Musings By Joschik Posts

Can the Blockchain stop Collectible Fraud?

Musings By Joschik
Christian Braun obsesses over collectibles, antiques and toys more than the average person, but (he believes) in a productive way.

At hobbyDB we love the idea of the Blockchain.  It would be fantastic to create digital ledger in which all collectible transactions are recorded chronologically creating verifiable transactions.  Today the only way to do that is to have your item authenticated and “locked away” in a plastic container by a grading service (more on that on an earlier article we wrote here) and that only works for certain action figures, coins, comics and trading cards.


What about Certificates of Authenticity?

These Certificates of Authenticity or short COAs just do not cut it.  Take this one for example  –

Is it or is it not the one that belongs to this poster?

There is just no way of knowing (and here it is not).


What would be the Ideal Solution?

What the Collectible World needs is a combination of the following for reliable certification  –

  1. It has to be part of the collectible
  2. It has to be as close to being invisible to the naked eye as possible
  3. It needs to carry a unique identifier
  4. It should be not removable (and if removed destroyed leaving a trail that is was there)
  5. It needs cheap mechanisms to apply and read it

Quite a catalog of criteria!


How about Micro Dots?

Already used to mark cars Micro Dots can be smaller than 0.2 millimeter, just about the size of a grain of sand. There is plenty of room on the dots for a laser etched 12-digit alphanumeric identifier.    These dots cannot be moved from one collectible to another.  So far so good!  Only that cheap mechanism to apply and read the dots is not there yet.

 

hobbyDB Plans

We plan for hobbyDB to become the depository of these identifiers allowing buyers to check before purchasing a collectible (a) if it is genuine and (b) if it not reported as stolen. The only issue now is to find a source for relatively cheap Micro Dot applicators (we are thinking of a pen) and for a Micro Dot reading hobbyDB app!  We are working on it.

Collecting Versus Hoarding: It’s a Matter of Perspective

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project. As much as he loves collecting diecast cars (among other things), he sometimes wonders if he takes his hobby just a bit too seriously.


They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The perception of whether something has any value is often very personal. But in the case of collecting, people usually agree that certain items have some value. The difference is usually a matter of degrees and amount. In other words, when does a hobby move from “collecting” to “hoarding?’

collection closet

Is this closet a sign of collecting or hoarding? Depends on a lot of factors…

Consider the following criteria. None of these are hard and fast rules, but if you find yourself on the questionable end of most of these answers, it might be time to sell off a few collectibles.

How much of your collection is  on display? Some collections fit on a bookshelf, and some require a warehouse. If it’s all on display, does it take up most of your house? Is a lot of it in storage? Has a good chunk of your collection not seen the light of day in several years?

Some collectors, rather than being completists, will collect enough of their obsession to fill the allotted space, and then stop. For something like bobblehead dolls, a person might just collect only ones they are interested in. And when their shelves are full, they might dial back their efforts a bit. For diecast cars, many collectors will grab the entire documented set.

This question is really a double-edged sword… if you have a modest display but a vault of hidden goods, you might be over the top. On the other hand, if you have every single item out, to the exclusion of any other home decor, you might want to slow down a bit as well. There’s a healthy balance in there somewhere.

toy collecting

Is this “hoarding?” It’s a lot of stuff, but neatly organized, so probably not.

 

What kind of chaos lies underneath? It’s possible and plausible to have tens of thousands of toys in your collection with only a small percentage visible. But about that stuff in storage… how organized is it? Did you carefully stack and pack and wrap and protect each item? Are they in a climate controlled, water proof area? It’s not like you need to keep your collectibles in a hermetically sealed humidor, but if you just have dumpsters full of stuff randomly tossed in a big pile… yeah, that might be a sign of hoarding.

Do you find yourself buying items you don’t really want just to complete your collection? This can be a slippery slope. Many collectors started off just buying a few items that spoke to them, such as a model of the car they currently drive. Then finding out that the model is part of a series of a dozen cars, they go out and find the other eleven, even though they have no other emotional or historical connection. Is this necessarily unhealthy? Not really. But it begs the question of who’s in control of what you collect.

