In the past, I suggested collectors stop collecting between the ages of 62 and 65 and think about selling or the long-term future of their collections in their early 70s. I also assumed this would not happen to me. I was wrong, and I was right—proving once again that fixed answers in the antiques and collectibles’ trade are as elusive as snipes.
When I sold The School (the former Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School), ended Rinker Enterprises, Inc., liquidated its library and reference files, and faced the inevitability that I could take only a small portion of the objects I saved and collected to Linda’s and my new home in Kentwood, Michigan, in December 2010, I was 69 and worried that my collecting career had entered its twilight stage. Six years later, I know my concerns were unwarranted.
Room was the biggest issue. Linda’s and my Kentwood home was full. Dozens of hastily packed boxes with little to no identification of what was inside were stacked in two basement storage rooms and a large portion of my office area. If I bought more, where would I (we) put it?
For three years, I limited my antique and collectible hunting to adding new pieces to Linda’s Victorian Era jewelry and contemporary jewelry artisan collections. I spent a minimal amount of time on eBay. There is no fun in a collector’s life when he/she cannot acquire or, worse yet, feels pressured for one reason or another not to buy.
I was surprised by my lethargic reaction. Once the collecting bug bites, a person receives a permanent case of the disease. There is no cure but death. Collectors who claim to have “gone cold turkey” are lying. Everyone has secretly retained one or more favorite pieces from their collection. Collectors must accept the inevitable fact that certain objects are absorbed into the collector’s psyche. Parting with such an object is equivalent to losing a portion of one’s memory or a major body part.
Three wooden three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles that I could not sell when my jigsaw puzzle collection was auctioned now sit shrine-like on a cabinet shelf in my office. I open the cabinet door from time to time and commune with them. The experience may not be religious but it is mystical.
Two events cured my collecting funk. First, acceptance of the loss of the material I left behind in Vera Cruz. I would be lying if I wrote that I did not miss it. I do. The list of things I regret sending to auction is a lengthy one. I rest somewhat uneasy with the concept that my time with these objects has ended. What once was cannot be what is. Gone is gone.
Second, I spent over a year organizing the objects I brought to Michigan. I got to play with and handle the goodies. It is difficult to explain to a non-collector the high level of euphoria this creates in a collector’s mind. The feeling exceeds the emotion that “all is right in the world.” The collector withdraws into a world in which he/she is the sole occupant. Time stops. Cares vanish.
The organizing process produced several positive side effects. It freed up space. Collectors abhor a vacuum. The natural order of things compels them to fill empty spaces. When I was younger, I filled vacant spaces with anything that pleased me, a problem compounded by the fact there was very little that did not please me. As an aging collector, I have become more discriminating. While not opposed to starting new collections, I am far more likely to add a piece or two to an existing collection.
For the first time in my collecting career, I have a comprehensive knowledge of what I own. As I organized the objects in Kentwood, I discovered one hidden treasure after another. I take pride in my near photographic memory. It proved not as photographic as I thought. I found numerous objects for which I have no acquisition memory. How and when I acquired them will remain a mystery. I do not care. I have the objects.
The organization process resulted in like objects being housed in the same location. Aware that many objects, especially collectibles, can be classified in more than one collecting category, my collections are ordered to my collecting criteria. When I want a specific object, I no longer have to hunt it. The frequency of my complaining that I own an object but cannot find it has decreased almost to the point of non-existence.
In The Tempest, Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” For the past several months in preparation for writing this column, I have been reflecting on my 75-year prologue. Some of my conclusions will not surprise you; others might.
I was born to collect. There is a collecting gene in my DNA. Any attempt to fight, stifle or deny it is useless. Assembling a collection for Linda is not the same as building one for me. My life is not enhanced by an apple a day. It is fueled by an object a day or, at the very least, a week. Several months ago, I started adding to my pile—a painting here, a new merchant/trading stamp redemption catalog there. I no longer fight the urge to purchase something I want at an antiques and collectibles flea market, mall, shop, show or on the Internet. The voices whispering “buy me” and “take me home with you” resounded anew in my ears. I did not realize how much I missed them. Collecting makes me whole. It is an act that needs no justification.
I am building a new reference library, buying back dozens of books I owned previously. Although I often turn to the Internet first to research an object, the Internet does not contain the quantity and quality of information found in a good reference book. I already have exceeded my existing shelf space. The good news is the reorganization created room for three additional five-shelf bookcases.
Reviving the Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles was a tonic. I am at my best in a lecture environment sharing what I have learned with others. Since hands-on plays a vital role in the courses taught, I once again am acquiring objects for teaching purposes.
[Authors Aside: Kevin Smith auctioned the Institute’s antiques and collectibles reproduction, copycat, fantasy and fake study collection. At the time, I had given up the dream of continuing the Institute. Smart collectors look forward not backward. The past cannot be undone.]
In early 2016, I made a list of books and research articles I want to write. The book portion lists five titles, the article section 14 titles. I plan to add more. I already am in discussions with publishers about the book titles.
In late February, I began recording a weekly “WorthPoint Chats with Harry Rinker,” a half-hour You Tube video. I miss a week occasionally because of my schedule. I agreed to a third weekly obligation against my better judgment because I want to create a more permanent vehicle for my tradecraft knowledge.
During the last several years, I have started to think about my legacy. For most collectors, this means the continuing of a collection or collections. I wrestle with donating some of my material to museums and research institutions versus sending it back into the marketplace. As a counter to the former, I am reminded that if the objects were in a museum or research institution, I would never have owned them. Further, my written materials and videos are collections. These, more than my objects, are my greatest legacy to the trade. I would like to see them preserved.
Finally, a nostalgic look backward is playing a growing role in my life. Work on my family genealogy, backward as well as forward, has been a passion for the past two years. My generation is now the lead generation in the Rinker and Prosser families. It is not a comfortable feeling.
As I reminisce about my childhood and young adulthood, I feel a desire to own some of the objects I had but were lost over time. I have fond memories playing with a hand-me-down Daisy No. 12, Model 29, pump action BB gun in the late 1940s and 1950s. I am in the process of acquiring one.
Old collectors never die nor do they fade away. Collectors are collectors for life. I have always known this. At 75, I reaffirm it. I am and will be a collector until I die. If there is a higher power, I will die in the act of buying an antique or collectible. Rest assured, it will not be during the act of selling. The Devil be damned!
Learn more about Harry Rinker and his activities at 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 and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live at www.gcnlive.com. Copyright © Harry L. Rinker, LLC, 2016