Collectors, beware of the terms 'rare,' 'one of a kind'

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Collectors of a certain category are always searching for the ultimate addition to their collection. When a seller claims an item is "rare" or "one of a kind," beware and do some research prior to purchase.

Recently on History Channel's popular show "American Pickers," the boys visited a mid-Wisconsin collector of - of all things - mid-century electric fans. There was no air conditioning at that time, therefore fans of all kinds were being invented.

This collector had hundreds of different fans displayed throughout the house. Spotted within the collection was a hand-held device. The pickers asked "Is this something you would sell? And what would be the price?"

The owner quickly responded, "It would be $12,000, because it is very rare, it works and is the only known specimen."

The boys were taken aback and asked if they could consult an expert. The expert, upon confirming what they had, gave them a price of $12,000. With that information and the fact that the seller was firm on the price, they agreed to purchase the super rare hand-held fan. Research confirmed the transaction.

This reminded me of a remarkable happening during our antique collectible dealer days in the early 1980s. We had become close friends with a couple that were shop owners and show dealers. During the slow summer days, they would go on their own "picking" tour in preparation for the show circuit.

Upon return one summer, they had a van filled with approximately 60 to 70 old toasters. We asked why they had so many. They said they were intrigued by the design and the creativity of each toaster, and they were not expensive.

A big show in New York City generally attended by 15,000 to 20,000 potential buyers afforded our friends a great place to exhibit their new finds of early Deco and open filament toasters.

The show opened at 10 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., our friends had sold the entire booth to a SoHo dealer! They were quite satisfied with their sale price.

Two days later, the New York Post ran an article headlined "SoHo dealer finds a $5,000 rare toaster at the Pier Show." The article described the seldom seen, deco-design toaster purchased for less than $30, along with 64 other toasters.

Our friends were sorry they did not research the desirability of certain styles of toasters. From that day on, we all extensively research the unknown.

In previous columns, I wrote that one of the most rewarding aspects of collecting is to know what each piece really is and where it came from, its age, maker and so forth. Any item is valued, not at market price, but rather at what someone will pay for it.

The pickers who purchased the hand-held fan for $12,000 knew because of the rarity that someone would pay more. Research pays!

Jerry Glenn is co-owner of Reminisce in Bluffton, where sports collectibles are bought and sold.

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