Did you take out a second mortgage to add to your collection? Did you have to buy a second home to store or display it? Unless you’re talking about large items such as cars, jukeboxes, or arcade games, when additional real estate gets involved, you might be headed into some unhealthy territory.

hoarding or collecting

“Hoarding?” Possibly, if this is the way the items are always displayed.

Do you even know what you have in your collection? Everyone has stared at an item on the store shelf and had a moment of doubt as to whether that one was already part of the collection. That’s normal. Once in a while.

Some sort of checklist is essential for any collection, especially when you get into hundreds or thousands of items. Or if many of them are in storage. (Shameless plug: hobbyDB can be a great resource for documenting your collection, including notes on what you paid, the condition, and the location of the item.) A checklist that you can peek at on your mobile device is really useful. A detailed inventory is also useful for insurance purposes and just in case someone else will be the executor of your estate some day (more at insureyourcollection.com).

Do you ever buy an item just so no one else can get their hands on it? There are many times you know you can fetch a good price for an item by selling or trading, so it makes sense to grab it if you see it. But if you’re just trying to corner the market on that item, maybe you’ve turned the corner towards hoarding.

Do you have extras of your extras? Some collectors like to have every model in a perfect package. And maybe one to display loose in a case. And maybe one or two to trade. And another in case the mint-in-package example gets dropped and a corner of the card is bent. And so on. At some point, this adds up more towards hoarding than collecting.

Do you have trouble parting with those extras in sales, for trade, or as gifts? That’s why you have eight copies of that one Star Wars figure, right? Right?

toy hoarding

We’re going to file this one in the “hoarding” column for sure.

Does your collection stray from its core? For example, if you collect Topper Johnny Lightning cars (1969-71), there are some items such as track sets that are a direct extension of those cars. Maybe you also gather advertisements, lunchboxes and whiskey decanters from that line that relate directly to the core of your collection. And perhaps you collect the reissues of those cars as well. These levels of devotion all sound like “collecting.” If you start acquiring unrelated things that only contain the word “Topper,” “Johnny,” or “Lightning” in the name, you might be trending towards hoarding.

Do you collect variants that are not readily distinguishable from other versions without a microscope? If the UPC code on the back of the package is the only difference from one variant to another, most collectors would not bother calling that a difference. Obsession to detail can be fun, but at some point, it can border on insanity.

Collecting is fun, we get it. That’s why everyone at hobbyDB is a collector of some sort of thing or another. And we’re not judging anyone. We’re just suggesting exercising a smidge of moderation and responsibility. Not too much, of course. That could be also become obsessive.

Do you have any other insights that help distinguish between collecting versus hoarding? Let us know in the comments!

Antique, Vintage, Classic? Depends On What You’re Collecting

Christian Braun obsesses over collectibles and antiques and toys more than the average person, but in a productive way.


 

“Antique, Vintage, Classic Batman Clock, Correct Twice a Day. $50.”

Aside from parsing that description to determine that this clock doesn’t run, but will be accurate at 8:58 AM and PM, what does that mean?

janex batman robin clock

Holy Gimcrack!

What about “antique,” “vintage,” and “classic?” As collectors, we see and use these terms often, sometimes interchangeably. What to they mean, exactly? As it turns out, there is no “perfect” definition for these words. But they do hold meaning relative to each other.

Historically (and there’s another word we’ll need to parse), “Antique” has meant objects that are 100 year old or more. “Vintage” has generally meant older than 15 years. So “Classic” must mean… well, it’s complicated.

“Antique” and “Vintage” carry a set time frame, regardless of historic or aesthetic value. “Classic,” on the other hand, just means “it has stood or will stand the test of time,” regardless of age.

