I was four when I started getting an allowance. Every Sunday my mother would give me a quarter before we left the drug store (which back then was a drug store, toy store, and grocery store all in one — a precursor to Walmart and Sam’s club). I stood in front of all the candy vending machines debating which quarter toy I wanted, or which machine would clink and clatter before spitting out the most candy.

A few years later it was two or three dollars. I don’t really remember doing anything to earn my allowance, though I do remember having to empty all the trash bins in the house and having to fold my father’s static charged socks and white under shirts. Whether this was earning my allowance or not, I do not know. My parents never really stressed the idea that I was working for my money. The work was something I had to do as part of the family. And the money, well that came from being a part of the family too.

The feel of those dollars in my hand was one of the most satisfying feelings of my young life. They were the keys to all sorts of surprises. I spent most of those dollars on baseball cards. We still visited the same drug store after church and I would go right to the isle with all the wax packs. In a way it was like the lottery. I couldn’t wait to tear open those packs, see what cards I got, and later slot them into a growing album that I thumbed through at least a couple times a day. My father firmly believed that those cards were an investment, so he encouraged me and thumbed through the cards himself to see if he knew the names of the players. Then we would sit in the car and listen to the Yankee game and he would tell me stories of all the players that he remembered as a boy, of Mickey Mantle and the thunderous crack of his bat, of Catfish Hunter and the crazy look he got on the mound right before he threw a pitch, and of Ron Guidry, one of the smallest pitchers he knew, and yet one of the fastest throwers out there. With frustration and regret he told me stories of how he used to put those cards in the spokes of his bicycle, including rare rookie cards that would be worth hundreds of dollars if only he had kept them in perfect condition.

When I was a teen, my allowance was up to ten dollars. I started saving my money a little more at this time, but then I would get a quite a bit shoved into the back of my sock drawer and it would be all I could think about as I walked through the mall or thumbed through magazines. What huge surprise can I spend that money on?

I became a big collector, because now I wanted my money to be spent on something that would still have value in a few years. If it was baseball cards, then I tried to get the whole set. But with several weeks worth of ten dollar bills I could buy a lot. That when I got into comic books. I bought Spiderman and Flash, Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and tried for several years to buy every single issue. That was where the real money lay, in the big collection. I went to comic book stores and bought rare issues. I went to antique shows and poured through boxes of them until I found issues I didn’t have.

And then one afternoon, at one of those antique shows, I came across someone selling Star Wars figures. And they were expensive. A single figure cost five to ten dollars. I had a few down in the cellar somewhere and remembered playing with them with fervor as a child. I went home and pulled out the old movies and started watching them. Soon I was hooked again. I spent several summers buying every figure I could find, every stuffed animal, every poster, every book, even traveling miles so that I could go to far off antique shows.

Then ebay hit the internet.

People started making money on every old thing they dragged out of their closet. Collectors like me found it a fantastic place to find rare and wonderful additions to our collections. The only problem was that as more and more people made killings on forgotten, dusty bits from their closets or garages, the more people began to scour their homes for things to sell.

The market became flooded. Now it was easy to find things that before took a lot of searching, a lot of garage sale scouring, a lot of money to acquire. I no had to go miles to search your dusty garage, nor decide if I wanted the toys bad enough to pay the price you wanted. Now there were fifty others willing to sell me the same toys or even more for much less.

Simple economics. My collections plummeted in value. No longer are they unique or hard earned accumulations of persistent scavenging and years of scouring that I pull from the shelves to show friends on a rainy day.

I love the internet, the easy highway, but I lament what it has done to the rare and wonderful.

© Seth Crossman