Buying old cues
My thoughts on building a collection
It's been some time since I added to the guides section, not just because of a lack of time, but also because I'm more of "why use twenty words when you can answer a question in three" type person - which doesn't present well on something like a website. Another reason is that there's already a wealth of fantastic info on cue collecting available on the web, so if I feel I have nothing of value to add I don't tend to write just for the sake of it.
I'm not saying there aren't great articles on how you might want to go about building a collection, or how others have chosen to go out building their collection. I enjoy regularly corresponding or meeting with other collectors, and many of them are quite new to the scene. One thing I often do feel frustrated about is the "impression" many have of the perfect cue (or in some cases the only cues worth considering);
"I'm only going to collect mint or uber rare cues"
"Only 58 inches full length, 11mm untapered"
These themes are mentioned in some of the articles people will have read online, but often specific to particular cues or circumstances, and sometimes taken too much to heart by new collectors. I believe what really drives these ideas home, is actually what you often read in adverts from people selling their cues.
"A perfect 58", a perfect full 11mm tip, rare rare Joe Davis 147 cue --- £500".
To me these phrases epitomise what I'd call the fallacy of cue collecting, so I thought I'd explore each of them, and give my own view.
Only mint or rare cues
I can understand why people might aspire to own the best example they can find of a cue, but unless your pocket is deep (and your eye keen, as any old cue that looks mint might not be very old at all), then it's probably going to be a frustrating rather than rewarding past time.
To the extent that one of two people I've met with this kind of collecting aspiration have given up collecting, because mint cues aren't common and they can go for a lot of money, to people who have a lot of money to spend.
Unfortunately that cue you "just missed out on" when you bid £200 and it went for £205, might well have gone for £1205 even if you bid £1200. That's just something most cue collectors of "normal means" have to come to terms with, you will (and I often do) get frustrated, you can give up, or you can just accept that eBay or similar with a worldwide audience will give you little chance of obtaining these cues, so you need to look elsewhere and be patient.
Full length and big tip
I'd guess that this notion comes some of the cue collecting articles discussing value and cue cutting.
Certainly in my experience cues 56" and under tend to fetch lower values, because they become less desirable to the "playing collector", the one looking for their magic old cue to conquer the world with. I think many, maybe even most, collectors start in this vain but when you start to get a passion for old cues it's about much more than playing with them and these shorter cues can be bargains.
Value aside, the other driver for this type of view is that shorter cues have been "cut down" - beware the chopped up cue! Again, there are examples of cues which have been cue down to shorter lengths particular pre the invention of the ferrule due to splitting of the wood around the tip area.
Originality doesn't depend on being 58inches or having a large tip either, I have a number of shorter or thinner cues which I believe are just as they left the workshop. In one case I bought twelve 1950s EJ Riley cues at auction, along with several catalogues of the period - all the cues 56 inches in length. Now many people might put 2+2 together and arrive at the conclusion that they were most likely ordered that way, but I had one collector tell me it was a shame they'd all be shortened!
Take the two cues below:
This Harverson cue has a full length horn/bone/ivory ferrule, so I'm sure was supplied at 57"
Like this Mannock, has a 9.75mm tip, it may have worn a fraction with retipping over the year but definitely did not start out at 11mm:
What I have done, and other collectors I've spoken to is to focus on areas of interest rather than perfect cues. This offers to option to build a collection now, and perhaps upgrade a cue to an example you value higher at a later date.
If you're like me you'd be amazed how much your taste and value perception changes as your collection grows.
You'll look back at some of the cues you let go because it had some tarnish on the butt or a slight bend, and wonder what the hell you were thinking - and hope one day you'll get it back!
You'll swap something nice but common, for something tatty but rare... regret it, and get no pleasure from your rare but very nice cue.
But hopefully more often than not, you'll enjoy it, and not let impatiance or frustration ruin it for you.