And “Historic…” What about that? “Historic” is often used as a positive term, but really means that something was a game changer, a revolution, a show stopper for some reason. And not necessarily for good reasons. The Ford Edsel has to be considered a “historic” car because of its massive failure. And over time, it has also achieved “classic” status. Whether the car is remembered for being good/bad/ugly/beautiful remains debatable. “Classic,” sure. “Historic,” absolutely.

Consider another conundrum. Boulder, Colorado (the scenic home of hobbyDB Headquarters), passed a law several years ago requiring houses over 50 years old to undergo an approval process by a city board if the owners wanted to do extensive renovations. At the time, it made sense, as houses of that age were built in the 1940s or before, many of them having some historic charm and significance. But with the passing of each year, a “50 year old house” was less and less significant architecturally.

The hobbyDB office built in 1968…

…and another 1968 house just down the next road.

Entire suburbs of more or less identical houses of that age just don’t seem to need that same kind of designation and protection. Sliding time frames like this don’t make a lot of sense after a while. The city realized this and altered the designation.

Also, consider what is a “classic” car. Again, in Colorado, it used to be that a driver could get official “Classic” plates for any car over 25 years old. The plates were less expensive and didn’t require modern emissions requirements, a great deal for muscle cars and anything earlier. In 1994, that meant cars from 1969 and older, most of which arguably stood the test of time to be called “classic.” But in 2018, that means a car from 1993.

Nothing against that Mercury Sable wagon, but calling it a “classic” is kind of head scratching.

 So there’s now a set date as the “Classic” designation, to be updated as needed.

A Facebook group called “Vintage Toys” only allows posts regarding 1994 and older collectibles. Why that designation? That doesn’t exactly fit the 15 year rule these days. It likely has to do with the age of the founders and moderators, and toys of that age hit a sweetspot with them emotionally, and later ones do not. If you don’t like it? You can start your own Facebook page.

Some categories or brands have their own distinctions that fill in those gaps between antique and vintage. Comic books, for instance, are generally divided into several ages:

  • Golden Age, 1938-1950  (from the debuts of Superman and Batman to the middle of the century)
  • Silver Age, Mid 1950s to 1970  (new advances in art, writing, and production values.)
  • Bronze Age, 1970-1985  (more serious, mature content and styling)

A few notable things… Why 1938 as the start? That was the time Action Comics (Superman) and Detective Comics (Batman) ushered in the more or less current definition of a “comic book.”

The Granddaddy of all comics.

Also, what about comics released in the last 30 years or so…are they worthless? No, they just need their own designation at some point, often just referred to as the “Modern Age.”

But what about 1951-1955? Turns out there is a gray area between the Golden and Silver ages, so something in that range could be considered to fall in either group depending on your tastes. Also, new self censorship guidelines debuted at this time, transforming the content considerably.

Hot Wheels is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Original cars sure seem old and rare. But by that definition, they are only halfway to “antique” status. On the other hand, calling them “vintage” seems unfair, which lumps 1968 releases in with 2003 releases.

Luckily, a brand such as Hot Wheels carries its own distinct eras… Redlines (1968-77) and Blackwalls (1977-94) cover the first two historic waves, and the rest can be broken down by various other distinctions such as Mainline or Treasure Hunts.

So back to that Batman clock… it’s from 1974. It’s undeniably cool. It’s not an antique. It’s certainly vintage. It can be reasonably called a classic. Your desire to own it and how much you are willing to pay will depend on a lot of criteria. But golly jeepers, you really should hear it!

Planet Diecast’s Charity Dinner with Marcel R Van Cleemput

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and this post is about a fundraising event he organized with Marcel Van Cleemput who was Corgi Toys‘ chief designer for more than 30 years and also a member of hobbyDB’s Advisory Council. The dinner was on the 10th of March 2012 and Marcel unfortunately died a year and a half after this event.  I believe this was the last time he got together with his fans.  The article was written by Chris Sweetman and initially published on Planet Diecast’s Blog here.

