Rare is a word that is often misused and misunderstood in the world of collectables. People often think that something has value just because it is rare. This is not the case at all. The most valuable collectables are often really common. But for some reason people refer to them as rare. It is really just a case of supply and demand. Something being rare doesn't mean a thing if nobody wants it. But when a lot of people want something, then it will become valuable, even if it is fairly common. This is where the word rare starts being misused.
Lets look at a few examples.
Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics, 1962
This is one of the most valuable comic books on the face of the earth. This issue marked the first ever appearance of the super hero Spider-Man. A copy of this comic in mint condition is valued at over $50,000 USD. That is one large chunk of change. But that price is linked almost exclusively to demand. Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 was the previous issue in this same series, and it had pretty much the same print run, and went to the same distributors, but there is little demand for this book today. It is valued at around $750 USD in mint condition. That is a $49,250 difference in price, based completely on demand, rarity didn't even factor into it, as these books are equally common.
Ms. Pac-Man, arcade game, Midway, 1981
Ms. Pac-Man is one of the most popular arcade games around, even today. A decent working Ms. Pac-Man machine can easily sell for $700 to $1000, while a perfect one can go for even more. Almost every time I see one of these sold, someone mentions how rare they are. This game isn't rare, it is the most common game on earth (literally, it actually is the single most common arcade game on the planet). The demand just keeps the prices high, and causes people to once again misuse the word "rare". Most games that actually are rare, usually end up selling for around $100 to $400, as there is little demand for them. I should know, I own a few rare games that are fairly worthless.
As you can see from these examples, the value is usually almost always linked to the demand, and the actual rarity barely even figures into it. You can see this in almost every area of collectables, except for very new things that are designed to be rare in the first place, like limited edition stuffed animals, and comic books with seven alternate covers, and things like that. If you ever talk to any baseball card collectors you will hear them refer to a lot of cards as common. Which is kind of funny really, as many of the older series of cards had print runs that were distributed fairly evenly among the cards. It always seemed to me that the value of the card was almost completely linked to the player on the card. That is because the value of the card really is linked to the player on the card, and how common or uncommon it is barely even factors into it. Now today the people who print the cards have started skewing the production runs to print dramatically different amounts of different cards. They do this to make people buy more cards to get a complete set. But I have a feeling that thirty years from now the value of all those baseball cards from the 1990s is going to once again be linked to the player on the card. Few people are going to want to pay big bucks for some crappy player who only played a single season, no matter how rare his card is.
So remember, rare usually doesn't mean anything if no one wants your rare item. The collectables with the real value are often fairly common. If you see something at every show, then it simply isn't rare, no matter what anybody tells you. Every video game auction I go to has around four Ms. Pac-Man machines. That simple fact lets me know that the auctioneer is lying when he says "Now heres a rare game, haven't seen one this nice in a while!". I completely ignore those rare machines, because they are so common that I may very well end up stumbling on to one of them for next to nothing. There is no need to pay a premium price, when that same money could be spent on several nice items that would bring equal enjoyment. I suggest that the next time you go to the gun show, or the next time you are browsing eBay for collectable mittens, that you simply ignore all the rare crap that you keep seeing over and over again. Use the money to buy something nice or interesting instead.