BEHIND THE BLOCK: Collectible vs. marketable
As an auctioneer, I take issue with the term collectible, especially when I reject an item for auction and the object’s owner retorts, “But it’s a collectible!”
As imparted on Dictionary.com, collectible has two definitions:
The first definition of collectible is the most accurate. So long as one has the desire and the means to do so, anything – yes, anything – can be collected.
Let’s say Henry wants to collect cigarette butts. All he needs to do is scour parking lots, sift through public ashtrays, or keep his own finished smokes. However he acquires them, each of the cigarette butts that he gathers becomes a collectible (noun) because each one was collectible (adjective), and he now has himself a collection (?).
After years of hoarding and cataloging cigarette butts, Henry decides that it’s time to sell off his collection. So he brings it to me with the idea of consigning it and selling it through my auction. This is where the second definition of collectible comes into play.
an object suitable for a collection, originally a work of fine art or an antique, now including also any of a wide variety of items collected as a hobby, for display, or as an investment whose value may appreciate.
So, are the cigarette butts “suitable for a collection?”
Sure. Who am I to judge Henry for what he has enjoyed compiling? It’s not like he harvested the heads of kittens.
Are the cigarette butts works of fine art?
Are the cigarette butts antiques?
No, but who cares? The word antique only means that something is old. There are many antiques in the world that have little or no value.
Has Henry collected these cigarette butts as a “hobby [or] for display?”
I’m assuming that he has. Good for him. Everyone needs a hobby, and I’m sure Henry takes great pride in showing off his collection whenever he receives guests or posts pictures of it on his Facebook wall.
Has Henry collected these cigarette butts with the intention of them being “an investment whose value may appreciate?”
Well, he showed up at my gallery wanting to sell his collection through my auction. He places great value on it because of the time and care he has invested in assembling it. This pride, however, is irrelevant. The key question is whether or not Henry’s cigarette butt collection is marketable.
Ah… Marketable, the second half of the title of this post. Dictionary.com simply defines marketable as something that is “readily salable.” As an auctioneer, marketable means that I must be able to advertise merchandise that attracts bidders who will compete for ownership. That is the very essence of an auction: achieving possession of something by paying more for it than everyone else who wants it.
While I have never met anyone who collects cigarette butts, I have met many a person with collectibles that are not marketable. Popular presumptions have made the words collectible and marketable synonymous. Inevitably, this illusion is shattered, leaving only the truth that everything is collectible, but not everything is marketable.
Photo of cast iron teeth courtesy of Carlo Savo; photographed for Savo Auctioneers, LLC