Do You Save Collectibles for Fun…or Profit?

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a collector, and I’ve been gathering collectibles since I was a kid. I’ve also been looking around for ways to make some extra money and wondered: could my collections make me a profit?

Gathering collectibles like stamps or coins can be a fun hobby, but some people collect with the hopes of making a profit. Can it really be profitable?

As the saying goes, sometimes you have to spend money to make money, and that’s certainly true when you collect items. It is an activity that almost everyone has participated in at some time or another in their lives. I have done it and I’m betting that you have as well. It says something about you and your personality when you are a “collector” as your collection usually involves something that’s close to your heart and that you really enjoy.

But no matter how much we enjoy the collecting itself, many people look to make a profit from their collectibles. But is it a realistic expectation?

Hobby or Business?

For tax purposes, the IRS defines a hobby as something you do that doesn’t make any money 3 out of every 5 years. As a hobby, collecting things is thought of as a positive activity. It can be a learning tool for history and or the arts. It’s an activity that can occupy your free time when you’re alone or you can be a part of a social group for collectors that share the experience. Of course if you make money at collection, at least every 2 of every 5 years, you are in a business.

My Start as a Collector

As a kid, I was into all kinds of collecting. I did it as far back as I can remember with things like baseball cards, coins, and stamps. Millions of people have done that type of thing and still do today. It was something that I did for fun and shared with my friends. Making money on it may have crossed my mind, but it wasn’t the attraction for me. And that was a good thing since I never made any. Looking back on that now, I have wondered what those collections might have been worth in dollars and cents today.

Of course, how many of us can actually say we have held on to those things we collected as children for any period long enough to make them really valuable? Anything I collected at the age of 10 would be over 50 years older today. 50 years is a long time for sure, but does that make something valuable in its own right? If being old was insurance that something was worth a lot of money, I’d be very valuable myself!

Baseball Cards

When I was about 8, I began to collect baseball cards because as you may know by now, I’m a huge baseball fan. Buying a package with that awful gum inside was about 5 cents back in the 1950’s for the gum and about a dozen cards. Everyone I knew did just like I did and rushed down to the candy store whenever they had an extra nickel to make a purchase. If you were lucky, you might get a “checklist” in the package and you could organize the cards to try and get them all for the current season. Getting all of the cards, maybe 200-300 was a real badge of honor. When you did, you felt like you had something of real value. It may have been only an investment of “nickels” but it seemed like so much more than that.

Beyond a Collection

Baseball cards were used in lots of social activities. Things like trading them for the ones you needed with some other kid. The duplicates you had were the ones that your friends might want and duplicates were aplenty let me tell you! Almost in every pack of cards you bought, you could count on several Chico Fernandez’s or Al Spangler’s…you can look them up, they were really players back in those days!

I can remember using the cards in a game we called “flipping”, where you would literally flip the cards against a step and try and get them to land closer to the wall to win your opponent’s cards. If you got one that leaned against the step wall with your skill, that meant your friend would have to keep flipping his cards until he was able to knock it down and beat it or you win a whole bunch of his cards. To keep it from being a disaster, we’d set a limit on the “knock it down and beat it” attempts of 5 or 10 tries. We had a bit of mercy on the poor losers back then.

When a card was no longer of interest or value for collecting, i.e. your card wasn’t a star player or it was a triplicate for example, its fate was clear. It would be attached to your bike wheel with a clothespin so it could be used to create a “motoriffic” sound rubbing against the wheels as you rode around the neighborhood. It lasted maybe a few hours before it was shredded, but we had a great supply of those little devils of which we could draw upon.

Getting Down to Business

As a business, my card collecting never got off the ground. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I began to collect memorabilia that I loved about the game of baseball. I collected autographed photos of some of my favorite players and icons of the game. Players like Hank Aaron and Tom Seaver. I got autographs from future Hall of Famers on the Braves, my favorite team, whenever I went to the ball games in Philadelphia or New York. I still have balls autographed in the 1980’s by Phil Niekro, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, now Hall-of-Famers.

