Dr. Michael Echols
Pricing and Collectors:
Everyone wants to know what their medical antiques are worth. Well, that's a difficult question. If the antique's condition is new in the box, the interest level increases and the value goes up. Many times, price is relative to demand and the demand varies with the exposure of the item to collectors. Typically antique dealers pay very little for medical items because there is great risk they will be stuck with the item for long periods of time. There is also the great risk of a set or item not being correct, or containing inconsistent substitutions. The number one problem with collecting this type of antique material is first identification, and then figuring out if it's all there. Partial kits or instruments are not very valuable. Unlike art, which you can look up in a text, medical antiques are almost totally undocumented other than in auction catalogs, texts, or the precious few published museum documents available. Only a few true medical antiques experts exist. Via this Website, we are trying to gain as much knowledge as possible about other collectors, pricing, and availability of various instruments.
For additional information see: evaluating unknown sets; valuation of a surgical set; and pricing article on this site.
Historically, really nice medical items have changed hands within the professional community at what could only be described as relatively modest prices. When major pieces have been sold at the auction houses in New York or London, the prices are not all that great due to a limited number of collectors or museums willing to pay top dollar. Unlike art collectors, medical collectors tend to be a quiet group and not display their collections. They are typically collectors of the history of the profession, rather than investor/collectors.
So little is known about most medical items found in the back alley antique shops that one is at great risk if one pays more than a few hundred dollars. In general, the items sold on eBay auctions are quiet often of questionable authenticity as reflected in the lower prices realized. On the other hand, sometimes prices paid at on-line auctions will be disproportionately high. It all depends on who is bidding.
Generally I have found the interest in a given medical piece is closely related to the specialty of the buyer if he or she is a physician. With the advent of Managed-or-ObamaCare, and its financial consequences to the physician community, I wouldn't be surprised to see prices fall lower due to lack of discretionary income. Fluctuations in the stock market do not help either.
So, where do you go to find comparable prices for sets or individual instruments? Search the auction catalogs of Christies, Sotheby's, eBay, and the older auction houses in the Northeast. Study antique magazines which cater to scientific and medical sales. Contact museums and see if they will divulge prices paid for their collections. (Doubtful!) Attend large antique fairs or shows and see what is placed for sale and then try to figure out what was actually paid. As you can see, it isn't easy. It really boils down to "It's worth what someone is willing to pay and nothing more." There are also auction sales aggregator websites who will sell you 'prices realized' information. Just Google for the terms and take a chance to find and view prior sales at a price.
If you spend a huge amount of time on eBay, you can get an idea of relative prices collectors or dealer/buyers are willing to pay for a given item at a given time. If you know the dealers who bid on eBay, you can get a pretty good idea what the "wholesale" price is to them since they generally have a good idea what a given piece will bring on the collector market. In some cases, they will pay top dollar because they know some isolated busy doctor who will pay whatever they say and not question the price.
Not everyone has time to dig out values and watch the collectible market and that is why they employ the use of a "good reputable" medical antiques dealer, of which there are few. Again, just ask and I'll try to point you in the right direction based on my experience.
Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols
Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016