This is in today's Wall St. Journal is WELL worth reading.
February 25, 2006 PAGE ONE
Who's Going to Want
Of Antique Gnomes?
Since Kids Aren't Connecting
With Collecting Today,
Answer May Be Nobody
By JEFFREY ZASLOW
February 25, 2006; Page A1
In Graytown, Ohio, 51-year-old Doug Martin has amassed a collection of 5,000
pencils, most of them never used. Some date back to the 1800s.
He sometimes wonders what will become of his prized collection when he dies.
Will his children stick them in a sharpener and write with them? "It hurts
to think about it," he says.
Young people today have little interest in the stamp, coin or knickknack
collections of their elders, so an aging America can't help but wonder: What's
going to happen to all those boxes in the basement?
Well, here's an idea for Mr. Martin: "His children can glue his pencils
together and make a coffin for him," says Harry Rinker, sharply.
A collectibles researcher in Vera Cruz, Pa., Mr. Rinker, 64, himself
collects everything from jigsaw puzzles to antique toilet paper. But he thinks
sentimental "accumulators" need a reality check. "Old-timers thought the next
generation would love their stuff the way they did," he says. "Well guess what --
it's not happening." He advises: Enjoy your collections, die with them, and
have no expectations about anything after that.<REPRINT
Collecting things, once a big part of childhood, is now pretty much passé
with kids. Preoccupied with MP3 players and computer games, they are rarely
found sitting at the kitchen table putting postage stamps into collectors' books
or slipping old coins into plastic sleeves. These days, baseball cards and
comic books are collected by adults. Of the estimated 37 million Americans who
identified themselves as collectors in 2000, just 11% were under the age of
36, according to a study by marketing consultant Unity Marketing Inc. Most
were over 50.
Some collectors say they wouldn't mind if their heirs just sold everything
on eBay. The Internet keeps alive a market for many objects by making it easy
for far-flung collectors to find one another. But people do fear that
collections lovingly assembled will be mishandled or trashed by their offspring.
That's why collectors groups are now organizing emergency efforts to keep things
out of the wrong hands.
The International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society, based in London, gets
in touch with families when it hears of a member's death, so the machines can
end up with someone who will treasure them. They're often too late. One
member recently died and his family sold his old sewing machines to a junk dealer
for $200. The machines, some dating to the 1860s, were worth about $65,000,
according to Graham Forsdyke, secretary for the 800-member society. He adds:
"I don't know of a single collection that's been passed down after a death."
Young people today amass hundreds of songs on their iPods and, decades from
now, may very well be collecting "vintage" cellphones or other electronic
devices, says Linda Kruger, editor of Collectors News, based in Grundy Center,
Iowa. Or it may just be so much junk. There's no way to predict the future
value of such things, she adds.
In the meantime, most young people don't connect with their elders'
collections. In Goodyear, Ariz., Zita Wessa, 72, says her grandchildren walk past her
display cases of gnome figurines "and show no interest at all." Her
45-year-old son, Scott, says he'd be happy to inherit one of the giant cabinets she
stores them in, but the gnomes "don't do much for me. If she begged me to take
them, I would, because I love my mother. But I don't know what I'd do with
them." (His mom says she paid $5,600 over the years for her 160 gnomes, but
their current value is uncertain.)
William Adrian, 72, of Plainfield, Ill., collects miniature guns. He says
his three children "wouldn't give you a twenty-dollar bill for any of it."
"Collecting is about memory, and young people today have a different memory
base," explains Mr. Rinker, who is well known in antiquing circles for his
books and personal appearances. He lives in a 14,000-square-foot former
elementary school in Vera Cruz, Pa. He uses the classrooms as storage spaces for his
250 different collections. He says he doesn't care what becomes of it all
once he's gone, and if his children opt to use his rolls of century-old toilet
paper, "that might be the finest honor they can give me."
Doug Martin with part of his pencil collection.
Mr. Martin, the pencil collector, is unlikely to have his collection stay in
the family after he dies. His daughter, Elizabeth Jefferson, 24, says if she
inherits the pencils -- which her dad values at $4,500 -- she'd donate them
to other collectors or to a museum.
If new generations of collectors don't materialize, the value of items will
plummet. That's why marble clubs, to generate enthusiasm, send free marbles
to schools. The U.S. Mint has a Web site with cartoons and computer games to
entertain kids about the thrills of coin-collecting. Indeed, children have
shown considerable interest in the state quarters program.
In West Chester, Pa., Judy Knauer, founder of the 700-member National
Toothpick Holder Collectors' Society, gives away toothpick holders to young people.
She tells them, "Here's your start." But few get hooked.
Some collecting groups have created unstated policies. The 650-member
National Milk Glass Collectors Society -- a group devoted to opaque glass -- holds
an annual auction. When the rare young person shows up to bid on an item,
older collectors lower their hands. "We back off and let the young person buy
it. We want them to add to their collections," says Bart Gardner, the group's
In Palo Alto, Calif., Tom Wyman, 78, has about 900 antique slide rules. Mr.
Wyman belongs to the 430-member Oughtred Society, named for William Oughtred,
who in the 1620s invented an early form of the slide rule. The group hosts
lectures to entice youngsters to embrace slide-rule collecting. But Mr. Wyman
says such "missionary work" is a hard sell. "It's quite a challenge to give a
talk that keeps everybody awake -- both the 80-year-old collectors and the
12-year-olds in the audience."
Mr. Wyman's son, Tom, 41, who doesn't know how to use a slide rule, admires
his dad's devotion to preserving the instrument. Still, he appreciates that
his father has promised to eventually dispose of the collection. "He has told
me, 'I won't saddle you with this,' " says the younger Mr. Wyman. Some of the
slide rules are worth just pennies, while others could sell for $2,000.
George Beilke, 61, of Tulsa, Okla., has amassed 35,000 used instant-lottery
tickets. His daughter, Sarah, 23, says that when she tells friends about the
collection, "they look at me like I'm crazy. It's guilt by association."
During her childhood, her dad tried to get her involved. He gave her tickets and
assumed she was diligently putting them between the sheet protectors he
provided. But she just hid them in her room.
Ms. Beilke is set to inherit the collection and says she'll donate it to the
200-member Global Lottery Collector's Society. She may hold on to a handful
of tickets as keepsakes. "It would keep the bond between us," says her dad.
"I just hope she puts them in the sheet protectors."
Some collectors now accept that younger people don't want their stuff.
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky, 64, has collected the last
editions of 79 daily newspapers that closed down since 1963. His adult children
don't want the old newspapers, which fill a closet. "The only kind of paper my
family wants is greenbacks and stock certificates," he says.
He hasn't been able to find a university to take his collection, either. And
now he's under the gun to get rid of it. He is about to marry his third
wife, who is 27 years old, and in the prenuptial agreement, there's a clause that
he must dispose of the collection by Dec. 31. She wants to store her shoes
in that closet.
"At least I can wear my shoes," says his fiancée, Jennifer Graham. "He never
reads those papers, and besides, he likes how I look in my shoes."
URL for this article: