An Interview with Harry Rinker
You love him, you hate him, either way you want to know
what he has to say. Harry Rinker is probably best known as the editor
and author of Warman's Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide and Warman's
Americana & Collectibles. He is also the author of a syndicated column
"Rinker on Collectibles" featured in a variety of trade papers and the
founder of the Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles. Harry
is many things - but he's never without an opinion. We had the opportunity
to ask Harry some questions about the collectibles field in general and
more specifically about glasses. The following is an edited transcript
of that interview.
Mark: As you know, the 1980ıs was really a time of growth
and discovery in the collectibles field. Could you comment on that decade
Harry: Thereıs no question about that and Iıd like to say that I take
a certain amount of egotistical credit for that... Now I donıt think that
Iım responsible for the collectibles market, I donıt want to for one moment
suggest that, but back in 1981 when I took over Warmanıs and we looked
at what was happening in the market, I saw that there were really two
distinct markets out there - one for antiques and one for collectibles
- and you have to remember that part of my background is‹ I was in York
in 1972-1976 as the director of the Historical Society of York County
Pennsylvania, but also in York at that time was Ted Hake, myself, Ron
Leverman, who is one of the big antiquarian book dealers of today and
George Philophilus [sp?], the miscellaneous man, the big poster guy and
also there was a guy named Jim Stambaugh. Well, Jim went on to a museum
career, he was with the Billy Graham Museum, but he was a big in photography,
whatever, and all the rest of us went on to big careers in the trade,
but largely through Tedıs influence we began to recognize the tremendous
impact of collectibles and so when I became editor of Warmanıs and was
looking for a way to make my mark in the trade, you know my choice was
either to take the Kovels on in the antique sector, do what they do, only
do it better‹which I think I could have done had I chosen that route‹
or look at a new marketplace and define it. Well, I looked at the collectibles
marketplace at the time and I said to myself ³there is nobody out there
trying to pull all of these diverse categories together², so I thought,
well, maybe we should try doing a price guide; well, you know you canıt
do a price guide on the collectibles market without getting involved with
a lot of thinking what belongs in the price guide, how you define what
a collectible is and so forth and so from that, Warmanıs Americana and
Collectibles was born at the same time. I also decided that it was time
for me to launch a column in the trade. Since I was concerned about the
collectibles side of the fence, I launched a column that would essentially
support the Americana and Collectibles. So I started right here on collectibles
and when it got started the criteria was that I would not write about
anything made before 1900; now, today of course, you think of 1900 more
on the antique category than you do in terms of the collectibles category.
Back in 1984, when I launched Americana and Collectibles, 1900 was still
considered very much a part of the collectible realm, not part of the
antique sector. Now, a lot has happened since then; numerous categories
have come along, there have been tremendous changes in the trade and itıs
all been wonderful, but Iıll give you a piece of information that not
too many people in the trade know yet, but they will very shortly: Iım
leaving Warmanıs. The 7th Americana, the 7th Warmanıs Americana and Collectibles
will be my last. The mistake I made when I launched that book was I let
the publisher own the copyright. The gal that was my #1 assistant, Ellen
Troy, she is going to take over and edit it, but Iım going to launch Rinkerıs
Collectibles in 1997, with a brand new book on collectibles, where Iım
going to attempt, yet again, to redefine what is a collectible and bring
the collectible world to the Post W.W.II time era.
Mark:So, we hope there will be a big glass section in there too, right?
Harry: Well, thereıs gonna be a lot of stuff in that book; one of the
things I never liked about Americana and Collectibles is we didnıt put
furniture and a lot of the lifestyle stuff in there. I didnıt like the
fact that we had a lot of Pre-W.W.II stuff in Americana and Collectibles,
but because of the way we defined it historically, it belonged in there.
Iım anxious to launch a major new price guide thatıs strongly post- Œ45
and is much broader in scope in terms of its coverage, and actually I
think today and I this is whatıs gonna happen is Rinkerıs Antiques is
going to come out every other year and I think that is the way the market
Harry: Anyway, Iım sorry; will there be a lot of glass? Sure thereıll
be a lot of glass.
Mark: Well, good. Good.
Harry: Thereıll be a lot of great stuff in there. Itıs gonna be a lot
of, you know, thereıs a lot of new collection categories out there, a
lot of new crossover categories. Out there youıre seeing a bit of that
in collectibles classified sets too.
