedented impact on the selling and buying of antiques and collectibles, we cannot disregard the convergence of several other factors which I believe powered the market years before the Internet became accessible to almost everyone.

The genesis began in the 1970s with the Pet Rock, sold by and to Baby Boomers. In the '80s, Boomers with their high rate of discretionary funds bought Cabbage Patch Kids for their children, and later came the State Quarters program, most of which have been purchased by Boomers for their grandchildren. Also beginning in the 1980s, comic book publishers, toy manufacturers and others began packaging specialty items marked as "collectibles." In the hit-and-miss manner of capitalism, many of these limited edition products fell by the wayside. But those that hit the mark, such as Star Wars® paraphernalia, hit it big. I once asked a sociologist why people collect, and the answer was, "Because coming from millennia of being hunter gatherers, we have to; it's in our genes."

If someone were to ask me (and they often do) what would be a "hot" collectible, I'd suggest anything relating to smoking, or as collectors call it, tobacciana. Cigarettes, cigars and pipes, in fact, all forms of tobacco are now practically verboten! There have been numerous legislative actions against the use and even possession of tobacco. Everyone agrees it's a harmful vice, even smokers themselves. But society as a whole has for some inexplicable reason decided to put smoking in the number one position on the top ten hit list. So, gather up any ashtrays, lighters, advertising and anything else pertaining to smoking, as it won't be long before the habit will disappear ­ in a puff of smoke!

On the other side of the coin, if asked what not to collect, my choice would be the state quarters. Issued for immediate circulation, these coins generally have no unique qualities, unlike Mint sets with their special metals, packaging, etc. Millions and millions of quarters have been struck; that should tell you how slim the chances are of finding a rare coin which may increase in value over the years.

By the way, my kids collect these quarters, and I do not discourage them. Collecting anything gives order to one's universe. The hunger for the hunt, the challenge of the chase, is sometimes its own reward. In the end, we find memories, including those in the making.


Anne Gilbert, The Antique Detective

Affordability and availability are two factors that have changed the profile of what people are collecting. This refers to 18th and 19th century objects. The last decade has also seen the emergence of a new generation of average income collectors who recycle flea market finds from the recent past as decorative objects. Examples might include: kitchen wares and utensils from the 1970s and '80s; mass-produced pottery, much still around and affordable from the '40s to the '80s; and old clothes have become "vintage clothing."

Quantity is important to these collectors, the more the better. For the super rich of the same generation, it's all about a collection as an investment. Before the 1980s, asking about value was a no-no. Another influence is the TV show, Antiques Roadshow.


John Sexton, The Civil War Collector

Since Southeastern Antiquing was born, lots of changes have been made in the Civil War memorabilia industry. Ten years ago, the market was dominated by dealers who had brick and mortar stores who sold via printed catalogs or at Civil War trade shows. The backbone of the industry was a large group of knowledgeable collectors who frequented the shops and shows and studied the objects. Still to this day, these collectors usually have as much or more knowledge than their dealer counterparts.

The Civil War shows are still strong and thriving, but fewer shops remain that cater to serious Civil War collectors and sell the rarer objects. I dare say every store that remains now has a "virtual shop" or a website.

A lot of the hard core, hands-on collectors who are knowledgeable and able to find fresh material are now moving on to wider collecting interests, such as WWI and WWII material, where objects can more easily be found in families. Of course, many WWII vets are still alive and want to find homes for their collections when their family has no interest.

These collectors are often being replaced by Internet buyers who often do not have the same hands-on experience or even care to learn the same ways of the old collectors. The new Internet buyers often only have an image on the computer and a story on which to base their decision to buy. Many of the Civil War-only shows have now opened up to any military items through WWII, and these shows are thriving.

Civil War auctions have really gotten going strong in the last 10 years, especially James Julia in Fairfield, Maine. They have two massive antique arms sales each year, and these sales have generally been over $10 million each, though only a few million is generated from the Civil War portion of the sales. These numbers were unknown 10 years ago at this auction or elsewhere in the industry.

