Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Constants in Collecting

Constants rule the universe. The speed of light in a vaccuum. The acceleration due to gravity. Physical constants are inescapable. Likewise, there are constants in collecting. While physical constants can not be ignored, constants in collecting CAN - to the detrement of the budding collector.

Among experienced collectors, these guidelines are so well established as to almost be pedestrian. But if you force one of these afficianadoes into a corner, they'll tell you that many were learned not through instruction, but hard trial and error. Write these down, make them a mantra. Try to keep them in mind. You won't be immune to collecting errors - but they may save you a few expensive disappointments.

  1. Collect what you like - Gather things you enjoy, wheter others share your passion or not. If you collect items only for their monetary value, you may be prone to doing less thourough research and due dillegence than a passionate collector, ultimately losing money in the process. Only the most mercenary and focused individual can effectively collect items purely for speculation when the objects do not speak to their soul. Typically we call these people "auctioneers".
  2. Take your time - Like the opening stages of a romantic relationship, it is easy for the beginning collector to be blinded by the lure of the new, exotic, and exciting. The last bit of advice a new collector is likely to want to hear is nonetheless important – take your time. The more information a collector possesses, the more likely his acquisitions are to be satisfying, and the more apt they are to be lasting additions to a collection, instead of being quickly resold for a more desirable piece.
  3. Do research - There are three ways to gain knowledge about your chosen field: experience, collaboration, and research. Experience is paid for in hours, days, and years of inquisitive pursuit. Collaboration is the sage advice you can gain at collectors clubs, auctions, stores, conventions, and on internet forums and bulletin boards. Research involves collecting data- magazines, catalogs, websites, books. The better informed the collector, the better the collection.
  4. Shop Virtually - When I discover I apply a technique I call 'virtual shopping'. I put the item on a 'Want List', and shop for it for 3-6 months. During this time, I might discover a more desirable variation of the item, a better source, a negative attribute I didn't notice before. Sometimes tastes can be steered by flashy advertising or because a new item is the hot topic on the net. By putting the item on a want list for a 'cooling off period', I often discover that the item isn't the best fit for my collection, and that I don't want it anymore.
  5. Watch the market - Prices fluctuate. Sometimes the newest and hottest is the most expensive. Sometimes limited edition items are cheapest when they're first released. Watch the market for you collectables, and find out when is the best time to buy. Explore second-hand items in lieu of new items. People who don't do their research or give themselves cooling off periods before buying items, sometimes quickly sell their as-new items at a discount as the try to raise money for the next hot thing. Astute collectors can benefit form this.
  6. Buy the seller - It is best to deal with vendors or other collectors who you know, or who you can obtain trade references for. Although often trades go off fine between strangers, cultivating relationships in your field of interest often pays dividends. If an item breaks, or is misrepresented, your chances of recourse from the unknown seller are less than from those of the well-respected member of your collecting community.
  7. Buy the best you can afford - Even if it means saving over time. Buying inferior items with an eye toward upgrading is most often more expensive than getting that better item the first time. Expensive style, condition, or rarity is often worth waiting for.
  8. Take your time - Collecting can last a lifetime. The most common mistake new collectors make is in trying to build the volume of their collection too quickly. Inferior items will usually not please you - and can make you wait longer for the one you really wanted!

These rules apply across most fields of collecting. Can these constants be ignored? Certainly - but at the new collector's peril. Later, a more experienced collector can make informed jugments about when to bend the rules.

For all you old-timers, for whom all this is all ready second nature - remember the mistakes you've made(!) and comment on them to help those starting out!



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