 

As part of a fundraising drive for the Helen and Douglas House children’s charity Tony Brandon, Christian Braun and I met Marcel for dinner last Saturday. Apologies from Andrew Adamides (Editor’s Note: that is Baskingshark here on the site), Chris Aston (of Aston Auctions), Hugo Marsh (formerly Christie’s and now SAS) and Tom Hickwell who after paying up in full for the charity all for various reasons could not make the dinner.

The Venue

The dinner took place at Fawsley Hall which is located near Daventry in Northamptonshire.  Fawsley has an interesting history and was a Royal Manor as early as the 7th century. Over the centuries Fawsley was continuously developed in a variety of styles, reflecting each period. Today Fawsley Hall is a Country House Hotel and Spa with facilities to house conferences and is an ideal wedding venue. For anyone wishing to explore Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, Althorp, Warwick Castle and Blenheim or racing at Silverstone Fawsley Hall is ideally located.

Fawsley Hall is the quintessential English Country House

Over a very enjoyable dinner, there were lots of questions for Marcel from ourselves and other members of the Planet Diecast site! To start with, we asked him to name the five top models he’d include in his model range if he was still in the toy car business. Marcel told us that since he doesn’t follow current car models, he’d be pushed to name five but that the range would definitely include a Smart Car because he has one, and a BL Wedge Princess would be number two because he once owned one during his time at Mettoy and found it to be totally reliable (in contrast to the image of most BL products!). Another likely candidate would be a Triumph Herald as he had a memorable journey in one, driving from Daventry to Florence, Italy on a summer holiday with his wife and two young daughters in around 1960. The journey was 1002 miles and Marcel hadn’t booked accommodation in advance but struck it lucky while driving round Florence looking for somewhere to stay. He suddenly found himself outside “The Grand Hotel” and, taking his two young daughters into the reception area, he managed to persuade the reception staff to allow him and his family to stay. Marcel said that a special feature for this model would be a roof rack with two large miniature suit cases strapped on. He didn’t mention whether it would be a coupe like the famous Corgi model!

Mettoy

Marcel went on to tell us more about Mettoy. At its peak, the company employed over 5,000 people. These included 60 tool makers and three people in their Art Department. There were occasions when they outsourced moulds to Germany in the first few years, later, toolmakers were used in Italy. Prototype models were mainly outsourced from Ian Pickering of Southend, Ian was the finest model maker and was responsible for the best prototypes, The Coronation Coach, as shown in the Great Book of Corgi being typical of his fine work. When really stretched Marcel used Gerald Wingrove whose models were outstanding.

The injection moulding machines Mettoy used were designed and made in-house. These machines were always on the forefront of technology and regularly updated. Mettoy did use die-sets made by Die Casting Machine Tools (DCMT). Copper masks were deployed for two-tone models and for applying additional painted detailing such as grilles and bumpers. The Art Department were responsible for producing all art work including catalogues, decals and packaging. However, the decal production was outsourced and the manufacture and printing of the packaging was carried out by Vernon Packaging of Northampton.

Although car manufacturers would supply blueprints of their models, Marcel never used them. He recalled that Studebaker once sent him 1:1 scale plans of their Golden Hawk. They weren’t used for two reasons – one was the lack of space they had to roll out the plans in their office and the second was that they were out of date! Soon after he received the plans, Studebaker had carried out several modifications to the car and Corgi wanted the most up to date version. As was common with manufacturers, they rarely updated the blueprints when they made design changes after the fact.

Instead of using blue prints Marcel preferred to photograph a car. This would result in around 70 images of the vehicle in question, taken from all angles, including the interior and occasionally of the underside of the chassis. Marcel would then develop the films at home that evening and print off all the whole plates  early next morning so that the model designer could start work immediately on producing an accurate body external drawing of the model. These were always drawn at 4 times model size for accuracy but then reduced to twice the model size for the master pattern maker to produce the body pattern. The wood used was lime as it has a very fine grain. Marcel always took along with him the designer who was to produce the accurate body external drawing. This helped to ensure that the designer was fully au fait with the vehicle and would easily recollect the fine features etc. After taking the photographs, they measured the car and made a drawing to scale on graph paper of the side, front and rear elevations as well as a plan view. They also used very large sheets of paper to lay over the main areas of the car and used crayons to rub over the entire curves and shapes. The principle was” just like taking brass rubbings in a church” Marcel told us. He explained that using this method all the details and their relationship with each other was faithfully recorded. These records would then be used by the model makers to prepare scale models for evaluation purposes. Once the go-ahead was given they would then be used by the tool makers in the first step towards model production.

