Continuing the theme of what will make become the desirable collectables of the future, I came across an obscure but promising one in the past week: tax discs.
An acquaintance of mine used to own a moped and, many years ago, when he lived in London and the motorbike was parked outside his flat, a young lad stole the tax disc because he had managed to acquire a moped of his own but was too young to hold a licence and needed the disc to make his look legal. Needless to say, he was caught and dealt with.
In the meantime the victim of the crime decided that it was too risky to continue displaying the replacement disc, and so he filed it at home, ready to produce it if ever asked to do so by the authorities. He continued with this custom for a number of years, until he got rid of the moped.
So as not to damage the discs when filing them, using a hole punch, he left them attached to the original perforated sheet of paper, so they remained in all but mint condition and now he has a remarkable set of them. These must have become attractive collectors’ items since the abolition of the tax disc, and their auction value can only climb as the years go by.
No sooner had I put pen to paper on last week’s column, talking about Steve Jobs and his first ever computer taking £100,000 at auction, than the Science Museum in London launched a Twitter conversation about the history of Apple products, from the 1984 pre-production model, Mouse for Apple Macintosh, through the 1993 Apple Newton MessagePad, the 1998 iMac G3 to the 2003 Apple iPod and the 2007 iPhone launch to the 2010 iPad.
The Science Museum has them all and provides a fascinating study of the development of technology and its association to social development over the past 30 years and more.
If this is the attitude that the Science Museum has to these objects – presenting them as museum exhibits – then you can be sure that they will also make their impact on the world of collecting in years to come. Millions of iPhones may be circulating the globe as we speak, but as they get updated and the defunct ones disappear, eventually only a limited number will be left to become sought-after collectables. The development of mobile phone technology, as they morphed into handheld computers, thereby changing the way the world communicates and interacts socially, has been the biggest game changer of all. Expect it to be a force at auction as a whole new niche collecting area develops in the future.
What is worth preserving now as the antiques and collectibles of tomorrow? If I could answer that, then I’d be richer than most. It’s surprising what people will compete for furiously at auction these days, from plastic toys of the 1970s to old computers. Only in May, Steve Jobs’ first ever computer, which he built in his garage, sold for £100,000 at auction. I have even seen ordinary old snapshot photos sell for £50 or more apiece. The mind boggles sometimes at what can be turned into hard cash and what people are desperate to collect.
One way of starting to identify what might be the next success on the rostrum is to look at the variables that contribute to value at auction: rarity, condition, maker, age, provenance, fashion and appearance. Age is not likely to be a factor in this case, but condition certainly can be, especially for old toys. Star Wars figures in undamaged blister packs can make far more than those that have been played with, for instance. Some of the rarer models are not those of the main characters, but rejects withdrawn and replaced by later designs. Ordinary day-to-day items can take on a special allure if their history – or provenance – links them to a celebrity or extraordinary event, like the Titanic disaster. More on this next week.
I was astonished by news this week that an online auction site for cars had notched up over £1 billion in sales so far. The site in question, Car Dealer, launched in 2010, so it has had seven years to do this, but nevertheless, it is probably only in the last four or five years that online bidding for items costing thousands of pounds has really taken off, so it would be interesting to see how much of that £1 billion has been turned over during the last two or three years. One news report said that year-on-year growth was 11.5%, but didn’t specify what that growth referred to. Was it growth by unit volume or value?
This year’s Hiscox Online Art Trade Report recorded a 15% rise in global art and antiques sales online at $3.75 billion (currently about £2.9 billion), but that’s for everyone. The report predicts that if this trajectory continues it will be over $9 billion by 2021. Perhaps most interestingly, Christie’s, the biggest player in the field, reported an 84% rise in online sales to £49.8m for 2016, while its sales overall sales for the year fell 16% to £4 billion.
So it looks like the trend in the auction market is inexorably online. Not to worry, though; despite this almost no one is talking about getting rid of bricks and mortar auction rooms – they’re just too much fun to visit.