Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What’s My Wagon Worth?

Undoubtedly, the most common questions we receive are focused on early vehicle values.  Before diving off into this surprisingly deep topic, let's take a look at a few points that can sometimes cause confusion.  Too often, these antiquities are generalized with one set of wheels assumed to always be on par with any other.  The fact is, every period wagon is an individual, with a separate history and unique attributes.  It takes a thorough understanding of these early pieces to make comparisons.  As a result, it’s not typically a good idea to assume a particular value for one set of wheels by looking solely at what someone else is asking for another. 

Unlike today’s automotive industry, there are no printed value guides for old wagons and, since there are seemingly endless variables separating these pieces, the subject is full of opportunities to misinterpret value.  Yet another point to be made is that since no two wagons are ever exactly alike, it can sometimes be problematic to take even realized prices at face value without examining various qualities of the vehicle, itself.  I’ve seen pieces with “perceived” attributes sell at auction for significant prices, only for the new owner to discover that troubling points had been overlooked and too much had been paid.  Cue the well-worn phrase, “Caveat Emptor.”

With those thoughts in mind, we’ll take a look at seven areas that should always be assessed prior to assigning value to a specific piece.  Even so, none of the points below can be looked upon as stand-alone considerations.  The collective whole of what I’ll point out in this post (as well as other considerations) must be evaluated together.  With that as a background, let’s take a look at a few crucial areas that can impact period wagon values.

Condition – This point covers a lot of territory with countless features to be examined.  What is missing, broke, weakened, replaced, or rotted on the wagon?  What is the level of wear to each and every part?  This portion of the evaluation process can be extensive and costly if one doesn’t know where and what to look for. 

Degradation or rot in old wheel felloes is a common sight these days.  Nonetheless, its presence can lessen a vehicle’s resale value.

Brand – Similar to motorized vehicles today, the authenticated brand name of a wagon box and gear can easily impact the desirability and purchase price.  Similarly, it’s important to understand that many well-known wagon brands also created secondary brands.  Knowing this history can help a collector add important pieces to a collection without the cost sometimes attached to the primary brand.

Age – Most antique, wood-wheeled wagons are either near or over one hundred years in age.  While it’s a remarkable thought to ponder, simply because a wagon possesses a well-seasoned age does not necessarily mean it has great value.  Similarly, it’s possible for some 20th century wagons to carry more value than a 19th century counterpart - or maybe not.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the collective whole of these points, ultimately, helps define an accurate value.

 Not all wagon companies attached dates to their wagons but some did.

Provenance – The documented personal history of a particular piece can also impact historic, sentimental, intrinsic, and resale values.  It’s generally good to pursue as much verifiable information as possible about a vehicle as it can add to the interest of a set of wheels. 

Originality levels – Like so many other elements, this is an area that requires significant experience to confirm the authenticity of a piece.  Replaced and mismatched features along with modern repairs, repainting, or other aftermarket wood treatments can impact values.

Vehicle features – Original accessories and intriguing construction elements can sway values both positively and negatively.  Knowing what a particular brand was doing at a particular time can be extremely helpful in assessing the significance of individual features.

Vehicle type – Wagon makers created numerous types of wagons with even more varieties of construction and features.  Not all vehicle types are considered equally collectible.

Ultimately, this overview is not meant to be all-encompassing, overly simplistic, or even confusing.  Rather, it’s clear that the need for resale value information is important to the preservation and understanding of every surviving vehicle.  It’s our hope that the highlights in this week’s blog can help others put these wood-wheeled warriors into better perspective; encouraging more attention be given to individual pieces with less reliance on vague, non-descript, and non-supportable notions.

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