1996 Year in Review covering 1995
By Roy More, ISCA #0020L
The Scout Patch Auction (TSPA) continues to be the largest sales service for Scouting collectibles. We actually doubled our volume from the previous year. This growth has brought many challenges as well as opportunies. I want to thank you for your support and in many cases patience. You may have had to talk with several associates rather than a single person, but TSPA's growth has required that we bring others on board. TSPA will continue to work on improving its services while it continues to advance our hobby.
A major announcement this past year was Bernie Miller beginning the process of parting with his collection. Unlike some collectors' suspicions, Bernie is in fine health. It is just that he wanted to see justice done with his collection and so he came to us. Very few have yet to realize the extent of his collection. I had to lease additional office space (the top floor of a downtown office building) just to house the collection. The transfer of the collection required a large truck (not a trailer, not a van, a real honest to goodness truck). We had boxes stacked floor to ceiling. Many of the items are best of class. It will be nice for so many collectors to have a chance at putting some of these items in their collection. We started private showings and cataloging the collection but have a long way to go. More on this later.
This past year saw another successful National Order of the Arrow conference held at Purdue University. As a bi-annual ritual, there was the pre-NOAC TOR. Larger than ever before although the accomodations did not, could not, equate to the World's Fair Covnention Center at 1992's Knoxville show. That the show is growing is good for the hobby but a TOR with multiple rooms is just not going to be acceptable. If need be, such a national TOR will need to be held in a city with appropriate facilities even if it takes it away from the campus site of the National Conference.
Besides the pre-NOAC TOR I attended eight other TORs (as my wife often points out). TOR results have been mixed. Detroit was a highlight because of the large walk-in participation. See the article elsewhere in this paper. Reviews of many of the others was mixed. In part for the reasons of not doing the things that made Detroit successful. Also, the cost of traveling to TORs these days has gotten to the point where many people choose to stay home and spend their money to buy a good patch off of one of our lists. More people are now disposing of their collections through our list rather than at a TOR because we get to a national audience. I will continue to attend TORs because of the pleasure I get from meeting in person so many of you that I talk with on the phone. Still, unless the sponsors really work at it in new ways, their attendance will decline.
TSPA published a new, illustrated flap book targeted towards the beginning and intermediate collector. Some of us who have been collecting for over twenty years fail to remember what "hooked" us early on. Bill Price's illustrated flap book of the 1970s was the most widely used collecting guide for OA patches. Even if we have a fraction of that success it will mean that many more educated collectors in our hobby. The response and reviews have been very positive.
A major trend within Scouting continued as there was further consolidation of councils. There were something like 370 councils at the beginning of 1994. There are 342 as of this time. This will continue. Based upon prior merger waves, this will affect the hobby to the extent that it affects Scouting. If Scouting gets stronger, then the hobby will get stronger. If Scouting does not, then things could be up in the air.
SPA has always been very open in sharing information. It is something that we believe helps the hobby. Because of the tens thousands of patches that we handle in a year, we get a good feel for what is hot within the hobby (as well as what is not.) I am often asked for my assessment of different collecting areas. Rather than share it with just a few, the following are my observations and opinions. Use them to your advantage.
As a general trend there is a broad movement away from national collections towards regional collections. As certain segments get too pricey, for example OA badges, collectors have narrowed their focus to the badges from their region or state. The typical collector ends up desiring all badges related to their area, not just OA.
As always OA continues to be the most demanded and valuable Scouting collectible. The Order is comprised of many of the most dedicated Scouts and Scouters. Their badges are typically issued in relatively limited numbers resulting in supply often less than demand.
There is still very solid demand for OA numbers. This is especially so for the mid-range items ($100-$500). Prices are not pushing new highs but they certainly are not declining and certainly do move.
