POPULARITY VS. ACTUAL RARITY
Do The Two Go Hand-In-Hand?
(Appropriately Reprinted this site: May 2009 - D/D Fry)
By: Carl O. Burns
Note: The December 1997 issue of San Diego Carnival Glass Club Newsletter carried an article which we feel warrants reprinting for the benefit of newer collectors. The words are counsel and timeless!
Greg Gilliland's article in the last San Diego Bulletin, which disputed my claim of scarcity concerning Purple Shell & Sand bowls has prompted me to write this article. Let me first say that we are all certainly entitled to our opinions and I respect Mr. Gilliland's. What I am concerned with here is the manner in which he arrived at his conclusions. I believe it is a classic case of misinterpreting just exactly what Carnival Glass Auctions are all about.
They ARE NOT an accurate guide to actual rarity of any given item! By actual rarity I DO NOT refer to popularity, but to the actual numbers of any given item that tend to surface over the course of time.
To quote Mr. Gilliland's article, “I don't consider a bowl that has come up for auction every year (at least once) for the past five years “Scarce”. Were we to accept that logic, then Rose Show bowls, for example, must be so common as to be virtually worthless! During the last 5 years, 12 Shell & Sand bowls of various colors have sold at auction. In the same time frame, 158 Rose Show bowls were sold at auction, yet Rose Show bowls are far from worthless! They bring very respectable prices indeed. In fact, even the most available colors of Rose Show bowls will sell at a higher price than the scarcest of Shell & Sand bowls. Why? It is because of the popularity of the design and appreciation of the artistry of the Rose Show pattern. Everyone wants to have some examples in their collections. The same could be said of many other Carnival patterns, such as Peacocks, Hearts & Flowers, Good Luck, etc. All of them command consistently high prices, yet they all turn up in the auctions every year in amazing numbers, which brings me to one of the main points of this article.
The purpose of a Carnival Glass Auction is to sell a Carnival collection. And collections are where the majority of all the known popular and desirable pieces are to be found. Because of this fact, you simply CANNOT use the auctions as an accurate indicator of the actual availability of any given item. They ARE an accurate indicator of the POPULARITY of any given item, but not of the actual rarity. To gauge actual rarity, you must consider the numbers of examples that turn up OUTSIDE the Carnival Auctions - on the “Open Market”. I refer to Shops, Shows, Antique Malls, Local Antique Auctions, Flea Markets and all of the other places that we search for Carnival Glass. This is a much more accurate indicator of actual availability. It is a true reflection of just what is available for the majority of collectors to hunt for, and is a more accurate gauge of their chances of finding it!
This is how I gauge rarity and scarcity. I have been active in the Carnival Glass Hobby for 28 years. I am also a full time Antique Dealer. As such, I am “out there” searching all the time; not just on weekends and holidays, etc. I have to, because that's how I make my living. The competition is fierce and increasing constantly. One of the advantages of this, is that I am able to gain a far more accurate picture of just what turns up on this “Open Market”, (and how often it does), than someone who can only do this on a part time basis. I cover ground! Sometimes 400-500 miles a day for 3-5 days in a row, searching to buy. So, when I call a piece “scarce”, such as the Purple Shell & Sand bowls, this is the standard of measure that I use. During the course of this 28 years of constant searching, the number of Purple Shell & Sand bowls that I have encountered in this manner would likely number no more than 10-12 examples. That's NOT very many for all those years. That's only an average of seeing one example every 2 ½ years. I would certainly consider that as “scarce”, at the very least! The number of Rose Show bowls, Peacocks, Hearts & Flowers, etc., that I have seen during the same time frame? STAGGERING! Hundreds at the very least! As to the actual number of Purple Shell & Sand bowls available-while they may not enjoy the popularity of some of the aforementioned patterns, they win the actual “scarcity” race-hands down!
This brings me to the final point of this article. Carnival Glass Auctions are an integral and important aspect of our hobby. But, let's not use them for the wrong purposes. You must always bear in mind that there are thousands of Carnival Glass collectors out there. Only a VERY tiny percentage of them purchase their glass regularly at the Carnival Glass Auctions. The VAST MAJORITY purchase the bulk of their glass out on the “Open Market” where the true measure of scarcity is to be realized. This is why I listed Purple Shell & Sand bowls as “scarce” in my Imperial Book. The majority of collectors who use such reference books do so in their searches out on the Open Market. NOT at the Carnival Glass Auctions. And remember: A high Auction price is NOT necessarily an indication of rarity! It is more often than not an indication of popularity. The two do not always go hand in hand!
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A Few Words on Vaseline Glass · A Lesson in Toxic Issues · A Personal Reflection into Fenton Past · America the Beautiful · Beginners Journey · Brocaded Roses by Central Glass · Don Grizzle and His NW Jardiniere · Famous Last Words · Fenton Dragon & Lotus · Fishscale & Beads · Frank M. Fenton · Grapevine Lattice · In Memory Of George Loescher · Lattice & Points/Vining Twigs · My First True Love ~aka~ Cosmos & Cane · My First Days of Carnival Glass Collecting · Popularity VS. Actual Rarity · The Different Millersburg Peacock Molds · The Myths and Mysteries of Straw Marks · The Stuff We Prize is Just on Loan · Thoughts From Fay · What A Message · Wholesale vs. Retail
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