One of the treats (and threats) of this book business is the quantity of time machines tucked away in the boxes and bags. It could be a video of that show everybody was watching when you were in fifth grade, or that book your parents always kept on the top shelf of the coat closet where they THOUGHT you couldn’t reach it, or that record with the song that played endlessly on your local AM station when you were fourteen. (The Book Fair accepts no responsibility for injuries or loss of work time suffered by people unexpectedly exposed to ABBA.)
You might suspect this sort of thing will wind up making us money, and on occasion you will be correct. But nostalgia has a shorter shelf life than we might wish. The age of the collectible must coincide with the relative age of the buyers. Every collectible which depends largely on nostalgia goes through four predictable phases. 1. Nobody would collect that, throw it away. 2. Oh wow, those are collectible; everyone threw them away. 3. I remember when people were really collecting that; better hang on to it and see what it’s worth. 4. Nobody collects that; throw it away. A few collectibles with lasting artistic or historic validity may carry on. I wish you luck figuring out which those are (BEFORE you throw them away).
An expert whose counsel I value told me once that for something to become a valuable collectible, two things have to happen. People need to go through that phase 1 mentioned above and throw it away. THEN someone has to write a book about it.
I am hoping we can do just a little price engineering by writing a blog about some of the collectibles which have come in lately. I don’t want to make MILLIONS, you understand (that way lies security guards at the corners of the collectibles section) but I would like to HINT that some of our offerings are ABOUT to turn into collectibles, so people buy them as investments.
Someone, for example, has cleaned out a shoebox of Baseball Stuff. There is a Baseball Register, like the ones which were displayed in an occasionally tidy section of Collectibles last year, but there are also programs and score cards. We are used to getting these from the 1980s: slick, glossy things as big as magazines. These are from an earlier era: smaller and less polished. I am especially fond of the program from the early Sixties, which tries to hype the World Series by connecting it with the Space Program, calling it the Out-of-This-World Series. We may have passed the mark on nostalgia value for the 1965 World Series, but there ARE people collecting NASA tie-ins.
Those of you who are fascinated by the history of techno salesmanship (now that Google is being scolded for keeping track of where you shop and having ads for those places pop up when you’re looking at other things) might be interested in some of these Flexidiscs which were mailed out to get you to invest in a certain set of LPs. Flexidiscs were 33 1/3 singles on flimsy plastic which could not be broken in the mail. (Woe betide if your mailbox was so small the mail had to be folded to get it inside, though.) My personal favorite is this one, mailed out by the Republican National Committee to quote from the most notable speeches of Spiro Agnew. If you remember Spiro, I need say no more, and if you don’t, it would take too long to explain.
Or HERE is a collectible absolutely replete in triplicate with nostalgia and obsolescence. When it arrived, I could only gaze on it in wonder. It is an object which stands on the mountaintop looking down into a new world, the world in which we live today. It is a videocassette showing you how to work with your CD-Rom of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have never had something so resoundingly and beautifully obsolete since someone donated those records that played at 16 rpm. Looks like about a 15 minute instructional to show you how to do something no one bothers to do now. Two thirds of you can click a mouse for the same result, and the rest can walk to the shelf and pick up volume 12 without instruction.
It is beautiful and useless, Oscar Wilde’s basic definition for a work of art. Maybe I WILL charge a million for it.