Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lessons from York - A Skewed View 2

In yesterday's post (Lessons from York - A Skewed View 1) I looked at some collecting trends and speculated on their cultural meaning. The Train Collectors Association Eastern Division toy train meet. is the hobby's equivalent of CES -- both in relative scale and breadth of coverage. You will see all the latest products there, but more importantly, you'll see the ebb and flow of supply and demand.

The sudden appearance of some types of objects can suggest trends (which was what yesterday's post was about), but the disappearance of readily available objects can be equally telling. So what things did we not see at York this time?

Don't pay too much for this. You will not get your
money out of it.
No deposit, no return
We didn't see any Lionel Coke sets again. When MPC brought out this "collectible," everyone scarfed it up. After all, it's a Lionel train, and it's Coca-Cola memorabilia. With two markets to sell to, buyers were bound to double or even triple their investment, right?

Wrong.

It turned out that neither group of collectors were especially interested, and so mint-in-the-box Coke sets have been a staple of the York meets for years. The spring show I noticed their absence (and guessed as to why). But they haven't returned, and I'm not sure they will.

I suspect more than one of the vendors that used to sell them at York are now offering them on eBay. A quick search showed eight, ranging in price from $169 to $249. All mint, all "rare." It's neither. And if you pay more than $120 for it, you've been taken.

Boxing up the returns
Another thing that was conspicuously absent this time were MPC "collectible" boxcars. During the postwar era, Lionel came out with a series of boxcars, the 6464 series. From 1954 through 1966 this boxcar was given a variety of different paint schemes, offered in sets and sometimes for sale separately, and always with the 6464 prefix to the catalog number (6464-100, 6464-475, etc.). Just like stamps, many postwar-Lionel collectors strive to have a complete set of the 25 different 6464 boxcars (and the innumerable variations).

An original 6464-150 boxcar, made between 1954-1957. Still
desirable by collectors.
Lionel didn't plan to make these boxcars collectible -- they were just painting the same shell with different designs to go with their train sets and keep the product fresh. But the continued demand for the 6464 boxcars didn't go unnoticed by MPC when they bought Lionel in the 1970's, or indeed by any of the other companies who have owned Lionel since. And so a steady stream of "6464-style" boxcars continue to flood the market.

Part of Lionel/MPC's 1976 Bicentennial series.
Unlike the 6464 series this car is modeled on, interest
(and value) has dropped significantly.
The current Lionel company offers a Monoply, college football, and Beatles series of boxcars to name a few. MPC had a series of 50 state boxcars, as well as Disney characters, Lionel history, the 13 colonies (for the Bicentennial), and several more. Collectors dutifully bought them all, confident that, like the original 6464's, demand and prices would only increase over time.

Nope.

For years I've seen MPC 6464 boxcars stacked on tables like cordwood, some priced as low as $10 (way below the original 1970's list price). Until this show. For the first time, most tables were clear of these faux-collectibles.

Why?

I think that this market has also moved to eBay. A quick search for "Lionel MPC boxcar" seems to confirm this.

Will this trend continue? I suspect so. And I'll be interested to see the impact on the York meet. Will we see fewer tables rented? Will the quality of the merchandise offered improve? We'll know more in the spring.

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