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Rule #4: Buy the very best cue you can afford.
I feel that this is an important concept Another benefit of makers attending shows with cues to sell is that they are then eligible to enter the cue to be judged for an award.  While awards are not the most important accomplishment a maker can achieve it does look good on the resume. Personally, I would like to see more awards at shows and tournaments.

Winning an award can provide three benefits:

1)      In theory, this cue will be worth more in the future.  Consequently, the cue may be a better investment for the collector. 
2)      Having the award on the makers table at the show may bring potential customers to the table that otherwise may not have come.
3)      Winning this award can find its way into a magazine, either through an article or a press release.  So, by utilizing Location #2, the maker ends up utilizing Location #1, as well.

All of these benefit the maker and the collector of that maker’s work. 

Finally, at almost every custom cue show or tournament there is at least one photographer from a major billiard publication.

Having a cue photographed at a show or tournament allows the maker to execute a very savvy business strategy.  The cue maker brings the cue to the show, delivers the cue to the photographer, gets the cue back in a few hours and then sells the cue.  The money and time the cue maker has saved in shipping costs and being paid for the cue at the show, almost covers the cost of the photo.  Couple this with a tax write off for expensing the cost to their business.  Having the photo taken at the show has almost paid for itself.  On top of that, the photographer has offered a package deal to the cue maker and now the maker’s newest cue will be sent to all the main billiard publications.

Depending on the relationship that the cue maker enjoys with a publication, this photo can be very beneficial.  It may lead to a magazine cover, an article, press release or an inclusion to a story.

This photo or article will have a different impact for different cue makers.  For the new maker, this will introduce him to new customers.  For the established cue maker, this will keep his name out there.  For the cue maker who was established, but for any number of reasons has fallen out of the collector’s vision, this may help bring resurgence to a stalled career.  This can reintroduce the maker to both the established collector market and the new collector market.

While on this subject, I want to interject some thought about interaction with cue makers.  When attending shows or tournaments part of the experience is handling the cues and meeting the cue maker.  Cue makers come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Judging a cue maker by the way they dress and/or mannerism can be a mistake.  However, observing how a cue maker interacts with the cue buying public can be an asset.

Skills, no matter what form they take, are not innate.  They are learned over time.  Just as a cue maker has to learn how to make cues, many have to learn how to interact with the cue buying public.  Sometimes what we view as the cue maker being aloof may, in fact, be shyness.  So, before you pass judgment based on appearance or attitude, give the cue maker a chance.  If you are interested in their cues, take the time to talk with them.

Location #3: The Internet
The custom cue market has seen several changes in the last 30 years.  In the past, it was important for production cue makers to have a catalog showing you their cues.  Catalogs can be very expensive and time consuming to produce.  Additionally, if they are not continually updated, they will not serve their intended purpose.  Styles, materials and prices can change seemingly overnight.

The Internet has become a powerful tool for both the cue maker and their collectors.  Web sites provide an on-line catalog of a cue maker’s work.  These sites are somewhat easy to maintain and update.  Web sites can show you the maker’s standard cues, as well as cues available to for immediate delivery and Limited-Edition cues.

These sites provide you information on shows, tournaments and upcoming events the cue maker will be involved.  As the web site is open 24/7, the collector is provided with the flexibility to shop on line at their convenience.  Consequently, I feel that for cue makers to remain competitive they will need to develop a web site.

Cues are as visceral as they are visual.  The Internet will not replace cue shows and tournaments.  Those collectors who meet on line will now meet face to face at shows, introducing their friends to the cue makers for the cues they buy.

The flexibility that the Internet provides to collectors and cue makers is having an impact on cue shows.  This impact in my opinion is seen in the form of slightly fewer cues being sold at shows.  In addition to the Internets convenience, there are other reasons.

For those interested in a particular cue or cue maker, the web site can provide the cue the collector is looking for without the time and expense of traveling to the show.

