Condition, condition, condition, of course, the three most important facets of any collectible, but is it really? Well, in the sense of just how collectible an item is, sure it is, but as to what matters most to collectors I find it’s not necessarily so. I’ll qualify that statement further; to the experienced collector, one who’s amassed articles in any particular niche for any amount of time it is paramount. But frankly I’ve concerned myself much of late with the burgeoning collector and the starter collection.
Here’s the thing about that card with a crease or magazine with torn cover–it’s a lot more available than the pristine vintage item and so, obviously, it’s much cheaper. As a dealer it’s put me in an awkward position. You see the junk turns over much quicker than the prizes. I’ve tried very hard to sell beautiful rare vintage pieces in the $200 range, often settling for $100-$125 after enough time passes, but at the same time that same item, say it’s a magazine with a single page cut out of the middle, sells quite easily for $40-$50, which quite honestly is likely more than it would be worth. I don’t mention this as an isolated incident, it’s more of a chronic pattern.
The most difficult spot this put me in is on the buying side of my business. I routinely pass on items offered at very fair rates just because I know I can’t afford to tie myself up in a handful of beautiful items for a long period of time when I can use the same money to leave with a satchel of similar but, call them broken, items that will move like wild fire at the right prices.
But I don’t frown upon the buyers of these imperfect collectibles, no, firstly I appreciate them because they help me make my living, and so, yes, there is an admitted financial stake involved, but more so what I love most about my low to mid-range grade collectors is that I’m very often catching them just as their passion has sparked.
There is plenty of time later to upgrade and hunt perfection, but I’m catching them coming in the front door. They are not buying to build a poorly conceived investment portfolio which usually produces either a loss or another new dealer at the end of the rainbow, but they are buying either from their heads or their hearts, an interest or a passion.
Please don’t get me wrong–I’m not a junk dealer, and sometimes items that squeeze through the front door will leave out the back tied inside a Hefty bag, but I am not above listing the occasional magazine with a coffee ring on the cover; scotch tape at the binding; an otherwise pristine tobacco card with a dim impression at each of the four corners from a previous mounting; or even a magazine stamped “library edition” if it is otherwise in strong shape. I do try to draw the line at anything with water damage, ink scribbles, clipped corners or other malicious defacements, though if specific items are rare or otherwise desirable I may relent.
The key in upholding my reputation is total disclosure. This is why every single card, from the $1 common to the $100 key to the set are subjected to the same scrutiny under high light come grading time. It’s why I make an effort to turn every single page of a magazine passing through here and tell you so along with what I’ve seen in any online listing. A picture may be worth a thousand words but when it comes to buying and selling online the devil is in the details and the most valuable of those details are text-based.
With my baseball card background I grade everything passing through here along a similar system to the traditional American card grading system (P,F,G,VG,EX,EX-MT,MT) and attribute a corresponding numerical grade (1-10) alongside the more traditional nomenclature. I do the same for magazines because I feel it offers more detail than the usual bookseller’s terms.
Here’s a look at my guide, whether you agree with it or not I like to think it offers a brutally honest point of reference for anyone otherwise not understanding my grade (I used to include this in each of my eBay listings, but yanked the reference about a year ago for fear they’d shut down my listings because of the outside link).
On the other end of the spectrum I am especially harsh. I don’t believe I’ve ever used the term MINT or 10/10 in any listing I’ve posted online these past ten years. On the flip side I’ve bought my share of “Mint” items, but I’ve done so expecting EX (5/10) and being ecstatic when I actually receive an EX-MT (7/10) item. I’ve used NM-MT (9/10) though rarely and reserved for items which look so good you’d think I’d printed them myself (no, I don’t do that, it’s all vintage). Typically a high grade item in my stock is going to mark out EX+ (6/10) to EX-MT (7/10) and it really thrills me to see somebody leave feedback remarking on the fantastic condition of such items.
Harsh grading has been one of the keys to my online success. Part of me knows I could bump items a point or even two up my scale, raise prices to reflect such and still satisfy 90% of my customers, but I’m quite honestly making what I make and pleasing nearly a universal audience (after all, there are always a few cranks).
I grade a movie card issued during the Silent Era under the same conditions and curve as baseball card from the Steroids Era; I grade a Civil War era issue of Harper’s the same as I do a Reagan era issue of Time. I try to avoid terms like really nice for its’ age, though I’m sure I’ve succumbed to this phraseology on occasion when I’ve been overwhelmed by something myself. Still, that same era carries a grade like any other.
In the case of condition rarity falls under the same spectrum as age. Just because the item is super rare any crease through the cardboard and we’re talking about a G-VG piece at best. You can price it rare, but please, grade it standard.
What do you say?
- Is condition the top factor you consider when adding a piece to your collection and if so are you a seasoned collector?
- Are you a newbie who just wants the item the first time you see it, scotch tape or no?
Though perhaps of greater interest from my perspective:
- Are you a new collector who won’t settle for less than the best?
- An experienced collector who picks their spots knowing that poorer condition is sometimes a trade-off for rarity and knowing when that applies?
I’d be interested to hear because after a lifetime of hearing the mantra condition is king practical experience has caused considerable doubts.