In the Mettoy era, paying royalties to make models of cars was a rarity – Lord Stokes and Ken Tyrell wanted to be paid royalties from Mettoy for certain Corgi Toys, but Marcel refused and managed to get ELF fuels, Tyrrell’s Formula 1 sponsor, to pay Ken the £6,000 he asked for, in return for selling ELF 20,000 Corgi Tyrell in special boxes for them to sell in their filling stations. Indeed, all deals Marcel struck with car, film and TV companies were on a handshake! There was no paperwork involved.

Many of our members asked why the move to 1:36th scale. Marcel took full responsibility for this one! He reasoned that a larger scale would enable finer details and the only additional costing implication would be for materials. Research and development costs incurred were the same whatever the scale. Marcel felt that the larger scale was well suited to the Formula 1 racing cars Corgi were planning at the time. When asked why didn’t he use the more established 1:32nd scale, the same used by Airfix for their plastic car kits and Scalextric for their slot racing system, he replied that he never considered any competitor’s ranges. “We were too busy dealing with what we were doing to look at what other firms were making” he replied.

The discussion then moved to the 1:18th scale Formula 1 racing cars. Marcel said that this decision was based on an historical connection. Back in 1958 Mettoy released a large scale Vanwall Formula 1 car at the same time as the Corgi Toys version was issued. The Vanwall was roughly 1:18th scale and was a special for Marks and Spencer’s. So in 1974 the first 1:18th scale F1 car was released. This was the Lotus ‘John Player Special’ and sold very well in its four year production run. Only one other 1:18th scale model was issued, the Marlboro McLaren. Further models were considered but other projects took over and the demand on time for their development curtailed any future involvement in this scale.

In the early 1970‘s there were plans to produce the Rocket stock cars in the Corgi Toys scale. These would have complimented the dragster range Corgi were currently developing. However, there was no time to proceed with this venture either, as other topics suddenly took priority. Marcel said that this was a typical recurrence. His team was small in number and they were always overstretched. At any one time they would be responsible for around 45 different models at various stages of development. His team of designers were always stretched to the limit and very hard working. They often put in as many as 25 hours overtime per week, this would include Saturdays and Sundays.

The first version of Corgi’s James Bond Aston-Martin DB5 was in Gold as Corgi’s Management felt that they could not just make it in a bare metal color!

Personal recollections at Mettoy

Marcel didn’t enjoy a particularly good working relationship with Howard Fairbairn, his boss at Mettoy. An authoritarian leader, Fairbairn was set on doing things his way and his interpersonal skills could leave a lot to be desired. Marcel once had a personal invitation from the James Bond producers to spend three weeks on their set in Egypt, but wasn’t allowed the time off by Fairburn. The invitation was in recognition of Marcel’s hard work on the Corgi Toys James Bond Lotus Esprit and on previous James Bond models. His consolation was a lovely card from the film signed by most of the cast.

Another personal invite did actually go ahead. One day he received a call from Anthony Bamford, owner of JCB. Neither Anthony nor Marcel could find time for an essential meeting, Anthony therefore suggested a weekend and to meet him at East Midlands Airport and to ensure he brings his passport. On arrival he was taken to Mr Bamford’s private jet and taken off to Le Mans! Again this was in recognition of Marcel’s work on a variety of JCB models and a Ferrari Daytona owned by Mr Bamford that raced at Le Mans. It was a tremendous occasion.

There were plenty of other visits too – Marcel fondly remembers that when he visited the Lamborghini factory, it was spotlessly clean and he felt one could eat dinner off their floor! It was an amazing place and they were treated very well by all staff there. The only other impressive car plant was that of the De Lorean factory in Northern Ireland.

