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The Secondary Market
What is it?

The Secondary Market for collectibles is the means by which older collectibles, which are no longer available as new retail products, are bought and sold. This includes dedicated dealers and retailers who specialize in buying and selling retired and/or used items as well as individuals buying and selling via online auctions, offline auctions, yard sales, classified postings, etc.

The Secondary Market performs an important role in the collectibles industry. It allows collectors the opportunity to find items to fill gaps in their collections, often those that are older or rarer. It also helps introduce new people to the joy of collecting something they may have missed. Often collectibles are representative in some way of the period in which they were manufactured and may therefore hold historical, educational or nostalgic value in addition to the simple aesthetic qualities.

Buying used items

If you ask people generally if they prefer to buy items new or used, most will choose to buy new. If, however, you ask if someone would prefer a Victorian writing desk or a modern reproduction, most are likely to go with the original. These examples show how opinions of 'used' items vary based on the context. Clearly, by definition, the Secondary Market is dealing primarily in used items, but in most cases the context is such that 'used' is seen to have a positive meaning.

Unlike clothing and mechanical items, which can quickly and easily deteriorate as they are used, most collectibles are made of materials (like porcelain, polyresins and acrylics) that have great longevity if treated with appropriate care and attention. These items can easily retain their 'as new' condition for decades or even centuries. Their 'used' status does not necessarily impact their desirability or their value. In fact, many collectibles will have their values increased once they are only available through the Secondary Market, as the availability becomes significantly reduced.

Although the Secondary Market deals in 'used' items, not all Secondary Market items are really used. There are 3 basic levels of 'used':
  1. Items purchased for display or use.
  2. Items purchased for investment and not displayed/used.
  3. Items acquired as excess inventory from retailers
Only the first category of items are really used in a way that may affect their condition and potentially their value. Some collectors/investors will purchase items with the intent to resell in the future and maintain their condition by storing in the original packaging in a safe, dry place. Other Secondary Market pieces have never been owned by an individual at all but were acquired by a Secondary Market dealer directly from the surplus inventory of a retailer or wholesaler.

It is not always possible to determine the history of a particular item, even for specialized dealers. The only real measure is the condition of the item.

Pricing on the Secondary Market

Secondary Market pricing is by no means an exact science! The same items can sell only moments apart for vast differences. For popular lines of collectibles there may be official or unofficial price guides. If price guides exist they are usually referenced at least as a starting point for valuation and pricing, although most tend not to differentiate between insurance valuations and resale expectations, which may be significantly different.

In most cases, the price is determined purely by the market forces of supply and demand. Using their original purchase price, sentimental value or other factors as a starting point, sellers will list their collectibles for sale and will then adjust pricing based on what other sellers are doing and their success at that price point.

Dealers in the Secondary Market will usually have access to relevant price guides and will have the best practical knowledge of current market valuations. Some dealers may provide input into price guides or offer their own price appraisal services.

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