The Telegraph Office
by Neal McEwen, K5RW
N7CFO's Advice for Beginning Key Collectors
by Lynn Burlingame, N7CFO
Copyright © 1999, Lynn Burlingame
Office Main Page
Lynn Burlingame, N7CFO is a veteran key collector and publisher of
the "N7CFO Keyletter." As such, he frequently receives letters from
novice collectors like, "I am a new collector and don't have much of a
collection and I have a lot to learn." In his Keyletter #23, he addresses
the beginners. Many thanks to Lynn for sharing his sage advice with
the Telegraph Office.
"Well guys, I am an old collector, and I too have a lot to learn!
Since we have a lot of newcomers, I will offer some free advice to them.
I learned these things the hard way."
Document Your Collection -- If you have computer, use a database.
If not, use 3 x 5 cards. At a minimum, assign a control number to each
key, tag it in a manner that will not damage it, and list where you obtained
it, the cost, the previous owner, the locations and a general description.
Pack Your Duplicates Carefully -- Sooner or later, you will have
extra keys. Buy some bubble pack so you can properly wrap them. Number
the boxes they go into and update your database with the locations. This
may seem a little silly if you have only a few extra keys, but it will
pay off later.
Build a Library and Keep it Organized -- Buy any books on telegraphy
that you can get your hands on. You will be surprised at how often they
turn up in book stores, garage sales and junk stores.
Make Fair Trades and Sales -- There are not all that many collectors
out there, and your reputation is very important. No transaction is complete
until both sides are completely happy! All sales or trades should be made
with accurate descriptions and should be made on approval.
Shut Up and Pay the Price -- A veteran collector gave me this advice
when I was a novice collector and of course I ignored it. I have a sad
memory of a swap meet where a guy had a quite nice spark key for sale.
I attempted to dicker him down and as a result, he refused to sell it to
me at any price. Likewise, I have turned down some prime stuff over the
years only to find out later that the asking price was a bargain. Live
Make Fair Purchases -- Sooner or later you will be handed an item
by someone handling a silent key sale and asked what it is worth. This
is a deadly situation which must be handled carefully. If you buy the item,
dig deep and pay a fair price. If you are unable to, state what the fair
price is and that you will make an offer below it. You are in deep 'kimchi'
if you get a reputation as a cheat. Likewise, a reputation as an honest
buyer will cause choice items to come your way. These will be sent by word
of mouth referrals from people that have appreciated your honesty.
I use the "ouch" system of appraisal in these circumstances. I examine
the item and ask myself "would I buy this at an antique store at $10, $20?"
I keep raising the price until I feel a good internal "ouch" at the price.
When the "ouch" is accompanied with a perceptible wince, I have arrived
at a fair price.
Get rid of the wire wheel! -- I have seen more fine items destroyed
with a wire wheel than by any other means.
Leave it Alone, Dammit! -- If you don't know what you are doing
with a key, ask someone that does, or dig through the back issues of Keyletters
for restoration tips. You can always work on it later, but you can seldom
undo damage done through ill advised cleaning.
Dig Deep and Buy Those Expensive Gunsmith's Screwdrivers -- Trust
me on this. I mentioned the screwdriver set sold by Brownells back in Keyletter
#5. Their "Super-Set" currently costs $87.52, but I will promise you that
the cost will seem trivial if you mess up a prime key when a screwdriver
blade slips. Brownells address is 200 S. Front St., Montezuma, IA 50171-9989.
Buy Some "Screw-Grab" -- Again, trust me on this. See page 134 of
Do Some Research! -- Most old timers will tell you that the best
fun that they have had was researching a key manufacturer. This doesn't
take any particular skill. If you live in an area where a key manufacturer
lived or made keys, do some snooping around. You can often locate former
employees of the company, and the local newspaper archives or library generally
has information. Don't forget the genealogical society - it is amazing
what they can provide from their files.
For more information, visit the Telegraph
Office home page