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The Value of the Odd

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The Value of the Odd

Bill Crittenden
December 26, 2005

When collecting or building model kits the choice of what to buy is usually determined by personal taste and sentimental value.  When purchasing for investment, choices are determined based on future monetary value.  There is, I believe, a third and seldom considered way of collecting, one that I often consider when at the shows.

My personal tastes and sentimental values tend to draw me towards NASCAR driver Bill Elliott and Japanese cars.  Beyond that, I try to look for overlooked vehicles.  The bargain bins at show tables can have a value all their own, and supply and demand has a lot to do with it, if in a different sort of way that it would for a valuable collectible.

Take 1/18 scale die cast for example.  Chargers, Mustangs, and Camaros will always be popular, and there will usually be something or another on the market for those vehicles every year, especially for the late 60's and early 70's.  On the other hand, I have a 1973 Cadillac that I just bought for $5.  First of all, the car was only $5, which works well for my budget.  But it's one of the ugliest cars ever, a big dark green monstrosity.  It even has those strange 70's headlights, with round bulbs in a square frame.

I've never seen one before, or since.  Because of the lack of respect such a die cast gets, on the whole they tend not to be as well taken care of as a highly sought-after collectible.  This example, in particular, was donated to the C.A.R.S. in Miniature club for auction night, with a worn and dented box.  Chances are, nobody's going to remake this die cast.  That all means that over time, there are going to be far, far fewer die cast cars of the 1973 Cadillac than the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

Because of supply and demand, or in this case lack of demand, there is very little supply, and that ensures that these collectibles, when found, are going to be unusual pieces that fellow collectors often will not have.  I can almost guarantee that when in a room full of collectors that only myself or a very small percentage of the group owns certain die cast cars.  Whether this means anything is another issue.

However, rarity does not automatically translate into money.  Supply and demand again.  While supply is definitely small, there is almost no demand, keeping the monetary value low.

A few paragraphs back I mentioned remakes.  When collecting 1/24 scale NASCAR, popular drivers often have more die cast vehicles made than an obscure driver.  Also remember that Action now has their Historical Series.  A die cast of a car driven by a famous driver (Earnhardt, Stewart, Gordon) will likely at one point or another get redone.  However, an obscure driver's car will not rate a Historical Series remake, and as such their low production number will remain low.

The same principles of low demand equaling rare supply applies to all sorts of automotive collectibles, and even to cars themselves.  It may seem strange to collect something from a 1984 Dodge Caravan, but if you could find brochures or ad materials, imagine the historic value of having something from the first minivan.

Cards have a different supply and demand dynamic.  In the case of cards, there are no remakes.  Each year's card for each driver or car is a completely different collectible.  Also, sometimes the most common stuff can be the hardest to find when you look for it.  Back in the early 1990's, almost every card set from almost every manufacturer across all sports was overprinted in the extreme.  The values on these sets are among the lowest in the books.  That often makes them less desireable, an example of high supply pushing down demand.  They are often beneath the notice of or undeserving of respect from serious collectors.

However cheap they are, I've asked serious collectors about some of these card sets, and few bother collecting them.  Most have some cards from the set, but few have all.  There are some collectors that pride themselves on having nearly every card printed (my neighbor is one), and have the sets.  So many others chase memorabilia and autographs, which aren't included in most early 1990's sets, and therefore don't bother with them.

Serious collectors take care of their cards.  What happens to cards that don't interest serious collectors is that they get tossed out, or given to kids that don't take care of them.  Add this to the natural attrition due to accidents and such, and over time, finding good examples of these cards can be just as rare as limited edition cards.  I cite as example baseball cards from the 1950's.  Too many of them ended up in bicycle spokes, in rubber bands, and thrown out when the collectors grew up and went off to college or Vietnam.  Now, while Hall of Fame players still rate the highest prices, all of the cards are rare and worth money.

But this all depends on what you want to collect.  Most collectors will focus on a certain driver, or certain car brand.  I enjoy having odd stuff that doesn't cost much and that most people don't have.

©2005 Bill Crittenden

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