Our 10th Anniversary Special Feature
Thoughts on a Decade of Collecting
By Mike McLeod, Robert Reed, Glenn Erardi, Anne Gilbert,
John Sexton and
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
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.
things like vintage postcards, we find, are probably more popular than ever
before except maybe when they emerged early in the 20th century.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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
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