Friday, November 16, 2018

Williamsburg Nostalgia Fest 2018

Last weekend, under the supervision of Larry Floyd and his son Rob, the Williamsburg Nostalgia Fest brought together hundreds of fanboys to meet and greet Hollywood celebrities, savor the best food in Williamsburg, Virginia, and celebrate the good old days of Saturday Matinee pop culture. Authors presented slide show seminars. Television actors signed autographs for fans. Old cowboy westerns were screened in the movie room. And vendors from across the East Coast set up shop with vintage memorabilia at various prices. From books, tee shirts, movie posters, magazines, glossy photos, board games and action figures, there was a little of everything there.

Held at the same hotel where the former Williamsburg Film Festival was once held, now remodeled and re-christened The Clarion Hotel instead of Holiday Inn, the entire weekend was modeled after the former event that came to a close after 21 years. (For more info, click here.) Author Jim Rosin talked about the history of television's Wagon Train before signing copies of his book about the history of the program. Deborah Painter talked about Ray Milland and his screen career. The Solar Guard fan club screened vintage episodes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and other vintage 1950s television classics. Celebrities such as Bernie Kopell (The Love Boat), Belinda Montgomery (The Man From Atlantis) and Robert Fuller (Wagon Train and Laramie) were among the guests signing autographs and posing for photos with fans.

Perhaps the most notable facet of the weekend was not one, not two, but three vendors who were selling vintage collectibles at rock-bottom prices. I myself picked up a dozen books published by McFarland Publishing, which retail between $45 and $65, for an amazing $2 each. VHS videos were practically given away at $1 a pop. Hundreds of hardcover novels such as Roy Rogers, Zane Grey, Hardy Boys and Hopalong Cassidy -- many with their original dust jackets -- which normally sold for $15 and $20 were sold for $5 a pop. Even Jack Mathis's hardcover Valley of the Cliffhangers, generally sold among collectors for $1,000, was snatched up quickly for $300 cash.

When I chatted with the good folks operating those particular tables, asking about the origin of the collections, the stories were pretty much the same. "My father died and I am cleaning out his house" and "My husband died last year and I want to sell off his collection." A sad observation, to be sure, but no doubt a sign of the times. A widow selling off a collection at a fan gathering is not uncommon -- this happens about once a year and many attendees quickly diverge on the tables like vultures in the hopes of getting a good deal. But three widows at one show? That was not expected.

All of which reminds me of the modern proverb of the old man who sets up shop at a film festival with a wide display of vintage movie posters. The highlight was a Roy Rogers movie poster in immaculate condition, front and center. None of the posters were individually priced but a sign was displayed prominently: "Everything Must Go -- Make An Offer." When the flood gates opened and the general admission walked in, the first man took note of the gorgeous poster and offered $2. He was quickly brushed aside like the barfly he was. Ten minutes later a second customer stopped by and, taking note of the spotlight display, offered $20. The vendor paused for a moment and remarked, "No, it is worth more than $20 but if the poster is still here on the last day, come back and we can discuss price." 

Ten minutes later a third customer took note and voiced excitement. "That was the very movie my father took me to see in the theaters when I was a kid," he told the vendor. "That was the first movie I ever saw in the theaters and that brings back fond memories. That is the type of poster I would have professionally framed behind UV protection glass to keep the sun from fading the color. That poster would look great in my living room. How much are you asking?"  "Make me an offer," replied the vendor. The customer gave the poster a second and third look and replied, "Well, you had the poster linen backed so you obviously put some money into it to ensure it is preserved. How does $200 sound?" The vendor calmly rolled up the poster and, with gentle hand on the customer's shoulder, handed the poster to him. "Take it home with you. You do not owe me anything, It is yours."

After a short talk the customer discovered the vendor was dying from cancer. His wife passed away a few years prior and there are no family relatives to will anything over. When the old man passes away he fears his landlord will simply toss everything into the dumpster. As a thank you, the customer paid for the vendor's steak dinner that evening. Weeks later, after the poster was framed and hung in the living room, the customer e-mailed a digital photo to the vendor. 

Minutes after the customer walked away with his treasure, the adjoining vendor asked the salesman: "I don't get it... The first customer offered you two dollars and you brushed him off; I get that. The second customer offered you $20 but it is early in the weekend and you decided to see if a better offer comes along; I get that. But when the third customer offers you $200, one hundred times more than the first guy offered you, you chose to give the poster away. Why?" The vendor paused for a second and explained simplistically. "Because I know that poster is going to have a good home."

Academically speaking, the asking price and gavel price for vintage collectibles is merely a numerical gauge to determine appreciation level. As many of my blog posts contain underlined social commentary, the takeaway here is not the statistical growing number of widows cleaning house but rather my concern that most of those collectibles offered at "clearance prices" are truly going to a good home.