Economists call it “the endowment effect.” People tend to put a higher value on their “best collectibles” because they have a vested interest in them - and they assume everyone else does also. It’s an issue that we run into almost every day, especially when it comes to collections our clients have spent their lifetime putting together, or have inherited from a loved one. We’ve found closets full of Barbie dolls that owners believe will be their legacy, but are actually worth very little.
Two Types of Collection Value
Every collection has two types of value. People frequently lump them together, but only one really matters when it comes to cash.
First, there’s the value of the emotional connection we have with our best collectibles. For example, one of our clients has the best collection of SpongeBob SquarePants paraphernalia you could imagine. From lollipops to stickers, he has collected anything and everything he could find with a SpongeBob character on it. His collection brings him great joy, but it has little monetary value. In fact, we would charge more to haul the collection to the dump than it’s actually worth.
The second type of value—and the most important financially—is market value: what someone is willing to pay for your collection. And, as with the rest of the economy, market value is determined by supply and demand. When it comes to valuing the best collectibles, the following three factors determine how much they’re worth.
Old vs. Rare Collectibles
Just because something is “old” doesn't mean that it’s valuable. We see this all the time with items like baseball cards and furniture. Yes, some baseballs cards are worth a lot of money—a Babe Ruth rookie card could bag $1 million or more. But the numbers drop after that, and the vast majority of old cards are worth very little. In general, anything after 1989 was likely mass produced. If your items are pre-1989, that’s promising, but you'll need to do more research to pinpoint the value.
One of the biggest dips we’ve seen in best collectibles over that last few years has been in antique furniture. Our older generation once considered antique furniture a good long-term investment because of the high demand for well-maintained pieces. But the market for old furniture has bottomed out because tastes have changed. No one wants polished mahogany coffee tables anymore.
Best Collections vs. Best “Collectibles”
Anything that was ever mass-marketed as a “collectible”— like U.S. Mint commemorative coin collections—aren’t worth much because there were so many made, and because everyone saved them. Their popularity has sapped their value.
On the other hand, one of our clients had one of the best collections of root beer memorabilia we've ever seen, including 30 vintage Codd bottles in excellent condition. These are not only very rare, they’re also in high demand. We partnered with a private auction house to maximize the value of this collection.
The Toy Game
Barbies. Beanie Babies. Star Wars. Yes, we've seen a Barbie collection worth $1 million. But the collector had very rare editions, in pristine condition and still in their boxes. And you could probably get a couple thousand dollars for a tie-dyed Jerry Garcia or Princess Diana Beanie Baby in excellent condition. We worked with a client whose Star Wars collection was worth more than his house.
Unfortunately, though, most clients with these types of collections have been extremely disappointed when we had to tell them their toy collection was worthless. Either the toys and/or boxes were in poor condition or they were just too common to be of value.
Always Check Value
If you have a collection you think might have serious value, have it appraised by an expert. Whatever you do, though, don’t just go on eBay to run your own estimate for your best collectibles. You’ll find a huge range of prices for collectibles online, and because of the endowment effect you’ll convince yourself that whatever you have is worth the highest posted price instead of the lowest.
And remember, just because someone is asking hundreds of dollars for that vintage Coca-Cola sign doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.