Super Collection: Diary of a Big Collection Flip (Pt 1)

by James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Anatomy of the Deal

MTGFinance may be a niche within a niche, but each of the players in the game still tend to have their own areas of focus. Jason is an EDH specialist with a penchant for flipping collections at retail and via instant collection packages. Sylvain is a master of MTGO. If you’ve followed my MTGFinance exploits on this site over the course of the last year, you may already be aware that most of my activity tends to be focused on identifying blue chip single card specs for Standard and Modern at their lows, and then holding them for 6-18 months for significant gains. Occasionally, I put effort into consolidating my collection by trading up into important cards, as I did with a beautiful Unlimited Black Lotus at GPNewJersey last fall.

As a guy heading up two businesses, an active social life and a number of hobbies (gaming, action figures, MTG), I often have to leave certain opportunities at the wayside because I simply don’t have the spare time to pursue them. As such, buying collections has long been off my radar. Bolstering this view was the fact that I live in Toronto, a hot bed of Magic activity with at least 20-25 active MTGFinance types that are constantly scouring social sites, message boards and Craigslist/Kijiji, looking for the next score to fight over like dogs to the bone. It’s tough to make your negotiation time worthwhile when you don’t know who might swoop in to grab up your treasure. The other factor was the time, complexity and risk involved in processing and parceling out a collection of the size that would peak my interest.

So if you’d asked me last month whether I was interested in buying your collection, the answer would likely have been a polite “no thanks.”

That was before my buddy Rob pinged me with an intriguing set of pictures from some guy’s basement. Rob and I have known each other since we were twelve, and though I’ve made him some money on specific Magic card specs before (Snapcaster Mage being the most recent), he’s mostly focused on vintage skateboard decks and comic book finance. We have a long running agreement that if we trip over something of interest to the other guy, we’ll raise the flag.

The text said “Are these dual lands? Worth anything?”

As you might imagine, he had my attention instantly.

“How many are there?”, I returned.

A few minutes later, “Um, like maybe 60…he says he hasn’t advertised them anywhere.”

Fast forward 24 hours and I’m in the basement of a man who says he used to own a card and comic shop. He was in from the beginning but quit collecting around Zendikar block. He makes a big deal of telling me that he sold his P9 and put the down-payment on his house a few years back, so he’s not sure there’s much left I’d be interested in. His son drags box after box of binders into the room as he explains that there is a binder for every set from Revised forward.

60+ binders of MTGFinance goodness.
60+ binders of MTGFinance goodness.

I immediately latch on to $5,000 as the figure to start with. The guy never played in tournaments, and probably wasn’t completion focused, so the binders likely hold single copies of 1/3 to 1/2 of all the relevant cards. I’ve seen collections in this configuration before, and they tend to be wide but shallow, but then again there are the duals to consider.  Once he pulls them out and I realize that they are all basically NM/M (with a few at SP grade) and that the group includes both Underground Sea and Volcanic Island in multiples, I hike my estimate up to $12,000-$15,000 .  There’s no black border in sight, but for Revised duals, this card pile is still the cornerstone of a very attractive deal.

A sexy set of Revised Duals.
A sexy set of Revised Duals.

My host makes clear that he is not willing to split up the collection at all, that he’s not in a rush, and that the deal will be “all or nothing”. He confirms that only Rob and I know about the cards thus far, because “he doesn’t have the time to put it all up on Craigslist.”

At this point, my lovely girlfriend is already rocking her patented “tick, tick” look over in the corner, and the guy’s wife has dinner brewing up in the kitchen, so I inform the seller that I’d like to quickly flip through each binder and snap some photos so that I can take them home and try to come up with a number I’d be comfortable with. He agrees, so we split the binders up on two tables, and my ever-loving partner in crime snaps photos of her binders more or less at random, while I attempt a more diligent pass on my own. Within minutes my value flag is standing at full mast as I’ve already blown past several valuable foils including a Metalworker, Asuza, Lost but Seeking, Sensei’s Divining Top and an Arena Foil Promo Swords to Plowshares. We’re moving as fast as we can, but we’re missing a lot and in the end there are at least 20 binders left unseen and a stack of long boxes in the closet that he says are “full of bad cards”.

Choice Early Pulls.
Choice Early Pulls.

