Cash in the Attic?
If you follow any type of antiques blogs, groups or discussions on social media, you’ve no doubt come across one article or another titled something like “You could be sitting on a gold mine!” or “If you have these things, you could be rich!” These types of articles are called clickbait. Clickbait exists for one reason and one reason only, to drive traffic to the site where the content is located. Those clicks add up to money for the site owners. That’s why the titles are so enticing; they want as many clicks as possible to boost their revenue. Clickbait runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the emotional and all points in between. It’s designed to get to click the link, hence the name clickbait.
Back to the claims that many of us could unwittingly be sitting on huge financial windfall. Most of the time, this claim is bogus. We’ve recently read articles which claim that certain Disney VHS tapes are worth an obscene amount of money. These supposed “Black Diamond” edition tapes, the articles claim, are selling right now for 10’s of thousands of dollars. That claim is false. On the whole, VHS tapes are worth very little. Most were mass produced and readily available a short time ago. Black Diamond VHS tapes are no exception. Many were made and many are still collecting dust on shelves both in the home and at your local thrift store or charity shop.
The same article goes on to say that Beanie Babies are worth a small fortune. Again, pure hogwash. There’s a word that isn’t used nearly enough, hogwash, it’s a good word. Beanie Babies were made by the millions. There may be one or two that may be worth a bit due to mistakes on the tags or scarcity of the piece itself, but most were mass produced. TY just had a really good marketing strategy and an excellent ability to create a sense of urgency. Now, I was a collector of Beanie Babies. I had hundreds of little creatures at one time. I collected purely for pleasure rather than as investment. When I ended up donating most of my collection to various charities, I didn’t feel I had lost anything. I just liked them. Many people actually invested in them. This is a terrible financial strategy. There is a short documentary on the subject available on YouTube. It is called “Bankrupted by Beanie Babies.” I highly recommend it. I mentioned scarcity a bit further up. I can think of one Beanie Baby off the top of my head that may be worth more than garage sale prices. TY briefly produced a red bull named Tabasco. Apparently, the makers of the popular condiment were not flattered nor were they amused. As is often the case, a cease and desist letter went out and Tabasco’s name was changed. The original red bull may be worth a bit, but not retirement villa in Spain money.
We see Cabbage Patch Kids brought up quite a bit in articles such as these. The truth is; that unless you own a pristine pre 1983 Cabbage Patch Kid in the original box with all paperwork, your doll is worth garage sale prices. Millions upon millions of the squishy faced little orphans were produced. There were so many variations and styles to choose from when the dolls were at their height of popularity; just about every little girl had several if not dozens. When I say a pre 1983 Cabbage Patch Kid doll, I’m talking about a very specific style that was made prior to the dolls being mass produced. These ones had cloth faces rather than vinyl faces. They are rarer because they were handmade and not called Cabbage Patch Kids. They were called “Little People” at the time. On a side note, did you know that those squishy vinyl faces get a whole lot squishier when they are left in the back seat of a Reliant K in the middle of summer? Now you do. My cousin has probably never recovered from that mishap.
The next item we’ll discuss is one that irritates and downright angers us. Collector plates or just about anything made by Franklin Mint, Danbury Mint or any company with “Mint” in the name. The reason these anger us is their deceptive use of language in advertising. You no doubt remember the advertisements where the announcer in his best Guy Smiley TV voice would say “Limited to 30 firing days.” OK, but what they don’t tell you is how many they fire during a 30 day period. If they fire one a day, then yes, you may have a rare piece. It’s more likely that they fire millions in that 30 day period. Their production lines aren’t exactly mom and pop ceramic studios. They are heavy volume operations. They also use phrase like “Almost sure to go up in value.” Almost is the key word there. They never say guaranteed or certainly or any word which would imply a guarantee. If they used words like that, they would be making a claim they can’t guarantee and that would open them up to legal actions. At the very least, their legal team knows this. That’s why they use ambiguous wording. The hard truth is that most of what these companies put out is mass produced and low quality. Take a good look around any thrift store and you will see dozens of collector’s plates. Most times, these items sell for pennies on the dollar if they sell at all. They are not investment pieces.
