Since I was born in 1941, I do not qualify as a Baby Boomer. Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1964 and are the generations (early and late Baby Boomers) that separate the Silent Generation from Generation X.
It is difficult being born at the tail end of any generation. Although I was born near the end of the Silent Generation, I grew up with the first generation of Baby Boomers. There were only two school divisions in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, where I was raised. Elementary school, one located in the north and the other in the south portion of the town, included grades kindergarten through six. Hellertown High School, located in between the two elementary schools, included grades seven through twelve. At the time, no one thought about generation identification. It was more important to be a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior.
In addition, I was a member of the large nucleated Prosser family – nine sets of aunts and uncles and 21 first cousins most of whom lived in Hellertown or nearby Bethlehem. I was a member of the “middle” group of cousins with over a half dozen older Prosser cousins and slightly more than a dozen younger cousins. Family was an identity glue. Generation was used to enforce the admonition to respect your elders, the all-mighty club aunts and uncles held over nieces and nephews to bend them to their opinions and wills.
Generational disrespect – what goes around comes around.
I did not participate in the Beatnik and Hippie movements, albeit both occurred during my adolescent and early adult years. I missed the first and was a firm member of the establishment by the second.
The Beatnik movement, a media stereotype for the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, was associated with pseudo-intellectualism, drug use, a cartoonish depiction of real-life people, and the spiritual quest of Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical fiction. The Hippie movement, a 1960s and 1970s countercultural revolution, rejected the mores of mainstream American life. My mainstream experience was that America at that time was filled with boundless opportunities for a person with ambition, drive, and a good case of the smarts.
“Do not trust anyone over 30” was a rallying cry in the Beatnik and Hippie movements. In 2020, many of the teenagers who have adopted the same battle cry are the grandchildren of the Beatniks and Hippies. Old Beatniks and Hippies are an endangered species. Most eventually got married, bought a house with a mortgage, had children, and embraced the appeal of the very social mores they once so violently protested.
Hopefully, former Beatniks and Hippies have a smile on their face each time they hear the phrase “OK Boomer” knowing that these modern dissenters will eventually sell out to the system just like they did. This is just another case of what goes around comes around. Some things never change.
Those who remained in the establishment learned two key lessons during the societal upheavals in the mid-20th century. First, protest movements have a limited life. The key is to wait them out. Second, change is achieved from within. The key is to remain in the establishment and reach a point where one can institute meaningful change quietly from within. Silent rebels always are the most effective.
What does all this have to do with collecting? The answer is twofold. Every generation, especially in its late teenage and early adult years, revolts to some extent against the material preferences and opinions of their elders. As traditional and conservative as I was/am, I had no intention of making the interior of my new home a mirror image of that of my parents’ or parents-in-law’s. My first bedroom suite was Mediterranean Modern. It was made of a bleached gray pecan wood. I shudder every time I think about it. It was the epitome of bad taste. It taught me that rebellion was not always positive. The same held true to the home entertainment center, which cost nearly as much as the bedroom suite, with its pseudo-Chippendale cabinet that housed a television, radio, and record player. It disappeared from my life in the mid-1970s. Gone and mostly forgotten, thankfully.
It was my generation, the last of the Silent Generation and members of the first ten years of Baby Boomers, who embraced the idea of out with the old and in with the new. We bought new, especially for our children. We want our children to have everything we did not have. New is better evolved from a fallacy to what became a truism.
The rallying cry of do not trust anyone over 30 transformed into do not trust anything older than 30. Eventually, this altered version was picked up by the Baby Boomers’ children and grandchildren. It goes a long way in explaining why the modern post-Millennium generations have little to no interest in the material possessions of their parents and grandparents.
Second, lifestyle shifts are critical to identifying one collecting period from another. I do not divide collecting periods by decades, albeit in some cases the divide falls on a decade year. At the moment, my collecting divides are 1920 to 1945, 1946 to 1963, 1963 to 1980, and 1981 to the present. The 1963 to 1980 period corresponds to the end of the Beatnik and the Golden Age of the Hippie movement. The Age of Aquarius, forget its astronomical definition, dates from the 1967 “Aquarius” song from the Broadway musical “Hair.”
[Author’s Aside: Ask your children and grandchildren to tell you about the Age of Aquarius. Do not be surprised by a “what are you talking about” look on their face. 1967 was 53 years ago.]
Although focused primarily in large urban areas and some college campuses, the Psychedelic period, which encompassed the Age of Aquarius, impacted every aspect of American life. Nothing was exempt – fashion, hair styles, movies, music, and industrial design. Those who lived through the leisure suit and avocado, golden harvest, and rust period now are senior citizens. Most welcomed the election of Ronald Reagan and the return to the pre-1963 normalcy that followed it.
The Psychedelic movement left behind a treasure trove of collectibles from fine to decorative to crass objects. In 2020, this material has reached “antiques” status, hard though it is for some to accept. I recommend doubters check out the prices achieved by Heritage Galleries’ sales of high-end psychedelic art concert posters
I have waited patiently for the next “big” event that would create a lifestyle change equivalent to that experience in the years immediately following 1963 and 1980. The change from the 20th century to the 21st century occurred without the slightest social ripple. I looked closely at the 2008-2009 Great Recession but decided it was not the answer. The COVID-19 pandemic is a strong candidate depending on what happens over the next two to four years.
I thought the “OK Boomer” movement had possibilities. The problem is the movement is disjointed. It lacks credible leaders who are in a position to institute change. The “OK Boomer” movement with its emphasis on dyed hair, tattoos, and a naïve belief that the world is and will change for better is a temporary phenomenon. Clothing such as T-shirts, leggings, and socks and accessories such as greeting cards, notebooks, phone cases, posters, and water bottles are not even close to the breadth and depth of the things that resulted in societal change during the Beatnik and Hippies eras.
Generation Z’s prospects for a lower quality of life than the generations that preceded them is of interest, especially if linked with the COVID-19. Combined, the odds of these creating a change in lifestyle are very high. If true, the antiques and collectibles community will feel the impact.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. There are rough seas ahead. I look forwarding to documenting the journey through them.
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 email@example.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.