The Memorabilia Frenzy:
Online Auctions and Crazy Prices
these handouts reach 150 each? Clockwise from top left: Pennzoil John
Force 1977, Shirley Muldowney Mustang Amalie linen finish 1972, Wynns
Don The Snake Prudhomme Hot Wheels dragster 1971, Quaker State Jungle
Jim Liberman 1974
When Jeff Burk asked me to create a column for Drag Racing Online regarding
the memorabilia market, it didn't take long to decide what was the hottest
area in terms of drag racing collectibles. As the former publisher of
Quarter Milestones, a magazine that was devoted to this very
subject, virtually everyone in the my circle is amazed and
even shocked at what is happening to prices for quality material on
Of course, as many readers may know, these services have opened up
new ways of buying and selling. Ebay.com
remains the leader in the online auction world, and it is here that
much of the action in this material is taking place. Unlike swap meets
or even a drag racing oriented collectors show, ebay has made it possible
for somebody to offer up material to a group of buyers worldwide. The
seller lists the item he or she wants to sell, preferably along with
some kind of illustration, selects the length of time the auction should
last, and then sells it to the highest bidder when that time is over.
The buyer, in turn, has the option of paying what he or she feels is
a fair price and hopes to be the one paying the seller when it is over.
What sometimes happens, however, is a cross between auction fever (A
few more dollars can't hurt) and simple lust (It doesn't
matter what it costs, I've got to have it!). The end result is
a spiraling price structure that has found what would have once been
considered outrageous money changing hands.
Take handouts, for example. Racers and race teams have used these promotional
items for years, and some are quite scarce, even though they were often
printed in the thousands. However, for most people who deal with them
on the retail level, the price structure has very rarely exceeded $100,
even for classics like Jungle Jim Liberman, Prudhomme /
McEwen Hot Wheels items or Shirley Muldowney's early funny cars. Recently
on ebay, however, even advanced collectors have been paying this much
or more for handouts of lesser-known racers. The question is whether
these are valid prices or simply inflated due to the auction environment.
As a collector and a dealer, I have a hard time seeing where the market
will end up. It has certainly begun to affect the way I price things,
since the demand remains constant and the material is getting harder
to find in truly mint shape (it should be noted that some of the high
prices on ebay were for items in less-than-perfect condition, making
the situation more confusing). Therefore they are inching up. However,
I am still hard pressed to justify pricing material based on ebay prices;
in all but a few cases, I would not be willing to flat charge more than
$50 per card (many pre-1980 issues remain at or below the $35 realm),
simply because I feel the value, real or perceived, does not justify
it at this point. As a result, using ebay's reserve policy, I normally
price most materials at 3/4 of my retail value (say $27.50 for a $35
item) and let the bidders decide the final outcome. Nonetheless, it
gets pretty heady when you see $136.45 as the final bid on that same
Of course, handouts are only a small part of the equation. Model kits,
posters, magazines, programs and other items from the sport's storied
past are also seeing these types of impacts.
Other factors are playing into the increased prices. At this point,
the economy is doing well and people have money to spend on their hobbies.
Also, there are many collectors who have very little luck finding and
buying vintage memorabilia in their own geographical regions; the auction
services have opened up a new way of obtaining material, even if they
do need to pay a premium for it.
Finally, as mentioned, there is the auction fever situation. I have
found myself paying more then I would at a show for an item on the internet
(not to mention additional shipping and insurance costs) as a result
of not having the disipline to say no more. Because the
transactions don't require cash in hand (and some, by using internet-related
payment services, require only a few mouse clicks to pay via a credit
card account), it can be mentally perceived as play money.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the show environment
by the time the biggest drag racing show of the year - Dragfest 2000
at the Airport Adams Mark Hotel - occurs during the Saturday evening
of the U.S. Nationals.
The internet has offered up many new opportunities for a lot of people
to make fast cash. Cleaning out your garage or attic has never been
more profitable. From a collector's standpoint, the issue is whether
or not the values realized in their realm of interest as of early 2000
will continue increasing unabated, will stabilize or will even fall.
From a dealer's standpoint, it becomes an issue of what to charge and
whether or not to buy and sell based on the new margins. Whatever happens,
things have never been hotter in the vintage drag racing memorabilia
market than they are right now.
Buying and selling drag racing's history. Contact Geoff Stunkard at
Selling on ebay under the same name.