Monday, March 26, 2007

7) Ask questions first.

SECRET NUMBER FIVE. Ask questions first. When it comes to collecting anything, there are a variety of questions that need to be answered and answered up front, even if you're purchasing it in person. Collecting Luther and Reformation items can be an expensive and ultimately unrewarding experience if you don't have crucial information at your fingertips and potential problem areas resolved -- before the purchase. What is the difference between attempting to resolve problems before the purchase and after? The difference between being in the position of negotiating or walking away from a less than desirable deal and being in the position of having to bite the bullet can be a very big one. Issues that need to be resolved: options in payment, contingencies if the condition is different than what photos/scans show and actual, procedures to guarantee your payment arrives intact and arrival is documented, the quality of shipping (protection from breakage or damage to the item), documentation that accompanies the item, specific costs for shipping and handling, and the option of combining items bought in the near future to lower shipping and handling costs. "What if the shipment is lost?" "Will I have to pay any additional fees?" "What specifically do you mean when you say the item is 'mint'?" Keep in mind that some sellers will extend more generous policies to those buyers they have had experience with in the past or buyers who can demonstrate they are more trustworthy than others. The bottom line: if you have a question, ask it -- in a clear and respectful way. Sellers appreciate a sale that goes well, even if they have to answer a question or two.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

6) Maintain the paper trail.

SECRET NUMBER SIX. There is no substitute to keeping accurate records of the items in your collection. Whether it's tobacco cards of Martin Luther or stamps of Paul Gerhardt or 10DM coins of Philip Melanchthon, you need to maintain the paper trail of what you currently have, what condition it's in, where it came from and how much you have invested in it. This aids you in providing documentation for proper insurance, locating items within the collection and will be invaluable when putting together a description if you ever decide to sell an item. Take a look a what data is included when similar items go up for auction. You can even work up a form you then can fill in for each piece of your collection. Just like any library, if you can't find out for sure if you have something, and if you don't know where you can put your hands on it, it's no different than not having it. Keep track of your collection's data or it may very well be your undoing.

5) Damage happens.

SECRET NUMBER FIVE. One of the three main reason there are fewer and fewer collectibles in circulation these days is poor storage. It makes no cents to pay a premium for a Reformation item and them store it in conditions that deteriorate the item or place the item in risk of being damaged or even broken. From time to time you'll see a highly discounted Luther item that has been noticeably chipped or dinged or damaged from a careless drop to the floor. How will you keep your postcards from getting bent or bumped? How will you keep your Melanchthon stamps from becoming moist and getting stuck to something? How do insure that your coin won't fall on the floor and get dinged? Archival grade covers and capsules and folders and boxes are an important part of your budding collection. Where can you purchase storage items for your collection? Stamp and coin supply stores (either brick and mortal or on the web) are the first places to check. Note that covers and capsules come in very specific sizes. If you're storing European postcards, you will need appropriately sized card covers. When it comes to coins, flips or capsules in a size that's not too big and not too small work well. Both paper products and coins are susceptible to high humidity. Keeping them from high humidity areas with good air circulation will preserve them from unexpected ruin. Allocating ten to fifteen percent of your collection budget for archiving supplies may very well save your collection from noticeable, irreparable damage.

Friday, February 23, 2007

4) Know when to say, "Enough's enough."

SECRET NUMBER FOUR. What does gambling in Las Vegas and collecting Luther memorabilia have in common? Excitement? Anticipation? An adrenaline rush? The very real possibility of loosing a lot of money for next to nothing in return? Everyone loves to win, but when it comes to collecting Luther or anything else, the line needs to be drawn and the earlier the better. What are you willing to pay for this item in it's present condition and with the realities of all the additional costs surrounding it (shipping, insurance, framing, restoration, archiving, etc., not to mention the costs of getting your payment to the seller in a way that will be acceptable). Set the price you are willing to pay -- for the whole kit-and-caboodle -- well in advance of the bidding/purchase. The best recipe to make disaster and disappointment out of an enjoyable and rewarding collecting experience: undisciplined spending. Take the possibility of dumping too much after too little out of the equation by setting your limit before you get into the frenzy of buying.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

3) What is it really worth?