First Flaps - Selective
The bubble has burst on some of this area. In part, some issues ran up ahead of demand. Many of these items are truly scarce and are the "rookie cards" of our hobby. At this time though, there are only a limited number of collectors who can regularly put out multiple thousands of dollars for each issue. Once this group has the issue, then the next tier of buyers are at a substantially lower level. Frankly, this is where the best buys are. Many are much scarcer than the top OA numbers. What has taken some of the luster off this collecting area is that a top price is achieved and everyone expects that all other specimen of this issue will command a similar price. For example, I have seen and had offered too many 235 F1s to justify it being at $1,000+. Still, it is a very good flap as are most first flaps. At some point there will be another run-up in this area as there is truly a finite supply and it continues to be the next level after a number collection.
Classic Issues - Under-appreciated
This has been a quite area within OA although we achieved new price highs throughout the year. The reality is that many collecters are new to the hobby. They remember an anniversary issue from 10 years ago that was limited to two per member but do not realize that the total order was for 500 patches when the early odd-shapes were often ordered in quanties of 100 or fewer. At the time many of these classic issues came out, there were fewer collectors of OA badges, lodges were smaller, Scouts may not have even gotten one when they joined and many were highly restricted. There was also a mass movement away from collecting odd-shapes to flaps when flaps became the official uniform wear. The result is that these are greatly underappreciated in value. When a scarce piece came up for auction though, we did have some significant bid-offs amongst senior collectors in the know. Often times patches sold for multiple times its suggested minimum bid. We had some special sections of Wabaningo issues that were very actively bought as well.
National Order of the Arrow Conferences - Under-appreciated
This year's NOAC generated interest in this area. Many of these patches still remain under-appreciated based upon supply. If one looks at the attendance reported in the OA handbook for the early conferences, the supply of 1950's era patches is typically 10 to 20 times scarcer than a comparable jamboree patch yet prices do not reflect this. OA conferences are increasing in attendance so there is going to be increased demand for the early issues. Pick them up now.
Area/Section Conclaves - Selectively warm
Area and section conclave patches continue to draw interest but there is a significant bias towards the Southern Region areas. West and Central regions have had limited bidding activity. The Northeastern Region has had somewhat more. This is still a very fun and affordable area to collect.
CSPs - Warm and getting warmer
As always, this is the most broadly collected area of US Scout patches. It is easy to begin collecting. The National Supply Service promotes it. It has some challenge. Prices are finally getting back to their late-1970s to early-1980 highs. There is still limited activity on the truly scarce issues (those starting at $150 in value) but there is very active collecting for less expensive issues. I expect it to continue to improve.
This is an area that may not have had much written about it even as little as four years ago. This is clearly growing in popularity and I expect it to continue.
Rank - Hot and getting hotter
This area is really taking off and justifiably so. The number of items within the collection are relatively limited (unlike an OA number set) yet there can be real challenges to finding at any price the early issues. These items have not been faked and are not likely to be faked because of different threads and manufacturing styles. Further, the teens-era items are just not turning up any more. Expect values to continue to go up.
Eagle Items - Soft
There is selective interest for certain medals; the ones that are always hard to find. Others, for example 1950s era medals, are virtually un-saleable. The patches are still very much in demand. The hard issues and varieties are setting new price levels.
Region Badges - Soft
There is selective interest but it is still nothing like what it used to be. One can acquire most of the original twelve region badges for less than they traded for thirty years ago. In part, supply greatly exceeds demand. Still, there are early region items from the 1940s and 1930s that justifiably command four figure values.
Adult Badges of Office - Cool to Hot
Pre-1930s badges are very hard to come by and their prices reflect this. More recent itmes are generally available.No one has yet done a good update to the original Arapahoe for adult badges. Given that this was published nearly twenty years ago, this work has become quite dated.
National Jamboree - Cool
There is interest for the traditional items but very little activity around peripheral items except for the major rarities.
World Jamboree - Selectively solid/Underappreciated
Pre-1955 world jamboree items are still commanding solid prices although even these are down from ten years ago. Given the truly international potential interest in these items, I have to rate this area as underappreciated. I expect that these items will pick-up with this year's jamboree in the Netherlands.
