When it involves me, my wife Linda would prefer that anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays never occurred. She is constantly frustrated by trying to find a gift that I want and with which she can surprise me. The situation is not helped by my telling Linda I have everything I want. Although I continually mention the only thing that I really want is her when the “what would I like” subject arises, it is clear that Linda does not believe me.
It is impossible for a spouse, partner, or friend to know what a collector wants. More often than not, the collector does not know he/she wants something until he/she sees it. Collectors have want-lists, albeit they much prefer to keep them quiet rather than share them. Every collector has condition, price, and other considerations, which only he/she fully understands, that directly impact the decision to buy or not buy. Finally, if a collector wants something and has the funds to buy it, he/she wants it immediately and not on an anniversary, birthday, or holiday.
When a spouse, partner, or friend wants to buy something for a collector’s collection, they usually contact one of the sellers with whom the collector deals on a regular basis. When this happens, the exchange flow between the collector and his/her sources is interrupted. Collectors are unhappy if they think/learn a dealer has “held out on them.” The relationship between a seller and buyer is personal and private. Also, sellers are not always correct in determining the wants of their collectors. Only a collector is capable of deciding exactly what he/she wants.
There comes a point in most people’s lives when nothing is better than something. At 79, I am still a buyer. I should know better, but I do not care. Downsizing is for others. Although “I need this like I need a hole in the head” becomes more meaningful the older one becomes, I am not old enough to accept its impact on me.
A few years ago, Linda adopted a policy of sending her grandchildren money for birthdays and holidays. Although she worked hard to determine what each grandchild wanted and then spent inordinate amounts of time tracking it down, it inevitably was the wrong color, size, or unacceptable for another reason and had to be returned. Linda also was troubled by the cost or inappropriateness of some requested items. She found a cash gift controlled her spending, eliminated the jealous contention that one grandchild got a better gift then another, and that if a child wanted a more expensive gift than the amount in grandma’s check, they could find a way to obtain the balance by working or combining her gift with cash from other sources. I instituted the check approach with my grandson several years earlier.
Although I considered it, I am not advocating this approach for collectors. Determining the right amount would frustrate both the giver and the collector. There is no “just right” number.
Some individuals prefer to buy their own gifts, tell their spouse, partner, or friend what they bought and its price, and be reimbursed for the purchase. A clear agreement that this is acceptable is essential before making the purchase. This approach is fraught with danger. What happens if the amount is more than the spouse, partner or friend wanted to spend? When shown the purchase, an “are you out of your mind” response by the potential payee is devasting to both parties.
Having broached an approach that suggests that it is impossible to find gifts for collectors, there are opportunities.
Most collectors read one or more trade periodicals. Consider contacting one or more and purchasing a one- or two-year extension to their current subscription. Focus on what the collector is reading. Avoid obtaining a subscription to a publication that he/she is not. A collector’s world consists of a limited number of allotted time slots for specific tasks. Few collectors have a desire to expand any one of them.
The same approach can be used for an online subscription, the most common being an internet price guide source such as Askart.com or WorthPoint.com. Make certain the collector is using the service regularly before adding to his/her subscription. The collector may have subscribed on a short-term basis, found the information he/she required, and has no desire to continue the service. It is best to make a few discreet inquiries first.
Do not under any circumstances gift the collector with a software program designed to help organize his/her collection(s). Most collectors have no interest in such software nor want a reminder to do something they have no intention of doing. Thus far, I have purchased two such software programs. I used each less than a day. More than likely, I will die before there is a hard copy record of my collections.
If the collector belongs to a collectors’ club, consider extending his/her membership. Many collectors’ club members are passive members. They do not attend regional or annual meetings nor assume leadership roles. Rather, they belong because of the newsletters or journals that are part of the club’s benefits.
I am a member of the Transferware Collectors Club. I enjoy reading its email announcements, newsletters, and participating in its Zoom lectures. I never plan on attending a meeting nor am I likely to interact with more than a handful of its members. My dues help support some of its scholarly endeavors. At $75.00 per year, the dues are high for a collectors’ club. I have no regrets paying it.
For almost a decade, I enjoyed writing my annual “Summer Read” and “Winter Read” columns on new cozy antiques and collectibles titles. Nothing lasts forever is a truism that appears to continually haunt the antiques and collectibles trade. The cozy genre has relegated antiques and collectibles to the backlist. Authors have slowed down, burned out, moved on to other topics, or died. Lea Wait, author of the Shadow Mysteries and Mainely Needlepoint Mystery series, died in August 2019. Minotaur waited two years to publish Jane Cleland’s 13th book in the Josie Prescott Mysteries series. Previously a new title came out each year.
Assuming the collector likes to read, a wonderful gift would be a half dozen paperback tiles from one of the following cozy antiques and collectibles mystery series: (1) Barbara Allan’s [Barbara and Max Allan Collins] A Trash and Treasures Mystery series featuring Brandy and her mother Vivian [tongue in cheek; a fun, humorous look at the trade; “Antiques Fire Sale” is the latest title]; (2) Jane Cleland’s Josie Prescott Mysteries [strong appeal to the antiques collector and auction attendee; “Hidden Treasures” is the latest title]; (3) Victoria Hamilton’s A Vintage Kitchen Mystery series [who knew so many kitchen utensils could kill people, “Cast Iron Alibi” is the latest title]; (4) Sherry Harris’ A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery [fun read; garage sale items often play a secondary role but are always present; “Absence of Alice” is the latest title]; and (5) Lee Wait’s Shadow Mysteries series [the adventures of a print dealer]. Most titles in these series are in print. I am not certain for how much longer.
Consider a surprise “antiquing” getaway. As the internet grows in importance as the primary hunting ground for antiques and collectibles, collectors, especially those over 40, still love the hunt in the field. Pick a favorite flea market or antiques mall, shop, or show. Consider a location the collector always has talked about but never has gone. It may be overseas – all the more reason to do it.
If a glutton for punishment, make arrangements to attend the annual convention of a collectors’ club to which the collector belongs. Attending such events, especially for a non-interested spouse, partner, or friend is a true act of love.
Of course, there is one gift that tops all others – the promise of a year of peace from hearing anything critical or questioning concerning the collector’s collection(s) and his acquisitions and habits. Deep within every collector is the desire to be a hermit – to be able to live undisturbed with his/her collection(s). No collector will ever admit this. Trust me. The concept exists. Every collector knows it does.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.