Monday, August 17, 2009

Collectibility, Part 1

Sorry about that – I was a little under the weather there for a couple of days. I'm appreciating the extra hours the boss has been giving me (as does my bank account) but it's certainly starting to take its toll on me physically. I think I've spent most of the past two and a half days sleeping! (And when not sleeping, quilting. Good for the nerves, not so good for the fingertips.)

I was just thinking about the issue of showing in Collectibility classes and the need for documentation. It was a bit of a heated topic there on Blab last week, but I was a bit too exhausted, both mentally and physically, to add my perspective to the discussion when it was going full blazes.

I have given a great deal of thought to what standards I would apply if I were to either show or judge collectibility. That's where my interest in history intersects with the live showing aspect, after all: if I'm going to show or judge in the future, that's where my focus is going to be.

I'd like to preface my comments here with a few qualifying remarks. One, I've only occasionally live shown in recent years. Not for a lack of local opportunities – there's a show literally less than a mile from my house – it's just that my hobby energies have been focused elsewhere. Two, I've also never judged: I've been consulted a few times on collectibility standards, but never actually been asked to show up and actually apply them. (FYI: I haven't been actively seeking that role either, but I'd consider it if it ever came up.)

I'd break it down into four basic criteria: Condition, Quality, Rarity and Desirability.

Condition is the easiest to explain, and understand: it is a measure of the state of preservation of a model. Is it yellowed? Are there any flaws visible to the naked eye, such as rubs, scratches, chips, breaks, paint skips, missing pieces? If restoration has been done, has it been done well? Has it been brought back to its original factory state, or have questionable enhancements been made?

Quality is a measure of the production value of a given model. Not all models of a given run are created equal: some have better shading, cleaner seams, tighter masking or more details. If I were to hazard a guess, only about one in ten production models is live show quality, and only about one in 100 approaches flawless (no model is completely flawless: you can always find something.)

Rarity is not simply about comparing piece counts: some models may have higher piece counts than others, but that doesn't necessarily make them “less rare.” The way the model was distributed, sold, or advertised has an effect on rarity, as well as the when. This is particularly a factor with older or less well-known special runs from the 1970s and 1980s. Some of these weren't necessarily targeted exclusively towards the collector's market: many of them were sold to the general public, and have since become “lost” to us, like the recently discussed Black Blanket POA.

Finally we have Desirability: I call this the “Want It” factor. Some models are simply more desirable than others: an Indian Pony is going to be more desirable than a Lady Roxana. Certain colors are more desirable than others, too: Glosses are the hot trend currently, as are certain non-realistic colors such as Silver Filigree or Charcoal. This is the most subjective of the criteria: every judge is going to have slightly different biases and preferences when it comes to what they would consider “desirable.”

Documentation will have little effect on the judging Condition or Quality. Most flaws or demerits in these criteria are plainly visible to the eye, and can rarely be explained away. There are instances where documentation can spin the less than pristine state of a model into a positive factor in its collectibility. I have a couple of test colors painted on bodies with rough, uncleaned seams: I would explain that these rough seams indicate that they are probably true test colors, likely from the preproduction phase. The rubs and dings on a cull could also be explained away: they are to be expected on models thrown into reject bins, which were likely rejected because of a previously detected mold or paint flaw in the first place.

Documentation is more of a factor in the criteria of Rarity and Desirability. As I hope I've demonstrated in some of my posts, there are many models that are more – or less – rare than we perceived them to be. Not every judge is going to be as well-versed in the scales of rarity for every single model. Faced with a large or involved class, they may opt to ignore what may appear, at first glance, to be a more common version of a model.

The original release of the Midnight Sun is an excellent example here: there are several different versions of the original release in black. One of them is actually rather scarce: the earliest version, which came with distinctly light gray hooves. (And quite different than the more common gray-brown hooves version, which I'd show you if I knew exactly where my Midnight Suns were. Which I don't, at the moment.) Pointing out that particular detail, especially if it is done accurately, not only helps the judge evaluate the Collectibility of a model more accurately, it also demonstrates that the shower has done their research, and that's also a plus.

Desirability, as I said earlier, is the most subjective of my criteria. What is it beyond Condition, Quality and Rarity that makes this model special enough to be considered “more collectible” than others? This is where documentation can make the difference between placings: in a way, it's sort of the “interview” question in a beauty pageant. And like a good response to any interview question, it's the short, concise, and well-phrased answers that give you the edge. And again, it's another opportunity for the hobbyist to show that they've done their research.

See. Told you I spent a lot of time thinking about this!

In regards to the original discussion on Blab, my opinion is this: if documentation is required by the show rules, then that's where the discussion ends, obviously. But for a number of reasons, I'm not in favor of documentation becoming a mandatory requirement, at least not yet. And as for why, I'll explain that tomorrow.

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