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.


Terry Cox said...

This message came into my web site email...

I appreciated seeing your comments on the use of the word RARE. I agree with them completely. I can only hope that if you voice your opinions often enough during the course of the year, that some of the dealers who flaunt the word rare, will finally take heed. You and I both know an offender or two in that category. As stated, rare is rare.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of words that marketing people have made meaningless. Words such are rare, improved, unique, lite are just a few.

But I have faith that the consumer can see right through this and make an appropriate decision.

In terms of the use of "rare" on eBay, maybe we should all email the vendors and ask them to tell us the number of certificates still out there so we can judge whether something is indeed rare. My guess is that you'll get an interesting response.

Tim W.