As many of you know, I like to go to comic book conventions, and I like to check things out on eBay (and sometimes even buy from eBay). I also like to go to swap meets and garage sales. I'll also browse antique shops with my wife (and sometimes with my kids if they're behaving), looking for cool stuff like old toys, records, comics, and children's books.
Sometimes, I find really great deals at these, and I've talked about them here. But there are also times where I see something I'd be interested in buying, only to be put off by the price.
Now, if any of you guys reading this are dealers, I'm sure you'll be thinking, "Well, there's price guides out there, so they're probably just following the price guides."
And I have a few problems with that idea. Firstly, there's lots and lots of stuff that there are no price guides for. I'm a collector of Kenner's Give-A-Show Projector, and I've looked and looked, and there just isn't a book out there that has prices for any of them. The same goes for a lot of things. Secondly, it seems that if there is a price guide, too many people are looking at prices and not considering the condition of what they're selling.
But mainly, the biggest problem I have with being stuck on using price guides is this: They're guides only. You'll realize those kind of prices in the most ideal of circumstances, but honestly, you can't plan on getting those prices.
Here's my ultimate guide for what something is worth: It's worth whatever you can get someone else to pay for it. I don't care if you've got a mint condition talking Mr. Ed hand puppet and some price guide says it's worth $500, if nobody's willing to pay you that much money, it's not worth that much!
It's bad enough with toys and children's records, and I don't know where they come up with prices on old children's books... but man, have you ever been in an antique mall and found a box of comics? Most of the comics I've seen in antique malls are far from being antique -- they're usually from the 1980s, they're common as heck, I can find them at any comic book show for 50 cents each or less... and these people think they're going to get a couple of bucks each for them just because they put them in a comic book bag.
What I really don't understand is that when it comes to the antique malls, you'd think people would want to move stuff, because that's what brings in money (and gives them space to display new items), but since the people who are actually the sellers of items are very rarely (if ever) physically present in these stores, you can't negotiate anything. That's right, the people at the register basically run the overall store, but the booths have merchandise from different people.
This is why I tend to browse more than buy at the antique malls.
Garage sales are another matter -- you'd be amazed at how wide a range of prices can be found at different garage sales, if you don't go to them often! I've literally gone to one garage sale and found an item where they're asking $10 for it, and then later the same day gone to a different garage sale and see the exact same item for a dollar!
It's all buyer beware, naturally. And it is up to us as buyers to not spend more than we need to spend on anything, no matter how much we want it. Every time some antique dealer sells a comic book or toy or whatever for the price they think they're supposed to get, and that price is way out there, they're going to mark up the next item even more. It's the same advice I give to people about eBay: Decide what something is worth to you, personally, and don't pay more for it than that!
When it comes to old children's books, my top price I'm willing to pay is usually three to four bucks -- maybe higher if it's something I know is super-rare, but probably no more than six bucks, tops (none of my books on Children's Book Theatre has gone into that upper end yet). And I've found some very nice vintage kids books on the cheap, mind you! But I'm always looking for bargains, and will likely spend more money at a stop if there are bargains than if their prices are so high I have to get picky about what I'm going to get.