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 of activity?
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 shifted.
Mark: Okay.
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.
Mark: Right.
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...
Mark: Right.
Harry: ...and then they, then they fell back.
Mark: Right.
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.
Mark: Right.
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. All right?
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 its day.
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?
Mark: Okay.
Harry: Now, now letıs deal with categories, I mean we already know baseball cards are in a terrible mess.
Mark: Right.
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 ago.
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 it died.
Mark: Right.
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 and 90ıs?
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 mornings.
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.
Mark: Right.
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 the line.
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 very breakable.
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 glass glasses.
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 shifts.
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 my time.
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: 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 bank accounts.
Mark: Do you have a home page up yet?
Harry: Not yet. [Note: He does have a home page now]
Mark: No, youıre probably working on that?
Harry: Yes.
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 price guides.
Mark: Good.
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



This site was last updated 02/20/10