by Jeff Cooper
PART TWO of TWO
CLICK HERE to read part ONE
Last issue I mentioned that after selling my entire 2600 collection, I began "re-collecting" a little over a year ago. I discussed how different collecting is now relative to six or seven years ago, thanks primarily to the "money factor," or the fact that 2600 carts command so much damn cash these days. Trading is a lot more difficult than it used to be, and flea markets and thrift stores around me have almost completely dried up as a source of carts. Yet I've still managed to put together a collection of nearly 500 carts (over 300 boxed) without blowing a whole lot of money, and I did it in a little over a year. Time to get into the specifics of my re-collecting odyssey.
The obstacles presented by the money factor and the difficulties associated with trading and flea marketing also attracted me to starting over, because I realized that collecting would be much more difficult and, in general, a very different experience than it was the first time. Basically all I had going for me was my garage (full of every manner of old videogame junk), a ton of "connections" and friends I had made over the years, a lot of experience, and the other huge change that has come to the hobby-the internet. Would it be possible to put a decent collection together? I didn't think so.
COOP'S BIG BRAG?
Nope. I'm sure it sorta sounds that way, but in fact this article ISN'T Coop's big brag. And that's because my success has had little to do with my great wisdom or crafty trading skills. The single most important factor in putting together my second collection been the assistance of my friends, fellow collectors, and various connections. The whole process of re-collecting got started a little over a year ago when I received a call from a fellow named Johnnie in Tulsa. I had done some trading with and selling to Johnnie four or five years ago, and although I hadn't heard from him in an age, we were still friends. Johnnie explained that he was going through some changes and basically was getting out of the videogaming hobby. He had been trying to sell his entire collection of nine or ten different systems from 2600 through SNES, with carts, and had no luck locally. He wanted to know if I had any ideas. I had no interest in the stuff myself: I explained that I had all the systems and had no interest in his 275 2600 carts because I had recently sold my own collection. I advertised his collection on the internet (didn't know about ebay yet) with no takers. To make a long story short, Johnnie eventually asked me to buy the stuff at a price so low that there was no way I wouldn't be able to eventually resell. So, I bought the collection, plucked out about thirty 2600 rares (Pandas, Zimag and stuff, no Crazy Climbers here), resold everything else in one lot to make back my money, and I was off.
I spread the word that I was, in a small way, putting together a 2600 collection again, and things sort of took on a momentum. One long time gamer friend pulled a box of duplicates out of his closet and sent me a bunch of titles, including a James Bond and a boxed Tapper, for nothing. A second friend did the same. I found a few dozen carts out in the garage that I didn't even know I had, and discovered that, though flea markets stink compared to what they were six years ago, is still possible to find dozens and dozens of common and semi-common games in the wild.
Very quickly I had over 200 different titles, and I realized that finding all of the hundreds of common and semi-common carts would simply take time and patience. So instead of going out of my way for that kind of stuff, I let it come to me. The trick would be to scarf up with some rares.
I knew that in order to come up with harder-to-find carts, I'd need to have something to trade, but obviously I didn't have any 2600 games to use as bait. But then I remembered an old expression: "one man's meat is another man's poison." And I had a TON of poison out in my garage: all kinds of Pong systems that had been accumulating over the years, boxes of controllers, piles of systems and carts that I never did and never would play, like APF, Bally Astrocade, Channel F, TI computer, you name it. I found that there was very little demand for this stuff, but also very little supply. So when I did find people who collect this more exotic material, they were willing to trade quality 2600 items for it. I picked up a Stargunner, Submarine Commander, Gas Hog, and some rare Xonox, for example, for some oddball stuff that may have been rare, but was of little interest to me.
