Monday, April 13, 2015

Benefits of Collector Teamwork, Part Two

When one has been collecting on one's own, all other collector input absent, one can fall into a mindset that is less than ideal. 

"It worked once, so apply it to all future situations", says the brain to itself. 

This can include a set of personal rules- what you won't buy, ever- or even operating superstitions. Some of these personal guidelines are quite reasonable, taken out of context, but others are completely arbitrary or odd, unless a backstory is provided. There may be evidence, such as an entire subset of your collection, that a viewer off-the-street would say doesn't "fit" with the rest of the collection. Maybe the quirks are wisdom, hard-won, but if it hampers your full enjoyment of the collecting world, it is a rut. It is important to know yourself.

Maybe you know someone with a reputation as a horse collector only, yet, there's a curated group of [fill in the species] displayed with pride, in the midst of the horses. Not a one-off, not a singular mascot, but a carefully selected Group of Not Horses. Significance?

Backstory is vital to understanding this scenario. Asking why someone has this sort of incongruous grouping on center stage, as it were, leads to hidden threads and histories. 

Example: I am known for the clinky horse analysis, but I collect all of Maureen Love's animals and the different ceramics manufacturers for them. Amidst horse-shaped congas, there are cattle congas. I mean, right there, place of pride, look-at-me. I get, "What's with the cows?", a lot.

This stems back to when I was a kid, and I was sculpting the first calf for Pour Horse (back when it was all resin production). I studied Western Art masters' books and images, only to realize that Maureen's cattle were even better than theirs, in modelling. I dreamed, wished to be able to draw and sculpt cattle as well as she did. I adore her cattle, and her cattle molds has become one of my rules.

If you didn't know that, looking in my cabinet, you'd wonder why a herd of cows are given display honor with the horses. Most visitors glance right over them, and move on to the next horse.

So, what are other examples of personal collecting rules?

I've heard other collectors say:

It has to speak to me.
I have to find it in the wild.
No claim of "LSQ" because that's dated and suspicious.
No housewares or functional ware.
No people (riders).
Only [insert ceramic medium] ware.
No long-ears.
Nothing that costs more than $__.
Only equines.
Only Miniatures (no Designer's Workshop), or vice-versa.
Only certain colors.

I have a bunch more rules. These keep me focused when I am offered things, especially groups of things all at once. These rules promote happiness and satisfaction with what I already own, so I stick to them.

Stick to the established congas.
The only way to establish a conga is with a weird example that is 1. unique or 2. outstanding detail rarely seen on that mold, or both. 
If it doesn't fit the collection, don't keep it, find its ideal owner.
Build on, never split, Margo's Collection.
It's not officially in the collection until I record it in the binder and put the ID sticker on it.

Superstitions can be far more specific and quirky. These are not imposed by rational thinking, but by memories of what went wrong, and any common threads therein.

  • Never sell a [insert holiday of choice] gift.
  • A horse from a soured transaction must be dispersed immediately, or it will bring bad luck.
  • I can't go antiquing without my good luck charm.
  • I have to eat a certain very-hard-to-find candy while bidding on any auction, or I will lose.
  • If I tell anyone what I'm seeking, I will never get it.

That last one is a classic superstition, especially considering how often in real life people acquire items through their friends, who know their aspirations.

That leads me to the discussion of Solo versus Team collecting strategy.

The above all are products of a collector's mindset. 

This is applicable to all the types of collectors; those that do have a focus, or those chasing a specific backstamp or pedigree, both the scattershot and the Completist. It can feel like everyone in the whole world is their competition. 

With the objectivity of years gone by, one might wonder, "Does this mindset really benefit me? Am I in a rut? If I find this is not ideal, can I change my rock-solid collecting habits?"

With the advent of the internet, at some point, the lone collector is going to meet others. The mindset of each collector, in a hypothetical meeting, has a lot to do with how nicely things will proceed. If I believe that every other collector is my competition, I am already entering the conversation with a disadvantage (or what I perceive to be one, where none may actually exist).

Benefits of Solo collecting
I tried to think of some. I have to admit, I came up short. It's not that they don't exist, it's just that I don't know them. Honestly, the one I could think of, a feeling of accomplishment that you did it all by yourself, is in reality just your perception. A number of circumstances and unseen individuals leads to each fortuitous circumstance. And, to me, if I go it alone with the intent to "beat" others at the "game", it's a hollow victory as I toast myself, alone.

Drawbacks of going Solo

The solo collector has no idea how many opportunities and friends they have missed. Maybe it is not a tangible drawback, if one's default is to ignore this.

In a competitive Solo mindset, one is keenly, painfully aware each time someone else wins a desired item, or makes a fabulous find right in one's backyard. Each loss is a glaring point on the ol' scoreboard. These are carried around and hang on a person.

Another thing I have noticed, when dealing in transactions with Solo collectors, that there is an automatic accusatory air, whether buying or selling. The appropriate reaction to a timely and exact transaction is to respond in kind, not to immediately assume the worst. "This item/payment got here too fast!" is an odd complaint, for which there are no words in reply.

Benefits of Team

Unlike a Solo mindset, when you are a Team collector, seeing the latest posts of finds, bargains, and eBay wins energizes you. The enthusiastic reactions of folks on the breakables yahoogroup and FB's Clinky Connection are excellent examples of this. If that other collector is part of your network, you may catch yourself cheering out loud, as you read their news. Generally speaking, other collectors' gains are not points against your life count, not opportunities lost, but you feel their elation, too. It's a win for everyone, every time a piece is saved from the landfill. You might look forward to snapping photos of the piece at the next show, because this joy is what keeps us all going to shows.

