Intermediating the circles of one

I like to shop on eBay. While others may peruse catalogs or go to department stores to find the latest in fashion and culture, I am happiest searching and swimming in the clickstream of ebay.com. Part of my obsession is that I'm an avid collector of Hard Rock Cafe pins, Patrik Elias hockey cards, and occasionally US coinage from the nineteenth century. It was a banner week for the pasteboard monument being built to Patrik Elias, because I am now the proud owner of one of a very few Country of Origin cards.

Patrik Elias is something of a hero in our house. He's our favorite New Jersey Devil. He and my son share the same birthday. We have more autographed Elias jerseys, hats, cards, and 8x10 pictures than we do pictures of the four of us together. Elias signed all of those in person, on his own time, because he is a genuinely good person. As the Devils' leading scorer the past few seasons, he is a genuinely good hockey player as well. The 2003-04 NHL season was Patrik's 7th with the Devils and 8th in the New Jersey organization. His career is represented by just over 700 distinct hockey cards, a veritable mosaic of pictures, statistics and thumbnail swatches of jerseys. Country of Origin represents the 503rd in cardinal order, first in price order, addition to our collection.

The most-quoted authority on trading cards is Beckett, authoritative server for determining value for anything that fits in a poly sleeve. Beckett lists no book value for this card. Usually that means there has been no prior sale, or the card is close to unique and no market exists for it. What's the market value of the Hope Diamond? Don't know, and not my domain. But I wouldn't trade. This little gem holds special meaning for my son and me, as we saw Elias play in the 2002 NHL All-Star game, wearing the maroon jersey with the Czech flag patch on the shoulder, one piece of which is now in our posession. And it is, according to those who don't bend it like Beckett, the only known example of the card -- the other 8 or 9 may still be sealed in factory boxes, lost, or simply hidden away in collections where they won't conjure up memories of a dad & lad trip to Los Angeles.

I have long argued that the beauty of the internet isn't disintermediation, as those scared by early success at amazon.com feared. It's re-intermediation, or in the case of eBay, creating an electronic meeting place where new kinds of intermediation occur for the first time. Without eBay, I would have been forced to go to card shows, trawl through dealer inventory, and simply hope that a 3 ounce card and a 250 pound man crossed paths with a "do you know" radix of no more than two. Through eBay's tens of millions of items, millions of users, and tens of thousands of hockey cards up for sale, two circles of one intersected. Seeing my son's face as I showed him the contents of that bubble envelope, and seeing the look of mutual understanding as he recognized where and when he'd seen that fabric square before, is something for which there is no possible feedback rating.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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