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Did you know... that no one knows how many active movie poster collectors there are (Part 1 of 2)?

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Added: 05/11/2015

Way WAY back in 1998, I was asked by a collector to estimate how many active movie poster collectors there were at that time in the entire world! He was inspired to ask me that because he had just read (in the gone, but not forgotten, "Bible" of the movie poster hobby, Movie Collector's World, that major dealer book/publisher Tony Nourmand had taken a guess at the number, and he wanted MY thoughts as well. This was soon after I started this email club (17 YEARS ago!) and I ran his question and my answer in the club, as follows:

"I'd be interested in your comments on a point raised by Tony Nourmand (an English dealer) in an interview in Movie Collector's World. Nourmand guesstimated the number of movie poster collectors in the U.S. at a 'very generous' 10,000, more than double the 4,200 circulation of Movie Collector's World. The paid subscriptions to Movie Collector's World are only 2,400 and the rest of the copies are from newsstands. You (Bruce Hershenson) have said that you send out around 2000 Sales Lists and receive around 600 orders.

Given your figures and MCW's, I'd be very surprised if the number of active collectors (a hard to define term, of course) is anywhere close to 10,000. I can't imagine an active collector who doesn't bother to get MCW, and suspect that some who get it don't buy much during any given year. However, I also can't imagine an active collector wouldn't want to get your sales lists.

Therefore, I'd estimate the number of collectors who spend, say, more than $100 in a given year to be somewhere between the number of buyers at your sales (around 600) and the number who buy Movie Collector's World. It would be interesting to know how many collectors there are who spend different amounts in an average year. I'd guess the number of collectors who spend more than $1,000 in an average year is less than 1,000 in the U.S., but that's an uninformed guess.

I think the numbers issue is an important one for both dealers and collectors. If the numbers are low, the possibility of a collector being able to resell or trade items in the future is less than if they are many collectors. Auctions seem to be atypical situations, as suggested by Morris Everett's comment in Movie Collector's World that 1/4 of the total spent at the last Columbus auction was a result of the unexpected appearance of just two buyers. Auctions seem to be successful with the appearance of no more than a few dozen buyers, if they are the right ones. What are your comments?"

Here is how I replied (remember this was SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!):

"What a great question! People often assume there must be tens of thousands of serious vintage movie poster collectors, as there are in other hobbies, such as coins, stamps, baseball cards or comic books. There aren't. I echo the view of the letter writer, and after ten years of selling over a million dollars of posters a year, I can state with a great degree of certainty that there are no more than two or three thousand serious collectors, and that perhaps a thousand of them are in it for the long term (many years) while the rest drift in and out, replacing other collectors who drop out, and being replaced by more new collectors. This is backed up by the fact that my mailing list has stayed remarkably constant at around 2000, despite at least 500 dropping off each year (they are replaced by new customers), and by the fact that Movie Collector's World's circulation has stayed the same for over ten years, despite hundreds of new collectors joining each year.

But is this cause to panic or despair? I think not. One should, however, analyze why so many collectors leave the hobby. I believe the biggest reason is the difficulty in purchasing quality items at remotely reasonable prices. Good stuff is just too darn rare! Many people enter the hobby expecting to easily purchase posters from their favorite films or depicting their favorite stars, and they are amazed to find they are often unavailable at any price. Sometimes they finally find an item at an auction where they end up paying an outrageous price (either through a misleading estimate or reserve from the auction house, or because they lose their head from 'auction fever'). Sometimes they find the item from an extremely high priced dealer, and are misled into thinking they are paying a reasonable price. As luck would have it, they sometimes later see the same item at a fraction of the price, and often they then quit collecting in disgust, thinking the hobby is 'crooked'.

Another reason is that some collectors perceive prices to be falling, and because they are more investors than collectors, they jump ship and sell their collections. The reason this often occurs to investors/speculators is because they almost always buy items that are perceived to be "hot", and often items on which prices have recently drastically risen. Once dealers have unloaded their 'hot' items, they often cool off in a hurry, and the speculators sell out, driving prices down further. Often this demoralizes even long-time collectors, and sometimes causes them to quit in disgust."

Next week: I will give my 2015 views on how many active movie poster collectors there are, and how I arrived at my answer in Part 2!


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