Copyright © Harry L. Rinker, LLC 2021

When “Rinker on Collectibles” turned 20 in 2006, I wrote two columns prior to the anniversary column entitled “Top 10 Changes in the Last 20 Years.” Following “Rinker on Collectibles”’ 25th and 30th birthdays, I wrote a three-column series entitled “Top 10 Changes in the Last Five Years” after the anniversary columns.

[Author’s Aside #1: The first three series are posted in the URL “Rinker on Collectibles: Special Series Columns” on www.harryrinker.com. Before making a list of topics for my 35th anniversary series, I reviewed the “Top 10 Changes in the Last Five Years” columns covering 2011 to 2016 to avoid topic duplication. Although I did not expect to find duplication, there was some. Many of the changes that began in the previous five years still are occurring. Determined to avoid revisiting them, I identified ten new changes that took place during the last five years.]

“Rinker on Collectibles” will celebrate its 35th birthday on December 16, 2021. As in 2006, this time the three-part series entitled the “Top 10 Changes in the Last Five Years” precedes my anniversary column.

I ranked the ten changes in order of importance. The selection is personal. I expect disagreement and would be disappointed if it did not occur. The first column in the series deals with my bottom three choices. The second column will focus on changes 7 to 4. The final column deals with the top 3. Besides an element of suspense, this allows readers to try and anticipate my thoughts.

10. The arrival of the 21st century mindset

In 2021, the Twenties means the 2020s and not the Roaring Twenties of the 20th century. The 21st century now is in its third decade. 2000 or 2001 is a distant memory. 9/11 occurred 20 years ago. No one under 19 can answer: “Where were you when you heard the planes struck the Twin Towers?” This includes Linda’s four grandchildren and my grandson.

Following the turn of a century, people are unsure of how to deal with the decades of the Aughts and the Teens. There still is a strong connection to the past century for the first 20 years of the new century. The linkage breaks with the arrival of the Twenties. Even though just over 20 years have lapsed, the past becomes distant.

Further, three cataclysmic events accelerated the distancing process. The first decade of the 21st century was marked by the 2008-2009 Great Recession. 9/11 quickly replaced it as the dominant event of the second decade. The Covid pandemic is the transitioning event between the 21st century Teens and the Twenties. A pessimist might think that the 21st century is destined to have at least one event every decade that results in an extended recovery period only to have the recovery halted by another major event.

[Author’s Side #2: I have chosen not to designate climate change and politics as cataclysmic events, albeit it is clear they have the potential and, in fact, are.]

In 2021, anything related to the 20th century seems old. In human terms, 20 is not old. When discussing objects, 20 is now the new 30. The 1990s is the hot decade of the moment. Those who have been around the antiques and collectibles trade for longer than 25 years find this astonishing.

I was tempted to use unbelievable, but I spent the last 35 years chronicling change in the antiques and collectibles trade and watched the hot decade shift from the 1950s to the 1960s, from the 1960s to the 1970s, and from the 1970s to the 1980s. The shift from the 1980s to the 1990s is the logical progression. What is not logical is that each shift took less than 10 years to occur. The process is accelerating. By 2026, I envision the 2000s as being the hot collecting decade.

America will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026. I remain convinced that 2020/2021 represents a clean break with the 20th century. For those with lingering doubts, the 250th anniversary celebrations will be the final nail in the 20th century’s coffin.

9. The growing dominance of grading services and their use to manipulate market pricing

Grading services, once restricted largely to coins, comic books, and stamps, are extending their reach. Sports cards, especially baseball cards, Pokéman cards, video games, and material from other collecting categories have become victims of encapsulation, sealed in plastic or another material after grading so the objects can never again be touch by human hands.

Grading is a questionable service at best. Grading companies claim grading is objective. It is not. It is subjective. No matter how many grading rules are developed, they are open to interpretation.

Object grading accuracy is equivalent to a home plate baseball umpire calling balls and strikes. No matter how carefully Major League Baseball defines the strike zone, each umpire interprets it differently. Baseball does not use computers or machines to call balls and strikes. If it did, the accuracy would increase. Instead, Major League Baseball relishes umpire inconsistencies because they add flavor and suspense to the game.

A coin collector once shared his approach to grading with me. If a coin is in a sealed container, he lowers the grade by one to one and one-half grades. Experience taught him that sellers send the same coin to various grading services until they obtain a grade that satisfies them. Once achieved, the coin stays sealed. Grade shopping now is common practice, especially given the proliferation of grading services.

A grader is a human being. While it would be nice to assume he/she is at the peak of his/her abilities every time an object is graded, this is not the case. Graders have good and bad days, personally as well as professionally. There is no good day/bad day barometer in the grading room. No individual is able to maintain the highest level of sharpness for eight hours. Eye strain alone is enough to question consistent accuracy.

Grading companies are in the grading business to make money. There are production/billable levels graders are expected to maintain. Graders are under a great many pressures. Each pressure impacts their objectiveness.

Sellers use grading as a means of hawking items. Watch some of the coin and other collectibles shopping channels. Leading American auction houses are doing the same. When a 10-cent, pulp comic brings millions of dollars because of its grade and encapsulation, there is a problem with long-term value perception. The prices paid are speculative – what goes up eventually will come down.

Finally, what is next? I foresee a time when a mint action figure in a period blister pack or a mint Hot Wheels car in period packaging will no longer be enough to command top dollar. Rather top dollar will apply only if the object has been graded and encapsulated.

I have decided that I will not be cryogenically frozen for fear that I might become a desirable collectible in the future. I wonder what the cryogenically frozen body of baseball star Ted Williams would bring if it came up for auction at Heritage. It would be the ultimate baseball collectible.

8. Reproductions, Copycats, and Contemporary artisans – The Look has become more important than the period object

It is becoming harder and harder to distinguish period objects from reproductions (exact copies), copycats (stylistic copies), and contemporary artisan-made objects (enhanced copies). In the Twenties, The Look is everything.

There was a “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” when collectors and even decorators relied exclusively on period objects to create a period setting. In the 1980s and 1990s, period objects were mixed with reproductions and copycats, the argument being the reproductions and copycats were less expensive and individuals had less reservation using them than period objects.

Today, many period objects are less expensive than reproductions and copycats. Ideally, the result should be a return to period objects. Just the opposite is true. Buyers want “new old” rather than “old old.”

Contemporary artisans are quick to adapt to the hottest “Look” crazes. Thus far, the 21st century is an “anything goes,” as Cole Porter so apply expressed it, century. There is no one “The Look” but hundreds.

Antiques and collectibles sell best when they fit into a dominant “Look,” for example Country or Modernism. When the average “Look” is dictated by Costco, Kmart, Walmart and other Big Box stores and cable channel television shows, the decorating role that antiques and collectibles can fill is limited.

Finally, today’s conversations no longer center around what is displayed on the mantel or walls of a home. Adventure and conversation take place outside and on-the-go, two settings into which the placement of antiques and collectibles is difficult.

The next “Rinker on Collectibles” text column will cover trends 7 to 4.

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 harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.