Earlier today, I posted some comments relating to “rarity.” At that time, I intimated that I would return to the topic, and I am doing so now.
Anyway, the following are just a few off-the-cuff remarks–probably over-generalized and oversimplified in various ways, and possibly over-ignorant, but I hope they clarify some of the things I said in the preceding post.
It is extremely difficult for me to consider a book that exists in (say) 25 or so copies to be “rare.” I may have to loosen-up my criteria somewhat. But, as should be more clear from the following, “rarity” to me does rest on a lot more than the mere quantity of a book in existence. Some books could be rare with (I suppose) 30 copies in existence. Others could exist in four copies, and not be rare, in part because nobody wants them.
With that little introduction out of the way, here are a few more comments.
First, you might say, “Tom, you talk in terms of four or five copies of Quinto, and maybe three copies of Five Hundred. Yet you call Quinto “rare,” and Five Hundred only scarce. What’s up?”
That’s a pretty good point, but the situation is easily explained. It has to do with the general recognition that the Quinto booklet is unusual, and generally more desirable than most (if not all) of Hoffmann’s other booklets. People are not paying such close attention to a booklet like Auction Bridge or Five Hundred. Boiled down, I expect to see another copy of Auction Bridge before I see a copy of Quinto.
Next, you might say, “Do you really think that the number of copies ‘you know about’ is all that meaningful? I mean, you know of like three copies of Five Hundred. Are you saying that there are only three copies in existence?”
The answers to those two questions are “No,” and “No.” I suspect that there may be dozens of copies in existence of booklets like Quinto, and Auction Bridge, and Ecarte. I think we need to get further into the “long run” before we will really have much of an idea on how many copies of each booklet really exist. I know that some of my comments are thus a little contradictory, since it seemed as though I was saying that a booklet can’t be considered rare if (say) eight or ten copies exist–yet on the other hand I am saying that I dozens of copies of Quinto may exist–but it is rare!
Well, first of all, Quinto “seems” rare. It “seems” as though there are only a half-dozen copies in existence. I mean, it gives that vibe. There could be many copies–really, I recognize that, and I think there probably are quite a few–but experientially, these days a collector has the same experience he (or she) would have if there were only a handful of copies.
Moreover, it actually may be that the booklet exists in only small numbers. The only institutional collection I am sure has one is the Bodleian library–and the only reason they have it is that Jessel gave it to them. I don’t think the British Museum has a copy (they probably have a copy of the Bodleian example). I am pretty sure the Library of Congress does not have one either.
But again, there probably are quite a few copies in existence–and the same applies to the titles such as Bridge Varieties and Hearts, Heartsette, and Ombre. I would think that eBay has probably pulled a lot of copies of scarce rule-booklets out of hiding, and it may continue to do so. But it seems to me that the frequency of super rule-booklets appearing on eBay has been declining, not increasing.
Next, you might say, “You said Auction Bridge was scarce, yet you have two copies of it. Same with Five Hundred. How can this be?”
Well, sometimes that can be the way that collecting “works.” For example, a collector might find several scarce items and not be able to find several common items.
One of the things that tends to disguise the quantity of existing booklets is that, in general, there are factors that make card-game rule-booklets somewhat different than the general run of collectibles. I am guessing that most people, when they find one in the attic or somewhere, may not even consider the item worth preserving. They might toss it. Or they might figure, “This is kind of neat, but it is probably worth only $2, and it’s not worth the effort to sell it.” They might not toss it, but they might place it into a shoe box instead of (say) selling it via eBay.