What new collecting trends are you tracking?
inOctober 19, 2012 - 10:29am
My initial reaction after reading this question is I do not want to answer it. What was once simple to identify has become complex today. After giving the question some thought, I need to answer it because the answer at which I arrived bothers me.
Collecting came out of the closet in the 1980s. It was the era when the antiques market divided into three groups—antiques, collectibles, and desirables. This coincided with my arrival on the price guide scene. Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices, Sixteenth Edition, the first edition for which I was editor, was published in 1981. It provided information on approximately 150 antiques collecting categories. Within five years, the number of collecting categories exceeded 400. In addition, I created the Warman price guide format and introduced Warman’s Americana & Collectibles, first published in 1984. Americana added another 400 collecting categories to the mix.
The annual revision of Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices and a biannual revision of Warman’s Americana and Collectibles was fun. In the case of Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices, the discussion centered on what Warman’s Americana and Collectibles collecting categories were ready to move up into the “main” price guide and what collecting categories in the main guide were to be dropped or combined into broader collecting categories. The general English ceramics collecting category eventually absorbed Bows, Chelsea, Fitzhugh, Leeds, and a host of other English ceramic manufacturers, each of which once had their own independent collecting category.
The decisions concerning Warman’s Americana & Collectibles focused on what categories should remain and what new ones to add. Since Americana covered the collectible and desirable market segments, its focus was on the fun, funky, extraordinary, and somewhat out of the box. There were approximately 250 categories which had permanent status. The rest were fair game.
My recollection is that the list of possible categories to add to American always was larger than could be accommodated. The solution was the Warman’s Encyclopedia of Antiques and Collectibles series which included volumes on American Pottery and Porcelain, Country, English Pottery and Porcelain, Furniture, Glass, Orientalia (which the word still was in vogue), and Paper.
In theory, as a decade becomes collectible, it should contribute several dozen new collectible categories to the trade. I have no problem naming new collecting categories that originated the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. The difficulty arises when I try to think of new collecting categories with roots in the late 1980s through the present. Bratz dolls will never have the same collecting cache as Barbie. Harry Potter is not Star Wars.
The standard generators of new collecting categories such as toys and entertainment (movies, television, and music) have failed to produce collecting categories that last. Prince Diana came and went. Neither Lady Gaga nor Madonna is every going to be worthy of their own collecting categories.
Same old, same old is one of Harry Jr.’s favorite expressions. Yet, it applies to every antiques mall, shop, or show, I visit—a different day, the same old stuff.
My problem is a simple. I am stumped. For the past several days, I have been trying to think of examples of major, heck I would be satisfied with a few minor choices, collecting categories that had their origin after 1985. While I identified thousands of modern objects that represent the fit into established collecting categories, I could not, for the life of me, come up with a list of new categories.
It is time to enlist the aid of my readers. Help me out. What have I missed? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, I am going to pay closer attention to what I see at malls, shops, and shows. I will report my reader’s responses and my observations in a future blog.
Who are the “big” collectors these days and why?
I am approaching 300 pounds in weight? Does that make me a “big” collector? While it does not, it does create an opportunity to reflect on what is a “big” collector.
Historically, a “big” collector was a person with a large collection, large in this case meaning 300 or more pieces. Once collectibles entered the collecting marketplace, collections in excess of 1,000 pieces became common. In fact, 1,000 objects is a “small” collection is some fields. I own approximately 5,000 jigsaw puzzles. Does this make me a “big” collector? The list of collecting categories in which some collectors own over 500 examples, numbers in the hundreds. Match covers, Roseville pottery, Matchbox vehicles, action figures, Star Wars, and sheet music are just a few that come immediately to mind. The last time I talked with Sandy Marrone, a major sheet music collector, I vaguely remember her telling me her collection was well over 20,000 sheets.
I talked early today (September 24) with my friend Lenore Dailey, a Georgian and Victorian era antique jewelry dealers. “You have to have a lot of money today to be a big collector” was her response when I ask her opinion of the “big” collector issue
If big is associated with collection number count, Lenore is correct. When tracking the ups and downs of a collecting category, I pay close attention to the per unit cost, the average cost to assemble a large collection. Assume the average cost is $50. This means a 500 piece collection will require a minimum of $25,000 to build. How many collecting categories do you know where $50 will do the job? The average per unit cost in the antique sector is between $150 and $250 per unit. Using a per unit cost of $250, $25,000 results in a 100 piece collection, small by modern standards. A collection of Civil War firearms is going to require a per unit cost of between $1,250 and $1,500 if the collector wants quality.
The “big” collectors of today are the fat cats, those individuals who comprise the top 1 percent of economic wealth. They are the individuals with surplus capital. However, as Lenore informed me, the Great Recession hurt some of them as well as the general public.
The problem with these “big” collectors is that they are more investors and speculators than they are collectors. They create collections for profit, playing the market and treating antiques and collectibles as commodities.
Another group of “big” collectors are foreign buyers. The amount of foreign dollars pouring into the American antiques and collectibles market continues to increase. Objects are flowing east and west over the rims, in many cases returning to their country of origin.
While the “big” collectors may represent more than 50 percent of the moneys spent on antiques and collectibles, it is still the “small” collectors who are the market’s foundation. In 2012, this foundation remains shaky.
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