Collectibles Expert Harry Rinker on Fads and Bargains

Harry Rinker is a national antiques and collectibles authority, author, columnist, educator, lecturer, curmudgeon, private collector, and dedicated accumulator. He is the owner of Harry L. Rinker, LLC, dba as Rinker Consulting, a firm specializing in providing appraisal, editorial, educational, media, personal appearance, research, and writing services in the antiques and collectibles field. “Rinker on Collectibles,” his weekly syndicated column now in its 28th year, appears in trade papers, periodicals, and websites. Harry hosts “Whatcha Got?,” a syndicated antiques and collectibles call-in radio show, that airs on Sundays from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM Eastern Time. He has authored over twenty books about antiques and collectibles, many of which appeared in multiple editions. Harry starred in 78 episodes of the television show “Collector Inspector” that aired on Home & Garden Television (HGTV) from 2002 to 2004. In fall 2011, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe appointed Harry to a three year term on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, a 15-member committee that recommends to the Postmaster General postage stamp subjects that are contemporary, timely, and relevant. In his spare time, he teaches advanced composition, public speaking, and professional writing in-seat and online and serves as the Academic Coach for the men’s baseball team at Davenport University in Grand Rapids.

What are some notable discoveries that have been made recently in your area of expertise?

A transition is taking place in the collectibles field. Collectors of the traditional collectibles categories dating from the 1920s to the 1960s are aging. As a result, major collections are entering the marketplace. The quantity of the material and the lack of interest among younger collectors has resulted in great pieces becoming available for bargain prices. Further, many of these collections are “new to the market,” containing material that has not been available for decades.

Attic (basement, barn, shed) finds continue to occur on a regular basis. Between PBS’ “Antique Roadshow” and the dozens of antiques/collectibles cable television shows, each week brings another “look what I found” revelation!

What are your top tips for an aspiring collector in your area of expertise?

Beginning collectors are encouraged to take time to study the market focusing (1) on the availability of objects, which are common and which are scarce and (2) tracking the long-term trend since many aspects of the market are generational.

Pick a narrow specialty. The age of broad general category collections is over, primarily because of the cost and space required.

Research and study the examples you buy. Objects are inanimate. It is the stories associated with the objects — how was it made, who made it, who designed it, how was it used, etc.– that make objects come alive.

Collecting collectibles takes place in a global marketplace. Think globally! The US is not the only source to buy nor the only location where collectors live.

Do not buy with investment in mind. The secondary market for collectibles is extremely volatile.

What should a collector ask to identify an item and avoid common pitfalls?

– First, what is the complete unit? In a collectible, the complete unit is often more the object. The unit may include the period box, packing material within the box, literature within the box, and accessories that came with the object.

– Second, condition is critical. Avoid purchasing objects that are graded below very fine condition. Today’s collectors want objects as close to factory new as possible.

– Third, carefully examine the object for repairs, restoration, and/or enhancement. Even if you do not spot anything, ask the seller to guarantee that the object is as made.

– Fourth, question all undocumented attributions. Facts not opinions are what is important.

– Fifth, while provenance adds to an object’s story, do not over value its financial consideration.

What questions should a collector ask to determine the fair sale price of an item?

The collector should know the value range of an object before considering buying it. The only value that counts to the buyer is what he/she is willing to pay.

Buyers tend not to question the asking price dealers place on objects. This value only represents what the dealer feels the object is worth. Field test and research the value before buying. Over 95% of collectibles are mass-produced, meaning terms such as ‘rare’ and ‘unique’ have little to no meaning. Comparison shopping is a necessity.

What is selling best in today’s market (which particular makers/styles)?

Young collectors are brand name or designer name conscious. Many auction houses conduct sales of contemporary items less than 20 years old, women’s handbags are one example. Buyers are paying speculator prices. This speculative bubble will burst.

The late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s are the hot decades. Because of the Modernist emphasis, the furniture and decorative accessories from the 1950s and 1960s are still is in favor. However, 1950s and 1960s movie, music, radio, and television memorabilia is declining in value.

Items associated with “famous” movie and music stars continues to attract strong collector interest. Collectors seem to forget that “fame is fleeting.”

Thanks to auction hype and record prices, categories such as coins, illustrator art, firearms and related memorabilia, and sports memorabilia are enjoying strong markets.

What other questions do people ask you most frequently in your area of expertise?

Authenticity is a major issue. The collectibles field is filled with reproductions (exact copies of period pieces), copycats (stylistic copies of period pieces), fantasy pieces (pieces that did not exist historically or incorporate design elements from an earlier period), and fakes (objects meant to deceive). “Is what I own period?” is a common question.

“Where can I sell my item to achieve a maximum return?” Collectibles have specific markets, some of which fall outside the United States. What the person really wants to know is: “where can I obtain book value?”

“Is the story associated with the object correct?” Information often becomes distorted when passed from one person to another. Stories associating an object with a famous personality are more often false than true.