The Myth of Making Money from Collectibles

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Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their stuff. While I have always found that to be true of my clients, I am realizing it is also true for my own family. My husband Eric and I are preparing to downsize. We’re closely scrutinizing every item we own. We won’t have nearly as much space (we consider this a positive, not a negative), so we have very strict criteria for deciding what items will survive the move.

In going through our belongings, we have become reacquainted with a few collections. We have decided to let go of most of these collections, either through donating them or selling them. Examples of collections we aren’t keeping include baseball and football cards, trophies, ceramic figurines, coins, yearbooks, and stuffed animals. Each collection represents a stage of our lives, something that brought us joy at the time. None of these items were originally collected for the purpose of earning money. And the few that we did sell definitely didn’t earn much.

In working with clients and talking with people about their belongings, I encounter many people with a large amount of collectibles. Often, they have collected things because they think that at some point, they will be able to make a lot of money from them. But like the stock market, you almost never know the precise time to sell a collectible for a big profit. So you keep them a little longer, thinking they will be “worth something” soon. The reality is that windfall almost never happens.

There are two very different measures of an item’s value. One measure of value is the amount the owner thinks the item is worth This value is influenced by both the amount the owner originally paid for it and their emotional attachment to it. The second measure of value, and the most important one financially, is market value. The market value of an item is the amount someone is willing to pay you for it. Rarely does someone else think your collectible is worth as much as you do. That is partially due to the fact that our emotional attachment causes us to inflate its value. Throw in a lack of research on the item’s real value and a bit of wishful thinking, and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

To put it bluntly, no matter how much you think your Beanie Baby collection (with tags!) is worth, any item is worth only what you can get for it. So if you’re counting on selling your collectibles to fund your retirement, I’ve got bad news for you. Those collections probably aren’t worth what you think they are worth. And their value is likely only going to decrease with more time. Not to mention the fact that they are cluttering up your home. Your best choice is probably to go ahead and get rid of them now.

How do you find out how much someone will pay for an item? One simple way is to look at online selling venues like eBay. But don’t just check the regular eBay listings. You need to look at only the average of the sold items (on the left hand side of the screen, scroll down to “Show Only” and check the box next to “Sold Items”). This will show you how much someone actually paid for the item. When I searched eBay to see how much an antique water pitcher and basin is worth, the listed prices ranged from $20 to $750. But when I checked for sold items only, the prices ranged from $3.75 to $99. That’s a big difference! You also need to factor in the amount of time, effort, and expense needed to list and ship the item. In addition to online selling venues like eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy, there are local options like Facebook Marketplace.

What I find so often is that people have every intention of selling items, but they have never taken the time to research their value or to list them. Or they don’t need to try to recoup any money from them and are willing to donate them, but they haven’t done it. So the items continue to clutter up their homes year after year.

Here are just a few common collections that you should consider eliminating from your home:

  1. Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch dolls: With very rare exceptions, these are practically worthless now.
  2. Any items from Franklin Mint: Whether it’s coins, dolls, china, or toys, most anything that is produced as a collectible isn’t rare enough to be a true collectible.  
  3. Hummel and Precious Moments figurines: So many are available now, and the younger generations just aren’t interested in them.
  4. Comic books: Unless they’re really early Superman, Batman, or Marvel comics, they probably aren’t worth much.
  5. Barbie dolls: While there are always exceptions, the vast majority of the Barbie dolls that people have kept are not worth keeping.
  6. Collectible plates like Norman Rockwell aren’t worth much more than $5, and that’s only if they’re pre-1980.
  7. Longaberger baskets: These were hot collectibles in the 1990’s, but since then, the resale market has declined significantly.

*References: “It’s Time to Get Rid of these Worthless Collectibles” on cheatsheet.com, “10 Collectibles NOT Worth Collecting Anymore” on geauction.com, and “30 Collectibles that are Now Worthless” on cheapism.com.

What if you have items that you believe might bring some cash value, but you don’t have the time or expertise to sell them? You might consider hiring someone. One local resource is Nancy Morrell of A to Z Craigslist Shopping and Sales. Nancy writes, “When I started this business, I had no idea what type items people would bring me to sell. Many items do not bring the kind of money that was even paid for them. When items are brought to me for sale, I take your price and add my fee on top of your price. I take the photos, measurements, and details of your items and list them on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Tri Cities Yard Sales, and Buy, Sell, and Trade. I take the calls and schedule the appointments to show your items. Once sold, I mail you a check.”

Is it time to face the facts about some collections in your home? Yes, it’s disappointing to find out that an item you highly valued isn’t going to bring the return you expected. But I can promise you that finally coming to terms with your clutter reaps huge dividends. Contact me if you need some help bringing more order to your home.

Happy organizing!

 

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