In actuality, it should increase the demand for custom cues, as the Internet is introducing more people to custom cues.  Email makes it easier to contact many of these cue makers because both the customer and the cue maker can answer at their convenience.

Chat rooms dealing specifically with cues can be found on the Internet.  These forums allow for a free flow of information on a daily basis that in the past was only found at cue shows and tournaments.  This helps cue makers and collectors alike.  Before utilizing anyone’s advice on purchasing a cue, check his or her qualifications.  The different billiard forums out there have hundreds of members who are a treasure of information.  Conversely, you will always have individuals with no expertise making their recommendations.

An unexpected benefit of the Internet for many collectors is reduction of expenses.  Monies previously associated with attending a cue show or tournament, can now be spent on or towards another cue. Cue shows, tournaments and the Internet are now working hand in hand to continue to try to supply the ever-increasing demand for custom cues.

The custom cue market continues to see an explosion like never before.  New custom cue makers are appearing each day.  Consequently, it is important for the maker to keep their name out there in front of the cue buying public.  Failure to do this will influence the value of your collection in a negative way.

Determine the cue maker’s position in the aftermarket. 
For the most part cue makers deal in one or all of the following markets, wholesale, retail or collector market.  In fact, the aftermarket can have a major influence on their primary market. This will influence your collection as well.

Strong demand for a cue maker’s work in the aftermarket will increase the demand for their work in the primary market.  Additionally, if the cue makers see their cues selling for more than what their current retail price, this may signal to them it is time to raise their prices.  Even a marginal price increase benefits the collector as it will allow them to sell the cue for what they paid for it or possibly more.  This becomes a win-win situation for all involved.

The Internet is especially valuable to those cue makers who are known for particular styles or models.  These well-known cues translate into a known Internet Commodity.  These cues, more so than others, are the most sought after.  Internet accolades can be heard across the web as one member of a forum relates their latest purchase of one of these cues.

An added benefit that the Internet brings is the ability to track a particular cue maker or cue makers work in the aftermarket.  Going to the different forums cue sales sections allows you to see what cues really sell for. Tracking cues will allow you to see which cues among collectors are the most popular at that time and which are least popular.  Additionally, you will learn which materials are in favor and which are not.  Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of tracking cues is that you will know the price range for a particular cue.

As you track cues for an extended period, you will start to recognize patterns.  These patterns will provide you with indications and warnings.  Patterns of depressed prices or higher than retail prices in the aftermarket will help you better understand a cue makers position in their market.  Depending on the pattern, it may be time to either purchase more of a particular cue maker’s work, or start to look for ways to sell or trade their cues. 

The best sources for your cues in the aftermarket are custom cue dealers.  In addition to the tools accessible to the collector, the dealers have other tools.  Most custom cue dealers have strong relationships with the cue makers. They have an insight to new designs and when they will be available. The reality of the aftermarket is that it is a buyer’s domain.  Cue makers, without even being aware of it, can have their cues credibility, desirability and salability damaged in the aftermarket.  The aftermarket is a valuable resource for custom cue buyers, as it affords the opportunity to buy, sell or trade with other collectors.  This has been taken to a new level with the Internet.  At any given moment, there are hundreds of custom cues for sale on the Internet.  Most of these cues are available for immediate delivery.

As with all things that have an upside, the aftermarket does have a downside.  For many, the aftermarket is where many collectors find out how much they’ve had to pay for their education for not doing their homework.

Understanding the Cost of Materials.
Understanding the cost of different cue materials is actually two-fold. First is the actual cost for the material. Second is the additional cost the cue maker charges to work a particular material.

A good place to start to get an understanding of costs is with a company that sells cue making supplies.  They can tell you what the cost is for the components of a cue.  Just like any other commodity, some will sell it for a little more, some a little less.

In addition to extra cost because of the materials used, many cue materials have additional costs associated with working the material.  An example of this would be the time it takes to finish one exotic wood compared to another.  Again, knowing the difference could explain the price difference between what appears to be two similar cues. It is important to know the price difference among like materials.  Is there a cost difference between Elephant Ivory, Mastodon Ivory and Fossil Walrus Ivory?  If so, what is the difference in cost and what affects the price?

