What turns a mundane object into a valuable collectible?
In 2007 I viewed the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum. I expected long scrolls but instead saw tiny fragments of crumbling papyrus covered with faded ink. The pieces were sorted in airtight frames placed under dim lighting to prevent further deterioration. Guards protected the fragments from theft or vandalism. Hundreds of people bought tickets and traveled long distances to view the fragments.
To millions of Jews and Christians world wide, these tiny bits of parchment are an important part of their religious heritage. To hundreds of scholars and historians, the fragments play a crucial part in reconstructing life in ancient times.
Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
Currently, some relics of St. Anthony-a small piece of bone and a patch of skin-are traveling across the U.S. to display in churches. To many, these items are grotesque, silly and pointless. To hundred of Catholics, however, the relics are devotional objects of great value.
As for modern day relics, when the Beatles first toured American, entrepreneurs scooped up clippings of the Fib Four’s locks following a haircut, packaged the pieces, and sold them to the female fans.
Next weekend in North Hollywood, the Bob Hope estate is hosting a public “garage sale” of the entertainer’s personal items, household goods and memorabilia. Prices range from under $10 to hundreds of dollars. No doubt many will turn out just to gawk and a large number will buy something, anything, even if it’s something they don’t need or can use, just to say they own a relic of Bob Hope.
Here are my thoughts on what makes something a “collectible.”
Time: In our disposable, must-have-the-latest-upgrade culture, things are valuable if they’ve managed to last a long time. The more than 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls are priceless partly because they’ve survived for so long.
The more, the merrier: The more people that consider something valuable, the more worth it holds. A few years ago a local PBS station auctioned off a large, framed autographed photo of Ringo Starr (Ringo appeared on camera during the pledge break) for $400. I’d have to pay someone to take a signed photo of me.
Rarity. When comic books were first printed, they were considered throwaway entertainment for kids. Many parents tossed out the old comics when their kids moved out of the house.
Action Comics No. 1-Superman’s debut-sold for a dime when it was published in 1938. The same comic sold at auction for $2.16 in 2011. Why? Because only a handful of pristine copies are still around.
Nowadays publishers sell “collector’s editions” of new comic titles. But if everyone preserves and keeps their copy, the comic will have little value in years to come.
Importance in history: Action Comics No. 1 has value because it introduced Superman-one of the most beloved superheroes ever-to the world.
In Washington D.C. one can view some old pieces of hand-inscribed paper that overthrew a government and established a new nation-the original Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Any piece of paper that can spark a revolution is priceless.
I have a set list-two sheets of paper, taped to the stage floor that listed the order of the songs-from a Monkees concert I attended in 2001. Outside of myself and possibly some die-hard Monkees fans, these papers mean nothing. In the broad sweep of history, this set list has little lasting value.
But I had a good time at the show and the papers are meaningful to me. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
Do you have or want an item that might be considered a “collectible”? What do you think makes an object valuable?