Before we leave I tell the seller that I can “see the value here” and ask him what he’s looking to get out of it. He explains that a dealer had come to see him a few years back on the recommendation of a friend, and that he had evaluated the collection at $25-30K Canadian (about $20 – $24K USD). He says he wants to get $20K ($16K USD) for everything and doesn’t want to haggle on the value of specific cards. Though I’m uncertain that such a price will yield a relevant margin, I smile and tell him that his numbers sound reasonable so far and that I will be in touch within the week to try and work things out. Finally, I ask him to not put the collection up for sale elsewhere until we reach a conclusion. He agrees, and we’re on our way.

On the way home in the car, I start browsing through the pictures on my ladies’ phone and I keep seeing things that are ringing my internal cash register. Foil Unhinged lands. A Foil Promo Wasteland still in the wrapper. A random minty Unlimited Volcanic Island. A page of foil FNM Promos I didn’t know existed.


Upon my return home, I sit down to my desk, throw on some Interpol and spend the next three hours plowing through our photo log and creating an isolated collection using the MTGPrice ProTrader tools so that I can figure out a ballpark figure for the collection and also get a peak at how much it might be worth if buylisted. Though I know I would eventually need to price at TCGLow to move many of the cards, the big picture data on this site is still setting me up for a more informed decision.

The final tally blows past my earlier estimate, with the various pleasant surprises taking the number up to $22, 397 USD. Quick math tells me that even at the asking price of $16K USD, there is $3-5K to be made here after fees, depending on time spent and how likely it is that the collection can be parceled out. Given that large portions of the collection remain unknown to me, I speculate that they might add another $1-2K in value and decide that the play is worth making.

Despite my rising interest, I give the seller a few days to cool his heels before deciding to reengage. On Thursday I text him that I think the value of collection is around $25K and ask for a quick phone chat. On the phone I explain that though the collection value is consistent with his own estimates, the odds of a collector being willing to pony up the cash for something this large is very low indeed. As a former dealer himself, I note, he must understand that the deal is likely to be dealer to dealer, and as such, will necessarily involve a significant discount to account for their margin. Since the collection is of quality and includes the duals, I could see them offering up to 50-55% of the collection value, which places the deal value somewhere around $14K. As I happen to have the funds, and the interest, but not the overhead, I assure the seller that I will come in above the likely dealer offer. He states plainly that his lowest price is $18.5K (~15K USD), take it or leave it. I ask for another week  to think it over and he agrees.

During the week I ping a few actual dealers I know and run the general details of the collection past them without revealing it’s location. My thinking is that I might be able to de-risk the transaction entirely by simply acting as a middle man and collecting $1-2K simply for arranging the sale.  As it turns out most of these contacts express interest, promise to review the list, and then fail to follow up . A few guys toss out numbers like $12.5 K or $14K based on my summary total and the presence of the duals, but nothing ever comes of it.

While I have the cash on hand, I’m only 60/40 on shelling it out, since collections aren’t my main area of expertise, and I’m reluctant to commit the time I suspect will be necessary to turn this one over. Enter David, another contact with deep pockets and a broad interest in stocks and collectibles who I’ve made money for in the past on both Magic tips and stock picks. With the stock market largely stalled this year and heading into the summer doldrums, I ping Dave to see if he’s interested in financing the deal. Because of my continued interest in transparency in MTGFinance, I’ll share the details with you.

I propose a unique set of terms, to which Dave agrees after a bit of back and forth. Dave fronts the cash, which I have resolved will amount to $14.25K USD or about $17K CDN, and I guarantee him the first $17, 500 USD in revenues returned within a year, plus 25% of the remaining net profit after fees and expenses. This provides Dave with a potentially healthy 20%+ annual return, with plenty of upside but no guarantee on his principle other than my value estimate. I lose some upside myself, but de-risk the financial portion of the deal entirely, with only my time and a key relationship at stake. Further, I know myself well enough to understand that my reputation being on the line with Dave will absolutely ensure I give the sales process my all to make sure he gets his returns.

(Side note: I don’t recommend trying this stunt with close friends and family that don’t understand the game or the risks. It’s not worth it to alienate the people closest to you for a few thousand dollars.)