Example: Mastodon Ivory is generally used for inlays, joints and ferrules where as Fossil Walrus Ivory is generally used for sections say in the wrap area.  Fossil Walrus Ivory is almost completely solid as opposed to Mastodon Ivory which can have a powdery center.  Mastodon Ivory can be found in solid form similar to Fossil Walrus Ivory, but not normally.

Because of the time it takes to work Ivory, you can expect to pay extra for this, as well.  Ivory cannot be over heated.  Doing so will crack the Ivory; therefore, it takes much longer to cut through a piece of Ivory than it does wood.

Pearl is another material that differs in price.  You have Mother of Pearl, Gold Lip Pearl and Black Lip Pearl.  At this time, Black Lip Pearl is the most difficult to get in sizes that will fit most cues.  This is why you can expect to pay a premium for a cue with this inlay material.

 
The woods used to create cues can vary in cost and quality.  This can be found in standard and presentation grade woods.  No, you do not have to become a wood grading expert. However, you do need to realize that you will pay a premium for the presentation grade.  An interesting side note here is some of the woods when being worked will give off a resin.  This resin on the cue maker’s skin can have the same affect as if they were to handle Poison Ivy.  So, if a cue maker resists your request to work a particular wood, this may be the reason.  Most cue makers will wear a protective mask when working with these woods or the finishes applied to the cues. Cocobolo seems to be the main offender. 

Synthetic materials: Malachite, Lapis and Turquoise are among the most common of these.  Special care must be taken when working with these materials. Some are harder to cut then others and may have to be cut several times due to breakage. Yes, you will pay more for cues with these inlays.

Stainless Steel is a favorite joint material used by many cue makers. For the most part, it is easy to work, is very durable and requires no maintenance.  Most makers can work this with no problem.   A Stainless-Steel joint will increase the cost of a cue over a cue with an Implex joint.

Sterling silver inlays and ring work will also increase the cost of a cue. Intricate inlays take more time and care no matter what the material.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of materials that can be used to make a cue or to embellish a cue.  With each, there are associated costs of both material and labor.  It is important in your cue buying that you know not only the cost of these materials, but also the labor associated with them.

Which Cue should I buy?
There is one overriding principle that governs custom cues: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The choices offered in today’s custom cue market are virtually limitless.  I often wonder how someone can walk into a cue show and decide which cue they are going to buy.  Some people have it figured out immediately.  Others will take several days of a show to try to decide only to leave the show without buying a custom cue.

Here are some rules and guidelines to help you decide:

Rule #1: Always buy what you like.
It sounds simple, and it is.  One of the great things about custom cues is that you can get what you want.  You are not forced to choose between just a few cues.  The main reason people say, buy what you like, is that you may have it a long time.  Whether that is your intention or not!  However, so many choices can cause confusion.  To help eliminate that see rule #2.

Rule #2: Decide which direction your cue collection is going to take.
I started doing this early on as a collector. I still enjoy looking at the first Blue Book of Cues.  In this book are pages of notes indicating which cues I liked, questions to ask the cue makers, etc. I wrote down which cues I liked, then contacting each of the cue makers for their catalogs or just called them to get the information on each.  Once that was done, I picked some favorites taking into account several factors.  I then contacted the cue makers again with additional questions, weight, number of shafts, number of inlays and availability. In some cases, a deposit was sent with the balance paid at the cue show, tournament or on delivery.

 The point to this is, I took my time and decided what I wanted to collect, as well as, which makers I wanted to buy cues from.  I found I was buying fewer of what I considered (months later) mistakes.  To a large degree, I was eliminating buyer’s remorse.  I would find out down the road I was now buying cues that others wanted to buy or trade for.  In some cases, I was being paid more than I paid for the cue originally.

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