On a different matter Marcel recalls the problems with Spanish toy car companies pirating their models. Suing would have cost lots of money and one could never know what the outcome would be if it did go though the court system. Marcel didn’t think that moulds were offered to any Spanish firm.

One model that Marcel always wanted to make was a camper van with an opening roof with ‘fabric’ sides. The main difficulty here was selecting the material for the sides. Finally, Plastic moulded slats onto fabric material was tried out but it then proved too complicated to be able to fold the material. The folding was important because the roof had to be opened and closed repeatedly in the process of play. Unfortunately, lack of time was against them and the project was shelved.

The Marcel R Van Cleemput Collection

We also asked Marcel about his famous collection. There were, he said, many reasons why Marcel sold it. The main reason was that he was in the process of moving to a small cottage from his large family home of many years. The move took seven weeks and there was no room for Marcel’s Corgi collection. Instead a friend offered to store the 50 boxes in their loft.

Nigel Turner of Turner’s Merry Go Round, in Northampton was using Marcel to design a computerised musical instrument for him and learnt of his collection of Corgi Models.

Nigel wanted to buy the collection and agreed to create a museum at his Merry Go Round complex where the models etc. would be on permanent display as they really belonged to be in Northampton. Marcel sold the collection to him for £ 7,250. This included all the models to the early 1980’s as well as posters, leaflets, over 100 prototypes, master patterns and resins together with a body mould.

Nigel then talked to Allen Levy about a Corgi book, Alan jumped at the chance of a book about Corgi Toys and the rest is history, up to a point. The fact that all the models were now on display made it easy to do all the photography for the book, which took 3 weeks. Nigel then also wanted to buy Bassett-Lowke, the other Northampton based toy legend but would only do so if Marcel agreed to come in as Design and Management consultant. This he agreed to do for 3 months but eventually stayed for 9 months.

Unfortunately, shortly after Marcel stopped working with Nigel the collection was sold onto a collector in Switzerland for £55,000. 10 years later that collector fell on hard times and had to sell up. A German auction house was given the collection to sell and it realised £250,000!  Needless to say that it is a shame that this collection is not available to the public anymore; but maybe some of our members here want to consider creating a Corgi Museum.

Marcel signing Chris Sweetman’s copy of The Great Book of Corgi

All in all, we had a very enjoyable evening and would like to thank Marcel for taking the time to make it possible and for answering all our many questions. Thanks too to Fawsley Hall for providing a wonderful venue!  We raised a total of £860 for the Helen & Douglas House on this occasion with the cost for the dinner being paid for by Planet Diecast and Fawsley Hall.

Gary Hirst – I did not meet him and now never will, but he will not be forgotten

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and this post is about saying Good-Bye to a friend and valued contributor.

Today I got an email from Gary’s partner informing me that he passed away a week ago.  About ten years ago, I reached out to Gary to get his advice on how we document model cars in our database. I admire him as he was always willing to help and share his incredible knowledge.  Over the last three years, he added more than 4,000 models to the hobbyDB database and had plans to add 1,000s more.  In fact many diecast collectors will be familiar with Gary’s kitchen table – as his photos have a very distinctive background  –

He also helped built hobbyDB with other subjects that he was interested in such as his home-town Preston or the local bus company Ribble Motor Services.  Beyond that Gary always had great comments on how to improve the way we document model cars and other type of collectibles.

I had on many occasions invited Gary to come see our office in Boulder or meet at one of the conventions like the Matchbox Gathering of Friends in Albuquerque and hoped that we could meet in person. However, as he was fighting an illness that was unfortunately not an option.  I do not even have a photo of him, so I will always remember him by his chosen Avatar on hobbyDB, a Ribble bus  –

For somebody I never met, I do miss Gary and the news of his untimely demise today hit me hard.  The diecast world lost somebody very special yesterday.

 

Please share an episode or add another comment below if you knew Gary