10 Surprisingly Valuable Collectibles Hiding in Your Home
Don't overlook these items when you're cleaning out your attic, garage or basement
by John Waggoner, AARP, Updated June 30, 2020
If you're spending your social distancing time cleaning out your closets, you're probably wondering why you kept your copy of The Beatles (known as the White Album since its release in 1968). And if your copy is scratched, with Cheez-Its mashed between the double covers, well, you have reason to wonder. On the other hand, if you have one in excellent condition, you could get $70 or more for it. And if you have the first copy of the album pressed, formerly owned by Ringo Starr, you could probably get at least $790,000 — which is what Ringo got for it in 2015.
Of course, you never know whether something is valuable until you research it. A Raleigh collector looked in an old lunch box that had passed down from his great uncle to his father. Inside was a baseball card of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a legendary hitter whose name was forever tarred by the 1919 fixing of the World Series. The card sold for $492,000 at auction in May, according to Heritage Auctions. Although you might not find something as valuable as a Shoeless Joe Jackson card, it's worth looking for a few treasures in the attic (or garage, basement, shed or storage unit). Here are 10 of the hottest collectibles you might find.
As long as there have been movies, little kids have played with action figures. Now that they’ve grown up, they collect them. A Lone Ranger and Tonto set from 1973 fetched $80 in April, while a Star Wars Darth Vader figure sold for nearly $45,000 in 2018. And for X-Men fans, a Worldbox X OneToys Logan figure fetched $67 in April.
Barbie made her appearance in March 1959, and has long been sought after by collectors. Although interest in Mattel’s popular plastic dolls has waned in recent years, some models still get big bucks. A 1976 Superstar Barbie doll in its original box sold on eBay in April for $130, according to WorthPoint, which tracks collectible prices. A vintage 1967 GI Joe Nurse doll in the box sold for $9,800 in 2018.
Did your mother throw out your baseball cards? Don’t be your mother. Even some cards in the 1985–1995 “junk wax” period, when the card industry pumped out millions more cards than anyone wanted, are valuable. A 1989 rookie card for Ken Griffey Jr. — in perfect condition — sold for $1,400 this year, nearly double its price from a year ago, according to the Wall Street Journal. In contrast, the Holy Grail of baseball cards — Mickey Mantle’s 1952 card — last sold for about $2.8 million. There are only three left in perfect condition. One reason: Lots of kids stuck baseball cards in the bike spokes to make noise, says Will Seippel, CEO of WorthPoint.
The market for Coca-Cola advertising pieces is one of the largest collectible markets in the world, says collectibles expert Harry Rinker. A Coca-Cola Barbie Summer Daydreams sold in April for $39.99 on eBay, and a set of five vintage Coca-Cola trays fetched $300. Aside from the recipe for Coke, a closely guarded secret, a prototype Coke bottle may be the most valuable bit of Coke memorabilia: One sold for $250,000 in 2011.
Comic book collectors swoon at the thought of owning the 1962 Amazing Fantasy #15, where Spider-Man made his first appearance, or the June 1938 Action Comics #1, where Superman first took flight. Both sell for millions. More recent comic books, however, also fetch a decent price if they’re in good shape; you can even buy them professionally graded for condition and enshrined in plastic for protection. In April, a copy of Venom #6 sold for $100; a 1975 Planet of the Apes in lesser condition sold for $14.
The obvious problem with selling furniture is that someone has to haul it to its new destination. Nevertheless, people need furniture, whether it’s a vintage medium six-board blanket box ($200) or a 1960s Danish Modern teak nesting side table ($260). While Scandinavian Modern has been coveted by buyers for some time, many are taking a more diverse approach to decorating these days, says Erik Gronning, head of Sotheby’s Americana department. “There’s an eclecticness about a dining room where everyone gets to sit in a different type of chair,” he says.
Pokémon (short for “pocket monsters”) cards have been around since 1996, and in the mind of an 8-year-old, you really gotta catch them all — more than 800 of them. The cards are part of a game that trainers (the person owning the cards) use to build a powerful 60-card deck. Prices range from 50 cents for common cards to more than $1 million for rare cards with obvious (to Pokémaniacs) errors.
“You can’t go wrong if you have anything from Michael Jordan in the ‘80s or ‘90s,” says Robert Wilonsky, communications director for Heritage Auctions. A baseball signed by the basketball star sold for $325 in April. Most signed baseballs are worth something, as are signed bats and bobbleheads. Got a signed football? Those are good, too. In fact, just about anything that a sports figure has signed is worth something. Babe Ruth once signed a dumbbell for a fan; it sold for $8,000 in 2014.
The recent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket — named after the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars — may spur more interest in Star Wars collectibles, but interest has always been pretty high. A set of three Ewok Plush toys sold for $40 in April, and a poster signed by Dave Prowse, who played the physical Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films, sold for $65. For the true Star Wars fanatic, actual props from the movies are the big draws: An R2-D2 unit sold for $2.3 million in 2017.
While you’re cleaning out the garage, ask yourself: Are you really going to use all those saws? If not, you could get some cash for them. A vintage Curtis fast-cut saw sold for $135 in April; for the medically inclined, a seven-piece amputation set went for $325. A vintage solid oak machinist’s toolbox went for $273 in 2018.
Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder
What makes a collectible valuable? Condition is one thing. If you're hoping your Donkey Kong 3 cartridge is valuable, it might be: A rare version of the video game sold for $28,800 a year ago. The catch: The truly valuable games have never left their original packaging. “If you played with it, forget it,” says collectibles expert Harry Rinker.
In some cases, as with rare coins, stamps and even comic books, professional grading services will validate how well-preserved something is. With coins, the difference between an MS-70 coin — the highest possible, with no imperfections — and an uncirculated MS-60 coin can be thousands of dollars. With other collectibles, however, you'll have to learn to use your own eye.
Another element is desirability. Although it's possible that you may have a Rembrandt in the attic or a Chippendale Mahogany Bombe Chest in the basement, it's not likely. And, to be honest, most people aren't going to be interested in your grandmother's tea set, either. “If you find something that appeals to people over 65, you can't sell it, because those people are trying to get rid of their stuff, not buy more of it,” Rinker says. The newest generation of collectors is looking at items they had as children in the 1980s and 1990s.
But don't be too quick to judge. “You never know how valuable things are until you tell people you have it and you want to sell it,” says Robert Wilonsky, communications director for Heritage Auctions.
Thanks to the internet, it's not hard to find the price of most collectibles. Nearly every type of collectible has an internet group, from Mattel's Official Barbie Fan Club to the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. You'll generally be able to get some sense of what their members find valuable. You can also check on auction sites, such as Heritage Auctions and Sotheby's Auction House. You can even contact them to see if you have something interesting. Finally, there's WorthPoint, which compiles information from dozens of sources and offers a searchable database for $39.99 a month.
People often make the mistake of thinking that just because something is worth $50, it's not worth selling. “You have to remember it's money,” says Will Seippel, CEO of WorthPoint. “Would you throw away $50? Why send to the dump when you can sell it?"