While shaving recently I glanced at a framed ad on the wall and remembered that it was the beginning of our years as collectors – some 60 years ago. It then prompted me to think of how the hobby of collecting has changed or has been affected by different forces.
As a collector, dealer, picker, shop owner and appraiser we have seen it from all different personal objectives.
Let’s start in the 1960s, when garage sales and flea markets encouraged “innocent” people into collecting, as items of some interest were not expensive. Then, bang! We were compelled to buy more and more of “X” items. We also wanted a better quality of those items.
Show promoters had confidence to conduct more shows because attendance soared. Tens of thousands would go to Brimfield, Mass., each spring and more than 25,000 would go to a one-day show at the Meadowlands, N.J. The Antique Trader, a bi-weekly publication, would become a 350- to 400-page newspaper with a huge circulation.
Because of all the interest, forgeries and reproductions crept into the hobby. Gradually, the internet became a source of purchase, as things would be available from all over the nation and not just regionally. Collectors became more careful and secretive in the ’80s and the hobby went wild.
Major firms such as Danbury Mint and Bradbury increased output of “collector items.” Because these attractive quality offerings were new and almost unlimited, they have little or no resale value. They are great decorator items but not a good investment.
Another observation involves the cycles of a category. The most recent example is Pokémon cards, a wild craze 20 years ago that died almost as soon as it peaked. Recently, Pokémon gained in interest once more and is bringing extremely high prices in auction action. Maybe there’s hope for your Beanie babies.
The same goes for Hummel figures. The fact that they are still being made makes them simple to purchase and not special. However, early Hummels, as indicated by the symbols on the bottom, are quite expensive and are in demand.
While collecting continued to be popular, condition became a big factor and coins introduced grading on a numbers scale, 7.0 being perfection.
About 12 years ago a Midwest trading card dealer developed a grading system for vintage sports cards. It was met with a certain amount of disdain, but today it is the norm and almost required to sell prime Hall of Fame players.
An excellent example happened recently. A customer brought in a Willie Mays rookie card in terrible condition. I said I would hesitate to sell for more than $100. We sent it to be graded and it came back PSA1, which means poor quality. But, lo and behold, it sold at auction for $2,900!
Now we are in a period for collectors of any category to stress condition, condition, condition. We were told years ago that you can’t pay too much for something that is really in good to perfect condition, because someone will pay more.
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky spent more than a million dollars for a Honus Wagner tobacco card. Recently, that same card sold for $6.2 million! The purchaser said, “I bought it for an investment.”
In no particular order, the following factors have affected the great hobby of collecting: media, forgeries, collector items, investments, reproductions, cycles and grading. We do feel that, by far, the internet has had the greatest effect, as one can search for and find anything to satisfy their wants.
When my wife and I purchased that $3 humorous ad with our namesake that could “cure any blemish,” it changed our lives and provided lots of fun and challenges for 60 years. Search hard, buy good, accept change, and it will pay off in the long run.
Jerry Glenn, former owner of Reminisce gift shop, currently is an appraiser of certain collectibles.