Collecting: A Measure Of Worth

Value Isn't Only In The Eye Of The Beholder

The other day, a gentleman came into the store, walked up to the counter and proudly displayed an old cane rod that he’d just purchased at a garage sale. Instead of asking, “Hey, can you take a look at my recent purchase and give me some idea as to its age and possibly its value,” I get a more aggressive version of the same question shrouded in unqualified expectation. Though the info sought remains the same, there’s some ridiculous belief that a more positive appraisal will be rendered if the question itself leans towards the outcome most desired. With the aforementioned in mind, the question directed my way more comes in the form of, “Hey, buddy, I just bought this vintage cane rod from an estate sale and I’m thinking it’s worth some coin.”

Collecting: A Measure Of Worth Back Cast Cartoon by Keith Milne
Credit: Keith Milne

Now, let’s be clear. I hear this a lot, and every now and then a really good find is made. But understand this: for each success enjoyed, there are 19 instances where a garage sale Grandpa not only has his garbage collected, but he’s also monetarily rewarded by that very collector removing his trash, a hopeful treasure hunter now in procession of a uniquely decorated tomato plant stake. So, with respect to the mildewed, thread-challenged, semi-guided stick with a twist of its own now laying on the counter before me, I get to quietly reply, “How much did you pay?”

At this point, I should explain that when this five-word phrase is conveyed at the time of preliminary examination, it’s not a great sign. In fact, it pretty much guarantees that any positive expectation is in the process of evaporating. Poof. Dumpster denied, its bounty staring up at me from the sales desk below.

On this particular day, the fellow involved seemed to sense what was coming and his alpha-type personality immediately went into defensive mode. He loudly professed that he’d paid little for the rod and asked if I’d be interested in taking it off his hands. I’ve never quite understood the investment recovery strategy that involves asking an expert who’s politely and professionally informed you that your purchase is crap if they’d be interested in purchasing the very same crap that’s just been appraised as such. I can only assume I’m being tested to see if I’m either deceitful, stupid or both. Oh well, most of this event was predictable from its onset, given it was initiated on a common belief that cane (bamboo), dust and a dilapidated wooden box are the formula for treasure.

Having outlined the most commonly experienced interaction, it would only be fitting that I take a brief look at those one-in-20 situations, a rarer occurrence, and one that usually unfolds in a much different fashion. The introduction often includes comments like, “If you have time, I’d be very appreciative if you could look at an old English fly reel that my grandfather used in the UK. It’s about four inches in diametre and it’s got the name Hardy on its faceplate, I’m wondering if I should keep it or give it to the kids?” Or, “If I brought a box of old leather-cased Silex reels into the store, could you possibly tell me a little something about them?” When I hear a phrase that resembles the former comment, an appointment is set. When I’m privy to a statement like the latter, I’m likely to reply, “If it’s OK, I’d like examine those reels immediately. I’ll get my truck.”

It’s interesting to note that in the scenarios outlined above, money only becomes a talking point after the items have been spun, caressed, appreciated and generally played with and it’s mentioned in the interest of care, storage and insurance. If the customer is looking to sell a gem from the past and I’m an interested buyer, any offer presented only comes after I’ve rendered a professional estimate based on fair retail value.

In the essence of full disclosure, let’s take a moment, put the shoe on the other foot and examine what I would expect to see if I was the person that arrived at an emporium of angling antiquities and presented the curator with a mint, unused, four-inch pre-war Perfect constructed of duralumin and bearing a nickel silver line guard. Firstly, I would anticipate the sales personnel to weep. Secondly, and only after the uncontrolled bawling had subsided, I wouldn’t be shocked if religious thanks and celestial praise became audible over the sobbing. Any salesman would consider themselves blessed to have handled such a treasure and if the reel wasn’t destined for sale, questions of cost would never arise.

So, the next time you exhibit a newly acquired collectible and the expert in the room collapses into a pool of quivering Jell-O, know you likely have a winner!