The next boon I discovered was the emerging popularity of something that had been close to my heart for years-videogame memorabilia. I picked up a ton of 2600 rares in trade for everything from Activision patches to posters to Pac-Man toys to handhelds and game watches. This memorabilia doesn't grow on trees and I've traded off very little from my personal collection. So where did it come from? Well, again, it all comes back to friends and connections. One longtime friend came across a guy selling a large lot of mint-in-box Q*Bert, Frogger, and Pac-Man game watches dating from the early 1980s. The seller didn't want much for them, but he had so many that my friend could not afford the whole lot. So my friend asked if I'd go in on the deal with him. "Why sure." I sold enough watches on the internet to get back all the money for both my friend and myself (if I'd known about ebay at the time I'd be retired), and I still had many watches left over to trade; through this route I came up with a mint-in-box 2600 Berenstain Bears and several other items on my want list. Another collector came up with a large batch of memorabilia that cost next to nothing; he had no interest in it himself, and sent it to me for what he paid. Again I sold enough to make my money back and had a ton of trade bait left over.
WHO TO TRADE WITH? AH, THE INTERNET
Through deals like these I stockpiled more and more stuff to trade. But in order to keep the collection growing, I had to find more and different people to trade with; I'd gotten about all I could from my various personal connections. Here I think I had some lucky timing. Just as I lucked out by starting my first collection before the hobby grew so immensely popular, I lucked out the second time around by starting out more or less as the internet and classic game collecting were beginning to discover one another.
Other than the money factor, the internet by far represents the biggest change associated with classic game collecting. Suddenly, instead of being immersed in my private network of dozens of 2600 collectors, I was immersed in a network of hundreds, if not thousands of Atari fanatics. The availability of rares almost instantly went up tenfold-as one collector put it, you can encounter more super rares in one month on the internet than you can in years of conventional letter-writing, flea-marketing, and so forth. The impact on trading was immediate. I had some collectable game posters that ninety-nine out of a hundred people would have no interest in. That meant that they were untradeable through conventional channels. But put them up on the internet and that one-in-a-hundred interest means that you've got five or six people fighting over this formerly worthless stuff. And with such a big audience, you are going to run into some people who have really good stuff to trade. Though fraught with pitfalls (excuse the pun), I found that the internet can also be a good place to buy. If you are able to hang out on the usenet groups all the time (this is not an option for those among us who have lives), you can stumble across some good deals. One time, just as I signed on, somebody posted sort of an internet garage sale, something like 25 games (mostly common but all boxed and many with the old, book-style boxes) for $20. Man, I never typed "I'll buy" so fast or hit "send" so hard. The seller got dozens of responses but I was first. Another guy needed money for surgery and threw up a pile of boxed games for seventy-five cents a piece. Same thing; the guy got deluged with responses, but I was the first to see his post and I got the goodies. Then there was the guy whose post offered boxed rares for Atari 5200. The post, which had been up for an hour or two before I saw it, was all confused, so no one called the guy. I sensed that the guy actually had 2600 rares but didn't realize it. I called and, sure enough, the guy had made a warehouse find but did not understand what he had. I told the guy I would explain things to him providing he would sell me a couple dozen of the items at the posted advertised price, and he agreed. I wish I could have bought 100 items but, like I said, I don't have a lot of money to shell out, and for just a little money I did end up with five more boxed rares for my collection and over a dozen duplicates that I've done very nicely with in trades. There was a lot of luck here; unlike some people, I do not troll the videogame usenet groups hourly, I don't even check them daily.
THE TANGLED WEB THE TRADER WEAVES . . .
