Right after New Year’s Day, I posted here about my inability to get rid of my old comic book collection. Actually, it’s not just comics, there are other curios such as this sketch on the left by Bob Brown, from a larger portfolio that used to come out annually in the early 1970s from the now defunct Academy of Comic Book Arts.
On your right is another obscurity, a copy of Private Detective Magazine, a late 1940s pulp that was part comics and part fiction writing, with a lot of ads for venereal disease home cures interspersed.
Poking around on eBay, I learn that these things, though not highly valuable, have appreciated in real terms substantially since they were purchased. I assume that is because they are considered rare. But are they?
What I was most struck by in my original post was that a number of RBCers volunteered that, like me, they have been hauling around boxes of comics for many years. This reminded of something a guy who sold diamonds told me: “The secret is to make people feel that diamonds stay in the family forever, because let’s face it they are just shiny rocks and they are common in nature”.
Unlike Fabregé Eggs or copies of the Gutenburg Bible, some things we might wish to collect may seem rare in our minds only because they are rare in other people’s minds. Maybe the comic curios displayed here aren’t really rare, they just seem that way because lots of other collectors also thought they should hold on to their own copies, and still do.
In social science there is a “file drawer” formula that calculates whether a “significant” result in a study is actually significant. If you have a finding that has less than a 1 in 20 chance of being spurious (i.e., it seems out of the common), you publish that as a finding. But if 19 other scientists did the same study and found no effect, and kept their study in a file drawer, your “rare” result is in fact not special at all.
I wonder if some economist hasn’t already or will in the future develop a similar estimation method for “rare”, collectible objects such as my comic oddities. What level of hoarding by other people convinced falsely that something is rare is sufficient to prove that what you consider a valuable, rare object is in fact common as dirt and therefore valueless?