Sunday, October 30, 2011

Clubbing, Pt. II

I didn’t feel like risking hypothermia, so I skipped out on the flea market today: we missed the snow, but still got the cold. There hadn’t been much to see the past few weeks anyway, and I had already blown my wad on Saturday on a couple pairs of work shoes and some quilt supplies at the local Salvation Army.

(Unworn Sanita Professional Clogs, in my size, for nine bucks? Darn right, I’m buying them!)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again: collectibles aren’t that good of an investment:

There’s been some discussion of this on Blab already, but since it ties in with previous post about the new Breyer programs, I’ll add my two cents here, rather than there.

The article refers to collectibles that are considered worthless in the secondary market - among them things like Beanie Babies, Norman Rockwell plates, Hess Trucks, Precious Moments, and anything sold by the Franklin Mint.

Why are they worthless? The article itself doesn’t provide a point by point checklist, but it basically boils down marketing: these are mass-produced items that are specifically targeted towards the collector’s market, and marketed (implicitly, or explicitly) as "investment" vehicles.

The only problem is that when it comes time to "cash in" your investment, the buyers aren’t there.

Seems like Breyers could fit into that definition rather neatly, right?

There are certainly a great many Breyer models that are essentially worthless: take a look at the sheer volume of items listed on eBay and MH$P, many of them priced at body-box level. On the flip side, there are also models that have a great deal of value, and have a good chance (I believe) of retaining a good portion of that value in the long term.

In that sense, I think Breyer models have more in common with collectibles like comic books and PEZ dispensers, rather than Beanie Babies and Precious Moments figurines. While the market for more recently minted comic books, PEZ dispensers and Breyer models is not great, it is not without occasional bright spots. The market for vintage pieces? Also not great, but with a little effort and research, you’ll do okay.

So, what distinguishes comic books, PEZ dispensers, and Breyers from the more worthless types of collectibles?

One word: History.

Having a history means that there was some distance between the start of manufacturing and the onset of direct marketing. That means that there’s a body of "stuff" made prior to the active or organized involvement of either the company or of collectors. It’s stuff that has become genuinely rare or hard to get in good condition because it got used up, worn out, and thrown out - as opposed to direct-marketed things that went straight from the factory warehouse to the collector’s attic.

There’s also history in its more intimate sense: did the objects themselves impact life or history in a meaningful way? Both comic books and Breyer models, for instance, contributed significantly to the happiness of countless children. (They were both certainly a part of mine.)

And thirdly, the history itself should also be interesting on its own. Was there mystery, drama, or complicated legal actions in that history? Lost objects, lost opportunities, or a universe of questions worth investigating?

You’re reading a blog devoted to that third type of history, so I think you already knew that.

Will I be joining up with either of the two new Breyer "clubs"? I remain undecided. My mind's been on other things, lately.

1 comment:

Kirsten Lenz said...

Also to join the Worthless in The Secondary Market are Lee Middleton dolls. I thought my babies would be worth at LEAST $125 (I bought them for $350+. Each.) .... but no one will pay over $50 for one now. Even though Lee Middleton passed away and they SHOULD be collector's items by now.