With my financing in place, I contact the seller again, and let him know that my best offer is $17K CDN ($14.25 USD), but that I am willing to provide it in cash so long as the deal is for every MTG card he owns. This was clearly not what he was expecting, as most stores would have needed to do the deal with a purchase order for accounting purposes. He considers briefly, then gets back to me in agreement, on the condition that we close the deal by the following Friday, also noting that he is happy to give us every last card in the house.

Conveniently we have friends up from Michigan, and their truck is the perfect size to lug home 60 binders and a bunch of boxes. On site, we double check that everything looks pretty much as we left it, confirm the presence of a few dozen key cards, and start loading it all up. In the process the seller finds several additional boxes of cards, some old decks, a smattering of random unsorted booster boxes, and a few missing binders. With a nod and a handshake we hand over the cash, and drive off into the sunset.

Processing the Collection

Dragging the collection home.
Dragging the collection home.

Upon arriving home, my house guests inquire as to how I will proceed. I break down for them that our first goal is to figure out how much the collection is actually worth by locating and isolating the cards that were included in my first tally, and then pricing and isolating all remaining cards over $1 that might contribute to a higher valuation.

As it turns out the pro basketball player staying with us is an utterly nice guy and awesomely OCD, and once he sees me price checking and stickering cards, he dives in with gusto alongside us, and the two of them start powering through binders, competing to see who can find the most value.

Almost immediately, we make a startling discovery, and one that becomes a turning point for the entire deal. As it turns out, the seller was in fact a completionist, and most of the binders between Revised and Ravnica represent complete sets. Even better, most binders contain not one, but four of most cards, and many have the foil on the backside of the page!

This discovery sets off tremors in my heart, as I realize that our photo essay estimates have almost certainly resulted in underestimating the collection value in a big, big way. Frantically, we start flipping through binders, and pulling out entire playsets of key cards we didn’t know were present.

Many cards were in sets of 4 or 5!
Many cards were in sets of 4 or 5!

On the first morning alone, we’ve located a ton of unseen value, including an additional full set of Revised, all NM, sleeved and in a custom wooden box, including the full set of pristine dual lands. How did the seller never mention this?! Sum total we locate a total of 67 dual lands, and the average condition is NM.

A full set of NM Revised in a custom box.
A full set of NM Revised in a custom box.

As the days pass and the work continues, more treasure rises from the mist. One massive binder is full of nothing but foil rares, presumably a trading binder we hadn’t seen on the first pass. Another box has a bunch of binders full of nothing but basic lands, BUT also includes a large binder with nothing but foil and promo lands, including over 200 foil Arena lands and Arena lands worth $5-$20 each. There are 4 sets of 4th Edition and 5 sets of Chronicles, notable mostly for their minty Blood Moons. Lorwyn era cards are entirely absent, but 7th edition foils are plentiful as are foils from Urza’s block. One binder is full of hundreds of random rares, and the handful of decks in the collection all yield sweet goodies. The bulk boxes are almost entirely commons, but cough up hundreds of Dark Rituals, Lightning Bolts and other money commons.

In the end with 90% of the collection processed, we end up with a whopping +$22, 697 (at NM TCGLow) in additional value over my initial estimates, placing the total value of this collection at somewhere between $42,000-$45,000 USD!

Even better, these figures tally less than 5,000 cards, with over $20K in value coming from the top 500 cards alone. 90% of the cards are NM while the remainder are SP, with virtually nothing having been played. The processed collection now fits in a suitcase, and everything is organized by set, in perfect fit sleeves, with top loaders for cards over $20. The remaining 40,000 cards I can do with as I see fit, including entire binders of random bulk foils, bulk rares and uncommons from over 40 sets.

Here are some choice samples of our pulls:

Foil Promo Wastelands x4!
Foil Promo Wastelands x4!
DarkSteel Foils
DarkSteel Foils
Juicy Urza's Legacy foils
Juicy Urza’s Legacy foils
Mixed Goodies
Mixed Goodies
Quad Urza's Saga Lands
Quad Urza’s Saga Lands

So now what? Well, now we need to hold the applause until we actually manage to sell the Super Collection. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll explore our options from outing the collection, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the various methods and tally early results.

In the meantime, ping me on via @MTGCritic on Twitter if you think you see something you want, or would like to review the full collection list.