While I did make some money on autographs, it wasn’t on my collection, but on setting up autographing events as I talked about in a previous post.

Art Collecting

If you happen to be wealthy, you may be an art collector. Original art by a famous or trendy artist has untold value. Besides the fact that you can actually hang it on a wall or pose it on a table or shelf to enjoy it, one-of-a-kind art pieces can grow in its value. If you are lucky enough to get in “low”, then you could turn a magnificent profit at some point, especially after the artist’s demise. So the simple answer is, yes, you can make money on art.

Stamp Collecting

I also collected U.S. postage stamps when I was young. I had a really huge book of stamps that I mostly bought from a mail-order company in Boston.  At one point, I must have had 1,000 mint stamps in my collection.  When I was a little older, in my 20’s, I bought several mint commemorative sets of stamps that I thought would be something I could give to my kids as a valuable gift one day. That didn’t happen. The stamps have never really become valuable. For example, the 1976 U.S. commemorative set which I still have in “mint condition” with cover and all the trimmings was purchased back then for $3. Today’s eBay price is about $6 a set. Although they have doubled in value, unless I had purchase about 1,000 sets, it’s really not much to get excited about after 40+ years!

When it comes to stamps, here’s an interesting thought. If you had purchased and saved a bunch of “Forever Stamps” when they first were available just 10 years ago in 2007 for $0.41 cents, the stamps today would have increased in value about 20% to $0.49 cents each. That wouldn’t have involved collecting anything, just inflation made them more valuable. Does anyone regularly mail anything today anyway?

What People Collect

The list of items that people actually collect is mind boggling to say the least. Here’s a brief list of the 20 “top” items that people actually collect today that they hope will grow into a profit at some point in their lives. As an alternative to investing in stocks and bonds, or simply safely putting their money into an insured bank account, many “collect” for future money value and the fun and prestige in things like:

  1. Baseball cards and memorabilia
  2. Postage stamps
  3. Comic books
  4. Coins
  5. Original autographs
  6. Original artwork
  7. Rare limited reproduction artwork
  8. Posters by genre
  9. Figurines
  10. Vinyl records and album covers
  11. Old toys
  12. Postcards
  13. Beer cans or bottles
  14. Marbles
  15. Bottle caps
  16. Magazines and newspapers
  17. Calendars
  18. Old books
  19. Vintage clothing
  20. Automobiles

Requirements for a Collection

There are actually hundreds more of different kinds of items that people can and do collect. Some collectors, like the oft-mentioned Jay Leno, have to have a big home and property for his collection of antique autos. Incidentally, those autos have bigger and better accommodations than I have for my wife and me.

And that’s a major rub. You are more likely than not to need a space to store your investment collectibles. If you are into comic books, for example, where do you keep the 25,000 or more copies you may have? They’re more likely than not in boxes somewhere, perhaps in a storage facility at some real dollar expense or at best in your basement or garage collecting dust. Are they collecting dust? Do you go through them regularly and look at them or are they just some kind of reassuring insurance policy for you and your investment?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something to be ashamed of if you’re a collector. It’s just this: don’t be fooled in thinking that you will make a killing in some kind of collecting activities just because someone else has done that.  The “art” of collection is dependent on the time, place, and climate, and you can never really tell what the next best great thing might be. It might even include an awful piece of gum!

Are you a collector? What do you collect and why? Have you made any money being a collector? Is making money why you collect it?


  1. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    I worked selling used books for years, and it’s really seductive to think your stuff is worth a lot because you paid a lot. But so much of a collection’s worth is based on personal value rather than monetary value, and most of the time people’s collectibles couldn’t be sold for anything close to what they thought they could. Either the author was no longer popular, or there was a huge supply available, or the condition had deteriorated more than the collector thought.

    Demand is trend-driven, and what was valuable a few years ago may be far less so now. And I think trends are getting worse for collectors (except maybe in art), as people move toward digital items. I know I don’t have a lot of desire for a bunch of stuff anymore.

