Do collections really pay off?

A photo signed by all four Beatles is displayed amongst other Beatle memorabilia auctioned off by Christie's.
A photo signed by all four Beatles is displayed amongst other Beatle memorabilia auctioned off by Christie's.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Is your mother still hearing about that vintage Partridge Family metal lunchbox she gave to Goodwill when she moved out of your childhood home? How could she have thrown that away without even asking you? After all, it wasn't just full of childhood memories; it had monetary value as well! Right? Lucky for your mom, that lunchbox probably wasn't worth as much as you thought, thanks to the beating you gave it everyday transporting it to and from school. And what about that "Abbey Road" record you recently sold on eBay for just $15? Turns out it was actually worth a lot more than that. According to The Telegraph, "Abbey Road" is one of the 20 most collectible vinyl LPs [source: The Telegraph]. If your record was an original and in mint condition, it could have scored you up to $1,500 [source: The Telegraph]!

Obviously, there is some money to be made in collectibles. But to really invest in something, it's best to focus on building a collection -- a group of collectibles with a common theme. Choose a theme -- such as baseball cards, any and every item you can find from a particular artist or designer, or original vinyls from your favorite band -- based on your interests. Also, in order to be successful making money from your collections, you must be an expert on your topic. You need to know what collections are worth, where to find items at bargain prices, how to take care of them and where to sell if you really want to make a profit. So, is investing in collections really worth your time and effort? Before you decide, read on to see how to decide what to collect in the first place.


Finding the Right Collection

In early 2010, a rare Action Comics Superman No. 1 from 1938 sold for a record $1.5 million.
In early 2010, a rare Action Comics Superman No. 1 from 1938 sold for a record $1.5 million.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Doing your research is key to making money in collections, so it's best to pick a subject area that you're interested in or passionate about. Whether it's sports, comic books or music doesn't matter -- just stick to one or two that you can become an expert in. If you're not sure which area to focus on, keep in mind certain collections are safer investments than others.

Currency, for example, is a great investment. You can easily become an expert in currency by accessing the U.S. Mint and other government documents. Supply and demand is easy to establish as currency is created in limited, well-marked batches or mints. With a quick snapshot of the piece and a reference book, you could immediately determine how rare it is, and how much it is worth.


For example, you might discover a coin in a bag of change left to you by a relative. With some simple Internet research, you could discover it is a $2.50 Indian Head coin worth anywhere from $340 to $17,500 [source:]. You might even begin collecting today's currency by simply gathering coins you don't already have. Usually collectors who pick through circulation are looking for coins from each year and each mint. You'll want to have your collection properly stored and insured, but we'll get into that more on the next page.

Sports memorabilia collections are also pretty reliable. If you begin a sports collection, supply and demand is important. The "classics" are important as well -- focus on great legends or firsts in the industry. If you find anything that once belonged to a well-known, and now-deceased, legend like Babe Ruth, it's almost certain to increase in value, as long as it's in good condition and stays that way. Or, if you have a collection of baseball cards from a team's very first season, it will be worth more than those its following seasons. If you know what you're looking for, you can find gems on, at local antique shops or even garage sales.

Comic books also make great collections. If you can get your hands on an out-of-print classic Superman or Batman comic, you can certainly find a passionate fan to make your investment worthwhile. In February 2010, a mint condition and very rare copy of a Batman comic from 1939 sold for $1,075,500 [source: Censky]. Just a month later, though, a copy of Action Comics Superman No. 1 from 1938 sold for a record $1.5 million on the online auction site [source:]. Of course not all comics are going to be worth that much. Condition and rarity affect the value, and first appearances of popular characters -- like the Superman No. 1 comic -- are also more valuable. Often it's these rare comics that are hidden away for years, so keep your eyes open when you're on the hunt because you never know when may run across one. The Superman No. 1 comic that fetched $1.5 million was tucked inside a movie magazine for more than 50 years [source:].

So now you know a few worthwhile collections, but how can you actually make them pay?

The Essentials of Collecting

With collectibles, you often have to leave your emotions at the door, because you'll end up parting with your coveted goods. After all, the only way you're going to make money is to eventually sell them when the price is right. In other words, don't invest in anything you won't be able to part with in the long run.

Another important rule is to do your research. One sure way to snag valuable items at bargain prices is to buy from a seller who doesn't understand their value. If you think something is worth investing in, consult the right sources or experts to be sure you don't waste your money. One thing that helps you immediately assess a piece's value is condition. Most items need to be museum quality if you really want them to pay off [source: Rao]. According to Allan Cutrow, who specializes in estate planning for collectors, only 10 to 20 percent of the average collection is in mint condition. The rest is in average condition, which makes it much harder to sell [source: Rao].


If pieces of your collection are in mint condition, it's important to keep them that way. Comic books for example, should be stored in archiving bags and stacked vertically and away from direct sunlight [source:]. The Superman No. 1 sold for $1.5 million, but an exact Superman issue sold a year earlier for just $317,000 because its condition wasn't nearly as good [source: Censky]. Each collection should be cared for and stored in its own special way, so do some research before you make a mistake that could potentially decrease its value.

In addition to properly caring for your collection, you should also be sure everything you purchase is authenticated and insured. Work with a licensed authentication company to evaluate your collection and provide the proper certification. Companies like Global Authentics LLC and Professional Sports Authenticator provide authentication services. A simple Google search might help you find someone in your area, but make sure they have the right credentials. After you've obtained certificates of authenticity, have your collection appraised by at least two sources. Once you've determined the value, seek an expert's advice on insurance. You may be able to cover it under your homeowner's policy, but you might need an additional rider. Finally, photographing and documenting every piece and keeping copies of your paperwork in a safe deposit box is a smart back up in case of a fire or other disaster.

If you're diligent, you can make money investing in the right memorabilia. You just have to be willing to part with it when the time is right.

Related Article


  • Censky, Annalyn. "Batman comic book beats Superman at auction, sets record." February 26, 2010. (Jan. 24, 2011)
  • "Rare Comic of Superman debut fetches $1.5 million." March 30, 2010. (Oct., 2010)
  • Doyle, Nelson. "The World's Most Valuable Collectibles That You May Already Have and Not Know It." March 13, 2008. (Jan. 12, 2011)
  • Fleming, Chelsey. "Collectible News & Notes." The Saturday Evening Post. April 27, 2010. (Jan. 12, 2011)
  • Hyman, Tony. "Collecting National Geographic." CBS News. (Jan. 12, 2011)
  • "Price Guide." Professional Coin Grading Service. (Jan. 24, 2011)
  • Rao, Jessica. "Eight Rules to Remember About Memorabilia." CNBC. Aug. 31, 2009. (Jan. 12, 2011)
  • Smith, Dee Dee. "How to Start a Sports Memorabilia Collection." (Jan. 24, 2011)
  • "The 20 most collectable LPs." The Telegraph. June 4, 2009. (Jan. 12, 2011)
  • "The Fun of Collecting United States Coins." (Jan. 24, 2011)
  • Zemaitis, James. "What makes a great collection?" Feb. 29, 2008. (Jan. 24, 2011)