A fraction of the money cards.
A fraction of the money cards.
More Tier 2 stuff.
More Tier 2 stuff.

James Chillcott is the CEO of, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

41 thoughts on “Super Collection: Diary of a Big Collection Flip (Pt 1)”

  1. TLDR
    the dud who sold this collection got f** and now its on the internet for all to see.

    1. So do you think that guy would have ever gotten someone to pay 40k+ for the collection?

      Seems unlikely. Large collections are never sold at median value. If they were, there’d be no point in someone buying them.

      It seems extreme based on the large numbers being passed about. But the guy sold it all at once. That’s the nature of how this works.

      1. I bought a similar sized collection last year which held less money cards but that was also cheaper (€4500). So far I figure I’ve made about €10000 on it, with some of the good stuff left, which means my gains balance out similarly to James, relative to my purchase price.

        In my case the seller similarly didn’t want to put a whole lot of effort into it and he was very willing to accept that he would get nowhere near retail prices. He had worked a market stand and knew about negotiating, the guy seemed genuinely concerned that I would not have a big enough profit margin though.

        We agreed to spend the day browsing through his binders, with him looking up cards in a webshop to “keep me honest”. When we were done with that it was clear there was value there, but he reckoned he was missing his Duals, so he dragged out many large boxes as well. We gave the boxes a quick browse through, found the Duals and started figuring out the price. After some negotiating we were both happy, the value he had in mind was in the same ballpark as my first offer, so that made things easy.

        The next few days I started browsing through the entire collection and had the same experience as James: many cards had been hiding in the boxes. This was a beast of a collection to filter through though, on my own it took several weeks of work extracting everything from it.

        I have had similar experiences with smaller collections as well.

        As a seller you will always get a price that reflects the effort you put in as your buyer will make an offer based on what he knows and his expected effort, assuming the rest is mostly bulk (particularly if that’s what the seller says). In James’ case the seller was willing to do very little, which should not be the fault of the buyer.

      2. Not really. If the collection had been valued at 40K it would have sold in the 20-25k range. As stated in the article James actually paid more then most would because he does not have the overhead (stores) that most people who buy these size collections have.

    2. Do you honestly think the guy who sold this collection had the time, patience, contacts, and resources to sell all of this for its value? Don’t get me started…

    3. Its not reasonable to say the seller got f’d. He had years to inventory this stuff and didn’t, then only gave allow his best a few hours to price the collection and told his buyer that the portion he didn’t see was bulk. The buyer wasn’t stupid, but he traded any potential upside from inventorying his collection to the time saving of showing a fraction and taking a quick cash offer. No one got f’d here. Money was traded for time and risk. Its basic economics.

  2. The dream find. Congrats on the deal and look forward to future installments in the series.

  3. Makes me wish I kept my old collection and see what it would be worth now.
    Congrats on that find, and good luck selling it off. Personally, I think it would be cool to give the seller a few thousand more but that’s up to you.

  4. The only thing comparable to this is when I helped my buddy sell his collection before he left for college… in 1997… He got around $5000 for it. You can imagine what was in it (hint: 30ish pieces of power, half unlimited, half alpha/beta), mana drains, 100+ duals, etc…

  5. Wow. Nice find. It’s more ‘ooo, luck’, than MTG finance, but you did talk about the process – it’s too bad that won’t be what people focus on.

  6. Quit around Zendikar Yet has a Temple Garden from RTR ???!!! (main picture bottom right corner). hmmmm. Something seems suspicious! Just Sayin

    1. Collection was rock solid 4 sets + foil up until the late 2000s, then you can see his interest start to flag. Some sets (Lorwyn block for instance) are 100% absent. He had some cards from Zendikar block and some RTR, but very little else from last 5-6 years. I got the impression his wife had a little something to say about it once it took over the basement, lol.

  7. It’s a consistent price for the collection. Shops typically pay what…. 40%? This is what you get when you off a large collection of this size. If the seller had wanted to piece this out he might have received 70-80% prior to fees. It’s a legit deal and anyone who says otherwise has little to no idea what they’re talking about.

  8. Not sure what I was supposed to learn from this. Be in the right place at the right time and buy something that is obviously a good deal? Ok.

