Friday, October 24, 2014

Lessons from York -- Equilibrium

You could find a few of these.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States, and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them. 

Usually, I divide our "Lessons from York" musings on the dynamics of collecting into two posts. The first focuses on what we saw and what that may imply, and the second on what we didn't see and what that suggests.

A little of everything
This time, though, the market seemed to have reached a state of equilibrium. We saw virtually everything we'd seen in the past -- but only a few examples scattered among the hundreds of dealer tables. And we saw virtually everything that was missing from past shows -- but only a few examples scattered among the hundreds of dealer tables.

There were a few of these available, too.
In other words, we saw just about everything collectors of this, and the two previous generations have been interested in, all in near-equal proportions.

So what could that mean? I have a few guesses.
Remember, toy trains -- like many other thing -- are collected primarily for their nostalgic value. Collectors tend to be most interested in either replacing the toys of their childhood, or obtaining the toys they wished for but never got in their childhood.

A little background
And what the generation that founded the Train Collectors Association considered valuable (toy trains from the early 1900's), weren't as sought after by the following generation, who grew up in the 1930's and 40's. The early Boomers prefer the post-war trains of the 1950's, and now the current generation of collectors in their late forties find toy trains from the 1970's appealing.

And some of these.
We'd witnessed an influx of early 1900's trains on the market, suggesting that generation was downsizing or their estates were being disposed of. We saw that with prewar trains, too, as that generation entered its eighties. And we even saw it to a certain extent with postwar trains, as that generation moves into retirement, with fixed incomes and smaller living spaces.

When it's all been sold...
And now it's all seemed to have evened out. Throughout the years we've noted that trains from the 1970's and later have always been available at bargain-basement prices -- mostly because of perceived poor quality of construction and lack of nostalgic value. And over time, I suspect that those that were interested quietly added to their collections.

There were even a few of these. A few.
And over the years, as each era of trains became available they were absorbed into the collections of younger members -- who aren't ready to break up their own collections.

So what's left are the remnants from all the eras that no one's especially interested in.

Is it just me?
I'd like to know if folks have seen similar trends in other hobbies. Has the market evened out for dolls? What about stamps and coins? Are all eras of sports cards equally available at this point? How about china patterns or pottery?

As for the toy train market, who knows What will we see in the spring? It's hard to predict. But you can bet we'll there to see for ourselves.
And there was some of this as well.

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