Trash or treasure: what are your collectibles worth?

The hottest collectibles aren't what you might think.

Thanks to eBay and the Internet, finding collectibles has never been easier. Finding collectibles that go up in value, however, is another matter. People are often surprised to discover that the beauty, elegance or historic interest of their favorite object doesn’t matter a darn. What really drives the price of any given collectible is supply and demand. That’s bad news for collectors of Royal Doulton figurines or contemporary baseball cards, because these items are churned out in such huge quantities that they’re never going to be in short supply. On the other hand, the tatty old teddy bears and fake jewelry that are in your attic may fetch thousands of dollars — if they’re the right tatty old teddy bears and fake jewelry. We talked to Marshall Gummer, who’s been a collectibles dealer in Toronto for more than 30 years, to find out what’s hot now.

Treasure: collectibles on the rise

Canadian brand icons

Many brand name items that scream “Canada” to foreigners are on a roll, says Gummer. The hot list includes anything from old CN Railway china to RCMP memorabilia. Fifty-year-old gold “1/4 Century Club” Rolex watches, given to Eaton’s employees after 25 years of service, are selling for up to $15,000. Truck-shaped piggy banks commemorating Canadian Tire store openings can go for as much as $1,000 before they’re even 15 years old. Perhaps the oddest craze is for the Punkinhead teddy bear sold by Eaton’s in the 1950s. “He’s a funny looking little bear,” says Gummer, “but the Japanese just love this little guy. They have sold for upwards of $5,000 for one bear, no joke.”

Studio art pottery

You might not think that Canadian artists have anything on the great pottery makers of the U.S. and Britain, but Gummer says collectors who have exhausted the major markets are starting to cast longing eyes on studio pieces that still pop up at Canadian garage sales. If you live in the Oshawa, Ont., area, keep your eyes peeled for anything with a Harlander marking on the bottom. These modern vases and other items were made by Theo and Susan Harlander back in the 1930s and ’40s, and they’re fetching thousands today. Other gems include Deichmann, Lorenzen, and some lines of Blue Mountain Pottery (Native Artists, Romar, Noah’s Ark). “I could see values just skyrocketing over the next five years,” says Gummer. “The Americans are just discovering it, and once they’ve discovered it, look out.”

Costume jewelry

Countless Canadian women received costume jewelry back in the 1950s to celebrate their high school graduations. Even though the jewels are fake, the better stuff is now worth big bucks. Pieces made by Gustave Sherman of Montreal are known for their brilliantly colored Swarovski crystals and are in particularly high demand. “It’s not unusual to see a Sherman necklace selling for over $1,500,” says Gummer. “It’s the best of the best.” Continental jewelry, also from Montreal, is another favorite. So is jewelry by Rafael Alfandary (signed simply “Rafael”), who worked in Toronto in the 1970s and created unique pieces for Maggie Trudeau, Lorne Greene and Liberace.

Cell phones

Believe it or not, cell phones have all the necessary qualities to be a hot collectible in 30 years, says Gummer. The tiny phones are multi-colored, fun and part of everyday life — which means that when today’s teens are middle-aged they’ll find them hugely nostalgic. Better yet, the technology is evolving so quickly that manufacturers produce each individual model for only a short time, ensuring that oddball models in particular are always going to be scarce. Still not convinced? Gummer points out that brightly colored rotary dial phones from the 1950s and ’60s are already big collectibles. So start hoarding your cell phones today.

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.