Mike at the Online Photographer, makes an elegant point (with graph!) about the relationship between time and economic value. In looking at photographic archives and collectibles, he notes that there is a transformation from use-value in the short term, to no use-value/no-exchange value in the middle term, to no use-value/high exchange-value in the long term. The middle section is the trough:
The examples he uses are lunchboxes, which went from being useful, to being useless, to be collectible; and of course, photographs. It’s an interesting point.
I do think that what the time variable is doing is creating scarcity more than kind of generating nostalgia value. I mean, there is some element of nostalgia. I bought a couple of old typewriters recently (this kind and this kind, not as pristine but not even remotely as expensive), and the feeling of typing on one recalls some weird muscle memory in me that makes me happy. Lunchboxes probably hold the same allure. But generally, it’s that there were 1.25 million Underwoods produced over a 20-year period, and the number that survive goes down year by year by year.
I’m reminded again of the so-called ‘$40 million dollar elbow’ story, that Steve Wynn plunked his elbow through a 1932 Picasso painting, “Le Rêve.” It would have been a steal to buy the piece at a discount because the elbow made the piece no longer pristine. In a ‘scarcity trough’ rather than a trough of no value, there are lots of Picasso’s in pristine condition. But over time, accidents will happen, some will get lost, ruined, restored, stolen. In another 100 years, there will be very few pristine Picasso’s, and the value of the painting will once again be more about its substance than its condition.
The other interesting thing about the trough of no value is that some items never become collectibles. So there is still something else going on, not just scarcity and age. I wonder if pet rocks or Simon will come back as a collector’s item. I’d guess there’s more chance of the latter than the former, but I don’t think it is about scarcity.
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