The Economics and Realities of collecting

by Sue Hooven

     Why do you collect?  Some people collect to invest and others collect just to collect. Some collect things without wanting to; you get one and next thing you know a collection is on the loose.  My mother-in-law once had a collection of bells and owls and when given an owl by me as a gift, she exclaimed, "Why in the world do people keep giving me owls and bells?!".  Ungrateful maybe, but more than likely, exasperation.  You see, many years before, someone gave her a bell that was in the shape of an owl and she must've exclaimed too much she liked it, because people in the room picked up on it and started to add to her collection.  At first she liked it and so people gave her more and despite comments that she didn't need more, for years everyone thought she liked owls and bells!  So she amassed these things and they ended up mainly in garages sales, in the trash, or to unsuspecting people such as myself.  She turned the tables on me with ducks... spotted on in my kitchen and next thing you know everything in the kitchen was ducks!  Today, I am trying to get rid of the last couple that remain. 

     For those who are in the antiques or collectible business, such as the Kovel's (yes the ones on TV and who write all those price guides), they offer this advice:  "Only collect what you absolutely love".  Why?  Well, it's my view (and personal experience) that if you decide one day you don't want your collection anymore, you're collection will either end up in the trash, garage sale or will remain in your possession till your death. If it's the latter, your relatives will pillage the collection, gain a bigger one of their own and end up trashing, putting it in a garage sale or keep it till their death. A few generations of this and MAYBE, your collection will be an antique and valuable to someone; albeit long after your demise. 

    I collect autographs.  When I first started, the field was gaining speed.  You wrote to a celebrity or met them and got a free autograph.  But soon, with the advent of the internet and the sites like this one, people discovered this.  Ebay came along and people began buying/selling autographs.  Then people with devious capitalistic and immoral characters, began forging signatures as they saw collectors gobbling these up.  Finding out rare names of people who didn't sign, they forged those signatures and then sparingly made money (big money) off their fakes.  BUT.  Now I see a trend.  I am not a business person, but I do fancy myself a person of some intelligence and common sense.   I see now so many forgeries have way-layed themselves into unsuspecting hands. Those hands in turn, are passing them down to other unsuspecting collectors.  This confuses the public.  The public takes those as legit and further buys more fakes based on the original fakes!  If say James Dean signed only a handful of signatures in his short career (he died JUST as he was in the height of his bigness), how is it you can buy sigs now so readily?  You can't.  Real and true collectors keep these items forever.  Because they love them.  So even at $2,500.00, I doubt the signature you get will be legit.  No, I don't think price is based on legitimacy.  I never have. I think you can get a legit rare sig for $1 and you can get a fake for $1,000.  GENERALLY speaking, prices may be comparative, but I don't ever use price as my decision on whether something is fake or not.  So the field of autographs is tough and though collectors are still paying, some are realizing now, that this is a problem and no longer are they willing to spend frivolous amounts of money on a signature that won't retain it's value or is of questionable nature.  I see it happening.  For example, let's touch upon my specialty:  Star Wars.  Though a hit from the beginning, autographs didn't become abundant (there were some collectors, but not one fraction of what there is now) until the hint that Mr. Lucas was actually filming the prequels.  This was about 1996-1997 and about the time I started collecting.  Why, I wonder did I start?  Well, there were many reasons, but as I think now, media coverage about the prequels was starting.  My sons and I had new renewed interest in the old films which were classic and brilliant and so imaginative.  Fond memories came back of us seeing the films in when the boys were small and I looked on the internet, something that was new to me, about something Star Wars. I forget what I was looking for, but I stumbled upon some sites (I think there were only two autograph sites back then) and I gained interest.  At that time, looking for something special for my son, the autograph idea came to being and I wrote to a couple people and next thing you know, a collection began.  At this time, other people started collecting and new sites (including my own) came to being.  Flooded with emails from people of all ages, I realized the extent to which people loved this.  More people started collecting, new sites popped up and more collectors came to into being. It snowballed into to what it is today.  Why did we all continue to collect?  Because Lucasfilm was making more films and because, there are abundant resources available to help people collect.  But now, like all good things, Star Wars and collecting is coming so a slow end.

