Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Flip Of A Coin

When I used to deal in original comic art I had a certain eccentricity. If a person showed interest in a piece but was unsure, I would offer to flip a coin to determine the final price. For example, if a page was $100 I might suggest flipping with a $20 spread, making it either $90 or $110, depending on the outcome of the flip. The amount would always be the same distance in either direction from the asking price, whether a few bucks or double or nothing. Before you ask--yes, on rare occasions I’ve done double or nothing flips. I think the oddness of the offer enticed some people into pulling the trigger on a page they were otherwise on the fence about. And, really, it was just fun.

Almost all the flips were pleasant and went off without incident, but there was one time (and one time only) when someone reneged. It was at the Chicago Con in the mid 90s. As usual, I had a couple of booths with lots of art for sale. There was one particularly nice Jack Kirby Thor page on display, with a beautiful panel of Donald Blake transforming into the Thunder God. The price was $600, a reasonable sum at the time.

A collector stopped by early on the first day of the show and spotted the page. He looked at it for a while and then asked if I would take $550 for it. I told him no, I had just gotten the piece a few days earlier and felt it was fairly priced. He really wanted the page but also really didn’t want to pay $600. As he stood there and pondered I offered an alternative; he could either buy the page for the regular price or flip for it, $550 or $650.

He was a bit taken aback by my proposal, didn’t understand why I wouldn’t sell it to him for the $550, especially since I was willing to do so if we flipped for it. I explained that this was a bit of fun, as well as a gamble for both of us; we each had an equal risk at stake. He could always buy the page at the asking price, flipping just afforded him the chance of paying the lower price he coveted…but with the distinct possibility of paying more if he lost.

After hemming and hawing for a while the guy eventually decided to go for it, the price would be determined by the flip of a coin. A fair bit of time had gone by and a few people who had overheard us talking were milling about in anticipation of the brief show. I flipped the quarter and he called heads as it arced in the air. The coin bounced a few times before coming to a rest, tail side up.

He looked at me for a minute and then said, “I’ll give you $600 for the page.” I laughed, thinking at first he was kidding. I told him the price was $650, as we agreed. He said, “You wanted $600 for the page, that’s what I’ll pay you for it.” He pulled out his wallet and tried to give me $600, which I refused to accept.

I told him that if he had won I would have had no problem letting him have it for the lower price. But he didn’t see it that way. He was holding the money in his hand and had an expression on his face like I was being unreasonable. I told him he had two choices; he could either buy the art under the terms we agreed or he could walk away. But, if he chose the latter, he could come back in 10 minutes and I wouldn’t sell him the page for $1000. He laughed and once again said he’d pay $600. I shrugged and put the page back up for sale.

He hung around for a few more minutes and then walked away. I noticed him a couple of times passing by to see if the page was still available. Then, maybe an hour or so later, he walked up to me and said, “Okay, I’ll pay you the $650 for the page.” I said I was sorry but the page wasn’t for sale, not to him. I think he was actually shocked that I refused to let him buy it.

Once or twice more he hovered on the periphery of my booth, never actually coming in again. The last time I noticed him was when I was pulling the page down for the gentleman who was buying it for $600. He had seen the page and said he would take it; I never had a chance to offer him a flip. I think it would have been funny if the eventual buyer and I flipped and I had lost, with me selling the page for $550…as my former flipping partner looked on.

23 comments:

Tony Marine said...

Hey Scott - you've got a knack for storytelling (but I already knew that). This is another gem - nice to know there are guys out there who understand what principles are. Keep 'em coming! :)

Craig Zablo said...

Classic story and you're right, had the second guy gone for the flip and won, it would have been the cherry on top.

A friend of mine, Jim Ivey who owned the Cartoon Museum in Orlando, would offer similar deals. I once saw a guy repeatedly loose no matter what game was being played. He wouldn't quit and ended up loosing art by Steranko, Windsor-Smith and many others. Some folks just don't know when to walk away.

Of course, you should make sure you pay up, before doing so.

Scott Dunbier said...

You reminded me of something else, Craig. I used to play in a regular poker game from the early to mid 80s, with some comic dealers. Occasionally art would wind up in the pot. A good friend of mine once won a Kirby Fighting American cover, and another time I got a nice Ditko Spiderman page--ah, those were the days!

Fogger said...

I wonder if he'd convinced the guy who eventually bought it to buy it for him? (As in, "Hey, he won't sell to me - go give him this $600, wouldja?")

Scott Dunbier said...

Ha, that would be a drag! I doubt it though, he was the kind of guy who wouldn't be able to resist rubbing it in.

Craig Zablo said...

Scott,

Back in the day, I saw comic books, pages, sketches, and more get anted up. Ah, but those were the good ole days!

Thanks for reminding me.

Super Edco said...

Classic.

Drew said...

Great story, Scott!
Geez, you'd think some people would get that you've *made a deal* and they have to honor the terms, win lose or draw.
And so this guy loses a page he might otherwise have bought, because he thought you weren't being serious or something.
Classic.
Thanks for the anecdote!
Drew

Brian Cronin said...

That's hilarious, Scott.

What a moron that fellow was. I mean, I don't mind the guy TRYING to get you to take the $600, like, once, but once it was clear that wasn't going to fly, he clearly should have dropped it.

It's fascinating to me that buyers are more willing to purchase an item when they're risking paying extra.

Vittorio said...

Great story :)

Ben Herman said...

The price was $600, a reasonable sum at the time.

Six hundred for a Jack Kirby page?!? God damn it, I really got into the original art hobby too late for my own good. missed so many great deals by about four or five years. Poop.

Neil Hill said...

Part of me feels for the guy, but the deal was more than reasonable. The fact that he took the whole 'flip' thing as a joke (in the end) just shows that he should never, ever gamble. :-)

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