Hake’s: Five decades of stimulating collecting zeal

Fifty years ago, Ted Hake shifted his focus from film school to communications and business. The antiques and collectibles business to be exact. It was 1967, the country was on the cusp of what would be a period of significant change, and Hake’s Americana & Collectibles was in operation; offering a series of priced sales lists, largely devoted to presidential campaign items.

From 155 Lots to 2,487

A year later, in April 1968, Hake’s first “Special Interest Auction” was presented. The auction featured 155 lots, with a 75 cent minimum on each. The sale saw 99 lots sell for a total gross sale of $193.67. Flash forward 50 years to the firm’s first auction of 2017. During this sale, 2,487 lots came before bidders, registering a total sale of $1,061,373 (including 18% buyer’s premium). 

This is an example of the changes and consistencies within Ted Hake’s five decades in business. It’s the legacy Hake’s president Alex Winter and his team work to preserve and grow with each passing day. Recently, Antique Trader caught up with the two men to chat about the past, present, and their passion for antiques and collectibles.

Exploring Life Influences 

Hake's Leadership

Hake’s Americana & Collectibles leadership, left to right: Alex Winter, president, Steve Geppi, owner, and Ted Hake, founder. (All photos courtesy Hake’s Americana & Collectibles)

Antique Trader: What does it feel like to be the founder and president, respectively, of a business that has served the antiques and collectibles community for 50 years?

Ted Hake: Mostly, I consider myself extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to establish a business based on things I’m interested in and enjoy doing.

Alex Winter: It is an honor and privilege to be part of such a legacy. Businesses that survive 50 years are few and far between. That is especially true in this industry. It is a testament to Hake’s standards and commitment to what we do. Hake’s has always had a staff comprised of collectors themselves. With that, the passion and interest in what we offer is genuine.

Looking At the Evolution of the Marketplace

AT: How has the antiques and collectibles marketplace changed in unexpected ways since each of you joined the fold?

TH: Hake’s was in business about 30 years before the marketplace was subjected to the unexpected. The revolutionary arrival of the internet in general and eBay in particular. I consider Hake’s surviving that disruption as a major accomplishment and testament to our strong relationships with our customers.

AW: As new generations of collectors come along, new areas of interest follow. While some characters like Superman and Mickey Mouse remain timeless and still have a devoted following, we have to also follow the trends. Properties like Star Wars and Transformers, once new product and readily available in stores, are now highly sought-after collectibles decades on, as those generations have grown up and seek to reclaim their youth.

Early Collecting Influences Set the Course

AT: Mr. Hake, we’ve read that your appreciation for antiques and vintage items began in your youth,

Action Comics artboard

Thin artboard featuring original pen and ink art by Silver Age Superman comic book artist Curt Swan, for the February 1964 issue of “Action Comics” #309 published by DC Comics, fetched $112,015 in 2013.

blossoming through a fascination with World’s Fair memorabilia, coins, and American political items. Of all the experiences in your early years as a collector, what are two of the most memorable?

TH: My two most memorable experiences as a collector are the two very early events that seemingly sealed my fate as a collector/dealer. The first came when I was about five years old. I was in a barn on the outskirts of York, Pennsylvania, used by an antique dealer friend of my mother’s to store furniture. The lady gave me a little gray box filled with colorful pinback buttons related to World War I Liberty Loans and “war chest” contributions. The historical significance of these was lost on me, but I really enjoyed the look and feel of the buttons and they spent years in a “secret” drawer in a drop-left table my mother allowed me use to store my accumulation of childhood treasures.

Coin Collecting Sustained Hake’s Youthful Interest

The second event came two years later, in 1951, when one evening my father asked if I had any interest in collecting coins. Sounded good to me, and we immediately got into the car and went to a tiny coin shop run by a man my father worked with. I came home with blue coin folders by Whitman for Lincoln pennies, Buffalo nickels, and Mercury dimes. My parents and aunt offered their change so I could fill as many holes by date of issue and mint mark as possible. Filling those holes became a serious pursuit that consumed most of the cash I received from relatives for birthdays and holidays. I stuck with coin collecting until high school when I discovered presidential campaign buttons and switched to the much more undocumented world of pinbacks.

AT: How did you come to be active in the collecting universe, Alex? What led to you joining Hake’s Americana & Collectibles more than 30 years ago? If you were to use one word to describe how you felt when you learned you were hired at Hake’s, what would it be?

Early Buying and Selling Experiences Leads to Dream Job

MickeyMouse

930s Charlotte Clark Ultimate Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls, 44” and 48”, respectively, commanded $151,534 in 2007

AW: I was born a collector. My mother instilled in me that I keep my toys in good condition and save the boxes. At about 10 years of age I became a comic book collector. From there it was all manner of superhero items and more. As a teenager I started doing toy shows and antique markets with Deak Stagemyer, who was Hake’s shipping manager at the time. He needed help at Hake’s so when I turned 16, I was hired part time. That was 32 years ago and in that time my role continued to change and expand: shipping assistant, cataloguer, merchandise manager, production manager, general manager and president. Thirty-two years is a lot to sum up in one word, but I will go with “rewarding.”

AT: What’s one thing that’s surprised you most about today’s auction industry?

AW: The continued growth and value in some areas. That is not to say that collectibles can’t be a good investment; but the rate some things continue to increase, like key comic books and original comic art, is not something anyone could have predicted years ago, at least not to the extent of today’s market. Also the world wide embracing of collectibles. The media coverage, television programs and conventions of all types have propelled pop culture collectibles to new and exciting heights.

Gems of Advice 

AT: If you had the ability to give “12-year-old you” one piece of advice, what would it be?

TH: Treat other people as you would want to be treated by others. Another bit of advice is avoid buying common and damaged items. And always try to buy the best you can afford.

AW: Collect what you love and love what you collect. While I have commented on “values” of collectibles, you should really start and end your collection with items that you truly love. The desire to find the next great treasure should be the driving force behind building a collection you cherish.


Hake’s Three Keys to Great Business 

• Present your merchandise accurately.

• Follow through on all commitments.

• See and understand the other person’s point of view.


Focus of Collecting Efforts Today

AT: What collecting interests fascinate you most today, and why?

TH: Pinback buttons remain my collecting focus. Simply because even after 50-plus years I continue to regularly find new discoveries with outstanding color and graphic design.

AW: One of my main collections is vinyl. The recent resurgence in records and record collecting is wonderful to see in the world of ever changing new technology. Record collecting is rewarding on so many levels. Especially the fact that you can play and enjoy them and not just sit them on a shelf.

Life Lessons 

AT: What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in the course of your career?

TH: Trust your instincts — first impressions are usually accurate.

AW: Expect the unexpected.

One thing you can expect is the next Hake’s auction. Consignments are being accepted for Auction #221 now. Bidding at www.hakes.com will open June 20 and close July 11-13.

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