Recently, while flipping through a magazine published in 1925, I stumbled on to an article addressing the future of America's trucking industry, and more specifically, the industry's expected impact on commercial rail traffic. The author, a highly placed government official, was firm in his assessment. Trucks made economic sense on short hauls, say, trips under 100 miles. But the cost for a long haul was and ever would be prohibitive. Moreover, there were no roads! The rails, he said, would continue to rule in commercial freight, although, as an afterthought, he supposed there was enough business to support both.
Seventy-five years later, collectors ask a parallel question about the internet. What's its future? How will it affect the vintage equipment hobby?
Certainly you can't ignore it. Well, you can, but a big part of collecting is an awareness of what the other guy's got, how and where he got it, and for how much. And if you refuse to acknowledge the internet's impact in those respects, you're ignoring a major player.
The internet is - and will continue to be a major influence on collecting (whether that influence has been a good one or a bad one is a topic for another day). It's broadened markets, made elusive treasures easier to find, helped drive up prices, and provided a lot of information (as well as no small amount of misinformation). For the collector, it is a tool; for some, their only tool.
Despite the claims of advertising on late night TV, however, no one tool does it all. Any collector worth his salt is well familiar with the maze-like process of the hunt. Anyone who's restored a vintage classic knows all about brick walls and end runs around same. There is always, always more than one way to skin a cat.
At the same time, every mechanic, every carpenter has his own tricks. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. Each tool box is unique. You may not be able to escape hearing 'dot com' everywhere you go, but that doesn't mean you have to go on-line to be a collector today.
In 1929, Herbert Hoover promised a chicken in every pot. Seventy years later, the push is on for a computer in every house. In 1925, trucking was prohibitively expensive, and there were no roads. We adapt; we change. Will the internet kill this hobby? No. There's rich irony in using a silicone chip to chase an iron horse. But there's an equally rich experience in shows, swaps and auctions - the more traditional side of this hobby - and the internet can only help that grow.