The Value of Collectibles

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?


The Value of Collectibles — 11 Comments

  1. My great grandmother attended the movies weekly during the war, and each time she went she received a piece of depression glass and had several full sets when she passed away. They were given to the oldest great grandchildren (girls) and I received a partial one. Now, that was, and I say was, a terrific collectible worth a lot…until someone, I’ve forgotten who recreated that depression glass until only the best expert can tell the difference. That’s sure one way to kill the value of a collectible.

  2. An interesting subject, Sally. You really shouldn’t get me started. :)
    Through the years, I’ve gone through “stages” of collecting and my home reflects that. My living room is decorated in southwestern, which includes my collections of Indian figurines and pottery. My kitchen and dinette reflect my love of the Spanish culture complete with some items I picked up in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Last but not least, my bedroom and bathroom are all about lighthouses and the ocean. I have framed photos and a shelf with small statues of some of the lighthouses I’ve seen.
    Aren’t you glad you asked? :)

    • Your house sounds like a fun and attractive place! I like the idea of themed rooms. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This was fun! I often shake my head at what some people consider “collectible,” but as I get older, I find I am more open to things that are different. I collect coins, baseball cards, and something we in law enforcement call a “challenge coin.” Not a lot of value in what I have, but the stuff is neat and my kids find it interesting. I think if I had lots of money, I’d have a 1968 convertible Camaro, completely stock, so my family and I could enjoy some truly epic Sunday drives :-) Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks, Sally, for a good topic. I also attended that Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in SD and was thrilled. Many, many years earlier I had been to a similar exhibit in NYC and saw a piece of rock with the partial inscription “Pontius Pilate”. If I remember correctly, its importance was/is that it is the only concrete (no pun intended) example, outside of the New Testament, that Pontius Pilate actually existed. That seems ridiculous as I write it– surely he was mentioned in other texts– but that’s how I remember it.

    I was fascinated with this small piece of stone. It gave me a chill, actually.

    As for original comic books, this is always a sore topic with me. My mom was a teenager in WWII Berlin, dating American G.I.’s. They brought her comic books.

    When we visited my grandparents there, my dad and I made our way through her hundreds and hundreds of 1940′s Superman comic books, stacked neatly in a back room. They were ALL in pristine condition.

    Before my grandparents moved to Wiesbaden in their retirement, my grandmother BURNED THEM ALL. I was despondent then about it, and now, I could almost get suicidal…. ;)

    • When I was a kid, a neighbor gave my brother and I a stack of comic books (standard superhero stuff, nothing objectionable). Most of them were a bit ratty but we read them and enjoyed them until mom threw out them out! I never found out why. I guess that’s why so many of the old comic books are valuable–only a few didn’t get thrown out!

  5. Very interesting subject, Sally! During WWI my grandmother was a pen pal to a couple of soldiers. One of them wrote my grandmother a letter on the day the war ended. He was in the Argonne Forest at the time, and the letter is almost poetic as he writes about the sudden quiet – literally the moment the shelling stopped. My grandmother was in an industrial accident just prior to that and lost her arm just below the elbow. This soldier mentioned her accident in his letter which made it more personal. Probably not worth a penny, but invaluable to me.

    Great post!

  6. I loved the first comment about depression glass. I have been cobbling together a set of the Ballerina in green…the only depression glass with a human figure supposedly. Very incomplete, but I love it.
    The husband has been giving me Hummels for a long time. His mother’s maiden name was Hummel, so he feels a kindred or something.
    Oh, I nearly forgot, I have quite a few miniature tea sets, too. I almost forgot about them!
    Everything else is just an accumulation around here!

  7. Very interesting blog, Sally. I collect houses — all sizes, as long as they can stand on bookshelves. I buy or am given birdhouses, but they are much too beautiful, in my opinion, to put outside for the birds. So they sit atop the shelves. I also have a number of roosters and chickens made of glass or ceramic, hand painted gifts that occupy windowsills and other surfaces. I find pleasure in these and other items I collect and have no intention of parting with them.

  8. I used to collect Tiger Beat magazines. One day I decided I was too grown up for them and tossed them all out. Now and then I see pics of my favorite rock groups posted on FB taken from those issues I once owned and say: “Wow, what was I thinking when I tossed my gems away?” You’re right, it’s time that makes an object truly valuable. Thanks for sharing

    • Hi Virginia, thanks for stopping by! About 10 years ago I started collecting the Monkees Monthly magazines. I paid $14 to $17 for each one. The ‘zines were much cheaper when they were published! It’s fun looking back at the old clothing styles and those goofy articles.