Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Perceived value

Last time I checked, I was not dead yet....or at least the breathing noises I make would indicate that my death has not yet arrived. Since this is the case , I'll have to consider myself one of the 'Not dead yet' framebuilders. Even though my frames are not collectable and as far as I know , not causing any kind of buzz amongst the rabid vintage bike fans I am very happy to be still alive. Being not dead yet has a lot of advantages....at least that's the way it appears to me , having never been to the 'other side' .

There is however , a distinct plus for being a dead guy who built bicycle frames-your legacy of work might get to command a much higher price than when you were alive to open your wallet and receive the proceeds. I'll cite the example of the late Mario Confente , noted Italian transplant to California who was sent here to re-create the famed Masi branded bicycles here in the U.S.A. as the demand for the bikes was sufficient to merit a satellite factory close to the new fertile market. Americans were going nuts over Masi, Cinelli, Colnago and a host of noted Italian racing bikes but it was Masi who made the move to get manufacturing nearer to the dollars . From what I understand , Mario Confente was the man to head up the operation.

This is where it all gets fuzzy to me......I don't know the details of what happened and why Mario wound up leaving and building under his own name but what I do know is that back in the late '70's , Mr. Confente was regarded was a real master of his craft by many bicycle shops-the shop where I worked was no exception. Any time a Masi made in California showed up in my shop, the serial number was checked to see if it could possibly be a "Confente built Masi". I didn't understand the significance as no matter how closely I looked at the workmanship, I could not distinguish one Masi frame from another. They seemed all to be built to a certain standard and almost boringly consistent. When an actual Confente came into the store there was quite a stir amongst the crew.....this I really didn't get as the Bruce Gordon sitting in the shop in near anonymity was light years beyond the Confente in terms of attention to detail and impeccability.

Fast forward to 2010. These are different times with the internet and much information and mis-information being bandied about by experts and complete morons alike about the value of certain 'collectable' bicycles. While one of my lugged frames from the early '80's might fetch a whopping $ 300 on craigslist on a good day, a Confente might be sold in a bidding war for well over $ 10,000 ! Is the Confente worth the price ? I guess that is not for me to say......the price is set by whoever pays it. While I love the whole nostalgia of vintage bikes and own a small fleet of relics, I don't really get why some bikes are worth over $ 10,000 and why others that display better craftsmanship and equal rarity are snubbed by the collectors. I guess it has something to do with death. If you are not dead, people can't really fabricate your legendary life......the life you lead is maybe too real and accessable . If you are still alive people can still talk to you, even order a bike from you. Conversely if you are dead , there's a finite supply of your work and probably a legend about the magical quality of your work-both of theses factors can be used to manipulate the price of your bikes. The bikes might be good or bad, the legend could be complete bullshit but for some folks it doesn't matter-you are dead , therefore your bikes are a must-have holy grail item.

I'm not supposed to be angry about anything that enhances the perceived value of bikes-that would be shooting myself and every other framebuilder in the foot. We all want our work to be valued as a lot of us devote out lives to this dubious pursuit. What makes me mad is the fact that collectors are rewarding the dead guys and pretty much ignoring the guys who are still alive , in effect rewarding speculation rather than craftsmanship and dedication. While there are a couple of actual living builders who have frames that are highly sought after by collectors , there's a whole army of neglected artisans out there putting out incredible work -a lot of it arguably superior to much of the collectable cult items. I'm not including myself in this group as I mostly build bikes for competition and don't consider myself a builder who caters to the collectors.

After more than 30 years in the business and many visits to bike shows, swaps and the like I have grown weary of the notion that some dead guy's bike is worth 20 times more than a living builders bike on the open used market. It is not a fucking Matisse !


  1. Nice write-up Paul.

    I think you make a strong argument there.

  2. gotta agree across the board. NOW is going to be see as the golden era of USA framebuilding in time.

  3. Garro said it best. Who gives a crap what "Collectors" want? How about hard working americans that want to keep their dollar votes in the states? We've got taste too...

  4. As a self-identifying collector, please send all CL links for $300 Rock Lobsters to my attention. We shall see if we cant turn this thing around.

  5. I appreciate the thought. I bought both of my Bianchi specialissimas for less than $ 200. I have a nice 1978 Della Santa I got for $ 450. I got a 1972 Motobecane team champion for $ 100. Much as I like the low prices, I get sad when I see say, a Nobliette on CL for $ 600 and it sits and sits......