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The Nostalgia Broker

Alex Shear's Obsession with consumerism Has Created a Mirror of Modern America
Melissa Milgrom
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 6)

Tip-of-the-Hat Art Anything deemed worthy of praise. "I am my own Oscar committee and I give my own awards," says Shear.


As the third millennium nears, the criteria that distinguish an antique from a collectible tend to blur. The value of many postwar consumer artifacts won't be found in auction records, collecting guides or museums. How, then, do you determine the worth of what hasn't been defined?

* Condition, condition, condition. Items in excellent condition may cost more but are ultimately better investments. Pursue mint-in-the-box objects that contain all of the original parts. Integrity of surface texture is key.

* Be wary of fakes. As antiques and collectibles dwindle, reproductions increase. Know an item's history: the years it was produced; the colors, styles and technology available then; and the manufacturer's markings and logos.

* Go to shows and seek out knowledgeable dealers who use price to organize their wares. These prices will help you gauge the standard of that collectible.

* Forecast the collectibles of tomorrow. You don't need to rush to Toys "R" Us and buy a case of brand-new George Bush or Colin Powell dolls to stow away as an investment. However, reflecting upon trends and significant events of the twentieth century will help you determine the potential value of a current item. An event like the Desert Storm War was brief but significant. For this reason, the production cycle of commemorative items was also short. Ask: Was this a newsworthy event? How long was the production cycle of this item?

* Be an armchair anthropologist. Question what life was like in other eras and is like now for various American subcultures. Some collectors crave books on Abraham Lincoln. Others, like Shear, want to own his toothbrush. "What did they use for dental floss back then, horse hair?" he asks.

* Think design. (Shearism: "The visual part of stopping to smell the roses.") If you're a novice, Shear suggests sitting in every chair in your home to determine which chairs strike a balance between art and comfort.

* Go Roadside. Hop in your car and explore. Seek out garage sales and regional antiques shows, and buy what strikes your fancy. Imagine that the grocery store and your refrigerator are museums of popular culture.

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