Rarity Defined

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Not long ago, I was asked what constituted rarity inearly horse drawn wagons.  It’s a greatquestion but, not one with a simple – or short – answer.  Certainly, we don’t have sufficient space ortime in these brief blog posts but I can share a little. 

Helping shape resale values and collectordesirability, rarity is one of a dozen elements we highlighted in Volume One ofour “Borrowed Time” western vehicle book series.  For historians, collectors and enthusiasts,the term can involve anything from the brand to the style of vehicle, features,paint, age, provenance, condition, originality, completeness and numerous otherelements.
To qualify this point a bit more, nearly every setof old wooden wheels would likely rank as ‘rare’ to at least some degree.  But, different vehicles – even of the sameage – can clearly have different values assigned to them.  Those price or value differences can often betraced to the very reasons something is considered to be rare or scarce.  In other words, just because something is oldor even rare doesn’t make it a cinch that it’s valuable.  For instance, I have an old Herschel brandwagon seat.  They don’t make them anymoreand there probably aren’t too many left with the original paint andstenciling.  So, since it’s not somethingyou’ll find every day, it does possess an element of rareness.  However, compared to an original spring seatauthenticated to belong to a Murphy, Jackson, Kansas or Espenshied brand wagon,it will likely always come up lacking. The reason – at least in part – is that those other companies have anextremely strong heritage and rich legacy associated with the early American West.  Because of those deep-rooted connections –and also that very few of the collective hundreds of thousands of vehicles builtby those brands have survived – that uniqueness and historical provenance cansignificantly boost the vehicle’s desirability.

Spending so much time researching, collecting,photographing and cataloging information on early vehicles, we’ve learned that sometimesit’s not necessarily what you’re looking for as it is what you find.  In other words, learning to recognize thosethings that are truly unique, peculiar or otherwise different can open up opportunitiesthat may otherwise have been overlooked. Of course, ‘unique’ can also mean non-original, wrong, or just that youmay never have seen something before – which doesn’t always mean someone elsehasn’t seen it quite often.  Withoutknowing what is correct and truly uncommon, it’s easy to misjudge a piece.  As with any antique, it pays to know yoursubject.  After all, contrary to the oldsaying, what you don’t know can hurt you. 

Ultimately, some of the best advice I’ve ever heardhas been to know what you’re looking at and look at as many vehicles as oftenas you can.  Over time, the awarenesslearned from personal experience has a way of delivering rewards.
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