Civil War memorabilia is becoming a lot bigger business, at least in terms of dollars. People from outside the hard core collecting community are often buying the best items at big prices that are many multiples of what they would have brought when this magazine started.

The auction has really changed our business. Civil War auction sales, either live or on the computer, were really unknown or just starting 10 years ago. EBay handles a lot of Civil War collectibles. To find out what a common item such as say a model 1860 U.S. cavalry sword sells for, you can probably find a hundred sold on eBay over the past few months and find a good comparable in eBay's database. EBay does occasionally sell a rare or expensive item, but these items are usually found in the live auction venues. Be careful when bidding in any auction format. Make sure you have the expertise or hire an expert to bid and authenticate your objects.

Civil War trade shows are found all over the eastern seaboard. There are big shows and little shows. My favorite is in Nashville in early December each year. No one publishes a good calendar of Civil War shows anymore. A good listing of dealers can be found at www.civilwardealers.com.


Harry Rinker, Rinker on Collectibles

I have been reflecting on the changes that have occurred in the antiques and collectibles field during this period. The past ten years have witnessed change, and these changes have profoundly impacted the antiques and collectibles trade as we knew it.

Value Revolution. In the 1980s, collector value, i.e., the retail selling price of an object at an antiques shop or show, was the dominant antiques and collectibles value. Today, decorating value, i.e., what a person would pay for an object to incorporate it in a decorating scheme, has become the primary value governing the majority of antiques and collectibles. Reuse value, i.e., the utilitarian, functional value of an object, also plays a factor.

The ever-increasing dollar spread between the high-end and low-end objects in a collecting category is another aspect of the value revolution. In many cases, the high-end examples have reached a price point where they are no longer affordable by the collector of average means.

Beginning in the late-1980s three factors ­ condition, scarcity, and desirability ­ determined value. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s, condition was the most important of the three. Today, desirability is king. Condition has been relegated to second place with scarcity a distant third. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is highly probable that market analysts will drop scarcity from the Big Three.

Information Explosion. In the 1980s, the information explosion occurred on two broad fronts: 1) a major increase in the number of regional trade papers and the development of specialty trade papers and periodicals and 2) a tripling of the number of general antiques and collectibles price guides and a 20-times increase in the number of specialized price guides.

As prices of antiques and collectibles increased, the interest of the general media was attracted. Major newspapers ran stories on record-setting auctions, collecting trends and the investment potential of specific collecting categories.

Beginning in the late 1990s, television discovered antiques and collectibles. Most shows enjoyed a one- to four-year run. The staying power of PBS's Antiques Roadshow is impressive.

The antiques and collectibles information base expanded tenfold with the arrival of the Internet. Admittedly, the information's accuracy needs to be constantly questioned and interpreted. Assessing it also requires a skill base still outside the purview of many Internet users. At the moment, this information base is still in its juvenile age. Maturity is a decade or more in the future. How are we going to handle the future prospect of too much information, far more than we can possibly digest?

Globalization of Collecting. In the 21st century, collecting is global, due primarily to the communication revolution made possible through the Internet. Collectors around the world are now in contact with each other. Local auctions attract international buyers, thanks to services such as eBay's Live Auctions. Objects are selling and being shipped over greater and greater distances.

Although the globalization of collecting is in its infancy, several long-term trends already are evident. First, collecting categories ultimately will be divided into two main groups: 1) objects that can be sold on the international market, e.g., Lalique and Barbie, and 2) objects whose market exists solely in their country of origin, e.g., presidential collectibles and Roseville pottery.

Second, the role of foreign buyers in the American marketplace has increased, thanks to their desire to buy back objects that originated in their countries. Third, young collectors worldwide are emphasizing aesthetics and quality industrial design. Today, the focus is on the object and not the country of origin.

eBay. Curse it or embrace it, eBay's impact on the antiques and collectibles community has been profound and revolutionary. It is hard to believe that eBay is only 11 years old. It seems as though it has been around forever.