Mark:Sure. Now, now getting back, back to my first question‹the second
part‹tell me about the 1990ıs. I see the current era as a period of stabilization
Harry: I, no, no, well what happened was the boom times actually were
between 1982 and 1988.
Harry:...and what happened was, that was a time when nobody could lose.
You could buy something, put more money on it and somebody else bought
it. Well in a way, there were guys like myself who thought the recession
couldnıt come soon enough, to be perfectly honest with you, because quite
honestly there were no technical questions in pricing in that six year
period between 1982 and 1988 and then when the recession hit, the recession
showed that there were a lot of interesting things besides this trade.
Probably one of the most important things the recession showed was that
there was a price at which something would not sell. An object could reach
a point where it simply would not sell, nobody would buy it, and that
was a lesson we needed to learn in the antique and collectible business
really badly and so what happened was of course, all the winners were
the people that sold all the stuff and had the cash and all the losers
were people with boatloads of stuff they couldnıt sell. The recession
also taught us that while speculation is nice, itıs also terribly risky.
That a stronger market is one with much more gradual growth. Now I think
we saw some heavy duty price declines in the late 80ıs and early 90ıs,
but I do think in the mid-1990ıs, things have stabilized. What I think,
where I think we are with the market at the moment is this, I think everyone
wants the market to take off. I think the market has a lot of strength
in it. I think the price decline has ended, it is not gonna go any further,
but I donıt see the people taking the risk to push the market up the same
way as it did before; now, that may be one of the effects of the recession.
So those of us who were dealers‹not me because I donıt deal‹but for those
dealers, for the period before the recession and into the 90ıs, it takes
a couple decades to forget that. No, it takes a couple decades for new
collectors who didnıt live through the recession. I mean what lessons
did every dealer who went through the recession learn? Well, they learned,
as I said, that there is a price at which objects will not sell. They
learned that the traditional buying sources, dealer, dealer sales, and
auctions are not, are sometimes a viable way to buy for collectors, but
theyıre not great ways to buy as dealers. You canıt buy the stuff with
enough margin left to make a living. They also learned they had to go
back to traditional sources; they learned not to carry heavy inventory
loads. Todayıs dealer probably has one half to two-thirds of inventory
levels he ran earlier because they just donıt stock up anymore. They work
on much shorter inventory, and they donıt pre-buy anywhere near like they
used to. I mean Atlantic City was a great show, but it wasnıt a great
show in the pre-selling. Most dealers down there had very poor pre-show
sales. They did great during the show, and then the dealers, once they
had their money in their hands, did some buying at the end, but I think
that is one of the consequences of the recession and if thatıs the lesson
we learned from the recession, then in my point of view itıs a good lesson
to have learned. Donıt spend your money before you have it. Mark: Right.
Tell me, what collectible fields do you see now that you think are going
to pass as fads? Harry: Ahhh thatıs, well I guess my first comment to
you would be that I think every field, every new collecting field comes
into the business in a very exciting inflationary way right away, and
that happened with collecting drinking glasses. Cımon you guys, you know
they went from nickels to dimes to quarters at garage sales to one buck,
two bucks, four bucks, ten bucks...
Harry: ...and then they, then they fell back.
Harry:The market got flooded, people got tired of it.
Mark: They found out they couldnıt get $10 for all their Camp Snoopy Glasses.
Harry: Thatıs exactly right and so prices fell back and stabilized.
Harry: Now what youıre seeing is instead of the entire market taking off,
you are seeing segments of the market get hot, cool off, and so forth.
Mark: All right.
Harry: So, when something comes into the trade, you go through this introductory
speculation. Itıs like you also had a lot of speculators in drinking glasses
early in the game. I think you donıt have so many in there now, but I
mean you had them. So you know, in terms of a category that is going to
fade away, categories donıt fade away; rather what they do is they stabilize
out in price, and you donıt see much price dropping around for years.
Mark: All right.
Harry: Okay. Now to me there is no question in my mind that Pez has had
Mark: Oh, is that right? Okay
Harry: Oh, Iım a great believer that the Pez run is over. Now you wonıt
find a Pez collector that agrees with me. No, no but, but you see these
guys are all short term. Theyıre all looking at the short term. Itıs guys
like me with our big analytical databases that say thatıs fine.
Mark: Well, I guess the one I was thinking about was Pogs. They seem to
come on hot and now...
Harry: Oh you know I think that they will come and go, and Pogs will never
enter my price guide.
Mark: Oh is that right? Okay.
