The Telegraph Office

Why "Trade Only"

Breaking the "trade barrier"

by Neal McEwen, K5RW

k5rw@telegraph-office.com

Copyright © 1997, Neal McEwen

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Experienced collectors seldom desire to sell their duplicate keys. This often frustrates beginning collectors or the hobbyist looking to buy a key or two. Most veteran collectors will tell you that it is much easier to find a new and different key for their collection if they have something to trade. Why is this so?

Key collectors spend countless hours searching for keys. They put many miles on their cars, write dozens of letters and place numerous long distance phone calls in an effort to find keys. After this investment of time and money, they certainly do not want to put cash back in their pocket. They want to put a new key in their pocket. To sell is counter-productive. Collectors don't buy duplicates to re-sell. They buy duplicates to enhance their collection through trades.

Collectors with duplicate keys, trade with other collectors that have duplicates. Having a key in hand is much, much better than cash! Some collectors would re-use a trite phrase, "Keys talk, money walks." If a collector sells his duplicates, then he has lost his potential for a trade, not a handicap most key collectors want.

So how do you get started trading? How do you crack the "trade barrier?" Build your own inventory of keys and hence duplicates. Use the same means that other collectors use,... hamfests, flea markets, antique stores, junk shops, swap meets, estate sales, newspaper classifieds, word of mouth, etc. Soon you will have a trade inventory of your own. Keys are where you find them. Experienced collectors do not have a lock on the market; they just have a little bit more experience in picking places to look.

Is trading restricted to duplicates? No,... not at all. Some collectors have a special area of interest. They will trade keys outside that area of interest even though they may not be duplicates. Recently, a veteran collector traded away his only gray base Vibroplex Lightning Bug for another collector's 30's vintage repeating relay. Both collectors were happy. Even though most collectors will admit to no trade list or a short trade list, they in fact have only a small list of items that are "frozen" in their collection. The remainder of items in their inventory could be "had" for the right trade item.

Trading is not restricted to one key for one key. Often collectors trade two or three for one, or... one for two or three. Sometimes there are three way trades involving three collectors. Often trades involve keys for other telegraph collectibles such as signage or paper or antique telegraph books. Sometimes a "trade up" involves a key and cash (ugly word!) for another key. Collectors that have other hobbies are sometimes willing to trade for items in that hobby. Find out what crossover hobbies or crossover collecting interests that your "target" has.

Most collectors have a "need list," on paper or mental. Be aware what is on these lists, so you don't pass up something that is a potential trader. Also try to educate yourself on what is currently collectable. Try to find out which collector specializes in what. One collector may specialize in bugs, another landline gear, another military keys and another in wireless keys. A knowledge of key collecting and key collectors gives you a real edge.

Trading telegraph keys is just like trading any other collectable. You have to start somewhere and you have to have something that someone else wants. Until you have some "traders", you will have to use your shoe leather to add keys, including duplicates, to your collection. Once you have some "traders", you can abbreviate the "pavement pounding" by opening up a myriad of trade possibilities! Everyone benefits from trading. Veteran collectors try to bolster their trading lists so that will have something of interest to someone else with a trader. They are waiting for you! Both parties get something new in a trade.

Once you have items for trade, make a list. Each item on the list should be described to the best of your ability. Excruciating detail is better than terse or ambiguous statements and is much appreciated. Identify each item. Name the maker, the model, the approximate date of manufacture and any published references to the key. Describe the condition and note any broken or missing parts. Neither party wants a surprise in a trade. At the end of your list, describe items that you are looking for in trade. Also state what your are not looking for. Don't forget to distribute your list; it's not going to do any good if you keep it to yourself!

I hope you found this helpful. Often times new collectors don't understand the motivation for "trade only".

Good Luck and 73 de K5RW 


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Neal McEwen, k5rw@telegraph-office.com