The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535 – 475 BC) stated that change was the only constant, and that dictum certainly applies to collectibles. A few – Beanie Babies, fidget spinners – burst upon the scene, inspiring a frenzy of buying and selling only to quickly fade to relative obscurity. Some remained popular for a number of years only to fall victim to a sudden surfeit of supply. (Remember how the establishment of internet auctions stimulated a flood of previously “scarce” Avon bottles? Interest in that collectible never recovered.)
Probably, however, no other factor has as much influence on collectibles as cultural change. For example, Boomers, who are in the process of downsizing, are discovering that a lot of the furnishings and “knick-knacks” that had taken them their lifetimes to accumulate are of little or no interest to the Millennials who are supplanting them. The younger generation, instead, appears to be more interested in peer communication and experience rather than acquiring “things.”
Shifts in culture are also affecting collectibles in other interesting ways. Judging women based upon how they look appears to be no longer acceptable. For this reason the organization running the Miss America competition has decided to drop the swimwear part of the event and has stated that “candidates will no longer be judged on outward appearance.” It is unknowable whether this change in sentiment will eventually become predominant and have an effect on the general collectibility of bathing suits, but from a purely historical perspective, the swimwear will probably retain some value to museums and scholars.
On another front, changing attitudes regarding mankind’s interactions with animals has led to a change in a 116-year-old collectible. Barnum’s Animals Crackers, small animal-shaped biscuits sold in a box depicting a circus wagon with caged animals, made their appearance in 1902. Manufactured by Nabisco, the box had a string that allowed it to be carried or hung on a Christmas tree, and sold for five cents.
Over the years, 54 different animals have been included and the box itself has undergone a number of permutations, making them quite collectible. This year, Nabisco announced that it would be making a major change to the box, “freeing” the animals from their cages. The new design depicts a zebra, giraffe, gorilla, elephant, and lion walking in an African savanna.
Of course, the old boxes are flying off grocers’ shelves as collectors avail themselves of the rapidly dwindling stock. Chances are that so many boxes will be preserved that future values will be depressed, but only time will tell.
One other major cultural shift has been the increasing reliance on online shopping to the detriment of brick-and-mortar establishments. This is thought to be one of the major reasons for the demise of ToysRUs. Founded in 1957, the chain once numbered over 1,500 stores in the US, but closed its doors this year after declaring bankruptcy. But you needn’t fret for Geoffrey the Giraffe, the company’s former mascot. Geoffrey is doing very well at online auction sites where Geoffrey figures in original packaging are selling for up to $250+ and Geoffrey mascot costumes are fetching up to $800!
In a Victory for PETA, Animal Crackers Roam Free – The New York Times
The Demise of Toys ‘R’ Us is a Warning – The Atlantic
The New Competition – Miss America 2.0 – MissAmerica.org