Harry: ...and Iıll tell you why. Because the manufacturer of Pogs made
a serious error; they threw too many out there too fast and thereıs no
way to classify them or categorize them. I think telephone calling cards
are another example of a category that got very manipulated by the manufacturer,
by the high-end dealers to the point where you just have to say to yourself,
wait a minute here, okay, there is nothing to be gained by dealing with
this category. Okay?
Harry: Now, now letıs deal with categories, I mean we already know baseball
cards are in a terrible mess.
Harry: I think contemporary Barbies, all these Holiday Barbies and all
the rest of this Teacher Barbie and all the other modern speculative Barbies,
that market is slated for a major collapse in the years ahead I think.
I am not so sure we are not going to see some collapse in the action figure
market; not a lot, but I keep wondering how many more action figures can
we absorb in the market before the markets sweat it out and go flat and
I think you are already seeing a certain amount of that type of stuff
right now. Ummm, I think you can say on the whole, the 50ıs marketıs going
flat at the moment as a new generation of collectors is coming along whoıs
far more interested in the 60ıs and the 70ıs. You have to see this to
some degree reflected in your glasses, I would think.
Mark: Oh, we do. You know, Davy Crocket glasses in particular, theyıre,
theyıre tough to find, but nobody wants them.
Harry: Right. I would say thereıs even some truth to the Welchıs at this
point at least.
Mark: Yes. They are down from what they probably bought five of ten years
Harry: Yeah and I think this is the phenomenon. You know, one of the major
phenomena that is happening in collectibles collecting in that last decade,
it started in the 80ıs and itıs clearly in place now is what we call one
generation collectibles. The idea that the collectible is valid only from
the time the kids play with it until that generation that played with
Harry:...and the next generation has no interest whatsoever in the subject.
Mark: What about some of the current ones; I think about the Flintstones
coming out in the 60ıs and how theyıre pretty hot right now.
Harry: Oh, listen. From my point of view if you want,‹ again, since you
actually want my predictions and may get me in all kinds of trouble out
there with the collector, the name of the game is as follows: my guess
is that by 2001 Hanna Barbara Collectibles will replace Disney Collectibles
as king of the hill.
Mark: Is that right? Because theyıre still being expanded into the 80ıs
Harry: Everything has to do with Saturday morning television cartoons.
I mean I understand about the Flintstones and the Jetsons on prime time
and all the rest of this. Its not about prime time‹itıs about Saturday
Mark: Well, there arenıt cartoons where I live on Saturday mornings anymore.
Harry: Thatıs right, but thatıs what Hanna Barbara did to cartoons.
Mark: Look, tell me what kind of glasses do you have in your collection?
Harry: What do I have?
Mark: You have a room dedicated to glasses there at the institute, right?
Harry: Nice guy! I have‹I have a few. I have‹what do I have? I have some
Dudley Do-Right stuff from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I have some
Welchıs Grape Juice stuff because of the fact that thatıs what I ate as
a kid to get emı. Although I donıt have a lot of them, Iıd like to buy
more back, but I you know, Iım the kind of guy that thinks that if God
wants me to own them Iıll find them in mint condition at a garage sale
for a buck apiece. I have a very nice set of early Cinderella stuff. I
have some regional sports stuff only because I think I ought to have that.
Ahhh, so I have some regional sports stuff. I got some fast food stuff,
ahhh, largely McDonaldıs. I think if I went down and looked real carefully,
I mean I donıt have that many glasses, but I know I had, it sounds like
I do though, probably more that I realize I do if Iıd ever check. Ummm,
but I have some fast food stuff that Iıve collected over the years. You
know I just bought, as you know from my, our phone interview, I just stopped
at Burger King and grabbed a couple of Pocahontas glasses, not because
Iım big on Pocahontas, but I like the boxes they were in and they were
selling them off cheap at the one Burger Kings I was at. Ummm, actually,
the glass that Iım most interested in and I donıt have very many of these,
I like glasses that advertise newspapers and radios. Ahhh now theyıre
not the kind of things you guys deal with that much, but like the Allentown
Morning Call did a series of drinking glasses that had historic issues
of their paper on them.
Harry: I have a set of those, and I have some others. Every once in awhile,
I always love to pick up radio related premiums just because theyıre neat
and also always inexpensive. But I will tell you whatever. You guys beat
me to the punch, Iıve been saving away plastic drinking glasses. Well
I have to tell you in all fairness I think theyıre gonna make a better
display over time than the glasses, because their more colorful, theyıre
larger, theyıre more, they got, they have a lot of great designs, not
that some drinking glasses didnıt have great designs, but my god some
of those, a lot of cups coming out of the fast food premiums are top of
Mark:...and theyıre harder to find in mint condition, too.
Harry: Yes they are. Absolutely they are.
Mike: ...and another thing, the best thing of all is that they are not
Harry: ...but, I will tell you, you flip them inside of each other and
theyıre very scratchable right now. I mean, you gotta be very careful
how you handle them.
Mike: I thought for a long time that plastic glasses would have their
day and I, Iım not even really sure why I thought that, but I really believe
they will. There have to be fewer of them in good shape than there are
Harry: I think I would be inclined to agree with you. I donıt think people
see in them the collectability level they see in the glass glasses, the
glass made out of glass.
Mike: Yes. One thing I was wondering about, once a collectable field collapses,
so to speak, can you think of any examples of how it recovers, I mean
can they ever recover?
Harry: Oh well, sure. Well, first of all, I believe all movements are
price movements in the antiques and collectibles field. That curve is
catastrophic‹ by that I mean that an object may sell at the same price
level plus or minus 5% for a period of time for five to twenty years,
and then all of a sudden something happens that sends the market off in
a flurry. Okay? I call those things that cause that‹ ³market triggers,²
and there are a lot of things that can trigger a market. A number of articles
on the front pages of trade papers can trigger a market; a new book with
new prices and a lot of new information can trigger a market. You know,
a television show centering around a specific era can trigger a market.
There are a lot of market triggers‹thatıs one of the things we watch out
for. We track antiques and collectibles here obviously because of my database,
and you know we are constantly looking for potential triggers in the marketplace
coming on down the line that we think could send the market up and running.
You know the 25th anniversary of something, the 50th anniversary of something,
that could trigger a market. The death of a generation could end a market.
Mike: To what extent is any of this predictable because as you know‹with
the stock market for example‹nobody rings a bell to warn you about big
Harry: Yeah. Itıs extremely predictable.
Mike: Is it?
Harry: Yes, absolutely. Now, we do tremendous amounts of predicting here,
and weıve got our accuracy rate up to about 75-80% now. Now, itıs based
on the fact that I have a lot of privileges to information about whatıs
coming up down the pike six and nine months, ten months and even as far
as two and three years out in terms of books, new books, articles. The
ability to talk to a trade magazine and ³bump² get certain articles planted
where they need to be planted. Or to find out what articles they have
on the fireplace so that, you know, I know where theyıre going. So itıs
very predictable. I will not tell you what weıre predicting next because
I donıt think itıs my responsibility to the trade as a reporter‹Iım not
a market predictor. Now, I am also aware of the fact that the people like
Kovels or myself or others, if we say itıs gonna happen, can often make
it happen and therefore, I donıt want to be responsible for the success
of a category, and I donıt want to be responsible for the death of one.
[but] I think Iıve been responsible for hurrying the death of a few in
Mike: Could you comment in general on the respectability of collecting
glasses, cartoon character glasses?
Harry: I think one of the great things that happened in the 80ıs and I
think itıs very much in play today is, nobody gives a damn what you collect
anymore. Oh, that is not totally true, there are what I call, in the trade,
snots; the high-end antique people who look down their noses...
Mike: Yes, thatıs what I was thinking of.
Harry: ...at collectors and so forth, but I think that number is lessening.
I think what the modern young collectors today, the 20 something and 30
something collectors, the, the tail- end baby boomer collectors, the dink
and the yuppie collector, the X generation and the Me generation collector,
what they discovered is that itıs the joy thatıs in the collecting and
that while itıs all right to collect for social prestige, which is what
a lot of people collected antiques for in the old days; they didnıt know,
they didnıt know anything about them‹ they just collected them for the
prestige of owning them. They were in their corporate offices and they
were in their homes and as long as they decide their friends from the
Country Club set, but when you, if you went in the homes of the collectors,
some of them paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you say tell me
about that piece and they get a dumb look on their face or they go and
get the sales receipt out, that the dealer wrote for them and read it
to you. You know I think today itıs fun to collect everything. I think
youıre going to see Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes and collector glasses in
the board room and offices of some of the big people in the country. People
have learned to collect what they like. In fact, they, they, they wind
up collecting their childhood. In fact, they donıt collect their childhood‹because
in a way you two guys are a perfect example, that if you collected your
childhood, youıd own ten drinking glasses. What you do is collect the
childhood you wish you would have had, if youıd spent your money wisely
or you had good parents or both.
