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COLLECTIBLES OF THE FUTURE

What Common Items Laying Around the House are the valuable Collectibles of the Future?

My son asked me recently what items he should be saving today that will be worth large sums of money in the future. With my 50+ years of dealing in collectibles of one sort or another, he assumes I have a unique perspective that will allow me to predict the future. If he were only right, I would be sitting on the beach of some south seas island rather than slaving over a keyboard here on the fruited plain.

What he is not asking for is a list of collectibles that will steadily appreciate in value- say 5% - 15% a year- presumably the stock market will do that- at least in good times. He is looking for the items that can be picked up for $1 at a garage sale and will be worth $500 in 20 years. While I cannot predict specifically what these items are, I think I can give some general characteristics so you will recognize them when you find them. I would be interested in additional thoughts any readers may have as to these characteristics, and specifically what items might meet them.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. The collectible should be something currently or recently commonly available, something that large numbers of people come into contact with, and something cheap enough that most everyone can afford.

    In the past, this has included everyday items such as lunch boxes for example, or toys that were ubiquitous that we give them no thought at the time. The bottom line is that we develop a feeling towards these items though we don't value them at the time.

  2. The item should be cheap enough initially, and so common that they are generally discarded by the general population as worthless

    I recently received a catalog from a company that sells movie posters. They related a story that in the 1950's, they accumulated a large assortment of movie posters because they were under contract to distribute them to theaters. They accumulated a large number of posters because there were always a few left over from each movie. Eventually they had a warehouse full. In the 1960's they were forced to move across town. To save money on the move, they threw most of the posters in the trash because they felt the posters would never be worth anything. Today, they calculate those discarded posters would be worth two million dollars.

    I have a similar personal story concerning comic books. When I was a kid, I had a large collection of over 2400 comics dating from 1940 through 1952, including continuous runs of many titles. Knowing my mother would throw them away when I went away to college, I sold them to a scrap dealer because there were no comics dealers at that time where I lived. I have calculated that these comics today would have a catalog value of over $150,000.

    This throwaway period is critical to every valuable collectible.

  3. The items physical characteristics should be conducive to collecting

    They should be interesting, nostalgic, or artistic, and hopefully still be useful in some form. And they should be of a size or composition that allows for display.

I once traveled between Toledo, Ohio where we once lived and Indianapolis every weekend for nearly a year to allow my children to finish out the school year in Toledo. On a country road that is considerably shorter than the Interstate connection between the two cities, I passed a sign every week that said WANTED, OLD ANVILS. I suppose this proves there is a collector for nearly everything, but I doubt that anvil prices have increased 50 fold in the last 10 years. The reason being that anvils would be very inconvenient to collect, and do not have aesthetic appeal to most of us.

What then fits the criteria that I have outlined above. One that is a near miss is old personal computers. We attended an auction recently where they were selling 40 or 50 computers that were used in a school. These were really old as PC's go. They were IBM nameplate, but a pre 286 chip. They were sold with working monitor, keyboard, and dot matrix printer (remember them?). The highest price on any of set of computer, monitor and printer was $12. I have thrown away several old PCs because I could not find a buyer at any price. Is this a collectible for the future. The only criteria not met is the ease of collectibility. A full collection containing a PC jr, Apricot, Tandy TR40, etc would take up a lot of space.

I don't know if there is any value in old typewriters, but I doubt it. I have several in the attic that I can't bring myself to throw away because they are still functional. Typewriters will probably never go through the throwaway phase, at least until people no longer know what they are.

Another candidate for collectibility might be obsolete software, especially games in interesting boxes. Most people throw away these items from earlier computer systems because they will not work on modern computers.

Another candidate for collectibility are debit type gift cards that are common around Christmas. These fit the several categories nicely. They can be artistic in nature, as they are often sold from racks as somewhat impulse gifts. They certainly evoke pleasant memories as everyone like to receive them. As companies fail or merge over time, there is the possibility of rarities from defunct companies, and series from other companies. Finally, most people discard these after use, fitting the most important characteristic. From scanning the internet, I notice there are already people collecting these. but I do not believe it has reached the point to where they are commonly collected.

There are trends today that may prevent collectibles from ever appreciating much in value. One I will call the Roadshow Effect. Many people watch this program every week and assume everything a few years old is valuable. They do not see the thousands of worthless items that don't get shown on TV. This will frustrate the necessary throwaway phase if people save everything. Another trend I will call the Stamp Bubble, but it applies to items such as Beanie Babies and other collectibles. We were once a relatively poor country where people had little disposable income. People bought stamps to use on letters, period. Very few were saved in mint condition. When stamp collecting became popular after World War II, mint stamps from earlier years became valuable overnight. This prompted people to go out save new issues. Why save a few stamps and get slightly rich, when you can save several sheets and become super rich? Unfortunately, when thousands of people do this, the stamps will never be of any value. The father of one my college roommates ran a stamp store years ago. Every few weeks, someone would show up with large quantities of stamps. One such person had over $10,000 in stamps and assumed he could send one of his children to a private college with the sale of these greatly appreciated (he assumed) stamps. He was devastated when he found he could not even get face value for the stamps, and it would take several lifetimes to use that many stamps on letters. Every few months I purchase stamps from eBay auctions. I usually pay about 90% of face value. The last purchase was at 85%, presumably because of the weak economy. So if something was once a hot item such as stamps or coins or beanie babies, don't waste your money collecting current items. That train has left the station.

Another item to avoid is manufactured collectibles. If you bought Fantasy Press books when there were few collectors, you made out OK, but not great considering inflation. But most manufactured items advertised as collectibles will never appreciate much if at all. They may be limited production, but limited only by the number of people silly enough to waste their money on them.

So keep your eyes open for any neglected items that meet the three criteria above, I would be interested in hearing your comments- pro or con. Use the email link below to send them. I will publish interesting comments.


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