Celebrity memorabilia is always a hot topic issue. Any time a famous or notable person dies, millions of commemorative pieces are produced. Everyone from Dale Earnhardt to Princess Diana to Pope John Paul II has been commemorated either on a plate or with a doll or with some other trinket designed to preserve their memory. People buy these things thinking they will be worth a fortune some day. Again, they are mass produced. The only people making a fortune off of commemorative plates or coins or dolls are the manufacturers. The buyers are usually stuck with a trinket they can’t sell for a fraction of what they paid. That said, there are celebrity artifacts that can be worth some money. Autographs are always popular; however, they must be authenticated. They also vary in value based on whether or not the celebrity was known for freely signing things. Some people are known for being very selective about autographs while others will sign just about anything. Obviously, the rarer the authentic signature, the more value it holds. Items that can be linked to a famous person can hold value. John Lennon’s blood spattered glasses spring to mind. However, provenance is key when considering value. Travel through any small town in Tennessee and stop at a truck stop or road side stand. You will find countless Elvis “artifacts” with no provenance. All of those vials of “Genuine Elvis Sweat” are at best tap water from the back room. At worst, they’re actual sweat, just not from Elvis. If it can’t be authenticated, then there is no provenance. Someone’s cousin’s brother’s nephew’s hairdresser’s tailor is not a reliable source of provenance.
We’ve been approached many times by people with collections of vinyl albums. This was a once hot market with garden variety LPs selling for way more than retail. That market has cooled considerably. As with most antiques and collectibles; rarity, scarcity, subject and condition play a huge role in value. Your pristine copy of Englebert Humperdink sings live is probably not worth much. There just isn’t a high demand for old Englebert. Now, if you have a pristine copy of the Lynyrd Skynard album “Street Survivors” with the first cover (the one with the band in flames), you’ve got something special. If said copy was left in a mud puddle and then scratched with a porcupine, you don’t. Many times, people think that old equals valuable in terms of anything, this is not always true. Albums show signs of wear over time. Often, there is a clear outline of the album itself on the outside sleeve. The album may be scratched or marked due to play. The inside booklets may have been lost. All of these things impact value. Condition impacts value of everything. It especially impacts things like albums and books.
Let’s talk a moment about rarity and scarcity. If you take a look at most antiques or collectibles listings on EBay, you will find items listed as “rare” or “hard to find.” These are subjective terms. I especially love it when I come across 50 listings for the same item all by different sellers. Half of them are usually titled “rare.” This is also the half that is asking the most money for their item. If there are 50 other listings, the item is not rare. EBay doesn’t authenticate these claims. I could very well list my favorite Chilly Willy pajama bottoms on EBay tomorrow as “rare” pajamas. I bought them at Wal-Mart and there were many others just like them. My calling them rare doesn’t make them so. Always, always apply a bit of critical thinking when reading EBay or Craigslist listings. People write descriptions to sell an item. If they listed that set of salt and pepper shakers made to look like outhouses as “Run of the mill” or “Garden variety” or “We’ve seen dozens of these,” they won’t fetch the same price as if they are marketed as “rare” or “unique.”
I decided to write this piece after seeing the same article shared a multitude of times on Facebook. When articles like the one we’ve all probably seen several times start making the rounds, people begin to believe that the things they were going to throw out or donate are actually worth a small fortune. This makes things very difficult on auctioneers and consignment shop owners. We get inundated with calls about Beanie Babies, Disney VHS tapes, Collector’s plates and the like. We then have to tell countless people that the article they read on the internet is misleading. Sometimes, this leads to potential customers being angry with us. They feel we are the ones who are being dishonest. They think that perhaps we are trying to get their items for pennies so we can sell them ourselves for huge profits. I assure you this is not the case. We don’t mislead our customers. We pride ourselves on that. Things are published on the internet all of the time with very little basis in fact. Things are printed all of the time with very little basis in fact as well. Remember the exploits of Bat Boy courtesy of Weekly World News? Yes, I do recognize the irony in my using the internet to tell you not to believe everything you read on the internet. I’ll not ask you to trust me, take a look for yourself. It’s as easy as searching sold listings on EBay. The sold listings paint a clearer picture as to what a person is willing to pay for an item. The unsold or “open” listings merely show what a person is asking for an item.
If you take nothing else away from this post, please take away that a bit of research and some critical thinking will serve you well as a collector. I mean; you could take away the fact that I’m witty and write long sentence with big words, but that’s not the point of this entry. We sincerely dislike articles which are designed to mislead or outright lie to people. Clickbait pieces are quickly becoming the scourge of social media. They make the rounds quickly and become harder and harder to disprove with each share. Because, people think if an article has been shared 2,000,000 times it must be accurate. To that, I again say hogwash. Actually, I’ll leave with a much wittier quote by a much more talented writer. “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Mark Twain. Or possibly Winston Churchill, even the aforementioned quote can’t be verified for veracity.