     When will this all end?  I think I can give you a date.  Speculative on my part.  But let's just say "soon".  Oh sure, there will be those who go to their deaths with their collections; but most will bail.  I am seeing it now.  With the emergence of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which to me matches almost the reign of Star Wars, I am seeing a sharp turn away from Star Wars and a turn to other areas of collecting.  That's what pop culture is: it pops in and out of fashion.  It lasts until the next big thing comes along.  My guess is this:  Star Wars will have its loyalists till the last film (and ultimate CD set) is released.  People will talk about it a little, maybe a couple months, and it will then no longer retain the pedestal position.  It's already slipping and has been since people saw The Phantom Menace. Not just the fans, but the critics agree.  Look at the award nominations from 1977 till now.  A sharp, steady decline is evident.  See my Awards page as proof. The prequels are no longer in the same format we came to love; die hard advocates of Mr. Lucas and his creations are now questioning whether if he knows what the fans truly want. Immersed in Special Effects and technology, the old serial effect, the grounding stories, sub plots and old fashioned romance with unmasked villains are long gone. What?  We prefer the cheesier version to the hi-tech one?  Yep, the substance wasn't buried under 3D fiction. We didn't have to search for it behind lush scenery.  Though visually appealing, people have minds and the mind needs to be stirred as much as the senses. We want to wonder and not have it laid out for us. Regardless of whether you love the prequels or agree with that statement, you undoubtedly have realized that Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones is NOT on your top films.  Ten to one, something else is, like Lord of the Rings, Spider Man, Planet of the Apes, X-Men or even James Bond. For those from the previous generation, it's a sure bet Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back is at the top of the list.  It has retainability not from sentiment but substance.  To put it into terms everyone can agree with, a newer filmmaker, newer technology and newer ideas will always come along, and replace your favorite films.  So yes, Star Wars will indeed be at an end and soon.

     So, if Star Wars comes to an end, what does it mean for your collection?  Bad news my friend. If you love your collection, make the choice between now and a few months after Episode III ends.  Sell or keep to the death.  There is no in-between! Marketing campaigns better be dead on, because if no shortages at prime time, then all will end up being worth about 10 cents on the dollar. As will your collection.  So buy wisely.  Buy what you love and by all means, sell if  you want maximum profit or keep to your death.  The cycle is turning like my mutual funds.  I was in it for 10 years and for the last three have lost all my profit.  I got a statement yesterday and now I've slipped to below what I put in!  Will there be an upside if I hang in?  Maybe, but with new funds and all the current events going on, I think it's time to bail.  It's a hard choice, but  I know that this is not unlike pop culture.  I know it's hard to bank on what will remain stable.  I have to make the determination if my moderate companies can hold, like I have to make the determination if Star Wars fans will stay.  From what I see, I don't think so.

   In the end, you must decide for you.  Remember though,  that Mr. Lucas is lost in his own hype and doesn't see the reality on the same level as movie-goers.  All who work with him, fans who meet him and everyone he encounters tells him how great he is and how great all the films are.  I sincerely doubt anyone real gets to tell him the truth . . . so your decisions should not be based on commercial hype, but from real life.  Look at Ebay prices.  Look at other sites. Look at what you can get rid or an what you can't.  Those signatures I paid for a long time ago ($35 for Warwick Davis at one time and about the same for Bulloch), I can't even get half for now.  Even those rare signatures aren't retaining value.  $500 for Sebastian Shaw?  Nope, even early on, I knew that getting $100 would be hard in the end. So judge wisely. 

     Last note:  I just paid $35 for a Carrie Fisher signature from Celebration II.  I know that when Celebration III happens, I won't be able to unload this signature for $10.  I saw it happen with Celebration I when Celebration II hit.  Ahmed Best's signature was $50 and the set of passes went as high as $300 or so and now, I've seen this set with his signature on Ebay several times and at $14.99; no one bid!  So why buy it?  I am insane.  I love Star Wars and my fetish for completing a set got the better of me.  I just hope I am never so poor I have to sell, because at that point I'll be very sad indeed only getting 10 cents on the dollar. So why do this?  I don't know.  I guess maybe my collection will be passed to my son who won't benefit much from it.  He'll have to determine if the collection is worth passing to his own kids, try to salvage it at a garage sale for 10 cents on the dollar or trash it.  He'll have to make the determination.  For me, it's to my death.

Live long and prosper!  (sorry, good phrase, but from the wrong films...). 

May the force be with us beyond the grave.