Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How many serious CT collectors are there?

Collectors who came before us all left their mark.
Here we have some 2x2s from previous collections.
Have you ever wondered how many serious CT collectors are out there?
     Who else is buying CTs?
     Who is bidding against you on ebay?
     Are they devoted collectors?
     Or, are they comets that flare up, as they rush in, buying a few tokens only to disappear soon after snatching up the CT you had been waiting for?
     Sometimes after a bidding war on ebay, I wonder: Who got that one? I cannot see the other bidders. We are probably a multifarious lot. Yet, we share a passion: CTs.
     Of course, we do not like being outbid, and so we might lose our composure for an instant and shout out at these phantoms.
     Yet, if you met one of them in the coffee shop, a good conversation would follow.
     This is how it is with collectors. We compete. The loss of a token at the last second, just when you thought you had it, is part of the collecting experience. And then, you catastrophize about it, lamenting that you will go without the needed token, maybe forever. Or so it seems.
     But take solace: If you collect long enough, the tokens will come back to you. CTs are passed from one collector to another. The cycle never stops. Most of the CTs on ebay are coming from big collections. For example, in 2013, we witnessed the dispersal of large collection of Angus tokens -- someone probably spent the best years of their life assembling these. The Bob Merchant collection of Scottish pieces also sold last year. The Burzinski and Macmillan collections are still being dispersed.

     So how many of us are out there? And how often do we come out to play?
     In a survey of several hot auction venues, I examined who was in the game. It is good marketing research for all of us. After all, we might want to sell our CTs someday. And the question becomes, who will be buying them? When we all die, will a rising generation be the least bit interested?
     I examined many recent auctions (100+) to see who is in the room. I limited this analysis to the Scottish series with an emphasis on the early (pre-1830) CTs. Here is some of what I found. First off, there are about 70 to 100 buyers who have won more than one CT. But there is a collecting core of only 15 to 20 active bidders who show up most of the time. Another 10 to 15 folks come into the room with some regularity, but they seem hesitant to join the core. Within the core, there are two to four super-buyers.
     The core wins about two-thirds of the CTs offered. The super-buyers get about half of these, or put another way, they win about 20% of the pieces. As you can imagine, a grouping of rare pieces attracts most of the core players -- hence, they are not hard to find. Yet, despite this attraction, not all of the rare and high quality pieces are won by the core -- a few are snapped up by others hidden in the crowd. Let's look at this further.
     It is not unusual for a new bidder (with a low buying history) to splurge on a nice CT. Maybe their goal is to get a few really nice ones. I happen to know a new collector of CTs (who has collected other tokens for a long time); he has an eye for quality -- so when he sees something he likes, he just goes for it. In his case, he only has a dozen or so CTs, but he has purchased a few of the best ones in 2013.
     Alternatively, a seasoned bidder comes in once or twice a month and puts up the big dollars for the pieces that are needed for the collection. There is no messing with this kind of buyer unless you, too, have a collection with the same glaring hole in it! This sparks a bidding war, and the seasoned (plus very focused) collectors are prepared for it.
     So there you have it. There are about one hundred active collectors on ebay with only 15 to 20 at the core, bidding every month. Finally, a few super-buyers are picking up one out of every five pieces. Keep in mind, this is only ebay, only Scottish, and only four months of data.
     Where are you in all of this?


  1. So, how about some advice for a new CT collector. In the last eight weeks, I've dived into CTs headfirst. I've purchased available reference standards, borrowed others, participated in eBay auctions and bought numerous CTs from private dealers on two continents (about 50 total). And I'm loving it all. But what's next? Other than this blog, how do we CT collectors connect, communicate and interact? Is there a discussion board somewhere? Would membership in the TAMS be beneficial? Meetings at national conventions? Help! What else should I be doing?

  2. Bud - My advice would be start low, as Mike says most tokens will come round again. Instead of looking to the top of the market look for bargains. A search tonight on of all sales worldwide sorted lowest first gives 124 CTs sold for less than £4 ($6.40). Of these 1 is not a CT; 33 are in poor condition and with the exception of a large square Glen Muick & Haddington goat would not be recommended for the beginner nor would 11 of the simple stamped variety that Mike questions ; 3 are stock tokens - 1 Irish; 64 are relatively unremarkable but perfectly good specimens for a general collection; at least 12 demonstrate some feature or design that sets them apart from the average and have in the past sold for much more. Consider also Buy it Now but be aware some tokens though attractive are relatively common and overpriced. It would however be possible to put together a reasonable core collection of Canadian tokens at year 2000's book prices.
    Look at traditional auction houses sales - catalogues online ; Research sellers who do not use Ebay but produce 'traditional' fixed price lists - bargains & rarities can be found. Lastly for those in the UK there are still a few general antique shops/ dealers with no web presence who have decent stock - 100 or more CTs at any one time - one dealer in Scotland has the bag of one token with about 1000 unique tokens (each withy communicants number).

    Mike - would agree your estimate of 70 -100 buyers with up to 35 bidding with some regularity. It used to be much easier to see who you were bidding against & who was winning as bidders 'names' were given in full. If these were noted at the time it is still possible to identify them today. Another category is possibly the institutional bidder (eg local or national museums) who will only come into the market to fill a gap in a major collection. Was it an individual who paid £1220 (c.$2000 for the Tasmanian token)? and of course I ask who was the underbidder?
    Ebay is a much less user friendly market than it used to be - anonymous bidding has disadvantages. The latest 'service' to cover customs paperwork is completely unnecessary for CTs yet can double the cost of buying a token from the US in Europe. Fortunately I have a US mailing address !

  3. Welcome Bud. Sounds like you jumped right in. I am happy to hear that you are "loving it all." I agree with sunnyleith: find a pace that works for you and enjoy the ride. As you go along, you will find a theme you want to pursue. For me, I still imagine myself as a "type" collector, but I like to go after anything with a storyline -- hence, the dug pieces, the die varieties, and so on. Keep in mind that you are collecting pieces that most folks have never heard of -- in my guidebook, I describe us as "a minority camp on the outskirts of the exonumia community." Sure, there have been many seasoned collectors before us, but the CT collecting field has the characteristics of a frontier: no rarity or survival estimates, no pricing structure, no clubs, and so on. This ambiguity is part of the fun. So what is next you ask? Well, this blog is my attempt to get a community started. My guidebook is my attempt to introduce CTs to collectors on the sidelines. I am in TAMS, and this blog is mentioned in the free classified section of the their journal -- I cannot tell you if any TAMS members are following the blog, as few folks have commented like you have. I hope that more comments will come in the future. I did a blog on the Baltimore Expo last Fall -- the next one is in early March. Hopefully, over time some folks will get together there (or in Chicago for the Fall ANA). So to answer your final question of what to do ... post some comments. If you get a token you like, let us all know about it. Or ask sunnyleith a question: he has been a tremendous resource on this site. This blog gets an average of 25 hits each day, so folks are out there.

  4. Token Hunter and sunnyleith:

    Thanks for the advice. I guess I would characterize myself now as a neophyte type collector. I'm buying only what's unique and I find interesting: various shapes and sizes, different legends, dates, etc. I'm dabbling on eBay and have found a couple of very patient dealers, both in the UK and in Canada. I'll be attending the Chicago show in August but am resigned to likely find pieces only for my other numismatic passion, Lincoln cents.

    I'm interested in literature about the history of the communion service in both the UK and here in North America, as I am a church pastor and am always looking for ways to connect the past with the present for my congregation.

    Looking forward to learning (and sharing) more as I grow in this interesting field. All advice is greatly appreciated. Blessings to you both.