Appraising & Selling Your Collectibles
I frequently get email from people with old stereocards and viewers they would like to sell or have appraised. Here is the answer to your question.
What determines value?
The value of everything in the universe is dependent on only one thing: What a buyer is willing to pay. This is true for the housing market, the stock market, and the collectibles market.
Tens of thousands of stereoviews were made at their peak of popularity between 1860 and 1920. An expert appraiser might think a stereoview is worth only $20, but if it has a picture of a Chicago Cubs baseball game, a collector of Cubs memorabilia might be willing to pay $40, someone who was at the game might be willing to pay $80, and someone whos father is playing scond base might be willing to pay $200. Hence, it's value is $200, and there is no way an appraiser can predict this.
Of course it is impossible to know what the market will determine as the value for a stereocard, but there are some guidelines:
Scarcity. This is all about supply and demand. If an item is scarce, it tends to be more valuable because there are fewer copies coming to market. Some printers, like Keystone, printed tens of thousands of copies, while others may have published only a few hundred.
Condition. Condition is important because items that are in mint condition are more beautiful and rare than beatup items. Is it scratched or worn, or just like new.
Quality. Great craftsmanship and artistry are important determinants of value. Is it beautiful? Moving? Profound?
Producer. Photos by famous photographers such as Muybridge or William Henry Jackson are usually more desirable than images by the talented but anonymous shooters at Keystone.
Production method. How was it made? Photographic prints are usually worth more than lithographs.
Subject matter. Content is less predictable. Pictures of famous people are usually desirable. Landmarks? Buildings that have been torn down? Does it have historic importance? Naked ladies are, pardon the pun, desirable. In recent years, with the emergence of the African American middle class, images of slaves and some of the many demeaning images of black people have become collectible.Subject matter.
Artist. Some photographers like William Henry Jackson are more collectible than others.
Verso. Some cards have text on the back (the verso) that can be quite interesting.
Emotional appeal. An otherwise common photo of an old covered bridge might seem unremarkable but it could be very desirable to someone who lived near it as a child and he just has to have it.
Economic conditions. There is one more important variable. The prevailing economic climate impacts the collectibles market as it does the stock market. If people are feeling secure and frisky, they will buy collecibles. If there is a recession going on, people hang on to their money. There are some exceptions to this. When the stock market is tanking, some people like to buy collectibles.
Appraising your collectibles
You can pay me to appraise your collection or to sell it, but I have a better idea: Do it yourself. It's easy.
In 1991 John Waldsmith wrote an excellent book: Stereoviews, An Illustrated History and Price Guide. It was revised in 2001 and the second edition came out in 2002. It lists hundreds of stereoviews and Waldsmith's estimation of their value. It sells for $15.72 on Amazon.com. Click here. But 2002 was a long time ago in a market that is ever changing.
Nowadays the most popular place for buyers and sellers to get together is eBay where there are dozens of stereo related sales completed every day. If you are not interested in selling your collectible but you just want to know the item's value for insurance purposes, you can do research on eBay. Search on a key word such as "stereocards" and click on completed listings. Often you can find an identical or similar item that has sold recently on eBay and the sale price will give you a sense of its value. Knowing what comparables sold for is the best way to estimate value.
Keep in mind that an open auction can give you no idea of the value until the sale is over since most of the bidding often takes place in the last few minutes. A recent search on the keyword "stereoview" on eBay found 1479 items for sale. By clicking on "Advanced Search" and then "Completed listings only" I found 4,207 sales in the past 30 days. Prices ranged from $1 to more than $300.
Selling your collection
Ebay is a great place for you to sell your collectibles because you can often sell directly to collectors without middlemen. If you sell to an antique dealer, the dealer usually cannot pay you as much as the collector because the dealer must mark it up to make a profit. In other words, you can sell at retail on eBay rather than at wholesale.
In addition, on eBay you can often attract the emotional buyer, the person who is not a knowledgeable collector, but the person who lived near the covered bridge and just has to have it.
Most importantly, on eBay your collectible is auctioned to the highest bidder. In the world of capitalism there is a basic truism: The only thing better than having a buyer is having two buyers. If there are two buyers they can compete and drive the price up for you. That is the nature of the auction market.
If you are experienced with buying and selling on eBay, then you know how the game is played. If you are not, there are many websites that can teach you. But here are some basic tips.
It is safe. Just follow the rules and be smart. There are scammers, but they are rare and eBay does a good job of policing things.
Describe your items accurately. Do not mislead. If there are scrateches or dents, you must describe them or photograph them or you risk having grievance lodged against you. On the other hand, don't hesitate to make your product sound desirable. If there is a cute little puppy in one of the pictures, mention it.
Keywords. Include keywords that people will search on. You will notice that viewers are usually listed under stereo viewers not stereopticons.
Set the reserve price low. Don't discourage buyers.
Be patient. Don't get discouraged. The price will probably remain low tight up until the last minute. Many smart buyers never bid until the last five minutes of the auction! They don't want to drive up the price and they don't want to alert other buyers that they are interested.