I read with some interest the other day an account of this year’s gathering of the faithful at Hershey. For those not familiar, Hershey is probably one of the—if not the—largest classic car gatherings in the United States. What caught my attention in this account, however, was the fact that automobilia sales were reported to be so depressed this year that many vendors actually left the event early. What was the reported cause of this unusual downturn you ask? Bad weather? Locust swarms? Amish unrest? No, apparently the Internet is to blame.
Quite surprisingly—at least to me anyway—many vendors blamed the Internet, and in particular eBay, for a dirth of automobilia sales at Hershey and other major classic car swap meets and autojumbles. According to a number of vendors, the power of the Internet and online auction sites like eBay have virtually taken over the trading of everything from rare books to Herbert Johnson helmets. Why scour the globe for that piece of Fangio’s belly button lint or one of Jean Alesi’s used ear plugs, when you can sit at home in your underwear and not only find that rare piece, but make sure that you are paying the lowest possible price for it? Obviously, this advent of technology has completely revolutionized the automobilia trade (amongst many others), but at the same time I wonder if it hasn’t taken a lot of the fun out of it as well. Whether you’re collecting classic cars, automotive books or memorabilia, to my thinking, half the fun is the chase.
For a number of years, I collected 1⁄43rd-scale models of Lotus single-seaters. A fairly focused collecting fetish, I realize, but when it comes to models it has to be super focused otherwise I’d own damn near every model ever made! Besides, I intentionally focused my collection criteria because I wanted to have something to hunt for when I went to events. Every race, show or swap meet I went to, there was always that little edge of excitement, “Maybe today I’ll find that Lotus 16 I’ve been looking for.” When I found a particular model that I had been looking for (or even better, one I didn’t know existed!) it always felt like I had unearthed a treasure and that brought with it a certain satisfaction, I suppose. Now with eBay and the Internet, I could sit down, and in an afternoon, locate every Lotus model ever made on this planet. Way more efficient, but not nearly as satisfying.
Now, on the surface this doesn’t necessarily bode ill for the automobilia trade. People are still as crazy as ever for racing and automotive ephemera, and as long as people are buying, the traders will continue to trade. For the trade, this just means doing business differently, i.e. Internet/mail order rather than swap meets and autojumbles. However, this growing trend could be very bad for autojumbles. What will happen if automobilia and parts vendors stop going to stand-out shows like Hershey, Retromobile and Beaulieu? As we find more and more of our paraphernalia on the Internet, will these venerable shows fall into decline? Will our great-grandchildren laugh at the notion that Grandpa used to get up at 3:30 on a freezing Saturday morning to trudge around a soggy Pennsylvania field with a flashlight looking for a straight Triumph Herald upright? I hope not, but it does make one wonder.
Oopps! Well, I could go on about this all afternoon, but I see that I’ve just gotten an e-mail announcement. Maybe it’s eBay informing me that I’m the high-bidder on Schumacher’s post-Monza nail clippings! Gotta run…