As a youngster, you may have taken up the call of H.E. Harris and company, found as an ad in many of your favorite comic books, and started a stamp collection. You spent many an hour soaking stamps off envelopes, drying them and putting them in your album with tiny stamp hinges. You likely have that treasure book.
When you hit your teens, music became your passion. You began snapping up copies of your favorite vinyl singles and albums. You might still have them hanging around, though you may no longer have a phonograph to play them on. They are your treasures.
At some stage you may have gone from dumping your pocket change into a box or jar to actually examining the coins and holding on to some. The keepers likely included some U.S. “wheat” pennies. Billions – yes, Billions – of them were minted starting in 1909 and ending in 1958. Slim chance that any you have are worth more than a few cents.
Are you getting the picture? Sparsely filled stamp albums for children or beginners and any U.S. postal stamps from the past 70 years, which is what most people have, are of little value. As for those vinyl records, the most valuable albums are rare and ideally kept in climate-controlled, dust-free storage. Otherwise, expect pennies on the dollar. And those billions of wheat pennies hanging around in jars or boxes are, as you have heard, likely worth more than face value – usually from 3 to 4 cents, at best a few dollars.
Face it, you aren’t going to pay for your kids’ college educations or make a fortune on your treasured collections. Sure, you might make a few bucks, but unless you have something exceedingly rare and in perfect condition, it’s not going to be much.
A lot of other collectibles have similar track records to the stamps vinyl and wheat pennies. Take “brown furniture,” for example. Brown furniture is a is a catchall term in the antiques trade for sturdy, dark-wood warhorses such as cabinets and sideboards, dining tables and bedroom sets. Museum-quality work by noted crafters and designers of historic importance command the prices one might hope, but everyday home furnishings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries have taken a hit on aesthetic and monetary fronts. Today art deco and midcentury modern pieces are in demand. A walk through many an antique or consignment shop will find the old brown pieces relegated to the back or basement, with price tags to match.
The costume jewelry market is another one where myth doesn’t match reality. Driven by trends and pop culture, one season, long necklaces for layering are in, next it’s disco-era chokers. Some collectors bypass anything that isn’t signed (designers stamp their name or logo on the reverse), so iconic pieces from noted designers and manufacturers (vintage Miriam Haskell, Kenneth Jay Lane, Weiss, Eisenberg, and others) command top dollar. But the bulk of costume jewelry is mass-produced, designed to bring a bit of glamour within the reach of everyone. That means there’s an overabundance of pieces that, while pretty and intricate, fill the $5 or $10 tables at flea markets. Here, again, condition plays a part. It’s hard to unload pieces with missing rhinestones or faulty clasps.
That china serving platter given at your grandparents’ wedding and used by generations has finally been passed down to you. It was never nicked or chipped — a miracle — and it has to be worth something. But with so many reproductions or revivals of vintage patterns, it can be difficult for an amateur to authenticate a piece and accurately gauge collectible-quality condition and rarity. If the platter is pristine, and from a noted line such as Royal Albert Old Country Roses, you may be in luck. More often, though, passed-down pieces are valuable only for their family history.
Precious Moments bride-and-groom sets made good wedding gifts or keepsake cake toppers, going on to take pride of place in the new couple’s first home. A recent scroll through eBay found many have provoked nostalgia, but not envy, as, for example, 1979’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” — billed as “rare!” — was listed at just $8.50.
Many people focus on themes or manufacturers when collecting commemorative plates from the ubiquitous American artist Norman Rockwell. But owners should have thought twice before coddling these items, as an array of original retired/mint condition plates complete with box, Styrofoam and certificates of authenticity sell for less than $50 on Rockwellplates.com.
Rah, rah … rah? Those vintage felt college pennants hung by generations of students carry plenty of tradition — but their value is, again, subjective. While alumni might feel they’ve held onto gold, they likely won’t be able to pay off that college loan. An undated Boston College pennant “complete with tack hole” can go for only $15 on eBay.
Hummel figurines were based on the drawings of a nun with the surname Hummel — a fact that may be worth more than any of the zillions of collectibles her work sparked. The Hummel figurines from the Goebel company, first made in the 1930s, have graced many a mantel. But their charm has fallen largely out of favor. Many of the most ardent collectors have died, and recently, the classic “Village Boy” holding a basket was listed for $1 on eBay.
Autographed sports memorabilia is a tricky category. There are some authenticated signatures that will trade for the price of a new car or house — but the prevalence of forgeries, mass-produced products and the like mean there’s a greater chance that the jersey you bought at the local convention center isn’t worth much. If you witnessed the autograph, that’s another story, and lucky you.
Reporting on baseball cards from the 1980s and 1990s, the Cardboard Connection is blunt — “Sports card values from the late 1980s and early 1990s are pretty much worthless.” While they traded well during their time, now there is a glut, and that means you’re not the only one holding a dozen Jose Cansecos. Looks like you’ve struck out on this form of sports memorabilia too.
Andy Warhol was perhaps the world’s most famous cookie-jar collector, and his trove famously sold for around a quarter-million at Sotheby’s in the late 1980s. But for the general collector, these relics of the past can be scored for a few bucks at the local flea market or well under $50 on eBay.
Everyone knew you collected porcelain or metal bells commemorating locations, destinations and special events. Folks brought them back from Las Vegas and London for you, joining those you collected on your own travels or at special events, such as a town’s celebration of the Bicentennial. Today, you can travel the world through eBay, picking up bells from Mount Vernon ($4) to Hawaii ($6), Singapore ($5) or splurge on Liberace ($18). Not exactly world-class valuations.
If bells weren’t your thing, maybe people loved to bring you salt-and-pepper shakers. Today, most sell on eBay for well under $10 — not much more than the original prices. A recent lot featured cowboy hats, King Kong and the Empire State Building, pagodas, spice canisters, seagulls, horse heads and quite a few more, all for $40. Those pairs crowding your shelves are destined to collect more dust.
Broadway shows always seem like a luxury, especially with today’s ticket pricing, and vintage Playbills, especially from opening nights, might seem like theatrical gold. Unfortunately, prices have really dropped since the advent of the Internet, Broadway World readers say. A 1964 Playbill for “Funny Girl” featuring Barbra Streisand, once going for upward of $350, can now be had for around $10. There are exceptions, as always, but these collectibles may be best valued for the memories.
A decorating craze for vintage farm tools had collectors buying items for their looks, often not even knowing the original use. But reproductions glutted the market, and today, with tastes often skewing toward the modern, tools from pitchforks to sheep shears, and sickles to pulleys, can easily be scored on for well under $50.
You’re cleaning out grandma’s closet and come across dozens of dresses. Unless they have designer labels, back-in-trend silhouettes or standout details in pristine condition, you’re basically looking at a pile of old clothes. Vintage collectors are ruthless when it comes to provenance and condition, so know that before listing a 1950s prom dress for much more than $75, the going rate on eBay.
Kitschy carnival souvenirs were the darlings of antique shops for ages — “chalkware” dogs and Kewpies of particular interest. But these easily dented and damaged onetime prizes are no longer held in such esteem. It’s a rare example that fetches more than $25.
When an artist dies, they say, their work’s value goes through the roof. Well, with Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light,” the sheer quantity of work has left some collectors chagrined. After his 2012 death, The Guardian reported that his work was featured in one of 20 U.S. homes, and now an Old World Santa ornament can be found for $3 online, and a framed “Spring Gate” painting for $15.