Musings By Joschik
Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and his musings share some of his collecting experience. Over the last 30 years, he has bought and sold more than 50 collections, owned a physical auction house and operated Europe’s largest eBay store. As part of his work with the hobbyDB Advisory Board Christian has also seen many of the largest collections of the world.
What does Collecting have in common with getting married?
Most collectors collect for collecting’s sake and this will only make sense to a collector. For me, preserving history and relaxation are part and parcel of this same collecting rationale. Collectors rarely (if ever) think about what happens when the love cools and how they will then have to sell everything.
While there are ways to make this sell-off significantly easier, it is like prenuptial agreements – something most don’t want to touch. This blog post tackles why collectors sell, how to go about it and how to best prepare for an eventual sale.
Like the 40-50% of spouses who eventually head for the divorce court, the vast majority of collectors eventually fall out of love with their collections. How long it takes that to happen depends on the type of collectible. For example, pocket watch collectors keep collecting longer than collectors of newer things like Funko Pop Vinyls. On average, the latter will collect for around four years, while collectors of more vintage subjects like Decoys collect for 18 years.
Why do collectors stop collecting?
There are five main reasons why folks stop collecting and then want to liquidate and recoup the value of their collection:
- Lose interest in the subject (this is often followed by a segue into collecting something else)
- Need money (and if so, they usually need it fast – which makes being prepared to sell even more important)
- Other-half is strongly opposed to collecting and wins the battle
- The ultimate show-stopper – death
Realizing full value for a collection requires both expertise, motivation and time. The reason for selling can have a major influence on how a collection can be sold. For example death often takes the necessary expertise with it.
How to know the value of a collection?
Collectors of vintage items will know a lot about the value of their individual items as they can only buy them in the secondary market (no retailers stock vintage uniform patches ;-). That said, a vast majority of these collectors have no clue how many items are in their collection and significantly underestimate the quantity of item they have bought over time. Often, they need to do an inventory or at least take a count or make an estimate of the number of items they own.
Collectors of more modern type of collectibles such as NASCAR racing cars often over-estimate the value of their collections as they bought at retail and modern collectibles (say everything sold in retail post 1990) generally loses 50% or more of its value as soon as you buy it.
A lot of these collectors get a rude awakening when it comes to selling, as they relied on labels such as Limited Edition or Special Collector Edition, erroneously thinking that these automatically ensure the items retain value. While there might be only 500 models of a particular Jeff Gordon model there are hundreds of other Jeff Gordon models and as long as they continue to sell, more will be produced, making it very hard for any of them to ever appreciate in value. Also, as these items were produced for the collector market, most will be carefully stored in glass cabinets so there is very little rate of attrition.
When assessing a collection, there are five different types of value:
- Catalog Value. Where price guides exist, you can add the value of each item and come up with an aggregate value. The accuracy of that value depends on how the catalog authors calculated the values it gives and how long ago it was compiled. Catalog Value also do not take into account costs of selling (market place fees, fees for a stand at a fair, time, fuel etc). It is not unusual for collectors to use a catalog value, adding or subtracting a percentage to compensate for these factors.
- Insurance Value. This is the replacement value and varies between the Catalog Value and the Wholesale Value, in particular if a whole collection has been lost, for example through fire.
- Wholesale Value. This is the value of a collection if sold to a dealer for resale. The dealer needs to make a profit, so will obviously pay less than retail value. Wholesale value value is often quite close to having the collection sold through an auction house as the net proceeds of an auction sale exclude Sellers Fees, Insurance Premium, Picture Fees, Buyer’s Premiums etc.
- Retail value – this is the value of each item sold individually and at the prevailing market value (for example at a physical location like a collector fair or on a website where collectors of this type of collectible transact.)
- Realized Value – this is what you actually have left over after all is sold and all costs are factored in.
For me the only value of interest is the Realized Value (unless you currently have an insurance claim) as its the only meaningful measure. Realized Value is either the Wholesale Value or the Retail Value after deducting all direct and indirect costs. Your calculation should also include a value for your time spent on selling the collection, for example at an estimated time-taken-per-item when you sell items online.
The various routes to Monetization
There are many different ways to sell, but they all fall into this five groups:
- Selling the collection in one transaction. This is the easiest way to sell a collection but also the one that gives the lowest Realized Value overall. If you have more than 500 items in your collection you can expect to realize less than 15% of the collection’s Retail Value.
- Contracting a 3rd party to sell the collection for you. This could either be done via (a) an auction house or (b) as consignment sales with a specialist dealer. Auction Houses are great if you have lots of high value items that are difficult to handle and have a world-wide market. Consignment Selling is the best compromise if you want to receive more of the actual value of your collection but are not willing to do the work required. It does, however, require you to be able to wait for your money and trust whoever you give your collection to, as it is almost impossible to draw up contracts that protect the vendor sufficiently.
- Selling at Events. The right event provides great returns for items sold and the fees are fixed. That being said, you will only sell a fraction of your collection at your first event and then less and less at later events (unless you are willing to significantly discount). Please also take into account costs such as fuel and your time!
- Selling online. This can be done anytime and you can do it from home! You can sell either via Auction (faster, but potentially risky in terms of how much you receive) or through a fixed price sale (no surprises but it can take a long time to sell your items). If you have the time, the willingness to photograph, write a good description, pack, ship and deal with customer service issues, this is the way to go!
- Giving it to a museum – this is not only a nice way to give and have the ability to continue enjoying your collection but can also make financial sense as, subject to your tax jurisdiction, this could result in a substantial tax deduction or credit!
Incorporating an eventual selling plan into how you collect
Even if you are not considering selling your collection now, it’s always wise to plan what you can do now and over the coming years to make it easier for either you or your loved ones to eventually realize the value of your collection when it does come time to liquidate. If you are male (and 90% of collectors are), and in a traditional marriage, you might want to consider that your wife will be an average of 3 years younger than you and will live an average 5 years longer than you. As such, it’s an excellent idea to document your collection by making an inventory in Excel, via a video or, of course, here on hobbyDB.
It is my plan to improve this article over time. That said, here are some articles that cover specific aspects of selling a particular type of collectible:
Please leave a comment!
- have queries about selling your collection, including questions on good consignment sellers,
- want to discuss any aspect of selling a collection,
- have tips to share, or
- know of other good resources that I should link to
Please leave a comment below. If your question is about your own collection, please include a quick description of what you collect, approximately how many objects there are in your collection, roughly where the collection is located and how much time and expertise you have. This would allow me to give you more specific answers.