For some people, it’s a shoebox of baseball cards, gathering dust in the basement. For others, it’s a binder of old coins passed down from a great-aunt. From toys to technology, jewelry to figurines, most everyone has that collectible they are sure is worth a small fortune.
And most everyone is probably mistaken.
That’s not to say there isn’t value to be found in the spider-webbed nooks and crannies of attics across the country. Indeed, some people will be pleasantly surprised by the worth of their treasured antique lampshade.
But in the name of setting realistic expectations, Considerable has endeavored to talk to appraisers, pawnshop owners, and collectible experts to separate items that have potential value from those that will leave you sad, surprised, and disappointed.
No matter the specific field of expertise, some clear themes emerged after speaking to numerous professionals who make a living in the world of collectibles and antiques.
Before getting into a list of specific items, let’s cover some of the basics everyone should know while they gaze longingly at the collection they are sure is a gold mine.
Just being old won’t get stuff sold
A common thought is that because something is old, it must be valuable. That simply isn’t true.
Megan Mahn Miller, an appraiser based in Minneapolis who specializes in celebrity memorabilia, told Considerable, “Very little of what crosses my desk actually is valuable. One big mistake people make is thinking that because something is old, it is valuable. Very few coins or stamps are going to have value.”
If it was mass-produced, it’s no golden goose
A simple concept but one that many people have a tough time comprehending. Sure, the comic book you have was super-popular in the ’70s; made a big comeback in the 2010s; and has been slid into a plastic sleeve that screams “valuable!” to you.
But just keep in mind: If millions of them were produced — and it’s likely there were — then literally millions of folks just like you have one and are thinking the same thing.
According to Miller, “Rarity and scarcity are two factors that can make an item valuable. Mass production is completely counter to this.”
If the condition is poor, expect to be shown the door
Sure, you looked up the value of your Barry Bonds rookie card online, and it was $500. But have you actually looked at your Barry Bonds rookie card? It’s bent in two corners and has a grape juice spill on the back.
Reyne Hirsch, appraiser on Antique Roadshow, told Considerable: “Unless the item is extremely rare, collectors tend to only collect items in pristine condition. So if you have an item that is available on the market in good condition, that’s what investors will want to buy.”
And speaking of looking up the value online …
The price online can be false by design
Please remember that the internet isn’t always the most accurate or truthful source when discerning value. According to Miller, “I am often faced with people who say, ‘I saw it listed on eBay for $5,000.’ It is important to note that someone selling an item can ask whatever price they want; that does not mean the item will sell for that price.”
So just a heads-up: To get an accurate valuation of an item you will need to do more than google it. You should expect to do some online research to get a general sense of its worth, then bring it to an appraiser or collector if the item seems worth the time.
And now on to our list of the 9 collectibles that have less value than you think.
Digital cameras have changed the way people take, store, and think about photographs. Their ubiquity also gives the false idea that some older film cameras must be valuable as a result. Not so, says Daniel Kalter, owner of Lincoln Square Pawnbrokers in New York.
“Everything’s digital these days,” Kalter explained. “I’ve had people come in and, ‘Do you take this?’ and it’s from the ’80s or the ’70s. They have these cameras that probably cost $250 back then, which is like a $1,000 equivalent of a nice Canon or Nikon these days. The film costs more than the camera.
“We have trays full of cameras,” Kalter continued. “I’ve had people come in and actually buy 20 or 30 cameras at once for parts. I’d love to get rid of them.”
2. Beanie Babies
A victim of the mass-produced trap, people think their Beanie Baby collection is valuable because of a price they saw online or a headline touting a rare million-dollar Beanie Baby for sale. More likely, your Beanie Baby is one of many millions produced, and is not worth anything much.
3. DVD and VHS collections
Hopefully nobody is shocked by the appearance of these two on the list, as it shouldn’t come as a surprise that new technology quickly develops and old technology becomes outdated.
Yes, it’s cool you have Robert Altman’s entire filmography on DVD. No, it is not worth anything.
4. Hummel figurines
These became collectors’ items in the wake of World War II, when American soldiers stationed in West Germany began sending them home. They grew into a popular souvenir item and skyrocketed in price in the 1970s.
Those days are gone.
Mike Rivkin, owner of Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, explained the harsh reality: “Traditional collectibles like Hummel items are virtually unsalable today. We direct people looking to sell such items to nearby thrift shops. There is simply no market.”
5. Morgan dollars
Minted in the late 19th century, and again in the early 1920s, the Morgan dollar was a very popular silver dollar of the time — too popular, it turns out. Despite the age of the coin, there were so many made that the value is limited.
According to Daniel Kalter, “They’re one of the most common silver dollars that you can have. They’re worth more than a dollar, but they’re just worth silver.”
6. Indian-head pennies
Sticking with old coins: According to Kalter, the value of these pennies is held down by one teensy eensy problem: “They’re not rare.” Oops! Oh, well.
7. Franklin Mint items
Similar to Hummel figurines, Franklin Mint collectibles — including coins, plates, dolls, knives and LP record sets — were mass-produced and lack what Megan Mahn Miller referred to as “rarity and scarcity.”
8. Baseball-card collections
Commonly to many a basement, closet, or attic, the shoebox of sports cards will most likely be worth zilch.
Daniel Kalter sees many folks bring them in with high hopes: “They have shoeboxes full. It’s not even organized, but everybody collected them. We don’t even take them.”
9. Black Diamond Disney VHS tapes
You may be hoping your beloved collection of classic Disney films on VHS is worth a lot because you saw on eBay that Beauty and The Beast is going for $9,999.99.
When it comes to optimism, be our guest, but also remember you were warned above that just because someone is asking for a ludicrous amount online doesn’t mean they’ll get it.
Or anything close to it. These are another mass-produced item that aren’t particularly hard to find or rare in any way.
But before your hopes and dreams are crushed entirely, please remember that there are exceptions to every rule. While the large majority of items from the categories listed above won’t make you rich, selling them could still be worth your time.
As Megan Mahn Miller reflected, “There may be a needle in that haystack/ Fnd someone who is skilled at appraising that type of property, and have it looked at.”
So go forth, to the pawnshop, with your great-uncle’s lucky pin! Just be sure also to bring realistic expectations and revised selling price.
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