Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rarity Defined

Not long ago, I was asked what constituted rarity in early horse drawn wagons.  It’s a great question but, not one with a simple – or short – answer.  Certainly, we don’t have sufficient space or time in these brief blog posts but I can share a little. 

Helping shape resale values and collector desirability, rarity is one of a dozen elements we highlighted in Volume One of our “Borrowed Time” western vehicle book series.  For historians, collectors and enthusiasts, the term can involve anything from the brand to the style of vehicle, features, paint, age, provenance, condition, originality, completeness and numerous other elements.
To qualify this point a bit more, nearly every set of old wooden wheels would likely rank as ‘rare’ to at least some degree.  But, different vehicles – even of the same age – can clearly have different values assigned to them.  Those price or value differences can often be traced to the very reasons something is considered to be rare or scarce.  In other words, just because something is old or even rare doesn’t make it a cinch that it’s valuable.  For instance, I have an old Herschel brand wagon seat.  They don’t make them anymore and there probably aren’t too many left with the original paint and stenciling.  So, since it’s not something you’ll find every day, it does possess an element of rareness.  However, compared to an original spring seat authenticated to belong to a Murphy, Jackson, Kansas or Espenshied brand wagon, it will likely always come up lacking.  The reason – at least in part – is that those other companies have an extremely strong heritage and rich legacy associated with the early American West.  Because of those deep-rooted connections – and also that very few of the collective hundreds of thousands of vehicles built by those brands have survived – that uniqueness and historical provenance can significantly boost the vehicle’s desirability.

Spending so much time researching, collecting, photographing and cataloging information on early vehicles, we’ve learned that sometimes it’s not necessarily what you’re looking for as it is what you find.  In other words, learning to recognize those things that are truly unique, peculiar or otherwise different can open up opportunities that may otherwise have been overlooked.  Of course, ‘unique’ can also mean non-original, wrong, or just that you may never have seen something before – which doesn’t always mean someone else hasn’t seen it quite often.  Without knowing what is correct and truly uncommon, it’s easy to misjudge a piece.  As with any antique, it pays to know your subject.  After all, contrary to the old saying, what you don’t know can hurt you. 
Ultimately, some of the best advice I’ve ever heard has been to know what you’re looking at and look at as many vehicles as often as you can.  Over time, the awareness learned from personal experience has a way of delivering rewards.