Most of my profits on Magic come from two sources: collections and bulk rares. These sources synergise: collections tend to come with a ton of bulk rares while the fancier cards resupply my trade stock – so I can trade for more bulk rares. I don't need to pick up a lot of collections to keep this going, so I tend to be picky on which collections I make a move on. I'm generally looking for those that help me with my own collection or that are particularly well priced. In The Netherlands, we have something similar to Craigslist called Marktplaats ("market place") which is the primary source for collections for most. You get a lot of competition there, though, and bids go crazy high. I tend to keep an eye on it, but it is extremely rare for me to buy a collection using this service.
Instead, I find collections through personal connections, mostly through non-Magic oriented tabletop-game clubs, and through my own Dutch Magic forum for which I have written some guides on collection selling with a standing offer of helping people out if they contact me by email. Obviously, this gives me first pick on whatever comes by, so it's a pretty good setup for me. I'll treat them honestly and fairly, though I don't aim to give them the best possible price: just a price that ranges from fair to good. This brings in somewhere between five and ten collection sellers per year, and I generally end up buying about two or three collections of various sizes. I pretty much buy everything I decide to travel to for a closer look.
On the 20th of December last year, a guy posted on my forum that he was selling the collection of his deceased son. He didn't know much about Magic himself and offered a reward of 25 percent of the sales price, with a maximum of €500, for someone to help him get the collection ready for a sale. I was the first to respond, offered to help and indicated that I might potentially be interested in buying it myself. After all: that's a 25 percent discount for work I would have to do after buying a collection in any case. I pointed him towards one of my guides, asked some questions and explained a few things about selling his collection.
He estimated that there were about 20,000 cards, a number that turned out to be pretty accurate, and said that the cards are mostly stored in binders sorted by set. According to him, little had been played with, as his son mostly collected. He mentioned that it starts at the "fifth generation," whatever he meant by that (I assume Fifth Edition). I told him a little more about what he could expect, warning him that sets from around the time of Fifth Edition tend to have a few expensive cards and a lot of bulk. I asked for some pictures so that I could get an idea of what he is selling.
There was silence for a while, but he promised to get back to me in January with the pictures I asked for. It remained silent so I eventually followed up, but as I got no response, I ultimately forgot about it.
Picking a Date and Preparations
On March 2nd, I got an email back as he's gotten back to his sale plans. We agree on a date for me to visit and he shares some pictures. I won't show you them all, as I believe the one below gives most of the information in any case.
We see a few things here. On the left there is a sizable stack of Inquests and all 3 Encyclopedias. There is some other literature too. Now you should know that at the time these were printed, I rarely bought magazines because they were fairly expensive on a teenager's budget. This guy apparently bought them regularly and went beyond that, suggesting a fanatical collector. Another thing to note is that these are set-branded binders, something I did not pay a lot of attention to myself, but I have since learned that these tend to go for about €15 to €25 each. Naturally, these weren't cheap at the time either. Finally, observe that the binders look pretty full. The rest of the pictures showed that there are some cards outside of the binders, but relatively few.
We agreed to meet on Saturday the 4th. The Friday night before the meeting, a collector and amateur dealer I know contacted me to ask whether I had plans for the next day. As we were going to get together to trade at some point, I initially assumed that's what he was asking about. Instead, it turned out that my seller put his collection on Marktplaats, and after this guy responded to his ad, the seller asked him whether he knows me, and if so, whether I am trustworthy. I don't mind a reference check and I appreciated the heads up, but I was a little annoyed with the seller for not telling me that he created the ad.
I explained that yes, I was planning to look at the collection the next day and that I meant to help the seller by filtering out interesting cards, giving a value estimate, and if it's interesting for me, making an offer. I also told him that the arrangement I have includes a percentage of the sale price for me. The other collector clearly saw this as an opportunity: he proposed that we try not to get into a bidding war and instead work together so that we don't end up paying more than needed, possibly dividing interesting parts of the collection between us. I stressed that I would be fair with the seller, but that I would not be opposed to seeing if we can work something out if either of us ends up buying it, as we (partially) have different interests when it comes to collecting (he really likes the binders for example, I don't care for them). I promised to share pics of what's in the collection if possible. The next morning I realized that the seller may tell me that he did a reference check, so I asked the collector what he thought I should say in that case, but he didn't respond in time.
I arrive and the seller is ready and waiting. He mentions that he placed the collection on Marktplaats and already had someone visit based on that. This potential buyer said he would pay €2000, but ended up offering him €400, which clearly annoyed the seller and made him lose faith in Marktplaats respondents. He also mentioned that he asked somebody who made a bid whether he knows me and that they confirmed that I was trustworthy. At this point I could do one of two things: ask who he spoke with (lie) or tell him I know. What would you do?
I don't lie. I can present all sorts of reasons why going for one option over the other would be better. It's not clear cut, but to me, the choice is obvious simply because I will not lie. So I told him that I know and share that this other guy is a fellow collector who buys collections for resale, just like I do. We didn't discuss it further, though I did mention later that the other guy really likes the binders and that I would likely sell them to him.
The seller started explaining that the situation is a little different from how he presented it online. I don't think it's right to share his story as it's quite personal, so I won't do that here, but suffice to say that it makes sense that he presented it differently. His story explained why many of the more expensive cards I might have expected in the collection were unfortunately gone: they were sold off in the late '90s. After discussing this, I dove in.
I will not bore you with too many details: I basically went through the binders and cards to pull out anything worth showing if you want to sell the collection. Good uncommons, decent and good rares, the three worn Beta commons because they would look interesting, etc. The seller took a picture after every set. It was clear that pretty much everything desirable during the late '90s was sold, so I found a City of Traitors and Lion's Eye Diamond (which were not popularized until years later), but no Morphlings or Serra Avatars. As I went through, I talked with the seller about selling collections, about Magic in general and about his story. I confided that I was not sure on foil prices, but that I would look them up for cards that seem relevant and show him what I found (the foil Academy Rector for example). Unfortunately, the seller never left the room and took his own pictures, so I only had a chance to update the other collector during a toilet visit. I told him most of the high-end stuff was gone, but he didn't really seem to believe me.
Ultimately, I got through the collection and to the point of making an estimate. I gave him both an indication of around €1150 for the higher-end stuff and a total of €1500 for everything (keeping in mind the binders' value too). I also told him that he may possibly get more if a bidding war ensues. He asked what I would bid, and I explained that with the arrangement he proposed, I would be okay paying him €1200 (I felt 25 percent was really high for the work, so I decided to round up rather than down to €1100). He immediately extended his hand, said that that was exactly the price he was looking for and wished me good luck selling it on for a nice profit.
We packed the collection into my car and I drove off. I parked a few blocks down and messaged the collector. He didn't believe many of the higher-end cards were gone; he thought I bought it too cheap and felt cheated out of the collection. After the seller contacted him, he was pissed at me for telling the seller that we had contact, then he blocked me.
I was intending to make him a deal on the binders and to see if we could work something else out for some of the other stuff, but obviously I won't be doing that at this point. I got the impression that he somehow felt entitled to get this collection, even though I was very clear on wanting to provide the seller a fair estimate and on making an offer myself if the collection was interesting to me.
Is it me or is it pretty crazy to expect others to lie for you when you are proposing shady practices?