Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time, Space, Rarity

At one point in my very productive yesterday, I had a rubber mallet in one hand, and a FAM body in the other. The absurdity of the moment stuck with me throughout the rest of the day, and as a service to my fellow hobbyists, I will now pass that moment along for your own private amusement.

Do with it what you will. (Need an idea for NaNoWriMo? There you go.)

On a more serious note, let’s get back to the notion of rarity. In light of some of the outrageous prices some rare - and not so rare - items have been bringing lately, it’s definitely a concept that would benefit from an extended discussion.

A couple of days ago, I was updating my files on the Esprit mold, and I was not pleased at what I saw: out of the four releases this mold has had so far, only one of the three - the original #9101 in Dappled Gray - is actually attainable to most hobbyists. There’s only about 30 of the Gloss Dappled Gray BreyerWest Volunteer Model, about 30 of the WEG Volunteer Special, and (allegedly) 250 of the Chestnut "Media" SR.

One of these "Media" Esprits was just auctioned off for a sum well into four figures. (A sum, in fact, that would have relieved me of most of my debts for the rest of the year, if I had been so fortunate to be on the receiving end of such largesse.) In order to collect this mold, one would have to be either extremely lucky, or extremely wealthy.

Since I am neither, it is unlikely that I’ll be seeing many Esprits in my collection in the near future. Sure, there’s the likelihood of future releases, the possibility of BreyerFest SRs, and the slim chance that a few of those Media SRs might end up in the NPOD. But when a mold gets off to such an exclusive start, it’s rather hard to work up the enthusiasm for collecting it in the first place.

It seems odd that the Esprit with the highest piece count among the three rarities is commanding the highest prices, but rarity isn’t merely a matter of numbers. When and Where - the Time and Space of it all - make as much of a difference in the perception of rarity as the actual quantity. The Chestnut Esprit was a gift to "the media," and not to us. The number of them that are in hobbyist hands (at the moment) is smaller than the number of either Volunteer Special. Even though more will inevitably make their way back to us, the perception of extreme rarity will persist for a while.

While it may seem that this is a new phenomenon, there are vintage molds that have disproportionate rare-to-common ratios, too. The Elephant is the most famous of these: how many of you out there have the Blue, the Pink, the Woodgrain and the one with the Howdah?

The piece runs on those Elephants is unknown, but undoubtedly very small: the Blue, Pink and Howdah Elephants only appeared in the ca. 1958 PR materials, and the Woodgrain not at all. But just how small? A few hundred - or a couple thousand?

It may seem absurd to think that rarities like those Elephants could have been made in the thousands, until you factor in Time and Space. They were released in a Time before the hobby was truly organized, much less catered to. And the Space they were released into was not just the hobby, but the world.

A 1500-piece SR may seem "large," especially if it’s distributed exclusively within the hobby. Distribute it to the world though, and it seems vanishingly small. Even if you limited to just the United States, that’d still average out to only 30 pieces per state. (Good for hobbyists in small or low-density states like New Hampshire or Wyoming, not so good for ones in big or high-density states like California or New York.)

The actual number of Pink-Blue-Woodgrain-Howdah Elephants in the hobby proper is hard to gauge, but I doubt it exceeds more than a couple dozen of each. Yet I feel I have a greater chance of acquiring those Elephants than I do the Esprits. The possibility of getting lucky is very real. It’s already happened once: I found a Howdah Elephant on a very slow day on eBay a few years ago.

The Esprits? Not so much. As I hinted above, there’s a slight chance that the supply of Media Esprits within the hobby will go up. Most of the scenarios I see - not just the NPOD, but as raffle and door prizes - won’t result in significantly lower prices for the rest of us, at least not in the short term. Now that a certain plateau has been set, many of those lucky enough to acquire one by these means aren’t going to settle for much less.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a picture of the Howdah Elephant :)