The year was 1993. TSR, GDW, FASA and Grenadier were all familiar names cranking out great products. An upstart company (who had a few RPG titles in the works) called Wizard's of the Coast was at Gencon with a new card game that was about to completely change the face of the game industry. Magic the Gathering was to become a juggernaut. This isn't about that game though. That's a well written history. What this is about is the side effects of that products popularity. Just how did the rise of Magic the Gathering effect the Role Playing Game Industry?
In 1994, Magic continued to explode and suddenly the competitors arrived. More and more companies tried to cash in on the CCG craze and the industries resources were trying to catch up. By 1995, there were more and more CCGs coming onto the market, each requiring large buy ins to keep from getting allocated. That meant stores and distributors started having to make choices on where to put their money. More and more, it was for the next CCG release. About that time, The Dragon's Trove was getting going and finding there was a healthy on-line line marketplace for people trying to collect 1st Edition AD&D. More importantly, there was a lot of product sitting in warehouses considered dead by the distributors that owned it.
It was truly a once in a generation opportunity. At the time, there were only a couple of us dabbling in this cottage industry (out of print RPGs sold on-line) and we suddenly found ourselves able to walk into these warehouses and clear out that dead product for next to nothing. Cases of old Greyhawk minifigs from Colorado, pallets of AD&D 1st edition hardcovers like Dragonlance & Greyhawk Adventures from Staten Island, unopened shipping cases of Spelljammer core sets from Pennsylvania, shrink wrapped D1-2 modules from an ExTSR staffer, and a store basement on Long Island that had partial cases of products like From the Ashes they had at one point bought from TSR directly. I don't know how many opportunities I didn't get that a competitor did, but I do know that I still have unopened boxes of some West End Games product I bought en masse when they closed. I even had several international buys, shipping product in from overseas distributors.
That's pretty much gone now, every so often a small stash surfaces (it seems like old Judges Guild product was strategically cached across the country in case of Russian invasion), but the last significant buys of this manner I was able to make were an old Toy Distributors forgotten RPG stock from the back of the warehouse about 5 years ago.
As the hobby matures, so do the collectors. What was common even 5 years ago, is hard to find and now some of the earliest RPG player's collections from the 1970s are surfacing as they move into retirement or some cases, pass on. While not the best way to acquire items, it's in these long out of circulation collections that truly unique items are often found. A recent collection had a couple of early Judges Guild items I had never seen in over 20 years of dealing in out of print products. Happy Collecting!