If one embraces the Team mindset, every new collector is a potential friend and ally. This may be the home for that piece you rescued from the flea market, that just doesn't quite fit your collection. Or, maybe this is the dawn of fun trading, for years to come. If this person is also a networker, a team player, they could lead you to even more new collector friends. It is no exaggeration to use the word, "friends".

As in Part One, it takes a Team to attend live auctions around work schedules. There are also benefits of show travel partners, sharing expenses, combined shipping to one address, and more sets of eyes to help assess potential purchases... the gifts of Teamwork.

Remember your quirks, rules, and superstitions? Your Team learns them, and will keep more eyes out for what you are seeking.

Is Team collecting competitive? Maybe you like competing with each other in the show ring and in the auctions. That's OK, if it works out for all without hurt feelings. In other Teams, folks take turns deferring on items they both (or all) want. After a while, one learns how to tell which pieces are destined for another member of the group... knowing their tastes... and when it is time to ask others in your Team to please not bid/enter against you.

If I make a list of all the sales where I was seriously interested in an item, maybe one in ten collectors was considering going for that item with the same gusto. With eBay and so many online vintage shops, a ton of previously-thought "rare" ceramics have come to light, and can be had at any time. For the most part, these things were mass-produced. Yes, they have had to survive for decades, but chances are excellent that another of that same mold or color will become available, soon. In fact, one may see several of the same model hit eBay or hobby ads immediately after a sale of the first. Other people see that item's sales success, and think, "I have one of these! This is a good time to sell it!" There is even a button just to help browsers "Sell One Like This" on eBay. There's enough for everyone, out there. It gets more intense when it is a unique item, but others factors weigh in on that, as well. If it is damaged, or flawed such that it is not an ideal show entry, that turns off some collectors.

This all edits down to maybe three like-minded collectors, rabid to the same degree, all after the same hypothetical flawed, damaged, weird item. If I am in contention, chances are pretty good that I know the other two collectors, and would be happy to see either of them get the item, if Fate rules that way.


I can only see one: this is tough on highly competitive folks. They will be at odds with their own interests, every time they choose to defer and not bid on something they'd really, really like to own. 

For a Completist, my personal 1:10 ratio is not going to apply, simply because this collector is seeking literally everything. The frequency and proportion climbs with the number of molds, colors, and buying opportunities they seek. Even under this internal pressure, Completists can and do find themselves embracing Team efforts and sharing the opportunities. 

All this talk of networking and friends is not to say that the collecting world is bereft of bad apples. We all run into these, sooner or later. The networking collector will often get a warning or see behavior in online forums that protects them, before they engage the problem person. It is possible to be a Solo collector and avoid some pitfalls, because one doesn't have to participate or post in the online transaction forums to benefit from their warnings. It is harder for the Solo collector to navigate selling and buying with 100% success, simply because Team collectors exchange information that may never make it online, such as sensitive transactions or non-hobby vendors. 

I myself get a little too trusting, in my happy, safe network-cocoon. I forget that just because someone has posting privileges in a collector group does not mean they were vetted for compliance with PayPal or eBay, or that they have an inkling of how to conduct a transaction, in the first place. Predatory types can pose as anyone online, and certainly, we've seen a share of aliases that repeatedly victimized this trusting hobby. I recently forgot my oldest rule, "Always check their name on hobby transaction forums, first."

A huge, ongoing problem for collecting/buying from photos is not correctly assessing condition or mold detail. One person's idea of razor-sharp detail is not necessarily universal. (There was recently a discussion about this on breakables). The describing seller may not have seen a wide range of that mold in its many degrees of detail, so their description is just Opinion. A Solo collector could get into trouble, on either end of this transaction, without input from a network friend who had seen the model in person, and several more to compare.

A careless photo can mean either a rush, such as at the antiques flea market or auction, or a person who conducts all aspects of their transactions without care. Does the condition of the model in the photo match what it is being advertised as? Yes, this still occurs; I saw an advertising photo on FB this year, promoting a multiple-break, glued horse as "mint condition". A chipped ear or hoof, or a professionally restored horse, is not mint, either. It's either mint, damaged, or restored. There is no "restored to mint". Honest mistakes (or otherwise) happen all the time.

How does one join up with others? 

Prove you are a solid citizen by building a sterling transaction history. Not just eBay feedback, but ask hobbyists you deal with to give you a review on the model horse reference forums. 

Get out there and mingle at shows, chat in the rooms with chinas at BreyerFest, join clubs, participate in discussions thoughtfully online. 

Post a want list ad, and be specific about the condition, colors, and factory eras. When collectors reach out to you, treat each offer professionally, even if it is not appealing. 

Order yourself some hobby/collector business cards. Maybe this sounds funny to print up cards promoting yourself as a collector, but it's actually pretty cool. You never know where your card will come in handy.

I'd love to share your favorite Collecting Team stories, in a future blog post. 

Gratitude to the network of collectors and professionals who have been helpful for blog posts, teaching me about collectibles and their history, building my collection, supporting the HRCC reboot, my show Clinky Classic, and my general joy in this hobby. Go Team!