What Aluminum Forks Teach Us About Life
Last week, a dime sold at auction for $1.32 million. Put another way, a buyer was willing to part with 13.2 million other dimes in exchange for this one. Why? The 132-year-old coin was one of just 24 ever made. Its rarity gave it great value to the buyer.
Dictionary.com defines “value” as “relative worth, merit, or importance.” Relative. It’s a funny word to use to describe something we perceive as being so absolute.
And yet relative is exactly what value is. It’s the amount of one thing we’re willing to exchange for another thing at any given time. And it changes. Quickly.
Television viewers gasp at the proclamation that an antique is “valued” at $500,000.
Airtime is devoted to dramatic unveilings of a season’s “most valuable player.”
Books are published with alleged “values” of collectibles, down to the penny.
And yet, value is ultimately determined by us--people. Fickle people. People who may occasionally pay $120 for a white t-shirt. People who spend thousands on Beanie Babies with the hopes of making a fortune, only to toss them to the garage sale heap and watch them go unsold at a quarter-a-piece. People who see last year’s fashion as all but worthless.
What we determine to be of the utmost value has always changed over time. And yet the speed of change is increasing like never before.
Less than three centuries ago, a newly discovered metal was determined to be more valuable than silver or gold. Its name? Aluminum. When Napoleon threw a party in the 1800’s, his most honored guests ate with aluminum utensils while the commoners settled for gold.
In 1637, sky-high value was placed on an object that all knew would ultimately wilt. Tulip bulbs were selling for ten times the average worker’s annual wage.
And in the 1990’s, Beanie Babies were bought and sold with near certainty their holding onto them would ensure a healthy retirement.
Today’s craze? It depends on who you are. Perhaps you’re convinced that a certain Cryptocurrency will make you a millionaire overnight. Some have turned small investments into great riches, while others have turned great riches into small investments.
Not into cryptocurrencies? Perhaps you’ve put your eggs in another basket altogether: fame. Among today’s most prized commodities are followers, likes, and comments. We treat these digital behaviors like they’ll determine our ultimate success, buying us a comfortable retirement in years to come.
Maybe. What’s more likely: the attention we’re hoarding will go the way of those Beanie Babies no one can seem to get rid of.
No one knows for sure what will hold its value in the future. One way to lessen the blow of whatever comes in the future? Make sure you actually value whatever you’re investing in, rather than doing it for the approval of others.
When in doubt, remember: a penny saved is a penny earned.