Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Arts, Crafts, and Collectibles

I know two people who have made money buying and selling collectibles. One specialized in autographed baseball memorabilia. He knew what he was doing. He understood the value of his products. He bought at wholesale and sold at retail. Even a knowledgeable expert gets burned now and then. He bought some expensive bats autographed by Barry Bonds before the steroid scandal broke. He thought they would help fund his retirement when Bonds was inducted in the Hall of Fame. Oh Well. I don’t know if he still has those bats but they might be worth more if he can clean the Barry Bonds autograph off the things. The second individual has a Federal Firearms License. He buys and sells guns. He makes money. Again he knows what he is doing. He was able to quickly appraise the value of an old shotgun I inherited from my father in law. He not only buys and sells modern weapons, but he also knows his antiques. Collecting firearms not only is a source of money but great joy. He rejoices every time he adds something desirable to his personal collection.

Although I know a lot of people who collect various items, I don’t know anyone else that consistently supplements their income with their hobby. It is hard to understand the value of art, crafts, and collectibles. I have visited Tamarack in West Virginia. It is the state’s arts and crafts center. The very best artisans (juried by their peers) from all over the state display their products for sale. Some of these products I understand. I worked in a metal finishing plant for four years. I have a pretty good idea of the amount of labor and the level of skill that went into a handmade flintlock rifle or a handmade knife. I look at a price of several hundred dollars for a hand forged knife, without blinking an eye. I am not going to pay that price, but I understand why it is selling at that price. The prices associated with most of these items escape me. On one of these trips I gagged at the price of a tiny basket (maybe 1 ½ inches wide by 1 ½ inches tall with a handle that bowed up 3 or 4 inches). I asked the person behind the counter how they could charge so much for such a tiny thing. One of the guys standing around delivered a fine lecture on the value of that basket. It was made by one of the most famous basket weavers in the world using a technique he learned from a tiny almost extinct Indian tribe in some remote corner of the country. Basically the guy cut down an oak tree. He then peeled little strips of wood off the trunk, boiled them so he could separate the fibers. Then he made the basket out of strips of wood not much bigger than threads. I can’t imagine the number of hours or the quality of skilled labor and love that went into that tiny basket.

But how much is it worth? To whom?

Therein lies the problem. If you find the right person, that purple beanie baby your aunt had in her collection, might be worth $1,300. Most beanie babies I seen in local craft stores sell for 50 cents or $1.00. I have heard similar numbers from the woman handling my mother in law’s estate sale. If you know the value of what you are buying and where it can be sold for that price, more power to you. I think it is totally cool when I get to watch people making money doing what they love. However, for most of us, I think we should not expect to get much of anything out of the art, crafts, and collectibles that clutter our houses.

Buy art, crafts, and collectibles because they bring joy into your life. I have two for real oil paintings. I have no idea if they are worth what I paid for them, but it doesn’t matter. Every time I see those paintings it brings me joy. I also remember buying them from the artist who produced them. To me that is also worth remembering when I view my paintings. I also have about a half dozen or so unusual collector quality knifes. Every now and then I pull them out of their boxes and unwrap them from their protective oil paper coverings to silently admire the craftsmanship that went into their manufacture. Then I put them away. My wife loves collecting little figurines, plush animals, and multi-media sheep statues. These dust catchers cover every flat surface in our house. They bring my wife far more in joy than the price that she paid the artisans who created these items. That is the best way to enjoy art and to support the people who produce the items that bring beauty and joy into our lives. If you find a way to monetize your little indulgence, I tip my hat to you sir, but most of us will never make a dime off our little collections.

--Except for maybe high quality firearms-- They seem to go up in value every year.

Hmmm…. I wonder what my wife would think of that idea given she has problems with investing in cigarette manufacturing companies.

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