Whether you view eBay's impact as positive or negative depends upon where you stand in the trade. Most buyers and collectors love it. Some dealers turned it into another revenue stream while other dealers ignored it and condemned it as the "Great Satan," responsible for destroying the trade they knew and loved. Antique malls and antiques shows initially saw a decline in customers and dealers. However, surprise, surprise, these trends are slowly starting to reverse. Antiques trade papers whose income rested primarily on classified advertising were the hardest hit.

EBay showed us exactly how much material still remained in private hands ­ far more than any of us realized. EBay sellers flooded many collecting categories. Prices dropped, especially for commonly-found items. Further, in some collecting categories so much material was offered that collector demands were completely satisfied, and the secondary market collapsed. EBay has clearly demonstrated there is: 1) a limit to how much material any collecting category can absorb and 2) a price at which an object simply prices itself out of the market.

EBay is a leader in the globalization of collecting. It has increased the buyer and seller community tenfold. EBay is the driving force behind niche collecting. Prior to eBay, there were less than 1,500 measurable collecting categories. Today, that number exceeds 30,000 and continues to grow.

The wonderful thing about the antiques and collectibles marketplace is its resilience. It adjusted to the painful changes that occurred with the arrival of the antiques mall in the early 1980s. It already is adjusting to the changes created by eBay. The future of the antiques and collectibles marketplace is bright.

The field looked askance at those of us who took a "this too shall pass" approach to eBay. However, recent developments suggest we may have been right. Although eBay's foundation was built on its Collectibles Division, its expansion into other sales areas has resulted in less and less attention being paid to collectibles. In fact, eBay's Collectibles Division has been merged into its Home Division. One gets the feeling that eBay feels it has maxed out the growth potential in collectibles and now needs to focus its primary emphasis elsewhere.

Is the antiques and collectibles field approaching the end of the eBay revolution? The truth is that it is closer than many individuals think.

Collectibles Achieve A Life of Their Own. When I became the editor of Warman's Antiques and Their Prices, the price guide included less than 500 collecting categories. When I introduced Warman's Americana & Collectibles to the trade, I added another 450 categories to the collecting community. By the mid-1990s, collectibles shared equal billing with antiques.

Demographic Changes. The changing demographics of the last two decades top my list of those events which produced the greatest change within the antiques and collectibles field. Demographics have a direct impact on what and how we collect.

Where do I to start? The lengthening of time between generations, greater longevity, smaller families, increased mobility, a growing divorce rate, population shifts, and access to technology are just the beginning. Although life on the surface in 2008 seems very much like life in 1998, the undercurrents of demographic change are creating hidden and subtle changes that are just now beginning to surface.

You do not have to look hard for the evidence. Many traditional collecting categories are fading from view with little to no hope of revival. Even many 1950s collectibles have become passé. Today, it is more about ME than the past.


There you have it. The first decade done; the next starts tomorrow. But we couldn't have done it without you, our readers. Thank you for picking up Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine and please keep doing so.

We'll do this again at the end of the next decade. The question is, what will you collect between now and 2018?

 

The 1876 frontispiece to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but an original Cat In The Hat may be worth more.

Collectors continue to discover Fiesta ware. (Photo: Eric B. Norman/LBNL.)

The Antiques Roadshow helped fuel the antiques information explosion in the media. Here, Leigh Keno values a cupboard (that was about to be thrown away) at $8,500.

Pet Rocks sold for $3.95, yet they made the inventor, Gary Dahl, a millionaire almost overnight.

Civil War shows are expanding to include WWI and WWII collectibles and weapons, like this 1917 water-cooled machine gun by Rock Island Arsenal, estimated at $22,000-$26,000. (Photo, James Julia Auction, Spring 2008 Auction.)

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