NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- People are always looking for ways to invest their money, and less often, looking for ways to invest their money that also happen to be fun or satisfy a nostalgic craving.
The consumer can’t seem to help but collect everything from tea cups to porcelain figures, commemorative coins and baseball cards, making it all the more important to distinguish between collectibles that retain their value and those collectible items that are worthless at anything other than collecting dust.
Individual investment in collectibles entails knowing an original from a reproduction, what is most collectible in a series or with a type of item, and not overpaying for the investment. It also requires making the distinction between collectibles for the 1% of Wall Street titans -- think that Andy Warhol painting sold for $100 million or one of the original Gutenberg bibles that can go for $25,000 a page -- and collectibles that are within a Main Street budget.
With those caveats, here are 10 collectibles that have a decent track record of retaining value, in addition to providing owners with that unquantifiable “quality of life” satisfaction that can come from making a purchase that is about more than just utility.
If you played with these cars anytime since 1968, when they first appeared on the toy scene, and you still have early models, you might have a good car trade-in. Hot Wheels are favorites of many antique collectors as they are still plentiful in the marketplace and typically retain or increase in value. “Collectors always are attracted to the toys of their childhood,” says Terry Kovel, an expert on antiques and collectibles. “Hot Wheel collectors look for the limited issues and they will go up in value as they get older and scarcer.”
The internet and e-readers may be making many print books go the way of the dodo, but classics in print are likely to become more collectible, and even lesser-known works often have legitimate economic value. Certain classics that are already worth money will increase in value, particularly if they are first editions and in excellent condition. Signed author copies also increase in value. A few people will buy decent-value books cheap from charity stores and book barns, and then sell them for a profit, says James Duval, a journalist and collector in Manchester, England. “This requires some knowledge of literature. Buying lesser-known authors in hardback who have nostalgia value will rarely set you back.”
The world may be a finite place from a geographic perspective, but national borders have changed over centuries and continue to change today. Not even to mention the maps from the golden age of exploration that show sea monsters in the oceans as legitimate biological illustrations. Old maps showing former countries can be a collector’s dream, particularly if they’re in good shape.
“Maps and prints will increase in value because they are even harder to keep safe, and they work well as decorations,” says Duval. He adds that vintage maps can also be sold to companies to produce reproductions.
If you’ve watched any episode of “American Pickers” on television, you will know they are always in the market for unique signage, particularly if the company no longer exists. “Interest in the past keeps vintage decor popular for restaurants and retail interiors,” says Robert McNellis, an expert in vintage antiques and collectibles. He says that signs from companies such as Pan Am and Wang Laboratories (computers from the 1970s), and from gas companies and restaurants that no longer exist, are highly collectible.
Did you know the Enron “E” outside of its corporate headquarters was sold (at bankruptcy auction) for near $44,000 to a store owner who thought it would be a good gimmick for his showroom floor?
Vintage record albums
Remember all of those old albums you couldn’t wait to get rid of when cassettes first came on the scene and then CDs? Well, if you packed them and stored them so they are in good condition rather than selling them at a yard sale for 25 cents or throwing them away, you might be in luck. The new generation loves collecting and playing vintage music from its original recording. “Particular albums with unusual packaging that include ephemera like posters, tickets and or photographs are especially collectible,” says McNellis.
If you don’t have a turntable, then the album is pretty much worthless. That’s what makes turntables in such high demand for music collectors. “Because vinyl is making a big comeback, record labels are pressing new music on vinyl again and it's very trendy to play vinyl,” says McNellis. “These turntables are in demand by young people because it's a more interesting way to play the music.” McNellis says a turntable could be worth thousands of dollars to a collector.
Vintage board games
In an era when families get together to play a game on Wii, board games from the 1950s to 1970s must seem like a very antiquated pastime, but that’s a sentiment making these games worth some dough to collectors. Games should be in good condition, in the original box and include all of the pieces. “A lot of them were made for a limited amount of time and the [components] changed over the years,” says McNellis. He says, for example, to look for Monopoly games with the original metal pieces rather than plastic.
Atari and vintage pinball
While the kids of the 1950s and 1960s didn’t have anything but board games, the kids of that generation did have pinball and other arcade diversions, while the generation growing up in the late 70s and 80s had Atari. Those kids are all grown up now, sometimes wanting to relive their early gaming days.
“You can still use them and they have a limited supply and intrinsically have entertainment value,” says McNellis. “They are easy to learn and Atari can be played on a big screen TV and are fun to share with younger members of the family.”
The pinball machine fetish, in particular, has developed into a cottage industry.
Vintage movie posters
Bob Brooks, a long time movie poster collector and expert in Vancouver, B.C., says he just scored one of the only known posters from the classic 1959 film “Ben Hur” for less than $1,000. “Movie posters are still relatively inexpensive, so there's a lot of upside,” says Brooks. There are never going to be pictures such as “Lawrence of Arabia” or “2001: a Space Odyssey” ever again, he says. "They would be far too expensive to shoot, so they'd have to animate them.” Brooks expects classic movie posters to only keep increasing in value. Brooks says you have to look for rarity, citing the example of a rare poster from the movie “Pulp Fiction” which sold for less than $100 in the 1990s and is worth nearly $1,000 today.
Limited edition art prints
“Limited edition art prints are economical, especially in comparison to the original, not just retaining their value but highly likely to go up in value, especially if the artist gains more recognition over time,” says Meredith Hannon, an artist and gallery owner. “Generally, these types of reproductions are signed and dated by the artist, printed on archival quality, acid-free paper or even cotton with high quality inkjet printers.”
And this would be in stark contrast to Thomas Kinkade paintings, which made our list of Worthless Collectibles.
More on collectibles:
The weirdest 1970s collectibles
5 tips for building a valuable collection
How to find deals at a pawn shop
--By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell