What’s Worth Collecting?

We all have something that we collect.  Some people collect postcards from their travels.  Those that want to relive fond childhood memories may collect old toys.  If you’re fortunate enough to have lots of money, maybe you collect art.  There are even those that collect scarps of items, trash on the side of the road, or other people’s cast-off just because it is unique to them.  To each of these people the items they collect have special meaning in some way.  Maybe they are collecting them just for the memories, maybe for the possibility of it becoming a way to finance their retirement in the future.

Let’s face it, not everything is going to be the next great find on Antiques Roadshow or get the Toy Hunter to come rummage through your garage in search of that one-of-a-kind prototype Barbie.

But what really is worth collecting from a financial standpoint?  If you have ever watched Pawn Stars, the Old Man will always go after silver, coins and gold because he knows that they hold their value over time, but not so much for trendy and paper items.  It can be really hard to know unless you are an expert in the appraisal field, so here are some do’s and don’t regarding collectibles.

Do’s

  • Sports memorabilia – Experts say that collecting sports items can be a good bet if you go for the right items.  Forget baseball cards that are post-1980 due to the amount produced and the lingering stain of performance enhancing drugs on player’s careers.  Better are cards by earlier star (Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and most hall of fame members).  Items from defunct big league teams could also be worth something down the line as are game balls from important events such as the World Series or Super Bowl.  If you go for signed items, it should be on something relevant to the athlete, such as boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali.
  • Old bikes – There is a huge market for old bicycles, especially now that none are made in this country.  Pre-1970’s bikes, especially Schwinn Sting-Rays, are very popular to this day and can still draw high asking prices into four digits.  Look for non-Asian produced models.
  • Comic books – Remember when comics cost only 12 cents or 25 cents?  If not, then you weren’t around for the Golden Age of comics when many of the popular characters of today were first introduced, including Superman, Spiderman and Batman.  Rare editions can score serious money at auctions, and in May of 2013 a rare 1040 edition of Batman sold for a then-record of $40,322.
  • Lego blocks – Yes, there are hundreds of millions of these things currently sitting in toy chests and sandboxes around the world, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth anything.  If you have Legos, then go to BrickLink.com to check out the prices on individual ones.  Some, like a Darth Vader helmet from the Star Wars series, can go for around $400.  There was even a case of 62 containers of Legos falling of a ship 18 years ago where the now rare pieces, such as an 4,200 black octopi, are washing up on beaches in Great Britain, much to the delight of collectors.
  • Star Wars toys – We’re not taking anything from the 1990’s on here, at least not yet.  What you really want are the original Star Wars toys, especially the figures, from the late 1970’s.  This is because when the movie first came out, no one really expected it would become a major hit, let alone the cultural phenomenon it is today.  In 1978 Kenner sold a Jawa figure with a plastic cape, versus others sold with a cloth one on later production runs, for $1.99.  Today that same figure will sell for over $18,000, and a Darth Vader figure with a double telescoping light saber can fetch up to $12,000.

Don’ts

  • Beanie Babies – Eons ago back in the 1990’s these stuffed little toys were getting some insane prices, with some even going for thousands of dollars.  But like most markets, this one also collapsed under it’s own weight, sometimes literally.  Too many were produced, knock-offs abounded, and tastes changed. Now you can find them in almost any yard sale for just a buck.  The creator of these toys, Ty Warner, was convicted of tax evasion in 2014 and sentenced to 2 years of probation, pretty much sealing the company’s, and the toys, fate.
  • Commemorative stamps – Ever notice how many pieces of mail get delivered every day?  Have you notice most that are not junk mail have stamps?  Now take an idea or event, turn it into a stamp, and multiply it by several million.  There, you have commemorative stamps in a nutshell.  Most are not worth more than the value of their postage, they are intentionally inflated in price to raise money for the postal service, not to make you rich by their “rarity”.
  • Hummel figurines – Those little ceramic boys and girls that your parents collected when you were a kid used to be worth something.  These days, not so much.  Those produced in the 1940’s were indeed worth something as they were hand-made in very small amounts.  But now, many of those that had collected them are dying off, the artist who originally made them is long gone herself, and those made today are mass produced and usually sell for under $100.  Similar situations are seen in markets for Snow Babies and Precious Moments figurines.
  • Thomas Kinkade paintings – The famous “painter of light” succumbed to the dark-side of greed (sorry about the pun) when he began franchising Signature Gallery stores to sell his works.  Most of the items sold in them were not original paintings, but rather prints that were “highlighted” by adding dots of oil paint to them.  The sheer number of these drove the value of his works down and the stores out of business before his death.  Stick to the originals if you want a Kinkade.
  • Autographed sports memorabilia – OK, now didn’t we say earlier that these were good items to have?  Well, yeah, sort of.  The key here is really about two things: rarity and authenticity.  There are athletes out there that can and so sign lots of things, especially when it comes to making them the almighty buck.  Mickey Mantle, for example, is one of the greatest players of the game but his signature is worth basically squat because he signed so many things over his lifetime.  The harder it is to get someone’s signature, or the fewer that exist, are what really matters.  Think Michael Jordan, but when he was playing baseball for the White Sox farm team.  The other key here is provenance.  What that means is being able to prove and trace the authenticity of an item.  Many, many signed sports items for sale today are fakes, it’s just so easy to do.  If you buy an item without having seen the athlete sign it personally, be wary.  Make sure it has backing paperwork from reputable companies such as James Spence Authentication or PSA/DNA.   If you are having an item signed yourself, try taking a picture of the athlete signing the item, or better yet, try and get in the picture with them and the item to prove its authenticity.
  • Collectible plates – Most made post 1980 have almost no value and those prior to that don’t fare much better.  It’s almost better to use them to eat off of.
  • ANYTHING from the Franklin Mint – Let’s face it, anything MADE to be collectible probably isn’t, and the items from this company are overpriced to begin with let alone able to actually increase in value.  That’s why they have 30 minute long infomercials to sell these to you.

The bottom line is this: collect what brings joy to you, but just don’t expect it to bring you a windfall in the future.

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