May 10, 2010

What does the word “rare” mean?

It’s getting harder and harder to know. Theoretically, “rare” describes items that are found very infrequently. Truly rare certificates appear for sale only once every five to ten years. If an experienced MAJOR certificate dealer describes a certificate as rare, then there are possibly fewer than ten examples known on the entire planet.

At the other end of the spectrum, I recently recorded a single variety of railroad bond offered for sale on eBay no fewer than ten times in three weeks. All were described as “rare.” No true collector would ever believe a rare certificate would appear for sale that frequently.

Now it IS true that, taken as a whole, certificates are much, much scarcer than many other collectibles. On the basis of numbers alone, the most common certificate varieties would be considered scarce in the coin and stamp hobbies.

But we’re not talking about the coin and stamp hobbies. We’re talking about certificates. If a certificate variety appears for sale ten times in three weeks, it is not the slightest bit rare. I have seen many certificates described as “rare” on eBay that can be purchased in quantities of hundreds, even thousands. That should warn all collectors that, depending on where it is used, the word “rare” can be nothing more than an overused marketing term.

To further illustrate my point, a search this morning shows that seven percent (!) of all eBay certificate offerings carry the word “rare.” That is absolutely ludicrous!

Please understand that “rare” is mostly used as a marketing term on eBay. That does not mean that it is always deceptive. In fact, some incredibly rare certificates appear for sale on eBay. Some certificates, whether described as “rare” or not, appear to be unique. Keep your eyes open, ignore the word “rare,” do your research and you’ll probably do okay. Believe the word “rare” automatically implies value and you’ll spend a lot of money needlessly.

May 06, 2010

Upcoming Spink sale in Fort Worth

The newest Spink catalog arrived a couple days ago and should be in the hands of most of my readers. If you have not received your copy, contact Spink immediately.

Spink will be offering a little over 1600 lots in a two-day sale in conjunction with the Texas Numismatic Association show in Fort Worth. As expected, the vast majority of the offerings are related to coins and currency with a significant percentage of the lots illustrated in terrific full color.

Sadly, the selection of stocks and bonds is limited to a mere 22 lots of which seven are related to railroads.

I heartily applaud a couple of Spink’s auction rules. First, mail bidders can rest assured their bids will only be executed at one bid increment above the next lowest bid. In other words, if a mail bidder is willing to pay $400 for an item, but the next lowest bid is $150, the bidder will win the bid at $160 exactly as if he'd been sitting in the room.

Secondly, Spink agrees to fully disclose any items that are repaired, restored, processes, cleaned, pressed and "conserved." I desperately wish more sellers would follow this example.

On the down-side, I see no mention of minimum acceptable bids.

The sale will take place Friday and Staurday evenings (May 14 and 15) at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. Lots can be previewed Thursday, Friday and Saturday.