[Suite 101 articles introduction]
This time, I'm going to discuss where to find classic systems and games and how much you should expect to pay for them. Since they're no longer sold in stores, you'll have to get them second-hand. The best places for this are thrift stores, pawn shops, yard sales, flea markets, dealers, and your fellow collectors.
A thrift store is one that sells used merchandise. They are usually run by charities, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In these cases, the goods are usually donated and sold "as-is" (working or not). Many collectors frequent their local thrift stores (which is called "thrifting") as there is new merchandise daily. If a lot of collectors frequent a store, you will rarely be able to find anything other than common cartridges. Expect to pay US$0.25 to $2.00 for cartridges and US$1.00 to $20.00 for systems. Prices can vary greatly from store to store. In some cases, it helps if you come to know the people that work there. To find the stores in your area, look in the yellow pages under "thrift stores" or "second-hand stores."
Pawn shops are stores that buy merchandise from people and sell it for a profit. Today, only the older, junkier stores will have classic video games and they'll cost more than at thrift stores. It doesn't hurt to go if the other sources in your area are played out. Find them under "pawn shops" in the yellow pages.
Yard sales (a.k.a. garage or car boot sales) are where people gather a bunch of their possessions that they no longer use or need and try to sell them outside their home. If you don't see any video games, it never hurts to ask. (Until they tell you they just sold their old Vectrex system to "some guy" for $5 just 10 minutes ago.) The prices are generally a little lower than thrift stores. You also have the advantage of haggling. Most people price things slightly above what they will accept for them. You have more bargaining power if you buy a lot of items. Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, people often want to sell the system and all their games as a unit, which means you can end up with duplicate games. Check the Friday newspaper's classifieds to find that weekend's sales.
Flea markets tend to come in two kinds. The "professional," in which the same dealers are there every week, usually selling new merchandise; and the "non-professional," which is more like a giant yard sale. The former are generally not worth going to if all you're looking for is classic video games. Look under "flea markets" in the yellow pages. Other than that, the rules of yard sales apply.
Classic video games have become a big enough hobby that there are people who have made a business out of buying and selling them. Some of these people are on the net, such as Jerry Greiner and Steve Reed. Although they usually have a large selection containing some of the rarer games, you'll pay a premium for any game you buy. Also, because they know the rarity of the games, they'll charge accordingly for them (from US$2.00 to $20 and up).
Lastly, you can buy, sell, and trade with fellow collectors. You can meet them through the rec.games.video.classic newsgroup or maybe run in to them at a thrift store. Trading is easier if you can meet in person, but the members of the newsgroup are generally trustworthy. If they're not, people will publicly complain eventually.
This concludes this series of articles on how to start a collection. I hope it has been helpful to anyone new to the hobby.
Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.
[April 27, 2013: "Thrifting" was not originally linked because that article wasn't written until almost six months after this one. Atari2600.com is still around, but is no longer run by Jerry Greiner. Steve Reed is still around, but the link above is now invalid and only provided for historical purposes. He's now at steverd.com, but is only selling games on ebay, not his site. As for rec.games.video.classic, that's a topic for many posts. Actually, it already is, in a way. Look for other posts marked "pre-blog."]