Is your Norman Rockwell print still valuable? What about that set of fine china you paid a fortune for years ago? Or those figurines you’ve been collecting? Collectibles go in and out of style—and the collectibles market has experienced some dramatic shifts recently. Here what’s hot now in the world of collecting—and what’s not…
On the Rise
Prices have increased in the following categories. If you own any of these items—or see an opportunity to snap them up at a garage sale—this could be a good time to sell them at a profit…
Vinyl records. Old record albums seemed likely to fade into history in this age of digital music. Instead they have resurged in value. Prices vary, but many albums from the 1980s and earlier in near-mint or mint condition can bring $10 to $30 these days, and rare desirable albums sometimes sell for thousands.
Example: A rare original issue of the David Bowie album The Man Who Sold the World recently sold for slightly more than $10,000 on eBay. A near-mint copy of the more common Bowie album Space Oddity might bring $25 to $30.
Old stuff made of iron. Almost anything old, interesting and made of iron is popular. That includes iron doorstops…garden statues…pots and pans…ornate fencing and railings…and distinctive household devices.
Example: A cast-iron doorstop from 1927 shaped like a lighthouse recently sold for $715.51 on eBay.
Norman Rockwell prints. These were little more than flea market fodder a decade ago, but the art world has reevaluated Rockwell, who died in 1978, and decided that he should be considered a serious artist after all. That has dramatically increased the value of original Rockwell paintings—a Rockwell painting titled Saying Grace sold for $46 million in 2013—and increased the value of Rockwell prints, too, even as much of the rest of the print market has declined. Original Rockwell prints come from three publishers—Abrams, Circle Fine Art and Eleanor Ettinger, Inc.—and have an original pencil signature by Norman Rockwell on the right side of the lower margin.
Example: Original prints of the Rockwell painting After the Prom can bring $4,000 to $5,000 on eBay.
Midcentury modern furniture and housewares. Furniture and housewares from the 1940s through the 1960s made in the then-futuristic “midcentury modern” style is hot now.
Examples: An Eames 670 lounge chair and an ottoman in a red leather from 1956 recently sold for $7,500 on eBay…a Finn Juhl Design teak salad bowl recently sold for $3,827.99.
Distinctive antique typewriters. Rare typewriters made before the 1920s with unusual shapes are very much in demand these days, perhaps as a backlash against soulless computer keyboards.
Hermès handbags. Used Hermès handbags can sell for thousands of dollars even if they are not exceptionally old and rare. Bags that feature high-end flourishes such as diamonds, gold or platinum hardware sometimes fetch five or even six figures.
Example: Heritage Auctions sold a Hermès Himalayan Nilo Crocodile Birkin bag with diamonds and gold hardware for $185,000. A basic Hermès Rouge Garance Evelyn bag sold for $2,000 on eBay.
Vintage political collectibles. Campaign buttons, posters and items with images of political candidates from the 1920s or earlier are selling well.
Example: A Calvin Coolidge/Charles Dawes 1924 campaign button with an attached eagle pin recently sold for more than $5,600 on eBay.
Oil-and gas-related antiques and advertising items. “Petroliana”—that is, gas station–related collectibles—including vintage enameled gas station signs, pre-1960 oil cans and the glass globes that once sat atop early gas pumps are in great demand.
Taxidermy. Stuffed, mounted animals and animal heads used to attract little interest at estate sales, but lately they have been climbing in value. Exotic animals are especially desirable, but some states have laws controlling their sale—a local taxidermist might be able to provide details.
Examples: A mounted bison head in good condition can bring $1,000 to $2,000 on eBay. A more common six- or eight-point whitetail deer head often will fetch $60 to $150.
On the Outs
The market has dried up for the following collectibles. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy these things—in fact, this is a great time to find great deals. But it does mean that you should buy these items only if you love them, not as investments. After collectibles fall out of favor, they might rebound, but there is no guarantee that they will…
Figurines. Knickknack-size items are increasingly seen as clutter to avoid. Figurine values have fallen farthest due to this trend, but other undersized collectibles ranging from antique bottle openers to decorative thimbles have seen their values slide, too.
Examples: Royal Doulton Bunnykins figurines once sold for perhaps $100 apiece. Today you can find them at $25 for a lot of six. (The most desirable ones can bring more.) Most examples of the Hummel figurine “Stormy Weather” (shown above) sell for between $40 and $60 on eBay, a fraction of what they sold for two decades ago.
Antique wood furniture. The typical piece of antique wood furniture has lost around two-thirds of its value in the past decade or so. Many 19th-century tables, chairs and desks now can be had for $200 to $400—right around what you might pay for a piece of pressed-wood furniture at Ikea. (Exceptionally well-made or attractive pieces of antique furniture still can have considerable value despite this decline in interest.)
Example: A maple drop-front Chippendale-style desk made in New Hampshire in 1780 would have sold for $3,000 in an antiques shop in the late 1990s…but just $300 to $500 today.
Modern toys in less-than-mint condition. Toys from the 1970s and 1980s were a hot collector category, but they have cooled dramatically and now have significant value only if they are extremely rare and/or are in such great condition that they look like they were never played with (or, better yet, still are in their original boxes).
Example: A typical Hot Wheels car from the 1970s in good but not perfect condition might have sold for $5 a few years ago…but now is worth the 25 cents it might fetch at a garage sale.
Fine china. Many older people who own fine china are downsizing, and the younger generations have shown little interest in purchasing this collectible. That has created a supply/demand imbalance that has devastated prices.
Example: A vintage Limoges set of 12 berry bowls sells for $150, a fraction of what it brought a decade or two ago.
Helpful: This could be a good time to buy a set of china that you’ve always wanted or add to a set you already have.
Lithographs and other prints. Norman Rockwell aside, the print market has fallen sharply in the past decade as tastes have shifted away from the historic and Americana scenes that many prints depict. (Prints of birds and fish are among the exceptions—they have held their value well.)
Example: A Currier & Ives large print that might have sold for $1,000 a decade ago now might bring $500.
Bakelite jewelry. In this century’s early years, jewelry from the 1930s and 1940s made of Bakelite, a type of plastic, commanded prices in the hundreds of dollars, occasionally more. Values have collapsed—the market has become flooded by so-called “fakelite,” a modern version of Bakelite that is extremely difficult to distinguish from the real thing.
Example: Now a Bakelite bracelet that might have sold for $500 a decade ago could bring just $100 at auction.