Are you paying "stupid" prices for hardware?
No, I'm pretty much done collecting for the most part. I have 5 486s (2DT, 3 LT), 2 Pentiums, a 286, and an 8088. Anything beyond that I can't justify owning because my modern machines running Linux fit that bill so well via virtual machines and/or emulation. Also, I don't even pay much for modern machines, I just take all the (3 years) "old" junk my family, friends, etc throw away, and hot rod the heck out of it, and get another 7-10 years out of it easy. I got into this hobby when it was VERY cheap (2001) and now the prices are kind of pricing me out, unless someone just throws me an old machine they don't want. If I won't keep it, I can usually find it a home, and if I charge for it, my prices are very reasonable.
Are you biding your time waiting for an ignorant soul?
I think the thought of an "ignorant soul" is subjective, and as you can see, I'm not really biding my time much with so much old-school goodness at hand. See, the #1 problem with our "interest" so to speak, is it's still not quite officiated yet in terms of finances, supply, demand, and realistic expectations.
On one hand we have people who think that all our old equipment is "worthless junk".
On another hand we have clickbait readers who think that all our stuff is a relative "goldmine".
Some people have old machines they truly want to see go to a good home, especially if they still work. It might be useless to them, but giving it away for free to that weirdo at work who loves old x86 IBM compatibles is a lot easier than taking it to a recycler/used computer shop either to be turned away or have to PAY to have the thing recycled. That's where I come in. And if I don't want the hardware, I'll sell it, at a reasonable cost, to someone like myself, and use the funds to upgrade my other vintage hardware, or gift it to a friend who wants to get into this sort of thing on actual hardware.
Are you working the flea markets?
I don't really actively seek anymore, fleas or otherwise. The well has pretty well dried up for my preferred vintage (8088-80486) locally, and when I do see such machines at a thrift shop, more often than not, people have caught on and often try to sell for stupid high prices, which I refuse to spend.
Usually if I buy something there, I bump into some machine they have had for months/years and have not been able to sell. I've bought 3 machines this way: a 386 DX-20 that I parted out in 2006, a 486 DX4-100 I used from 2008-2015, and lastly was a Gateway 2000 P5-100 I bought for $16 marked down from $60 because it sat in the store for a year and 3 months and would not move. I gave that Gateway 2000 away as a gift to a friend a year later who wanted to get into retro-computing.
Are you looking for broken junk and fixing it to run like new?
Old Junk is preferred because it's cheaper, and because I usually end up being able to build the machine out the way I want it. I'll take a $10 barebones 486 any day over a $1000 IBM PC 5150 all original with manuals.. Because that 5150, I'll likley "ruin" it by pulling one floppy, adding a HDD and a CD-ROM on an XT-IDE card, tossing in a RTC, by the time I'm done, it's a barebones 5150 all souped up and hot-rodded. That's half the fun for me in these old systems, pushing them to their limits. My last 3 were totally nasty when I got them....
Compaq Deskpro 386s/20 = yellowed plastic, open 5.25" bottom drive bay with nothing in it, missing cards, missing slot covers, 486 upgrade that was malfunctioning, and that's the best one.
Moondog 486 = working but noisy/bad CPU fan, dirty PSU, dirty case, motherboard dirty, digital readout misconfigured for 66MHz, no RAM, no HDD, no Cd-ROM, just a floppy drive.
K6 II System = dead motherboard that won't Post, CPU queationably good, noisy PSU, dirty case, case missing screws, all slot covers missing, possible bad PCI graphics card, missing VGA header for motherboard....
That's how I take them in, then I turn them into something special. And if I don't need/want it, I sell it/gift it for a reasonable price to the next guy who might give it a good home.
Are you looking back and saying "Man... these prices were a fraction of what there were just 6 months ago. I'm not paying that!"? Do you break eventually?
I look back further than that......when I started....
- Back in 2001-2005, everyone was throwing me their old "closet clutter". 386's, 486's, and early Pentiums (later on) for days on end. At one point I had 35 systems in my childhood garden shed neatly stacked, in various states of repair. More than half of it was free.
- Backing my truck up to the local Salvation Army and getting 3 IBM EduQuests and the rest of their "overstock" of old x86 machines, and getting PAID $15 for hauling it all away. Many of those systems are probably still out there being enjoyed as I sold a lot of them on e-bay for between $20-50 in the mid 00's.
- Meeting a guy who renovated apartment buildings for the local university, the inside of my Ford Explorer looked like the Back to the Future Delorean when I was done. Somewhere around 15-20 old PC's from 286-Pentium III, cables as far as the eye can see, keyboards upon keyboards upon keyboards, pointing devices, software....it was INSANE. Paid not a dime for it, tried to start a local computer business with it, when never got anywhere (it was too early).
- I had a friend at the time (and bandmate) whose second bedroom in his house looked like Computer Reset for awhile! He was teaching at a private school at the time....and both of us were snagging everything we could snag from thrift shops, the woods, street curbs, and messing with it.
I actually "sold out" in 2010 and got rid of (most) of everything but one 486, the Tandy 1000A, and 286 I have. But then the bug bit again when things "took off" in the 2010's and I never looked back. Now I'm back to having a nicely sized "creeping network" at this point, albeit probably running better than ever.
What is your bag?
Honestly, my top favorite era is the 486 era, and souping them up to ridiculous specs and making them work as "tweeners" practically, with a preference for NEC Versa in the laptop realm, and generic whiteboxes in the desktop realm. I can just about use a 486 DX4-100 as a daily driver under FreeDOS if it were not for YouTube, bills, and e-mail.
I also have a soft spot for early Compaq Deskpro and Tandy 1000 stuff as well. I love IBM but that stuff is just too expensive now, which is nuts because I remember a time I was kicking up another IBM PS/2 every other week, or some PS/ValuePoint or PC-330 486 (my favorite IBM branded 486 - the good ole Select-A-Bus). Heck, the friend I mentioned above nabbed a fully loaded Monochrome IBM PC XT with Hercules, a 720K drive, and the original packing cards for the drives, and Model "F" Keyboard in the box. He paid $30 for it in 2003.
But for the most part, my collecting days are well behind me because finding the space for all this stuff and reaching middle age is not a good recipe for good health. I do enough "heavy lifting" during the day working in I.T. I would love to own a house someday and have a room where I can curate everything all at once 100% functional so you can just walk up and play/work on these old machines, but I'm not sure when that'll ever be in the cards with my luck.