So Why Buy It?
I bought a window card type poster the other day of Louis-Max Baer and I got to thinking about why something is worth what we say it is worth. To blow that question off with the answer “it’s worth whatever someone will pay” is to beg the question, “why will they pay that?”
I’ve addressed this before some years back in BCN but let’s have another go. There are, I believe, 5 qualities to every piece that guide value and different folks have different preferences within each of the five. Though I maintain everyone either already does, or certainly should consider each, no matter what other restrictions you put on yourself when you seek to add to your collection. Those other restrictions might be you collect only a certain fighter or era or category or whatever. For example, I have the following restrictions when I collect and pretty much adhere to these.
I collect nothing additional after 1964. Wait, what? Additional? Yes I have a few things after 1964 and I haven’t decided to part with those but I hold the line pretty well to before ’65. Also, I collect no additional boxing cards made after 1920 and none made outside the US. I do not collect magazines at all unless they serve also as programs. I collect no additional equipment unless it was fight worn by a boxer I care about. I also do not spend more than my hobby budget will allow without consulting my domestic supervisor, Rachel. That last one is one reason we just celebrated our 39th anniversary.
So those are my restrictions, now what are those 5 things to consider? I say they are as follows: Look, Subject(s), Rarity, Condition, Value.
Look This is the overall attractiveness of the piece. This explains why old MSG programs, no matter the rarity, do not sell for what equally rare stand-alone site programs with an attractive illustrated cover do. It explains why posters that are international orange or shocking pink from the 60’s and ‘70’s may be rare but many folks prefer posters that do not look like flat speed bumps. I’m thinking of some Fullmer posters here. It also explains why that trade card of Sullivan (Ye Jolly Miller) sells for less than others where old John L. does not look like Howard Cosell. I cannot tell you how many art pieces I have passed on that were great except, well, they looked more like me than Jack Dempsey or Sugar Ray Robinson or whoever was on the name tag.
Subject(s) Who does the piece represent or what is the significance of the piece. In programs and tickets, who fought and/or is the fight significant? In a card or signed photo, who is it? Is it a signed photo of someone’s Uncle Bob who claims to have fought both Dempsey and Louis? Or is it, say, Jack Johnson? This is likely the first quality that brought you to the piece so get it right. Did the fight happen or is it a phantom (worth much less).
Rarity The first thing to remember is lots of material is rare. I have a couple of posters gathering dust under my bed that I challenge anyone to find another of either. They could literally be “one-of’s.” If you will come over and get them you can have them both for $50 and that’s mostly just to pay me to crawl under the bed and get them. They are virtually unknown guys (see subject above) but okay looking posters in decent condition. Unfortunately the only way to tell if something is really rare is by following the hobby closely. Haunt the auctions, especially the past results area. Peruse the dealer websites. Ask other collectors.
Condition The first thing to consider here is not whether it is banged up but rather is it real or a copy? Is it really his signature or secretarial or “in” the piece, not “on” it. These are the difference between being worth something and nothing. Look for signs the piece has been restored and find out what you can there. I personally value a piece that has been professionally restored over a bad “as is.” Most folks feel this way but you should assess this and decide for yourself. Remember, crisp corners and no wrinkles are extremely important to card collectors but not so much to poster collectors.
Value Does the seller want too much for a piece? Or, just as dangerous sometime, is it something you really don’t want but it seems like a good buy. Understand I am not suggesting that if you have the money, spend it. Don’t get married to the thought of owning a piece for any reason. Will it really improve your life? Will it stroke your ego? If that’s your motive, think about what that says about you. I have walked away from literally hundreds of pieces that, at the time, I could afford but I just thought they were too pricey. I have kicked myself later only on, at most, 10-20 of these over almost 40 years of collecting and that’s because I know now what I didn’t know then about them not because I made a bad call then. I’m not a dealer or an auction house but I truly believe that more rational thought at buying time by us all would make more nice pieces affordable over the long haul.
We live in a hobby that is low supply low demand. Lots more baseball collectors out there and lots more baseball material but the rules are the same, supply and demand changes make a difference in price. And any antique or collectible dealer is betting on the come. Can they get a steep price out of you that will increase profit? That will, sometimes mean that they themselves paid too much for material and now they are selling it at a profit. So what? Caveat Emptor. These guys are not vultures and frankly most are good guys who make the hobby spin. If they are paying high for something initially they are drawing folks to open their attics and we all benefit when that happens.
So all I am counseling here is a rational approach to what often lacks rationality. Look at the 5 qualities above and really think what you are doing and you will have much more fun and enjoy the hunt like never before. And if he asks too much for it, make a collector out of him and let him keep it.
Now look at the image of my Louis-Baer window card poster. Undeniably rare, nicely laid out graphically, and it is of a rising champ against a former champ. In fact, the only downsides initially were the condition – there’s some smut on the central part of the poster and, secondly, the guy wanted way too much for it. In this instance I passed on it before he finally came down to my range which was sub-$2K and we came to terms. Louis posters are out there but most are championship ‘floating heads” full sized paper posters or larger. I have the Louis-Godoy 2 paper full-size poster and a trimmed Louis-Farr window card. All site posters are rare but I especially like this one. It has the ticket prices, photos, date – everything we old timers like on a poster. Besides, at 11×14, I can frame it and find wall space.