Collector's Corner: Classic Atari
By Zander Kaufman
If you grew up in the 70s or 80s you might remember afternoons of poorly rendered graphics and cheesy sound. If you know what I'm talking about, chances are you owned a gaming console. Compared to today's high-end rendered graphic controlled consoles, they are something to be laughed at. But for others who want to bring back the experience of classic game play, they are now very collectible.
Game systems like Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 were some of the first stand-alone gaming consoles to bring the idea of arcade gaming into the home. Atari systems today go for $20 to $50. For the true collector, it's the games they are after, even though from today's standpoint they look something like a poor incarnation of the "light bright" put on a television screen.
If it's simply the game you're after, you may be better off buying a classic game CD, which you can pick up for as little as $10 and is filled with dozens of classic Atari games. But if it's the experience you want and the rare games you seek, you're not alone. People across America are buying, selling and trading Game cartridge, systems and ephemera everyday online and at vintage game conventions. You would not be hard pressed to find a buyer that would pay $500 for a rare copy of "River Patrol," or $100 for "Chase the Chuckwagon," both made for the Atari 2600.
Although you can buy most games for under five dollars, there are a number of games that go into the hundreds, and for the rare, even into the thousands.
The majority of classic-game collectors are interested mainly in Atari 2600 games. The 2600 was the most popular system made by Atari, and the most popular gaming system in history. Every baby-boomer and anyone who was "in" owned one.
At the same time, you will find collectors who collect games for the 5200, 7800, Lynx and Jaguar models. There is an upside for the non-2600 collector: other systems had a much smaller run; therefore, it's much easier to have a near-complete collection.
Items that can be put into the category of "ultra rare" are items that a seasoned collector may never come across in his or her lifetime. An unreleased Atari 2000 game system would fall into this category. If you were so lucky as to find one of these systems, you could easily find yourself getting a winning bid of over ten thousand dollars. The same can be said for game prototypes. Although it's not clear how many prototypes are out there, one thing is sure; they are some of the most sought-after Atari items the collecting world has to offer. For prototypes, you will rarely find any going for under a hundred dollars.
Another Easter egg to look out for are promotional items made for the Atari system like Pepsi Invaders and Tooth Protectors made for Johnson & Johnson. Many of these items were only obtainable by mail order and had a significantly smaller run.
Tips on Listing
Internet auctions are a great venue for selling your classic Atari games; but if you want to get the most out of your collection, you should follow some basic selling points.
Assure the bidders that your games are in good working order. One way of doing this is testing them. Test them in a working Atari system; if yours is taxed from hundreds of hours of play, go and buy a used system at about $20. You can't go wrong. But be careful! You just might get hooked and decide not to sell your collection.
Game cartridges used gold or mixed metal contacts to make contact with the game system. When the cartridge is not in use or has been overused, dirt can build up, causing a fuzzy picture or, in the worst case, no picture. However, you don't have to throw your cartridge away; it may just need a good cleaning.
There are two ways to clean cartridges. One is to use rubbing alcohol applied to a cotton-tipped swab, or, my favorite technique, a pencil eraser. Just lightly rub the eraser against the gold contacts until any dirt or grease is gone. In some cases, a combination of techniques may be needed.
You also might find that some Atari cartridges have a trap cover that is only exposed when the cartridge is inserted into the console. Simply find a thin object and place it into one of the holes, and the hidden door opens for easy cleaning.
One way of gaining the buyer's confidence is to show a screen grab of the game in action. An easy way of doing this is to take a picture of your TV screen with the game in action using no flash. For the more advanced seller, a TV-to-PC capture card works best for a clean picture. A $40 Dazzle video connector works great for this task. Your PC may already have one. If you only have a few games to sell, then a camera may be the better option.
No matter what format of video games you choose to collect, you'll be almost certain you're not alone. One thing is for sure, the world of collecting classic games is growing. With the average life span of the latest and greatest gaming systems being somewhere between three and five years, it wont be far off til we see today's systems like the Xbox and Playstation becoming a member of the classic gaming culture.
"The Midnight Tiger: Complete Guide to Atari 2600 Video Games," by Ben Coulson
"Arcade Fever: The Fan's Guide to The Golden Age of Video Games," by John Sellers
"Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds," by J.C. Herz
Useful Web Sites
Atari Age http://www.atariage.com
Great site for most Atari prototypes http://www.atariprotos.com
About the author:
Zander Kaufman (eBay User ID Dembones_usa) is a freelance writer from southwest Iowa. He has been published in numerous publications both in print and electronic from. In his spare time he collects Presidential Campaign memorabilia, Antiquated books and pulp-era Science Fiction. He may be contacted at zanderkaufman @ yahoo.com.
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