The Cost of Antiquity

I wasn’t very deep in my collection before I started thinking about the value of all this obsolete tech.  I’ve also had several comments on some of my articles asking for estimates on what I thought a particular piece was worth.  As well, when looking into acquiring new pieces, I was often asked to make an offer, and that eventually led me down the rabbit hole of trying to wrap my mind around the value of something that is technically valueless. 

Here’s the problem — all of this tech was created with a specific primary function:

To record an image

To display an image

To play a sound

To play a video

The primary function was directly linked to the actual functionality of the device (with one exception).  I buy the audio player to play audio.  I buy the film projector to view projected film.  I buy the video recorder to record video.

So this means that once these devices stop functioning, they lose their primary value.  Once they become obsolete, even if they still function, that primary value is also lost.

Motorola Timeport open view

I don’t think this can play Angry Birds, which is the primary function of phones, right?

Something becomes obsolete when it is more costly and difficult to keep using it than it would be to use the new thing that replaced it.  There will always be the forerunners and early adopters who gravitate to each new thing the moment it comes out, but the first few generations of any new technology are usually quite expensive and still have lots of bugs to work out.  It’s not until after the adoption rate grows that at some point it is simply cheaper and easier for the average person to go with the new solution than the old.

By this reckoning, I would say DVDs and books are still not obsolete as they’re both still affordable and universally simpler than digital options.  Audio CDs, however, have passed the brink of obsolescence as digital music distributors have made it cheaper and easier to access digital music any and everywhere, and the average phone these days is a competent music digital music player.

Koss Portable Disc Player Open

Sorry, discman, but we need to talk about your recent performance…

So with the bulk of obsolete technology you can no longer expect anyone to want it based on it’s function, and so it moves on to the secondary value, which in most cases will be nostalgic–whether a personal nostalgia for the things of our own past, or a more historical nostalgia for an older time.  These old things are worth only as much as people care about them.

Here is a new show set in an old time that is using nostalgia to market a product that is now old and full of nostalgia, but at the time was new.

There is one other main factor that comes up when determining the price of this old equipment: supply.  This is a key differentiator between “antique” electronics and actual antiques.  Most items that have classically been considered antiques were from an era where everything was hand made and so also much more scarce.  All of the “antique” technology I own was mass produced.  So even when you factor in the dispensable nature of most modern electronics, there are so many millions of each of these items out there that odds are anyone who actually wants any of this stuff can probably get it quite easily (as my cluttered living room will attest to).

I do think that in the next couple of decades a lot of this technology will become more scarce, and at that time it’s possible there would be a spike in prices, but that would still largely depend on there being enough people who still find value in it.


If we keep doing this, my museum will skyrocket in price over the next few years!

And so what is all this old technology worth?  Right now, I’d say it’s worth as much as you want to pay for it, but not as much as you want to sell it for.


3 thoughts on “The Cost of Antiquity

  1. Hi there, I’m also a bit of an obsolete tech junkie and was happy to find this blog. Actually I’m planning a documentary video series on the subject, I wonder if you might be interested in doing an interview at some point. I’d also just be nice to talk to another person about it whether on camera or off.

    Thanks for your site.

  2. Yes, the value of nostalgia. I suppose a piece is more valuable for the nostalgic person who really wants to recreate a feeling and be reminded of some time or place, as opposed to the person who is content enough with the occasional reminder of something. Like a game of poker, bluffing must be undertaken with the interested purchaser keeping their cards close to their chest by not revealing their level of attachment to the piece.

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