Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Clinky Collectors Already Suspect, But Were Afraid To Ask Outright

With several serious HR collections dispersing in the past handful of years- Cheryl Greene, John Renaker, Keith Bean, Denise Deen, Nancy Kelly, The Hagen-Renaker On-Line Museum- and another on the horizon (Karen Grimm/BHR), there is an uneasy vibe about what will happen to the china values.

"What's going to happen?"

We can look at FB and MH$P to see the first effect: cascading. In the face of the sudden availability of so many great HRs, collectors are prioritizing their own collections, and culling items that do not fit their current focus. This results in lots of makes and models hitting the market at the same time. Just because HRs are the most plentiful right now doesn't mean that other makes are immune. The need to raise money to buy their wish-list HRs cascades down through other makes, including bone china studio ware, Beswicks, and Made-In-Japans, causing a flood. It's a cascading effect of all types of collectibles, surpassing demand and thus lowering asking prices. If an item is to move with any speed, the prices must be made attractive, or even below market value, to entice buyers. If time is not a factor, and the seller can afford to sit on inventory (like a lot of us non-shop-owners, with zero overhead), their prices don't change.

What if there are stubborn sellers, who refuse to lower their prices, or sell for less than they paid? Is it fair to make comments berating them for their refusal to make a discount deal with you or your friends? No, it isn't. The private seller of second-hand collectibles is not obligated to stick to values in books (which are outdated and give built-in lowballing) nor to a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price. It's their own vintage or secondary market item, and they can price it as they see fit. I would argue that you should be thanking those sellers for their steadfast dedication to values. They are the thin line defending and insisting on values, so that our entire hobby market doesn't crash.

My husband has taught me a useful, but cheeky, shut-down phrase to use when I am asked to ridiculously reduce prices on my original art or collectibles: "If you don't like my price, buy it at Kmart." Of course, the chain store name is interchangeable, but the gist is, if you don't like my price, try and find this unique or hard to find item for sale at discount just anywhere. You aren't going to find it at the corner store, and certainly not priced by the pound.

"What should be my strategy?"

Everyone who has written me for advice this week has received this: Few things are going to hold universal value when the market floods. It's not an If, it's a When. Say your heart is set on a piece that you know was produced for more than a year, well, chances are, another will be available in the next few months. Don't despair that this one sold; you'll have another chance. This item was made in quantity.

"What if I just want just an example of the mold, not a competition/show horse?" 

I advise checking the years made, and reading up on which variant is the oldest and made the shortest time. Try to buy mint items. Older mint condition items survived to the present day, through collector care, and there's a lot to be said for that. In HRs, the oldest horses had character eyes and lined nostrils and mouths, which hold them back in breed/realism judging. They are golden for collectibility. If you decide to collect for history, not showing, don't reject the non-realistic finishes; select for age and condition.

"I am ready to spend, and I am excited about all the stuff available. I have been waiting for a dispersal like this." 

If there is no upper budget, consider that the test, one-off goof, and employee customs are unique (or close to it). There won't be another just like it coming up for sale, ever.  if anything, that exact piece might come up for sale sometime in the future, but only that one. Thus, demand for the most attractive tests is never met. Also, tests in particular tend to hold their value every time the market dives. This is not so much true of the value of batched Samples, which are sometimes called tests, even though they are seldom unique trials on damaged ware. Examples of tests' values persisting include documented Breyer tests despite the plastic market ups and downs, and vintage HR tests (less so for batches of Samples) holding their collector values throughout the market flooding of eBay, and so on. When buying from collectors, expect to pay collector prices for these investment pieces. Sometimes, one gets lucky on eBay finding a bargain test for sale from a non-collector (steel/ash gray Roan Lady!), but don't expect those who educate themselves in the fancy to ask anything less than full value. 

I am loathe to guess what broken/glued or restored items will bring compared to their mint counterparts. As shown in examples in John's estate dispersal, the same item damaged can bring just as much as a mint one, or one leg break can reduce it by half. My speculation, without accounting for world situation and larger problems like war or food shortages: The first wave buying tests and uniques will see their values held, perhaps even see those grow as investments. There will be a big ocean of regular run, long-produced pieces swirling about, unsold, for a while. Before it's all over, we'll see collectors exchanging things like HR DW Swaps for $30 (my personal yardstick for HR secondary market low, yours may vary). All the while that the big estates are settling, experienced collectors continue to disperse pieces and retire from the hobby. After even the BHR sale, there will be more collections up for sale, due to unforeseen circumstances. If you miss out on a mass-produced grail from any of the dispersals, know that there will always be another. And another. Do not despair. Also, think back to before you learned that X piece was even attainable, before it was offered at auction/for sale. You still enjoyed your collecting hobby then, without X, so do not let a one-time loss tinge it now.

If you do not want to wait another decade for your grail, I'd say, find funds outside the already-squeezed horse hobby, and buy it now. Clear out the garage, have a yard sale, make crafts, cook at home more often: all the things we used to do to support our hobby spending when the HR market was ferocious, in the pre-eBay 1990's. Now there are even more opportunities to raise money in one's spare time, without going back to school. Try driving for Uber, or walk dogs, raise your own produce, etc. My point is, it's folly to expect all your grail funding to be generated from sales to the very same market that is already flooded.

In closing, the best advice I received in collecting, I share again with you: a grail will find its way, however implausibly and circuitously, to the person(s) it was meant to find. We are all temporary curators. It may be heart-wrenching to see your long-loved favorites exchange hands beyond your grasp or even imaginable price range. Remember that is just a little delay. Maybe you worry that you didn't know the right people, you're too new, or feel outside a clique? We all start as outsiders, and we all did our tours as newbs. Keep your reputation clean, keep on with collecting in your favorite way, and eventually, your diligence will pay off. I would not pass along this as a fairy tale, I have experienced it and it is fact. Impossible, unfathomed things found me, and I know they can find you, too. I hear from collectors every year about crazy chains of events that led to their amazing $5 Finds, or gifts from friends, PIFs, all manner of unexpected avenues. Aim high with your patience. Shed no tears if you missed recent opportunities; smile and save up for the opportunity winging its way to you, on the gusts of time.

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