Are Collectibles a Valuable Investment?

We’ve all seen stories of people selling old stamp collections and baseball cards for large amounts of money. It’s even the main source of income for some people now, but can the Average Joe join in too? Chloe explores the world of collectibles trading, and whether they might be a good investment.

Even at 30, one of my first instincts when I go to the beach is to pick up shells. I never intend to take them home like I did when I was young, but there’s still a simple joy in finding as many shapes, sizes and colors as I possibly can. Aren’t humans funny little creatures?! We’re hard-wired to collect. Science hasn’t agreed on why; study results range from the emotional connection we make to our trinkets all the way to suggesting that starting collections is a purely accidental endeavor

Regardless of the origins, people have been trading collectibles and making profits since way back and will continue to for future generations. Victorians had a particular fondness for rare and unusual curiosities, and these days professional Pokemon trading card collectors are selling their wares for insane amounts of money.

And while lavish art and top-shelf alcohol make up the bread and butter of alternative investments of the well-to-do folk, there are plenty of other collections that you can start no matter what stage of your financial journey. So is your beloved assemblage of treasures worth something?  

Why collectibles are a worthwhile investment

Collectibles have attributes that many of their conventional investment contemporaries don’t. They are liquid, trackable and reputable if you pick the right one. They are also accessible in many places and not just reserved for high-wealth investors.

Many collections start as some sort of heirloom passed down from generations, so you might have inherited an old and possibly rare item from a family member. It’s easier to build momentum from something that already exists than to start from scratch, so you might want to expand on their collection.

A report from 2018 cited “joy of ownership” as the top motivation for collectors. If you’re passionate about what you’re collecting and are educated on its history and market then you’re well ahead of the game. Any profits will simply be a bonus.

Collectibles might not be the investment for you

You might want to hold your horses if you’re expecting to make big profits through buying and selling collectibles. They tend to have a lower rate of return compared to index funds and ETFs, so something more traditional might be a better option for you.

Like any other investment, there are risks to investing in collectibles. It is an incredibly varied group which means it will always be hard to predict, even if you’re well-versed in the subject matter. An otherwise throwaway product might become massively sought after just because someone popular online mentioned it, or an expensive item might tank for the exact same reason. 

And you need to be willing to put in the work. Collectibles aren’t much of a passive investment when you consider all of the research and market observation you have to do to make considerable profit. Don’t forget the maintenance they require too!

Stamps

One of the mainstays of valuable collectibles, stamp collectors earn the dignified title “philatelist”. Stamps are valued on their history, rarity, condition and many other features.

The world’s most valuable stamp, the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta made in 1856, is expected to sell for a whopping $15,000,000 when it goes to auction.

Many experts agree that the stamp trade is in decline. The rarest of rare stamps can still fetch a pretty penny for those wealthy enough to acquire them but due to mass production and decline in generational interest, the more accessible stamps today won’t offer a great return in future.

If you already have a collection of valued stamps then it’s a good asset to have, otherwise it may not be a viable market to get into if you’re looking to start brand new.

Trading cards

If there’s a sports figure famous enough, or a piece of media popular enough, chances are high there’s an accompanying trading card. 

A mint condition Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer rookie card recently sold for a cool $738,000, and it’s not even particularly scarce – there’s more than 17,000 out there! And a 1999 First Edition Holographic Charizard card went for $220,000 just a few months ago.

Most people could dredge up a memory of trading their favorite cards on the playground as a kid, so you might be sitting on something valuable if you’ve still got them squirreled away in your attic. Some experts are bullish about the market, with pandemic-induced nostalgia and the online unboxing craze making trading cards very desirable right now.

Like other art-based collections, there is always the potential for fraud and producers flooding the market with popular pieces so beware.

Shoes

Let’s be clear – you’re not going to increase your wealth with a pair of half-worn Oxfords made 15 years ago. But although it’s a relatively new market, sneaker traders have been making a fair amount of money over the past few years.

A pair of 2016 Self-Lacing Nike MAG sneakers, an exclusive homage to the Back To The Future movie in which they were first seen, sold at private auction for $104,000. Other pairs of sneakers worn by celebrities and professional athletes have been known to fetch upwards of $250,000.

One study found that 50 pairs of sneakers increased in value more than gold did since they were released, but most sneakerheads agree that you have to have the knowledge and passion for sneakers for any kind of reasonable gains. You are at the whim of a very, very niche market when looking to sell your kicks.

Supply outstripping demand and an abundant amount of indistinguishable counterfeits make this a tough market for newbies to get into. Enter at your own risk.

Comic books

Often associated with nerdy counterculture, comic books have been a time-tested profitable investment for nearly 100 years. Not to mention that they’re fun to read too!

To no one’s surprise, Marvel and DC duke it out for the most expensive comic sale ever. Spiderman’s first outing in a 1962 print sold for $1,100,00, while the historic Superman appearance in Action Comics volume 1 sold for over $3,200,000. 

Historically, comic books published prior to 1985 have shown slow and steady appreciation so they would be good for a long-term bet but typically have a prohibitive price point to purchase now. But thanks to the current boom of superhero adaptations in popular media, more recent issues with even the most C-list characters are climbing in value.

Full series of comic books can be quite expensive to purchase regardless of whether you’re buying them as an investment or a hobby. But if you have the subject matter expertise and are happy to make small gains on newer volumes, then it might be worth the gamble for you.

Coins

Rare coins are another perennial profitable collection to have in your repertoire. Ancient coins are surprisingly abundant, and can be easily researched.

People love a bit of treasure, so some coins have sold for incredible amounts. A 1787 Brasher Doubloon went for nearly $10,000,000 just a few months ago. 

Unlike the rest of the collectibles listed here, coins have a one-two punch of value. They have their numismatic value determined by scarcity, condition and supply and demand, and they also have their intrinsic value from the bullion that they are made from (gold, silver, etc).

Bullion investing is the dominant strategy when it comes to coin collecting, and is considered a safe investment historically. The numismatic value is harder to quantify, so trading purely on that component might not yield good results. 

Toys

If you were alive during the 90s, you’ll know all too well the Beanie Babies craze and the financial investment that avid collectors envisioned they were. But they aren’t the first, or last, toys that people have used as capital.

The highest auction price for an original mint condition Barbie from 1959 so far is nearly $28,000. A Boba Fett Rocket-Firing Action Figure blows that out of the water, selling for $185,000 at an online auction a couple of years ago.

It’s a thriving market to get into. A study done in 2019 valued the US collectible toy market at 28 billion dollars, with estimated growth up to 120 billion dollars by 2023. Although that includes newly manufactured pieces, retro and rare toys still make up a good chunk of that.

Vintage toy value is all about the condition. Untouched and boxed up is the way to go, and it usually works out better in the long run to buy one mint condition item than a few near-mint condition ones. If you’re looking to get in cheap now, best to employ the “20-year rule” and wait long enough for nostalgia-fueled purchasing. 

Photo by Thimo Pederson on Unsplash


Chloe is PocketSmith’s Content Marketing Specialist, and she loves that she gets to combine her love of telling stories and technology. In the office, she’s drafting a pun-filled post or debating emojis. Outside of the office, she’s collecting comic books, listening to music and suffering through Bulgarian split squats at the gym. 

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