SECRET NUMBER THREE. It often said on the PBS program "Antiques Roadshow" that the worth of an object is, bottom line, the personal connection the object has with the individual or family outside of what others might offer to buy it. Collecting Martin Luther memorabilia can very easily remain a hobby that offers a break from the stress of the workplace or opportunities to learn more about the history of the Reformation and the reformers. In this case collecting, and the research involved in checking out an objects' condition and worth, is in the same category as using personal "mad money" to buy a lottery ticket or spend a weekend hitting the slots in Vegas. That being said, you as a collector must be very clear on your own motivation to begin amassing large quantities of stamps, postcards, coins, statues, plates, posters, books, medals, pins, and the like. If your goal is to get the most bang for your collecting buck, then getting a sense of the prices for things over time is essential. To date there is very little when it comes to a current database of realized prices for Luther stuff. Your best bet? Make regular use of eBay's "completed items" feature. Note prices, condition and the frequency with which the specific item appears. Whether you're bidding on a Luther 20 Mark proof or a tin Luther statue that holds a music box that plays "A Mighty Fortress," you're always only a few bids away from paying too much. Take your time and do your homework. Even -- especially -- when you're considering purchasing that one-of-a-kind, hard-to-get, never-seen-that-before item with the hefty price tag.

Monday, February 19, 2007

2) Knowing the shape of things to come.

SECRET NUMBER TWO. When it comes to collecting, condition is critical. There is nothing more frustrating than paying a premium price for something and then later realizing the object's condition is sub-standard. Beware of the claims made by sellers. If you collected everything Luther out there that was being sold as a "rare" item, you would need a closet the size of your local Home Depot. While many listings of Reformation collectibles use terms such as "rare" or "mint," actually these terms, following Humpty Dumpty, mean anything the seller wants them to mean. All the variations on the "rare" theme (example: dead mint) are officially outside any standard system of measuring an item's condition. Let the buyer beware. While "MS 65" can be verified and certified by independent judges of coins, "in excellent condition" is often used because it is intentionally vague. When it comes to stamps and coins and medals and books and postcards and plates and statues of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, it never hurts to ask, using the most objective, standard grades of condition available. "Are there any defects?" "Can you please send more detailed photos?" "What if the object's condition is found unsatisfactory after it is shipped and examined?" are often quite helpful questions to ask. If a seller is too busy to provide more detail, then it does not bode well for helpful negotiations if there is a problem with the object's condition. If you're collecting books, browse sites that specialize in offering collectible books using solid, detailed descriptions in their listings. If collecting Luther medals and coins is your thing, take time to learn how dealers in the United States -- as well as in Germany -- grade coins. No one wants a bad taste in their mouth after purchasing a Reformation item from across the Atlantic. Do your homework when it comes to understanding the condition of your prize Luther Rose stick pin or Saxony Thaler or Melanchthon 10DM proof. More often than not, it's all about condition, condition, condition.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

1) How to begin looking for Luther stuff.

SECRET NUMBER ONE. The first thing to do is take a look at what's out there. Anyone who has begun to collect items associated with Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation is quickly overwhelmed with the difficulty in searching for items for sale. Type "Martin Luther" in the search box on the eBay site. Wow. Thousands of hits, but many actually have nothing to do with Martin Luther or the Lutheran Reformation. If you're serious about looking for "Luther stuff," the first step is using the advanced features of searching while limiting the number of hits. If you are searching on Google, it is imperative that you select "Advanced search." Type in "Luther" or "Martin Luther" or "Melanchthon" or "Reformation" or whatever you're specifically looking for. Don't add too many words or you might severely limit your search results. Second, type in the following in the "without the words" box: "King, Vandross, Ingram, Johnny, Lex, Freddi, Burbank, Scottie, Clara". If you find many other entries that are similar in nature but have nothing to do with Luther or the Reformation, find the associated word included in the listing that would be the most unlikely to be included in a listing for Reformation items. Keep this "not" list handy and add and subtract to it as needed. If you're browsing on eBay, the box to add these words into is the "Exclude these words" in the "Advanced Search" option under the regular search box in the upper right hand corner of the eBay window.
Got it? Happy hunting!