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Collectors Corner: How Cultural Changes Are Impacting Collectibles

Collectors Corner

Collectors CornerThe 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

Michele Alice
Michele Alice
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more!

One thought on “Collectors Corner: How Cultural Changes Are Impacting Collectibles”

  1. Change may be the only constant but its second to quality. In our experience Quality and Context persist.

    My parents collected many things including artworks. There are many things in their collection I, not quite a millennial but close, may think is out of vogue. 10 watercolours of a quaint little imaginary or not cottage? A painting of a nude… because its nude?

    At the end of the day it comes down to quality and context. A generic cottage, even if the artist is well listed, is if we’re honest a painting of a generic cottage. Just as, a note to the millenials and trendy folk out there, an abstract is simply an abstract without further continuity or context.

    A generic looking painting of skill may not sell for the inflated costs at peak vogue but it is still an object reflective of its own discipline. A generic cottage under inspection may be a historic cottage near one’s summer cottage or residence. A nude might not be from the male gaze. A landscape could be tomorrow. An abstract yesterday.

    Yesterdays nostalgia is more difficult. Howdy Doody may be todays Marvel. But todays Marvel isn’t devoid of continuity. A mass produced object not a makers creation. A common beanie baby a Picasso purchased to launder questionably gotten funds.

    FutureShop or BestBuy? BestBuy or Amazon? Cheap product of slave labour? Quality item of function or creation? Meat or vegetable grown under 24/7 indoor intensive lighting? Gluten Filled Animal Cracker or All Natural No GMO Animal Cracker?

    The current trends cannot be thrown out with the bathwater any more than the past. And given a fair and equal playing field people who buy are as willing to buy now as they were then. Can we create together a platform to reach each other?

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