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Another spin on the recent question How would you bring wealth back to the past?, this one will attempt to look at the effect on collectibles.

Almost by definitions, things are collectible because there are not many of them. There were hundreds of thousands of copies of Action Comics #1 at the time of printing, now there are a few dozen. The same is true of most rare collectibles. For whatever reasons, people didn't keep them, they were thrown away, they broke, etc. And now people are willing to pay through the nose for one.

But with time travel, I could take twenty dollars in period cash, buy two hundred copies of Action #1, come back as a millionaire.

But would I? first off, two hundred copies would depress the price, as the rarity has now greatly decreased. OK, no problem, go private sale, to people who wouldn't let anyone know they had a copy.

But at what point could the number of people going back and snapping all the Butcher cover Beatles albums actually cause a shortage IN the past? It'll get quite complex trying to make sure you don't accidentally buy the physical copy of some rare book that ends up in the Smithsonian, for example.

What are some of the checks and balances you could envision to keep the collectors' market from collapsing?

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    $\begingroup$ Robert Silverberg, Up the Line (1969): "Since the commencement of commercial excursions to Golgotha in 2041, approximately one tourist group a month—or 100 tourists a year—has viewed the scene. Thus about 1800 individuals of the twenty-first century, so far, have observed the Crucifixion. [...] If tourists continue to go up the line at a rate of 100 a year to see the Crucifixion, the crowd at Golgotha will consist of at least 10,000 time-travelers by the middle of the twenty-second century." $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 5 '18 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ I wrote a piece about that before as well - "Maggin's Law of Recursive Tourism" - itrd.blogspot.com/2011/08/… $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 5 '18 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ How established are the rules of your hypothetical time travel? In some time travel stories, the traveler is physically unable to bring anything back with them that they did not leave with. In others, they can't travel with anything but their own flesh and bone, in either direction. You could also make the cost per square foot/meter quite high, resulting in machines that can't transport much and are difficult or expensive to make multiple trips with. $\endgroup$ – Josh Jun 5 '18 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ You also have the issue that copies brought back via time travel would not have aged thus would likely be seen as fakes. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 5 '18 at 23:24
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There are several kinds of collectibles:

  1. Items that were common at the time, but were not usually preserved. Like old comic books. With those, if you go into the past and buy enough of them to create a shortage, more would be printed, making them less of a rarity in the future. Buying those in bulk would therefore be a bad idea. (If whatever you're buying was not printed in large quantity because it wasn't popular, and then you go and artificially create a demand, you might also shift the course of cultural history, making one thing popular and successful over another.)
  2. Items that you can't have more of in the past, as opposed to the previous example. Consider first editions: you can print more of the same book, but it wouldn't be a 1st edition, 1st print, would it? So, you know Harry Potter is going to be popular, you won't upset any balance by buying a lot of it in the past.
  3. Items that are made to be rare. Special numbered prints of books, each copy numbered and signed. Those things are made. You can trace which ones are missing in your time, and go get them in the past. Imagine suddenly showing up with the missing Dr. Who original reels - that would be awesome, and financially profitable, and cause no disturbance, right? Of course, those might be missing because you went back in time and stole them - that depends on how your time travel works.

As for how you sell, I think it was Picasso, who, being financially savvy, used to buy back his own works when they were cheap, artificially raising demand for them, then sell one at a time when demand made them expensive again. Similarly, nobody said you have to sell all your rare whatevers at the same time.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've long said that if time travel was invented, we'd have more people trying to retrieve the lost Doctor Who episodes and the output of the DuMont network than there would be trying to scan the Library of Alexandria $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 5 '18 at 20:39
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These time travelers would be performing a form of arbitrage, and we can expect the resulting impact on prices to be similar to other forms of arbitrage. Basically, the prices on the two sides of the arbitrage trade would converge until the difference approaches the cost of doing the arbitrage trade (which in this case is however much it costs to run the time machine.) So things that can be common (like comics) will likely lose most of their value, whereas things that are intentionally restricted will probably remain valuable but will not appreciate in value over time (which may in itself make it less valuable.)

I'm assuming that the time travel tech is available to competing parties and no one (or cartel) has a monopoly on it. Without a monopoly, someone will always be willing flood the market even if that means devaluing the product, so long as the price difference is still high enough to profitably arbitrage.

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I think it really depends on how your time travel works.

Lets say that you stay in the same timeline, so things you travel back and do will have an impact on your actual present and future. You would have no way of determining what that effect is. Depending on how far back you time travel and how much time passes, subtle changes would occur and you could play it out with the butterfly effect. The next problem is that over time, these collectibles will still gain value. More people time travel back but since it was limited, you would have large number of people, in roughly the same period of time trying to obtain the same item.

The other option is that once you travel back in time, you create an alternative timeline with the new future. This would mean that every time someone goes back to collect an item, they will reappear in a new future where they were the only one to get that item. Depending on how you want the time travel to work, this could have very little impact.

Say Man #1 went back and took the first comic ever made. In his future he would have a copy of that book. I see that he did that, so I travel to the future but ahead of him. I am now on an alternate timeline and when Man #1 appears, he doesn't get the book. I go to my new future and to me I'm the person who went back and got the book. The original Man #1 is in his timeline with his copy of the book, and his version in my timeline is now broke from spending everything on time travel and failing.

There would be no real way to enforce any sort of policy on time travel because its time travel. If you enforce a policy I don't like, I simply travel back in time, change something and see what happens. At best you could keep a ledger of all the time travel events that take place and rigorously check it and track all the components need to make a time machine, but if your worried about collectibles, then its clearly wide spread enough that you would have no reasonable way to control it.

In the end you have to determine how time travel works and how it affects the future of the present and the future of the person. You need to address questions like, if the present is changed, why did I go back in time in the first place, what are the results of my actions in the past and how to deal with multiple people travelling to the same point in time and/or appearing in the same location.

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Time Travel is still EXTREMELY expensive. For the super rich only. So the average person wont be going any time soon, if ever.

But this creates an interesting scenario. The super rich will now have the chance to become even super richer! We must overthrow them!

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