Exploring - Cool
This area remains stagnant although many of the badges were used for limited periods by a very limited number of Scouts. There are many good buys in this area. I believe that this is due to the decline of traditional Exploring participation within Scouting. Many of these pieces though are at least 40 years old. The likelihood of major new "finds" is small. Find out what makes up this collection and put it away while you still can.
Air Scouting - Modest
This (and Rover Scouts) area has always been in more demand than traditional Exploring. It is very distinctive with its own special history. There is very limited supply of many of these items. Items in this area continue to trade but they may not "run off your table" at a TOR.
High Adventure Bases - Cool
This has cooled down over the past year. I am not sure exactly why. In part it has to be due to the closing of several of the national bases but it is also due to a lack of good, current collector references. The strongest area is Philmont which also has the most recently issued reference work.
Camp Patches - Still solid
This area continues to have price surprises on the high side although the highest prices are barely three figure numbers. Collectors are increasinggly going after their own local history. Collecting the badges from the different years from one's own camps is very challenging indeed. It is nice that many can be found for less than $10 a piece even though they are over 40 years old.
Merit Badges - Hot
When three merit badges change hands at over $3,000 a piece in one month, you know this is a hot area. The hobby is still discovering what is the real supply and demand for these badges.
Patrol Medallions - Suprising interest
This is not an often listed area but when listed there was very active collecting. Square patrol medallions and "No BSA" round felt patrol medallions are setting new highs although I think they are underappreciated from their true scarcity. Condition does matter. Mint pieces are selling for top prices while badly used or moth damaged ones are lacking any offer.
RWS - Very Hot/No signs of cooling
This has been a surprise this year. Although TSPA has listed these in the past, we did not have as many collections come through as we did this year. This area was very actively acquired with many new high price marks established. Many of these badges though can be had for a few dollars. An extensive collection can be put together for the price of single OA flap. This area also reflects the broad movement towards regional collections. Time and again we saw collectors acquire the strips from their state. This makes sense as these items are at least 20 years old. Many were issued in very limited quantities only for the use of council-level employees. One Scout Executive, now retired, told me that they could order as few as six (a half-order) of a strip. There is also equal interest in the pre-RWS strips based upon the different uniform colors.
Sleeper areas: Lone Scouts and other pre-BSA programs, Baden-Powell memorabilia.
The interest survey sheets for the Bernie Miller collection have shown that there is much greater interest within the collecting community for these areas than I had previously expected.
The Year Ahead
Even though we are the largest, we are never content to rest on past accomplishments. We will continue to try out new things to help advance the hobby. The following are some of the things you can expect from us for the coming year.
We expect to publish a new edition of the Scout Patch Auction Prices Realized book. This has become a very widely used reference work of actual prices for Scouting collectibles. Many were unhappy that I did not issue a new edition this year but I was in the middle of handling a large (over 10,000 different) issue collection of OA. I thought this would be too much valuable information to not have in the book. Those in the hobby that have produced books know, it is a significant undertaking. We will try to get a "round tu-it" as soon as practical but we have several things on our desk that are higher priority.
Speaking of high priority publication efforts. The Bernie Miller collection will come available this year. The extensiveness was mentioned earlier. From the survey responses, several are expecting it to be an OA collection. There is some OA, most of which is from New York. Its real strength is in areas that are harder than OA. Right now the plan calls for three lists spaced about three months apart. Some items will be offered as whole segments. Others will be offered individually. We are still determining the sequencing and packaging of the selections. For each selection there will be extensive documentation. This is one of the greatest challenges. There is so much information, much of it not yet broadly shared, that we are preparing several educational pieces for the hobby. There will also be a significant reference work about the entire collection although this may appear after the sales.
We also have in the works several other publications for the hobby due out over the coarse of the year. This year does not have a major, national summer event so hopefully we can get these written and produced. SPA is also evaluating several electronic publications. Many collectors now have computers at home and at work. It may be easier and cheaper to publish some items electronically rather than on paper.
All in all, it looks like another busy year and we have just begun. I hope it is a fulfilling year for you. Lets continue to keep the fun in our hobby.