    1. I too would like to purchase money for less than the value of money. Subscribe to this blog for more awesome tips!

  9. Thank you for writing an article that is basically just a 100% big ole pat on the back to yourself.

    I can’t wait for part two! I’m sure it will contain the modesty we are all used to from you James.

    1. Hey Dylan. If you knew me at all, you’d know that I a) could care less about ego stroking and b) everything about encouraging everyone to share their success so that we can all glean the bits and pieces of info that help makes us better at this aspect of the hobby. I could easily have kept the details of this deal to myself, as it would have helped me maximize profits, as people often have trouble with paying full price when they know you got a deal, regardless of market value. Instead, I laid the whole thing bare so that readers without the experience can see the inner workings and process behind this kind of deal. If you didn’t see the value, perhaps I’ll find some other way to share it with you in another piece. Cheers.

      1. James, the fact you’re defending your lack of ego is an indication that maybe you do have an ego.

        The intent of your actions and the perception of your intent are two different things. Unless you’re a writer, and writing about yourself, it’s not your job to shape people’s perceptions of you, so don’t worry about it.

      2. Your mother is a whore. If you refute this point then it is true. How dare James be offended by that offensive comment from Dylan. The nerve.

    2. Aww baby can’t handle a little bit of ego-esque writing in exchange for some high quality in-depth knowledge? Go to YouTube and listen to less knowledgable people spout shit out of their ass and troll the comments. This site and pro may not be your thing.

  10. If you feel generous my legendary collection craves for one of each Urza land, but my bank-account strictly forbids this 😀

    1. If you just need a set of Chronicles lands, ping me on Twitter. I found over 200 of them in the Super Collection and I’ll be happy to hook you up for free.

  11. All this salt in the comments is lethal in concentrated doses.

    The guy bought a massive collection, he’s explaining his process and how he assessed riskvs reward, as well as the proper procedure to go about buying it. It’s fantastic that the collection was worth an obscene amount more than he anticipated, because it shows that someone who is experienced in MTGFinance can get caught off guard. I’m sure everyone in the comments has bought or sold a collection to mixed success. But if you guys don’t think you can learn anything from a free article on the subject, don’t bother reading it. Youre obviously doing fine on your own right?

    1. Agreed, if you can’t personally see the value or if it doesn’t apply to you, why the hell did you read it? Even small info on how to sort and store the cards is useful.

      1. This is how I read it as well. When looking forward to picking up a large collection myself – not quite as stellar as this, but with plenty of cards from Revised/Legends > Mirage block – in hopefully the near future, figuring a way to sort will be a big thing.
        Of course, it’s no purchase – just getting back to the midwest to pick up stuff from my parents where it’s been sitting for 15+ years – but that makes it a bit sweeter to not have to negotiate. And I KNOW that there are some great things among it…

  12. You have a mountain of work ahead of you. I bought a large collection for $450 from a very old player and after 2+ months of work, I was able to make 2k-2.5k from it. This is a terrible day rate.

    It was a very unexpected level of time/work commitment. It feels great to have cards (hence your look at me article), but I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel differently at the end.

  13. Thanks for this article – I can’t wait to read the next installment! To throw my 2 cents in on some of the posted comments:

    The former store owner lost out on a lot of money, but according to the facts presented in the article, he was in no way screwed over. He obviously wanted to put zero work into selling his collection. He was “too busy to post it on craigslist” after all. Selling something with no effort has to come with a large hit in the final price. He was basically paying an expert to spend hours and hours sorting and selling, and James’ offer on his initial estimate of the collection’s value was a fair reflection of that cost of that effort and expertise. The fact that James found hidden additional value is his own good luck, and completely preventable by the store owner if he’d spent a few days sorting and pricing before-hand. James would only be in the wrong if – after viewing and tallying every card – the store owner had asked him directly what the collection was worth and James had lied. As it is – the store owner got thousands of dollars for doing nothing, and James gets thousands of dollars for his effort, expertise, and for taking on the risk of the collection (small as that risk is with MTG at its apogee of popularity).
    As for James being a braggart…there’s a line a writer walks between laying bare the facts of his exploits and holding back some information to not sound like he’s bragging. I think James tips to both sides of that line. I appreciate that he discloses so much information because it makes his articles more valuable as learning tools. If he paid X for a collection and it was worth X more than that number, I think it would be a disservice to fudge those number for the sake of humility. But when he chooses to add details like “my girlfriend is hot” or “I have a pro basketball player staying at my house”…well, these probably do more to stoke his ego than inform fellow financiers. And it must be said, his profile picture is Mr. Slick James and not Mr. Humble James.
    But at the end of the day – I don’t know him as a person. I only know his online persona, which is based on what he chooses to put forward and how I choose to interpret that. I love his articles and all the details with which he fills them, and that’s why I’ll keep coming back for more. Thanks again.

