Hobbies Spark Creation of Online Resource for Collectors
Virginia Business magazine
By Lee Graves
You can’t accuse Will Seippel of escaping into his hobbies when he comes home from work. If anything, the collectibles in his Georgia home serve as the model for his business, and they provide a window into the passions of this Virginia native.
Figures and posters from “Star Wars.” A set of standard-gauge Lionel model trains. Jerseys worn by pitcher Nolan Ryan. A warm-up jacket worn by New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle. Antique black-powder muzzle-loading rifles.
They’re all an extension of the Boy Scout merit badges Seippel started collecting as a youth on trips from his home in Clifton, Va., to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. “It was a long bus ride to Philmont, and we traded badges a lot along the way,” says Seippel, 51.
Not long ago, two catalysts combined to spark Seippel’s entrepreneurial energies. The result is WorthPoint, an online resource for people who want to find the value and learn the history of antiques and collectibles.
One source of inspiration came from the vast amount of stuff the Seippels had to sort through after buying an 18th-century house in Kennebunkport, Maine. Another motivation came from a financially beleaguered woman who, in going through the belongings of her deceased mother, discarded a complete set of Ebony magazines.
“I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that all the answers to her financial problems went into a Dumpster,” Seippel says. “I just thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to help people and to build a business.’”
So Seippel, who had established a reputation for revitalizing ailing companies, started WorthPoint about a year ago. He now serves as its CEO. The database covers more than 2 million items, and the payroll has grown to about 80 employees or consultants worldwide, including “worthologists” who provide expertise in various fields. The company’s headquarters moved from Reston to Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center this spring.
WorthPoint still has an office in Tysons Corner, and that, plus Seippel’s position as vice chairman of the business school at George Mason University, his alma mater, bring him to Virginia several times a week. “Virginia is still in my heart,” Seippel says.
You name it, somebody collects it. From Beanie Babies to baseball cards, the universe of collectibles defies easy description. For some, it’s art; for some, it’s beer cans; and for others, it’s the Model A that Grandpa drove on Sundays.
That is actually one of the defining characteristics of a valuable collectible — its appeal from generation to generation — says Will Seippel, founder and CEO of WorthPoint.
Grandpa and his buddies bought Model A’s because they were popular at the time, just as Seippel once bought a souped-up Mustang. “The real question is that after my generation goes through them and has fun with them, will another generation want them?”
Online trading through companies such as eBay has revolutionized the collectibles market, which is estimated by OTCHotline.com at $120 billion worldwide. In 2006, there were 84 million active eBay users who sold more than 500 million collectibles. In addition, there were more than 100 million collectors globally and 30,000 appraisers in the United States alone.
Baseball cards, which have been collected for decades, saw a new high last year. A T206 Honus Wagner card, called the Holy Grail of baseball cards, was sold to an anonymous private collector for a record $2.8 million.
July 11-13: Collectors Showcase of America Show, Dulles Expo and Conference Center, 4320 Chantilly Shopping Center, Chantilly. (540) 456-6877 or http://www.csashows.com.
Aug. 9: Horsepasture Ruritan Building Antiques and Collectibles Auction, 16197 Philpott Highway, Henry County. Old-fashioned auctions, held monthly. (276) 340-6441 or http://www.auctionzip.com.
Sept. 20-21: Tidewater Division Model Railroaders 2008 Model Train Show and Sale, Virginia Beach Convention Center, 1000 19th St., Virginia Beach. (757) 426-2811 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two players — online powerhouse eBay and television’s “Antiques Roadshow” — hold marquee positions in the business, but collectors have numerous other resources:
• WorthPoint — is building a database coupled with an array of “worthologists” to help people learn the value and history of antiques and collectibles. http://www.worthpoint.com.
• Collector’s Universe — provides services such as authenticating and grading high-value collectibles, including coins, sports cards, autographs, stamps, currency, diamonds and colored gemstones. http://www.collectors.com.
• National Association of Collectors — an umbrella group serving collectors and collecting clubs of all sorts. http://www.collectors.org.