Trash or treasure: what are your collectibles worth?

Trash: don’t waste your money

Beanie Babies

If you want to know why made-to-be-collected collectibles are rarely a good deal, consider Beanie Babies. “Ten years ago a Beanie Baby came out called Maple,” says Gummer. “It was a Canadian exclusive, complete with a little flag. At one time Maples were changing hands for over $1,000 each, but you can get them for under $30 now.” What went wrong? Gummer says Beanie manufacturer Ty created an artificial sense of scarcity through effective marketing and limited distribution, but production continued until it saturated the market. The resulting collapse in prices was entirely predictable, says Gummer. He believes that smart collectors should be wary of anything that’s being deliberately marketed as a collectible. That includes commemorative coins, stamps, collectors’ plates and prints, limited edition or not.

Royal Doulton figurines

Your grandmother’s china cabinet wouldn’t be complete without them, but don’t expect the Royal Doulton figurines produced today to go up in value. “You can buy most of them on eBay right now for much less than book value,” says Gummer. Again, the problem is that there are just too many. As a general rule, if a lot of people are holding onto a collectible, hoping that it will go up in value, it won’t.


“Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s valuable,” says Gummer. “That’s one of the biggest mistakes people make.” Collectibles go up in value because they’re both scarce and in demand, and demand for Victoriana is next to nil right now. You can spot piles of Victorian teacups from the late 1800s at every antique market, but buyers are a far rarer sight. “The baby boomers aren’t collecting antiques,” says Gummer. “Mid-century modern is what’s in right now. Danish modern teak, fiberglass furniture. Names like Herman Miller and Eames.”

Hockey and baseball cards

“To be worth something, cards have to be from the ’50s and ’60s,” says Gummer.”With hockey cards, you’ve got to have the ones with Rocket Richard and Boom Boom Geoffrion, because those appeal to the experts.” Anything since the 1970s? Forget it — they’re too common. Rather than pour money into contemporary cards, collectors are increasingly paying a big premium only for cards from 40 or more years ago. Over the past five years, for instance, the value of Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 rookie baseball card has fallen from more than $600 to about $150, while a rare 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card can go for over $20,000. The cards you buy today are unlikely to ever go up in value, says Gummer. So go ahead and have fun trading them, but acid-free plastic storage sheets really aren’t necessary.

Part 1: Treasure Part 2: Trash

From the February/March 2006 issue.

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