Knowing When to Say "When"
As collectors, we all face tough questions when it comes time to buy. Can I afford it? Does it fit into my collection? Where will I put it? Will my significant other kill me? What is Manute Bol up to these days? The potential list of questions can be endless but the one I want to focus on here has to do with the approach to imperfections.
While many sellers use the word "flawless" to describe the quality of a piece or the quality of the provenance that accompanies the item, it is often overused. With virtually any item, you can find a technical flaw. The existence of a technical flaw, or any flaw for that matter, doesn't mean an item is problematic or of poor quality. It simply means that there is something about the item that may raise a question or bother some hobbyists, including you. It has more to do with personal taste than it does quality.
That being said, at what point should you put the brakes on prior to purchase?
As a buyer, you often have to be willing to make small leaps of faith in order to accept a piece for what it is. This is not because there is anything wrong with the item, it is because it is much easier to doubt. It is part of our nature. We have to be willing to look past the little flaws and focus on the entirety of the piece, to put it all in perspective. This is sometimes hard to do as we often tend to lock in on one particular thing or another, which can alter our view.
That being said, I do believe in the notion that if something bothers you from the beginning, it will continue to bother you long after. For example, let's say you are looking at a high-grade 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle card and, on Mickey's face, you immediately notice a tiny print dot. It is really tiny and the card is accurately graded but, for some reason, your eyes go straight to the print dot every time you look at the card. If it bothers you now, it will likely bother you forever.
Here's another example. Let's say you are considering the purchase of a game-used bat and the bat comes with a letter of provenance. Now, since professional model bats can be authenticated on their own merit, the provenance may not affect authenticity but it may affect value. For the sake of this example, the bat is outstanding by itself but the provenance letter has problems. The person who provided the letter was elderly at the time it was written and their recollection wasn't great. As a result, they made an error in the letter, stating it was given to them during a particular year when the dating of the bat itself makes the story impossible.
The issue here is not whether the item is authentic, but how we approach the honest mistake made in the letter. The question you have to ask is whether the flaw (in this case - the error made in the letter) is going to bother the next potential buyer in the same way it bothers you. This is where you have to go with your gut. Will most hobbyists take into consideration that, under the circumstances, this mistake was honest and it doesn't affect the merit of the piece or will they focus on the flaw to the point that it becomes an annoyance?
There is no easy answer here. You, as the buyer, have to decide what you can and cannot live with. It is hard to imagine any card, autograph, game-used bat, or any other collectible being literally "flawless" so it is important that you approach most collectibles with this idea in mind. It combines taking in all the information and applying common sense along with relying on your instinct. When you really like something, you know it. The same thing happens when something bothers you. It may be very subtle, almost unnoticeable, but what matters is how you feel about it.
Never get cheated,
Editor In Chief
Copyright © 2014 PSA – A Division of Collectors Universe. Nasdaq: CLCT. All rights reserved.