5 Ways to Collect — For Fun and Profit

 Everyone has a yen toward a certain item. For some, it’s baseball cards…others with bigger wallets collect antique sportscars or rare paintings. It doesn’t matter whether you’re poor or rich — you may happily collect stacking dolls, Beanie babies or blue-and-white Delftware. Celebrities do it, too — Tom Hanks collects typewriters, while Corbin Bernsen’s partial to snowglobes. (Corbin reputedly has more than 7000 — and counting.)

The thrill of the hunt is great — but it’s no fun getting stuck with boxes and boxes of items that are good only for garage sales — or less. Fine-tune your instincts, and your collection can not only be a source of joy, but profit, as well.

Educate yourself

If the various colors of Depression glass (also known as Carnival glass) make your heart sing, find out which colors and patterns are most sought after. (In this case, it’s pink, cobalt blue and green. American Sweetheart, Princess and Royal Lace are some of the most popular patterns.) Read every book or online source you can find. Talk to dealers. Take notes.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of math. In the case of jewelry, for example, a piece may be valued for its parts, instead of the whole. If a sapphire ring, like the one shown below, is going for less than the price of the silver alone, you can hardly go wrong.

Get the best you can afford

Starting out, it may not be that much. Still, don’t let yourself be seduced by the urge of “hey, it’s cheap — buy it.” When my quilt collection was in its infancy, I bought everything I could find under $50. Unfortunately, that’s what most of those pieces are worth today —  less than $50. Better to save your money and get the best-condition, rarest, most unusual item possible for your hard-earned cash.

Warning: like this AARP slideshow points out,  “just about anything recently produced that’s touted as rare or limited edition is unlikely to appreciate in value.” If you’re expecting for make big bucks off your Beanie Babies, with rare exceptions, you’ll be disappointed. Collectible plates have been especially hard-hit in this area, as have Hummels, Precious Moments and other figurines.

It may be easier to illustrate the “Buy the Best” principle. Take, for example: the Eight-Pointed Star below. (Also known as a LeMoyne or Lemon Star, after the brothers who founded New Orleans.) It is a good basic quilt, a sturdy piece that will help on cold nights. And it values in the neighborhood of $300-500 — sometimes more if unusual fabrics are used, or it’s especially well-made.

But take that $500, add to it, and spent $2000 or so on an 1840s Baltimore Album, like this one from the Los Angeles Museum of Art — and you’ve got a bargain that’s only going to appreciate in value in coming years. In fact, a Civil War era  Reconciliation Quilt , using Baltimore Album-style elements, sold for $264,000 at Sotheby’s in 1991. (I wouldn’t put it on the bed much, either.)


Don’t be afraid to refine your collection

You may only have been able to afford thrift shop items, starting out. That’s all right — you probably found at least two or three Really Good Pieces among the schlock. Unless you have a personal connection with the cheesy items (see below), be ruthless — weed out the lesser-quality pieces, sell or donate them, and use the money and space to add more rare items. Less cluttering — and the items you do keep are able to stand out better. Keep the appraiser’s mantra in mind: condition, maker, workmanship and quality. Is it unusual? Does it have a specific purpose, or fill a hole, datewise, in your collection? These are all factors to keep in mind. 

Need money? Now you know why you bought the good stuff

    The auction of Debbie Reynolds’ collection of movie items helped her climb out of bankruptcy. No doubt it hurt to sell Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra headdresses and several Marilyn Monroe dresses, among other things. But the final price of Marilyn’s iconic subway grate dress (yes, the one that flies up) must have lessened the sting — it sold for $4.6 million.  Debbie originally paid $200 for it.

Reynolds had hoped to open a Hollywood-themed museum with her collection…and that most probably won’t happen now. But if she’s smart, she’s kept some of the best items for the future…or just enjoy, now the bills are paid. I’m betting she has.

If you find a real bargain, and there’s an active market for it — snap it up. Quick. 

Thanks to your research, you should know when it’s a great price. And if your item is priced far below what it commonly sells for, you won’t have any trouble selling it for a profit. (This blogger has been doing it with, of all things, scooters.) Sink any earned money back into your collection, but remember: look for highest-quality at the lowest price. Don’t succumb to the “bargain” just because you have extra in your pocket.

You may not want to wait, either, to sell it. Some things, like vintage and antique kids’ toys, have held fairly steady in value — provided they’re in excellent condition and/or in the original box, that is. Some collectibles have plenty of short-term interest now, but are bound to flatten out in coming years. (Hang onto your Justin Bieber t-shirts, and in a decade, you’ll see what I mean. If they were from Elvis concerts, on the other hand, it would be a different story.)

Some pieces in your collection may never be worth much, like the Superman comic you shredded reading too many times under the covers. That doesn’t make them any less dear. In my case, it’s the first quilt I ever made, now faded and spitting out batting…and still beloved by the daughter I made it for.  The tattered copy of Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, read up in the treehouse on many a lazy summer afternoon.  The blue cobalt glass vase I spent 50 cents of babysitting money for  — starting yet another interest that led me into writing, quilting, and eventually appraising. 

 Those are the items you keep forever. After all, they’re priceless.

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