  14. Thank you so much for this article and really all of your articles. I’ve been keeping track of your progress on Twitter you’ve inspired me to hustle hard on deals and trade ups to not only get the cards I want but to try and make profit by doing so. Keep it up.

  15. I’ll happily admit that I’ve felt that you just like to hear yourself talk, but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here since you’re right, I don’t know you.

    Maybe you will take some advise then.

    Write about things that people can use! Lets start with this article.

    1) Chill on the person pats on the back. From the first two paragraphs, it’s all about James. That’s great that you got an UNL lotus and run two businesses, but I believe that everyone else who writes here probably has a day job and doesn’t start their articles by promoting themselves

    2) You admit on twitter that you didn’t know about 7th edition foils being worth so much, yet you never mention it in the article. Why not let your readers who may also not know this information that stuff like Urza block and 7th edition foils are worth a lot more than other sets?

    3) On twitter, your friend is an OCD Pothead, but in writing he is a pro basketball player?

    And then, as I was searching back on your twitter for ANY humbleness, some more stuff popped out –

    No one cares that you scored a bunch of foreign booster boxes and posted pictures on twitter of them. Write about how to source them, why to source them, and talk about your returns on them.

    Oh, and for ONCE, just ONCE. Maybe talk about losing money? I don’t claim to be a #MTGFinance expert, but 95% of the others I read/follow/listen to will always say that they lose as many if not MORE than they win on. I’ve yet to see you call anything but your home runs.

    All of these things, along with your just general attitude, makes me think you won’t take feedback like this to heart.

    Any maybe next time, put this juicy article behind a paywall.

    1. Dylan, perception is a funny thing.

      1) The personal background at the start of the article was both a reference to the last article in this series (re: Lotus) and an explanation of why I don’t usually make the effort to deal in collections. Referencing my other roles also helps the reader to understand why I’m worth listening to, but if you see that as an ego play, so be it.

      2) Fair point. I’ll update the article with such a note.

      3) The friend is both things, but because he’s the first it would have been unwise to echo the second in the article.

      As for losing money, of course I lose money on some specs. I have several piles collecting dust in my closet, including gems like Aggressive Mining, Chasm Skulker and Mesa Enchantress. They do not however make up any significant amount of my portfolio and whether we’re talking stocks, toys or cards, I’m only doing it continuously if I’m well into the black. You do want your on topic writers to be good at this stuff right?

      1. Lol of course they don’t make up part of your portfolio… They didn’t work out.

        Hellloooooo confirmation bias.

        Not a bad thing tho. Its just haters that don’t understand that you’re not in the habit of criticising yourself publicly. I mean, who is, realistically? You don’t write because you’re looking to sell yourself as a failure.

    2. “Oh, and for ONCE, just ONCE. Maybe talk about losing money? I don’t claim to be a #MTGFinance expert, but 95% of the others I read/follow/listen to will always say that they lose as many if not MORE than they win on. I’ve yet to see you call anything but your home runs.”

      I like this idea. I think I’m going to look back on all of my biggest whiffs and write about it next week.

  16. I had a collection like this a while back. I paid 10k and it ended up being worth about 31k. I did extremely well and managed to get 26k. Part of the reason being prices jumped on some cards. I ended up shipping the guy a check for an extra 3k because I felt bad haha.

  17. I think this is an interesting piece on the logistics of scoring a deal like this and am looking forward to how you go about selling it efficiently.

    One thing that I think this article and the comments underscore is that mtg finance has really shifted to a shark or be sharked model. If the seller had spent 10 min on google he would have never sold for that price. Kudos to James for recognizing the opportunity but it’s a shame that this experience seems to highlight how easily you can be taken advantage of.

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