Building up the collection often involved a lot of time and effort. Some deals involved a complicated intersection of several of the principles discussed above-personal connections, the internet, "one man's meat, another man's poison," etc. For example, through the internet, I ran into a guy who had some rare 2600 carts I really wanted. I had nothing to trade because the guy wanted Vectrex. I knew another guy from the net who had Vectrex, but I had nothing to trade him, either. The Vectrex guy mentioned he was going mental trying to find a particular Intellivision title, and would trade his Vectrex soul to get it. Then I recalled that a DP staffer had an extra copy of the Intellivision title the guy wanted. Even though I can't recall ever doing this DP staffer any favors (his collection is so extensive it's hard to come up with anything he needs), I explained the situation to him and he sold me the Intellivision game for quite a lot less than he could have gotten for it from someone else. So, I had the Intellivision game, which I traded for a ton of Vectrex, which in turn I traded for the coveted 2600 rares. I did have to shell out some good money to get that Intellivision game, but I ended up with a number of 2600 carts for a fraction of what they'd sell for on the open market.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, TRY CASH
I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to build a large collection quickly without using at least some cash. If nothing else, I've had to use cash to buy things (like game watches) to resell in order to get profit or trade bait which I used to build the collection further. Though I've made quite a number of outright cartridge purchases, I found that, with patience and, especially, friends and connections, the hobby doesn't have to be impossibly expensive. One friend decided to part out his 2600 collection. He didn't give away anything, but he sold me a ton of stuff for way less than the "going rate." His rationale was 1) he was avoiding the hassles of auctions, etc., 2) he was still getting from me way more than what he paid for the stuff four years ago 3) he was doing me a favor. Almost all my cartridge purchases have been from friends and trading partners, at cut-rate prices (I have purchased NOTHING in the way of expensive rares from auctions), and the cash I've used has come from selling other videogame stuff. I've also had to have some money available for those instances where something turns up dirt cheap on the internet (like those lots of boxed games). I've even found a bargain or two on ebay. Things often go ridiculously high there but, once in a while, things go for bafflingly small amounts. In the last few months I saw several Atari Video Cubes go for well over $100 each, then one went for around $30. I thought Strategy X and $7 was pretty reasonable, as was Cosmic Swarm at $12.50 (one dealer lists the latter at $90). A perfectly nice Master Builder, which lists in the conservative DP Guide at $75, recently went to someone for around $26.
Here are some examples of how I came up with a few of the rarer items in my new collection:
Wing War, Master Builder, Motorodeo, Smurf Saves the Day, boxed Waterworld, Assault, a few others all in trade for an old arcade machine
Boxed Kid Vid system with Smurf Saves the Day in internet trade for vid memorabilia
Boxed Crazy Climber discount purchase from collector friend
Cakewalk in trade for duplicate loose Smurf Saves the Day
Halloween flea market find, $1
Miner 2049er Vol. II flea market find, $1
Shuttle Orbiter flea market find, $1
Boxed Berenstain Bears in internet trade for vid memorabilia
Chase the Chuckwagon discount purchase from collector friend
Boxed Condor Attack in trade for a few misc. APF, Channel F games
Boxed Rescue Terra I in trade with a dealer for vid memorabilia
Glib - in internet trade for vid memorabilia Boxed Deathtrap in trade with a new trading partner for a duplicate 2600 rare picked up inexpensively on the net
Complete mint Tooth Protectors in internet trade for a loose used Kid Vid controller, found at a thrift store, that had been sitting in my garage for years
Quadrun (original release) - discount purchase from longtime trading partner
In conclusion, I'm sure there are some readers saying to themselves, "Look, I'm fairly new at this and I don't have friends who are going to sell me stuff cheap. And no one is going to send me memorabilia at cost that I can trade." To this I can only say that the only way to gain experience and make connections is to throw yourself into the hobby. Beat the bushes looking for stuff, remembering that though you may have no interest in this videogame junk or that, someone else may. Go out of your way to make some trades, if only for the sake of establishing connections and trading partners. And make sure people you trade with are happy with the trade. A good trading partner is far more important in the long run than any one particular deal. There are a handful of people out there that I won't trade with because in hindsight I feel they took advantage of me and I think ultimately they have only screwed themselves. There are far more people out there who I try to do favors for because they have done favors for me; many of these people have become friends.
One thing is for sure: the carts are out there. Go get 'em.
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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 05:54 PM