Fact Check: Is It Rare?

Recently we have seen everything from 1960’s jelly glasses sporting cartoon characters to ladies white nylon slips from the 1980’s being described as ‘Rare’. Statements to lend credence to the applicability of the term are sometimes made. Such as, “I couldn’t find another piece like this ANYWHERE on the internet!” or “None of the china matching services carry these plates.”

While a period example of the Declaration of Independence could accurately be said to be rare, it is going to be unlikely for a post-1835 or so production item, mass-produced in multiples in a factory, to qualify to be described with the same terminology. Hard to find in an excellent condition, maybe, scarce in a specific color, possibly. But truly ‘rare’? Extremely doubtful.

Just because someone has never themselves seen something before, this fact alone can’t make an item ‘rare.’ Ditto if someone has been entirely unable, despite exhaustive searches, to find the same item, in the same condition, mentioned somewhere on the Internet. Being unable to find mention of other like examples of an object could just as easily indicate only that it is rare for someone to actually want to sell that item, or that no one yet feels it worth mentioning in their website commentary. In other words, for some reason or another information offered about an item on the Internet might indeed be rare, while the item itself is not.

To test that logic, they should try searching for an example of their four-year-old couch or the sporty leather sandals they bought six months ago. Quite likely, they will be unable to find comparative like examples somewhere on the Internet of those items, either, which they should absolutely know for certain to be fairly common, contemporary manufactured goods. Is a lack of website information about those items, too, going to cause immediate belief that they own a rare couch or pair of sandals? No, because they would know in advance there is no basis for that belief.

The same consideration should be kept in mind for antique or vintage items, most of which will not actually be able to fall into the classification of ‘rare’ for probably several more centuries, if ever. Know in advance that anything made since the beginnings of the Industrial Age, created in multiples in a factory, is likely not going to be considered 'rare', unless you can find specific research information about that article to indicate the contrary is true.

The dictionary defines the word ‘rare’ as having these meanings:

1. Coming or occurring far apart in time; highly unusual; uncommon; singular.
2. Unusually excellent; exceptional; admirable; fine; remarkable; incomparable.

'Rare' primarily describes an extreme state of unavailability that should in fact be relative to an item when used in reference to it, just like any other term. Green glass would not be described as, 'Ruby' glass, so why describe any item as 'rare' if it is not known for a fact that the term precisely applies?

Improvising and hoping that identifying an item as 'rare' will make it seem more desirable to a buyer, and thus help it to sell faster, can be considered a deceptive listing practice if the item is not an actual rarity. Anyone using this term in title or category should also be sure to add supporting statements to the item description.

Statements like those noted in the first paragraph above are insufficient to support use of the term 'rare'. Information found in a reference book could be added, such as quoting the author of a collector's source book, if they make a declaration such as, "While X number of these sets were originally made, very few sets were shipped to retailers and almost none were sold to the public. By the end of the year, the remaining unsold stock was subsequently destroyed at the factory."

Always keep in mind that while the Internet is large and wide, it is not ever going to be all inclusive of every single thing possibly present in the physical world.

Rare is not a subjective term. If no specific research basis exists and no information can be supplied to support its use and give allowance for employing the word in reference to an item, then the term 'rare' should always be omitted.


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