Monday, February 27, 2006

The future of the hobby: Ebay vs. Auctions vs. Meets

Recently, I‘ve noticed a large number of early spring toy actions with some excellent quality items for bid (picture is from the Spring Lloyd Ralston Gallery offering.) These have got me thinking about recent statements I've heard such as, “auctions are destroying the hobby,” and “toy meets will soon be a thing of the past.” So, up for discussion this week is this question, what is the future of antique toy buying? What is currently the best way to purchase the gems we all seek? I for one have been mulling this over for some time and decided to list my current experiences. If you are reading this please add your comments to the discussion. I am very interested in the current state of the hobby. Okay, here goes:

Ebay: Recently I have watched numerous Ebay auctions run wild. It seems that more often than not Ebay items are advertised as “exceptionally rare” and in “excellent condition for its age.” I do a lot of Ebay-ing and have great luck selling on Ebay, but only marginal success buying. As someone who generally knows what the items I am looking at are, I have some concept for quality vs. price. My feeling is that items on Ebay are often overbid for the quality offered, especially when compared to auctions. Some of the automation is very nice such as automated favorite searches but these advantages seem unbalanced by overzealous buyers who seem willing to overpay just to beat the next guy out.

Auctions: Currently Stout, Ralston and Morphy are all offering some very nice items. With a few obvious exceptions, it seems these items go for very fair prices and the condition is generally far better than what I am seeing on Ebay. Granted these auctions are more difficult to bid on than Ebay due to pre-registration requirements and potential travel, but through the addition of LiveAuctions this seems to have improved. My only complaint with auctions I have participated in is the excessively high absentee bidder fees charged. I recently paid 17.5% to Stout for a very nice, rare early Schoenner live steam engine and feel I still got a good deal, but it would be nice if they could get things down closer to 10% like Noel Barrett did for the Ward Kimball auctions.

Meets: Are they dead? Well, I attend both Spring and Fall York every year and can definitely say they’re not dead. However, for the collector who likes his trains more esoteric than Lionel and MTH I feel like I’m hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But if you enjoy the hunt and don’t mind long slow walks on cement floors, nothing beats the excitement of 1200 tables full of potential diamonds. That said, prices at these meets are always negotiable and the internet has not managed to replace the good natured spirit of such shows.

In closing, what is your favorite way to find toys? What is your most successful? I for one think the future is brighter for the hobby thanks to new technologies that benefit those who can’t travel due to impairment or finances. What do you think?

3 Comments:

At Saturday, March 04, 2006, Blogger Standard Gauge Blogger said...

I've had different levels of success and spectacular failure with eBay, most notably people scamming prewar parts off of the trains I sell then returning them.

I think there is tremendous value in personal interaction vs. just throwing dollars at collecting. Trading items vs. just buying them propagates knowledge and comraderie instead of commerce.

The auctions are actually good things because they tend to establish real market value. But let me put a different spin on them: there have been some very high profile auctions of substantial collections in the last two years. One comes to mind that had some fakes. Down and out, no holds barred fakes. They went for serious money because big bucks collectors went ape-shit when they saw something "rare" from an esteemed collector.

My point is that it seems like as soon as toy and train collecting went into the world of color (vs. the black and white age of the 40's, 50's and 60's) about 2 dozen shades of gray kicked in as well.

Prices for prewar stuff seems completely outrageous, even with less and less collectors entering the market.

So the question is really this: will collecting toys and trains be the exclusive province of the uber-wealthy in the next decade?

I truly hope not. But one collector of trains told me that York is dead. Killed by greedy dealers, eBay and a lack of truly inspired and interesting items. Heck, straight toys have been in the stratosphere since the mid-1980's. Let's hope someday they come into reality.

Marc

 
At Monday, March 06, 2006, Blogger John R said...

With about 600 purchases, no sales I'm afraid, of a range of toys and vintage collectibles on Ebay, the Wisdom of the Ancients that I would pass on is that Ebay is a wonderful, unequalled marketplace for items ranging up to around $150, or maybe $200, in final bid level. Have only had a couple of minor issues in these transactions, which were resolved satisfactorily; credit cards/Paypal and feedback ratings offer substantial protection to a buyer.

Ebay has enabled me to greatly expand my collections of toy soldiers, vointage O Gauge, Bayko, nude collectibles, vintage paperbacks and more.

However, Ebay is not nearly as good a deal, I would say, when looking for items that expect to sell for $200 and up. First of all, there are far fewer items of this quality offered, and the bidding seems more intense, with the prices ending up all over the place, often disproportionately high. Even medium-range Marx tin gets bid through the ceiling.

 
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