Thursday, January 15, 2015

Collecting

The WRCA had their January 2015 monthly meeting recently.  We’re moving closer to the big Expo Knife Show May 16 and 17 at the Buckeye Event Center.  We still have tables available.  See my side pages for an application for table rental.  An 8 foot table for two days for $50 is a great deal.

It will be a great opportunity to buy as well.  We’ll have factory, custom and collectable vendors displaying their knives.

Each club meeting is also an opportunity to buy/sell/trade knives.  In the past, the club has bought estate collections and resold them and we currently have a retired club member in Arizona who wants us to sell his knives for him at a set commission.  That brought up an interesting topic.  Namely buying and selling collections, or at least the ethics of buying and selling collections.

Here’s the scenario:  A club member dies and leaves their spouse with an unwanted knife collection of unknown value.   You respond to information that they want to sell the entire collection and you make them a fair and honest offer for the entire collection.  They accept.

Later you sell the collection for a lot more money.  I mean 2 and 3 or more times what you paid for it.

So what do you think is the ethical thing to do.

During the discussion we found out some people felt we hypothetically cheated that seller, we should have paid them more.  Others thought that because we made so much money we should give some of it to the seller.  Things got a little excited for a while, but no chairs were thrown!

Part of this, I think, was because each member is internalizing their passing and the sale of their collection by their surviving spouse.  We all want to think our fellow club members wouldn’t take advantage of our widow (it’s a mostly male club).  Widows always remind me a of thin, gaunt women dressed in black unable to pay the bills.

Of course, our imaginary spouse might be sitting on a beach sipping mimosas because hubby left her well off and she wants nothing to do with her dead husband’s collection.  Before you showed up, she was 10 minutes from dumping the whole damn thing in the trash!

There is a second side to this story.  What if it turns out the collection isn’t worth the money you paid for it?  What do you do?  Do you go back to the widow and tell her she cheated you and you want some of your money back?  Is your name Simon Legree?

Here’s part of the dilemma, ethical behavior isn’t the same as moral behavior.  That seems odd, doesn’t it?  A professor of ethics once explained to me that ethical behavior wasn’t difficult.   

“Say what you mean, do what you say you’ll do and treat everyone the same.”  Of course the details are what makes ethics a challenging topic.

Since I will not be going back to the widow and asking for money back, I will not be sending her more money either.  There is nothing wrong with making money, especially in an honest, ethical manner.

Of course that all changes if I had agreed to sell the knives for her at some percentage to myself.  But that’s a different premise. 

I’d like to suggest that most of us think our collections are worth more than they are.  I know an elderly fellow who collected stamps.  He had maybe a million stamps counting canceled and first day of issue.  The collection was only worth the value of the relatively few uncanceled stamps he had.  First day of issue, not worth the paper they were printed on.  Canceled stamps, a drag on the market.  Foreign stamps, not much interest.  

If you want your collection to increase in value you need to buy things already valuable.  Even that depends on what people want to buy when you’re selling.  Ditch the beanie babies now.

If you think your collection is valuable, hire someone who makes a living at it and get an appraisal.  Document the knives and the purchase history.  Don’t attempt to appraise your collection yourself, as this activity is self deluding.  Don’t be too surprised if your WWII British Navy issue lifeboat knife collection isn’t as valuable as you thought.

One last thought experiment.  Imagine you are sorting though a tray of old foreign coins marked 25 cents each.  You find, because of your specialized knowledge and training, a rare Icelandic Krona worth significantly more to the right collector.  You:
A Buy it and resell it,
B Tell the owner and convince him to charge more for it,
C Walk away empty-handed and say nothing,
D “Look!  It’s Elvis!”  and steal the coin when he looks away. 

Why would buying a knife collection be different?

We also got to see the 2015 WRCA Expo knife.  It’s a Victorinox Sentinel.  And it’s a left-handed knife!  

2015 WRCA Expo Knife- Left Handed
2015 WRCA Expo Knife (hasn't been blade etched yet)


The serrations are on the front half of the stainless steel blade and located on the right side of the blade.  The knife can be easily opened with either hand, but one-handed closing works best with the left hand.

I want one.  I don’t care if the blade is etched or not.  It’s very cool, but I don’t see any real potential increase in value over the years.  So that’s one less worry my estate has!

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