Save It

What with all the trembling excitement over the Illinois Gubernatorial Primaries (Wait. What’s that sound? Oh, millions of people in California, all yawning at once.) I thought I would talk about collectibles again.

See, right now, thousands of people in Illinois are looking over those buttons they wore for candidates who came in second or third, thinking, “I’d better put these somewhere safe. They’re collectible.” It is just that sort of thinking I wanted to talk to you about. I am here to tell you the truth: Yes. They ARE collectible.

They’re just not worth any money.

I mentioned it before, didn’t I? “Collectible” is not the same word as “valuable”. Another key word, see, is that word “thousands”. If more people are saving the thing for collectors than there are collectors who want it, the market goes down. A case in point is that Chicago Tribune the morning after the 2008 Presidential election. In the excitement of the moment, Tribunes featuring news of President-Elect Obama’s victory sold for such obscene prices on eBay that the Tribune itself started printing more copies to keep up with demand.

Three weeks later, someone gave me a copy to sell on line, along with the Sun-Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal from the same day. I couldn’t raise a dollar on the lot, though it is certainly a collectible collection. The market had been flooded, and those newspapers probably won’t bring in what they cost at the newsstand for another half century.

It has been like that throughout the history of collecting. It’s the stuff nobody thinks to keep that becomes the Expensive Collectible. The best bit of election memorabilia I was ever given to sell had been used to line a drawer for a hundred years. Its condition was what the professional dealers refer to, in technical terms, as “crappy”. But how many other people in 1896 bothered to save a McKinkley/Hobart street banner? Not many.

Comic books are collectible. But the ones you want date to before the mid-sixties, because that’s when people started thinking “Hey, these are Collectible!! Better save ‘em!” It’s the same with baseball cards and pulp magazines. The ones that bring the big bucks are the ones that were printed before the World War II scrap drives, when throwing things away was a patriotic duty. After the 1960s, when we started to issue price guides, people salted away what were once disposable pleasures. Thus those 1970s collectibles aren’t worth a tenth of the ones our ancestors threw away in the 1940s: too many of them around. (Oh, in case you thought our ancestors had a better grip on quality than we do, when they were throwing away comic books and cheap paperbacks, they were spending their money on first editions of authors who now crowd the dustier shelves on bookstores. A lot of them were signed, limited COLLECTIBLES.)

I’m not saying you should throw away your BUTA FOR OMBUDSMAN buttons. They ARE collectible. Just plan on taking a wheelbarrow full of Buta buttons to the bank someday. If you just enjoy what you have instead of considering the market value of…Hey, isn’t that a genuine 1922 Omaha Green wheelbarrow?

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