Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inherent Value

Going to estate sales will show you a whole range of ideas about the value of items. Morgan and I were at a sale last weekend where I found a copy of Good Housekeeping magazine. It wasn't priced, so I took it up to the cashier and asked about it. She said, "Four dollars." I just shook my head and set it aside. She said, "It's from 1941." I replied, "Oh, I know." She sort of made a face that suggested she thought I didn't understand the value of an old magazine.

Funny, I left thinking the same thing about her.

I used to work for a record store, and they bought used music and games from people. Doing that, you very quickly learn that there's a disconnect between what people think things are worth and what they actually are worth. In that business, there's an additional disconnect caused by the fact that you're selling them to a middleman, so values are even lower. But I told many people that they were more than welcome to try selling their albums on eBay or wherever. It's all a matter of what's worth more to you - time or money. It's time-consuming to sell your possessions online and try to get the best price for them, and there is risk involved. Selling them to the store results in less money, but it's done, nothing more to think about. People always wanted more money for their vinyl records because they tended to equate "old" with "valuable," or because they attached monetary value to their sentiment.

Them: "It's a Rolling Stones album from the '60s!"
Me: "Do you know how many copies of this album were pressed and sold?"

You know what's worth something? First pressings of the Stones' first albums on Decca. Early punk albums. Your Journey or Boston albums that sold in the millions and were ubiquitous across everyone's record collections? Pretty much worthless and easily found in basements across the country.

I don't know much about vinyl, so the point of that story isn't the medium or the specific example, but rather just to say that that job is where I finally started to get it. Before that, I also thought "if only I had my mom's old Beatles records!" Now I realize that it would be great to have them for sentimental reasons, but I sure wouldn't be retiring on them.

On to another medium: books. I love books. But I also buy old books, cut out their insides, and fill them with blank paper for use as journals and sketchbooks. Let's talk realistically about old books - while it's quite romantic to imagine that every one of them could find its home with someone who appreciates it, it's simply not true. Lots and lots of books fade into obscurity and would never have their covers cracked again, many with good reason. Who today is going to miss a copy of Mystery in Old Quebec? Sure, someone out there might, but I highly doubt that was the last copy in the world. (Indeed, there are currently 9 copies available just on Amazon starting at $2.51 - feel free to save one.)

Finally, back to the magazines. I have gone to enough estate sales to know that there is no shortage of people who saved every copy of magazines to which they subscribed. So that copy of Good Housekeeping from 1941? I'm sure it's not the only one. To a collector, who wants to put it into a plastic bag and store it, it might be worth $4. But assuming you're going to run across that person at an estate sale on a cold day in Denver is a bit of a stretch, and a risk. Acting like I'm some sort of Philistine for not realizing the value of a relic from 1941 (71 years ago!) just increases the likelihood that you will end up selling those magazines like the ones at a sale we visited last weekend, where there were shelves and shelves full of magazines. They had previously gone for 50 cents each. They were now being sold 10 magazines for $1.50. I picked up 20 of various publications and years.

Some of these are from the 1930s, they must be worth a fortune!

I'm going to cut them up for collages and similar work, but before I perform this treacherous act, I'm scanning them first. Isn't technology wonderful? I can then keep them in their entirety, but I don't have to become a hoarder. Digital storage space is cheap. I will be posting ads and other interesting bits from them on Flickr, so keep an eye out there (I've just started, but there is much more to come, so check back).

Oh and at the sale I mentioned at the beginning of the post? We spent that $4 on a much-needed and seemingly brand-new tea kettle.

Clearly worthless, as it's not old.

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