Saturday, March 5, 2016

Time vs. Money when collecting 2 sides of the equation

     I was reading a current issue of Maine Antiques Digest just today when  I stumbled upon an article about an antique cane auction that took place recently in Indianapolis Indiana at Wickliff Auctioneers.   It was prominently mentioned in the article that the collector Mr Fred Ponton was in search of some of the rarest and best examples of canes and walking sticks available. He collected at the top of the market.   I found it unusual that the auction web site as well As the article in Maine Antiques Digest went out of the way to publicize the prices paid by Mr Ponton as he was assembling his collection.  In many cases Mr Ponton paid 4X's or 5x's what his estate was able to resell these items for;  in some cases these purchases were made 10 plus years ago.
     Did this individual not know the market...?   On the contrary Mr Ponton probably knew the antique cane market better than almost anyone.  So what gives, why did he consistently overpay......?   Or maybe the question is did he actually overpay.....?
       The auction house and the magazine article both mention that the majority of this collection was assembled through M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans.  M.S. Rau is at the high end of the antiques trade, with an excellent reputation, as well as a very knowledgeable staff.  They are to antiques what Tiffany's or Cartier are to fine jewelry.  The article stated that Mr Ponton wanted to see new canes as they became available through M.S. Rau on a first refusal basis. In other words he wanted first crack at these items, and it sounded as if he probably didn't have the time himself to scour countless auction catalogues and hunt endless sales to find these treasures that way.
     Of course letting someone else find, authenticate, and acquire antiques then present them to you for consideration is a luxury that costs a considerable sum of money.  Many collectors go about this method of collecting and for many different reasons this works best for them.   This method of collecting is of great interest to individuals who have a passion for collecting but their time is constrained by their work.  Many book collectors choose this method of collecting in that they choose one or two dealers to work with to build a collection giving the dealer free reign to buy on their behalf the best examples for their collection, an exercise that takes many years to complete in some extreme cases.
     On the other side of the equation is the individual I'll call the time collector.  This individual shares a passion for building a collection, and has the luxury of being able to devote more time in the search for the treasures they are collecting. This person usually has a more constrained budget for collecting, or at least has decided that for one reason or another they are more price sensitive than the other collector.
     So let me put my theory into pictures, below I have a 12 inch Joslin globe on an offset mount dated to about 1888. A desirable piece for any mid range to advanced collector.
     This globe is available for sale often enough that I can illustrate the time VS. money equation very nicely.  Right now from several higher end dealers this globe  or one essentially similar is available at a cost of around $3500 to $4500.  That is the range of the dealers asking prices, what that means is that the piece is available now, clean, vetted by an expert, a no surprise transaction.   On the time side of the equation this globe also becomes available on the auction market at least once a year, through better auction houses think Skinner, Freemans, Bonhams, ect.... This globe does not generally rise to the best most prestigious houses, think Christies, and Sothebys, unless part of an entire estate.  If you'r willing to wait and comfortable bidding at auction then you could be rewarded with this globe in your collection for about $1500 to $2000 including auction fees. This price assumes in both examples an original or professionally restored globe free of any major defects, and needing no restoration.   So if you're in no hurry and willing to wait it out so to speak you can save 1/2 to 2/3 of the normal dealer price for this particular example.
     That is probably pretty typical, now let me tell ya.....I've been on both sides of the equation often times I wait....and wait.....and wait some more for a globe to come my way via less costly channels.  Once in a while I do go straight to a dealer or other high end venue either because waiting didn't pan out  ( which happens) or something just too good to pass up is available.
     I suspect most people who read this blog scour multiple channels looking for that next great find, we probably most often fit into the time category.  Now what king of collection can you put together using each method?  Well obviously money helps,  some items, real rarities come around only through dealer channels and that's fine,  most items that pre date 1860 or so would find their way to market this way. That is not to say all, far from it but any globe new to market that is that old needs some level of professional conservation, be it a simple cleaning, or some small repairs. These are hidden costs a dealer bears before you see the globe for sale.  Newer material say from 1900 onwards can be readily had via the time method.  Waiting and watching work well as these materials are less rare and waiting for the best example that meets your price expectation is smart in my opinion.   So given a long horizon, of lets say a decade or two  ( not kidding)  one can and will assemble an impressive collection of globes  and will probably pay on average 1/2 of what it would cost to put the same collection together via a dealer.   Now that's a life long commitment it takes a passionate  ( read just a bit crazy)  person like myself.....Ha Ha  to undertake that method.  The same could be accomplished in about 3 years if money were no object.
     Now some people are going to read this latest post and say,  Kyle you've got something against dealers!!   Not true......far from it in fact.   I'm just being realistic about a trade off every collector must make.  I maintain a relationship with several dealers with specific " want list " items  things that I realize will take years to find and that I don't want to miss as I concentrate on more readily available items.  I guess I run a bit of a hybrid system,  will I have 1st refusal as the dealers best customer,  no and I know that going in, will I get a call if the best customer passes somthing up?  Yes and I can live with that.   I guess I'm a 70% / 30%  Time / money collector.   Where do you fall?  what do you think?  message me, or add comments below !


  1. Kyle, your method of collecting is probably the best I personally have ever seen. You are always thinking out of the box when it comes to where to find globes and you consistently find "gems" where they would least be expected. Your ideas of value are usually spot on and you settle for nothing less than the best. I am constantly amazed by your collection and of course I want several pieces from it now if not sooner. Actually in reality you drive me bonkers with your great finds and I envy your ability to ask the right questions about condition. I guess what I am saying is that in the hunt for that "special" globe persistence pays off and you are very persistent, a great quality in a collector.

  2. Carolyn, You hit the nail on the head persistence certainly does pay off. I'll tell you eBay is so popular and so easy to search that I think to really find great things you have to go a step or two beyond that well treaded ground. I love the hunt, collecting is 95% learning and 5% buying.

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