Mike: Yes. That seems to be the case.
Harry: You know, I always tell people, that people are buying back their
childhood. Thatıs the drive of todayıs modern collector. Now for everyone,
but for most of them; the majority of collectors today donıt look very
far past their own childhood of the ages of about seven to fourteen. Only
they donıt buy back the childhood they had, they donıt, oh sure they go
out and buy their favorite toy, but then when, once they get that back,
they literally go out and buy, they literally go out and buy, ummm, everything
they wish they would have had given to them had their parents had unlimited
Mark: Do you have a home page up yet?
Harry: Not yet. [Note: He does have a home page now http://www.harryrinker.com]
Mark: No, youıre probably working on that?
Mark: ... and what kind of effect do you think this market is gonna have
or already has had in terms of the internet
Harry: Well, its been very interesting. Iıve been hearing a lot of, hearing
a lot of stuff from National Public Radio and the news about the consolidation
and the overplay of the internet. I donıt think weıve seen 5% of the potential
of the internet for the collecting market yet.
Mark: I agree.
Harry: I think that where the internet is going to go and where itıs gonna
take collecting, itıs gonna make collecting international to begin with.
I think we are all waiting to see who is gonna be the winner, where is
everybody gonna go. As an independent, I donıt want to be linked in with
any one site. Iım not up on the internet right now, at least not openly.
I mean, Iım up there, but not where people can, can find me openly and
that is because I havenıt figured out how to make money from the internet.
Mark: Weıve had our home page up for about a month and, itıs been interesting.
Weıre finding a lot of new people, new niches ...
Harry: Oh, absolutely, and I have a commercial site reserved and, Iım
also being courted by many other commercial sites.
Mark: Right. Right. I think the beauty of it is the individual part of
it and being able to go out and do it yourself.
Harry: The only problem I have with that is I am very disturbed about
several things. One of them, one of the problems we have with the trade
is what I call instant experts. Somebody who simply declares themselves
an expert starts passing out information and I have surfed the web quite
a lot and I will tell you there is a lot of bad data out. No, tremendous
amounts of it.
Mark: Oh, sure.
Harry: Thereıs no way to police it, and this is a grave concern to me.
Thatıs one of the reasons why Iım leaning real heavily to doing my own
site cause I donıt want to be associated with a site where thereıs a lot
of misinformation and thereıs a lot of misinformation in these chat rooms
and everywhere else where everybody gives their opinion. I also think
the internet is bad in another way in a sense that it leads to some of
the most stupid debates in the trade Iıve ever seen. There was a debate
going on in one of the groups, and I donıt remember which one it was,
about McCoy pottery. Should or shouldnıt you collect more McCoy pottery.
Well, the truth of the matter is that the amount of hours spent debating
it‹(a) McCoy is collected and (b) what a dumb question; you oughta collect
everything. Well, I mean you know, but is there, is there a future in
the internet? Absolutely, thereıs no doubt in my mind, I am absolutely,
totally convinced that the internet is where the game is going to play.
Now, and one of the things by the way for you guys is thatıs why Iım looking
at the internet is because my attitude is if Iım going to serve todayıs
collectors with my information database up here and if theyıre gonna be
in to me, I need to be up on the internet. The other thing that I am looking
at, even though there is a live discussion about this stuff too and that
is CDRom technology. We just signed a contract with House of Collectibles
and the Random House; the first to produce the first CDRom electronic
Harry: Yeah. You know itıs gonna be like a book on CDRom.
Mark: Sure, and the disc would be able to search on different topics and
get all the information.
Harry: No, their gonna come out with special topics. Initially, the first
one is a baby boomer one called ³Toys I Played With as a Kid.²
Mark: Right, but Iım saying if Iıd search on Flintstones, I could get
all the items that you had in there concerning the Flintstones.
Harry: Yeah, thatıs right and theyıre interactive too, so when you go
to Flintstone stuff within the toy disc...
Mark: Right, I might get something out of watches and, and...
Harry: ...and youıll get a listing of the Flintstones and who played the
characters, plus a description of the object, plus a price, plus a whole
bunch of other stuff.
Mark: Harry, thanks for taking the time to talk with us and sharing your
thoughts with our readers.
Mike: Thanks, Harry.
By Collector Glass News - Mark Chase & Michael Kelly