Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Junk Sale Gaming Treasures Remain Rare

Junk sales might seem good places to hunt for odd gaming-related treasures, but gamers’ tendency to hang onto stuff they like means few worthwhile items make it to the resale market.

I’m not a huge fan of junk sales (call them what you will, tag sales, yard sales, garage sales, much of it still looks, feels, and smells like junk to me), but on rare occasions I find something remarkable. I’ve infrequently done the yard sale circuit, watching the newspaper ads for particularly promising ones or dropping in on those I pass when I’m in the mood. I maintain a broad range of gaming and fan interests, yet I rarely find something worth purchasing; old games, D&D books, and figures remain exceptional finds amid the cigarette-smoke-encrusted household items, sticky toys, dusty gewgaws, and grimy kitchen gizmos.

These days more than ever second-hand gaming treasures do not make it to the yard sale marketplace. When gamers decide to give up anything from their collection, they find better venues for them. They turn to sites like eBay to auction off their treasures to a much wider market hoping to garner a much higher profit. They give stuff away to fellow gamers or offer them for sale on gamer-exclusive sites. They bundle them for game convention charity auctions. (I realize I’m making a broad generalization here; gamers’ habits vary widely, I’m sure.) Anything reaching the junk sale probably got there from some parent cleaning out a kid’s room (with or without their knowledge) or from someone leaving the hobby entirely; and ultimately, that’s not much.

Still, over the course of my gaming life I’ve found a handful of treasures at junk sales and junk shops. When I was a kid we sometimes stopped by tag sales in our neighborhood, more to hang out with playmates than really look for stuff, but I did find a few particularly interesting gaming treasures. At one I acquired one of my first science fiction novels, a worn paperback copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Savage Pellucidar, which fueled my nascent interest in fantasy fiction (how could you go wrong with the Frank Frazetta cover of scantily clad Dian the Beautiful and two saber-toothed tigers?). At another, right across the street from the first, I found and purchased The Royal Game of Ur in rare board game format. I was just becoming interested in archaeology and ancient civilizations at the time, so it was an inspiring find.

The local junk shop is quite that: a vast labyrinthine warehouse of cubbies filled with junk in loosely sorted categories. It has been officially called a “thrift” store and “indoor flea market,” both of which are being kind. One never quite knows what one might find, though it’s more curiosity than a treasure to purchase and take home. People I know regularly troll the dark corners seeking such eclectic finds as old vinyl records and equipment for projecting film (yes, both ancient technologies). The store used to have an adequate “game and puzzles” section primarily stocked with deteriorating family board games, but, in six years of irregular visits, I’ve only found two gems: a copy of the amazing, Mensa-award-winning Pirateer board game, and a second edition AD&D Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting boxed set.

This past weekend on a whim I visited a rummage sale advertised in the paper and run to benefit a local political group. The keywords in the newspaper ad that caught my eye included “toys” and “hobby items.” I took a chance that “hobby” meant gaming and not modeling, model railroading, or fly fishing. I lucked out. For $3 I bought a circular Celtic chess game called Noble Celts, complete with large faux leather board and resin pieces cast like Norse warriors…still in the industrial-strength shrink wrap. A little surfing on the internet pulled up the original price of $50, though it’s listed as out of stock. (I also found a First Act lap harp for $5, which, for a decent instrument originally priced at $20, and out of stock, is a steal.)
Maybe I just need to get out more, maybe I need to hit larger flea markets and community yard sales instead of the one- or two-family tag sales. Maybe my expectations are simply too high. While I don’t go to junk sales looking for anything specific from my gaming wish list, I do hope to at least find more evidence that gaming materials -- whether books, board games, miniatures, or other paraphernalia -- is making its way into the secondary market for diligent bargain hunters and eccentric collectors to find.