    1. Great comment, Emily. It’s true that we’ll never know the trends that will happen in our future. About books, I’ve never really sold my personal collection, but I remember selling my college textbooks that I paid $40, $50, and $60 apiece for back in the 1960’s. At the end of the term, I was lucky if I could get $3 for any of them, and that was 50 years ago.

  2. Great topic Gary. I’ve always been a super hero fan. I’ve collected comics over the years. I still have several hundred. It interested that of my three children, my daughter turned out to be the biggest fan of super hero’s too. It has been great to share some of my old comics with her.

    I have collected super hero related toys over the years too, not much these day, but still have a few. Including a spider-man web shooter toy I had as a kid from the 70’s.

    I did turn this into a business for a short while and made about $2K. When the original Batman movie came out in 1989, a friend and I invested in a bunch of toys from Ertl and ToyBiz. We mark up the prices and resold them for a profit.

    1. Very interesting, Brian. Thanks for sharing your collecting experience. You raise a good point about being able to share your hobby/collections with your kids. That’s certainly a worthwhile experience. It’s a way to have your kids understand and appreciate your childhood and your true personality.

  3. Jack @ Enwealthen

    My grandparents collected antiques, mainly furniture and house accessories. It took a lot of space – the entire house – but since it was all usable as day to day housewares, they ended up with an absolutely beautiful home full of things they loved and were able to use daily.

    While most of the items increased substantially in value over their lifetime, it was more than just the monetary value they were interested in. That said, the auction when they closed their house was epic.

    1. Using your collectibles and making them a practical item in your home is really the best of both worlds. It’s very cool that they were able to accumulate functional items that they could make useful and then at some point have their value honored monetarily when that became necessary. Thanks for sharing, Jack.

  4. I’m not a collector on purpose. I do have a few antiques. Some that I purchased, and a few that I inherited. They are worth a few $$$, but I wouldn’t part with them anyway, so I guess it doesn’t really matter how much they’re worth; except for insurance purposes.

    Just like you, my husband collected stamps and coins as a child. When he had them appraised, they weren’t worth much more than he originally paid for them. He did learn something about history, though!

    1. Collecting antiques is a great way to insure that there’s monetary value in the items. It can be costly at first, so starting slowly is probably the best way to do it. When it comes to the childhood collectibles like stamps and coins, the best part that I remember was the learning about various events and historic figures that were being commemorated. And that’s certainly worth something. Thanks for sharing, Joanne.

  5. Fruclassity (Ruth)

    “When a card was no longer of interest or value for collecting … its fate was clear. It would be attached to your bike wheel with a clothespin …” I actually remember boys doing that when I was a kid. Plus, it’s what Dave Ramsey talks about when he uses his famous analogy for debt-reduction and eventual financial freedom: An uphill cycle with a slow tick-tick-tick, followed by an easy descent – with that motor sound you write about. I don’t collect anything but clutter – and I don’t think it has much value : (

  6. I used to collect basketball cards, had some baseball and football cards too. I think it was a big thing in the early 90s so the card companies put out a lot of cards. I doubt they are worth much but I used to think it was a great investment when I heard about much rookie cards of hall of famers were worth. I do have a Shaq rookie card among others…maybe I should see if they’re worth anything now??

    1. It is true that some cards do end up being very valuable. Card collecting has been around since the turn of the 20th century and there are cases where those hundred-year-old cards are so rare that they’re worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The problem today is that they’re so mass produced, they’re just not rare and you’d have to hold on to them for a really long time for them to have any value. In any event, it’s fun and you may be surprised when you check on the value of your Shaquille O’Neal card. Thanks for your comments, Andrew.

  7. You know what’s funny? I had this really silly pig collection for years. Someone found out I liked pigs and it spread like wildfire through my family. Everyone bought me pig things for like 10 years. When I finally decided I didn’t want all that clutter. I threw it all in a box and put it on eBay, expecting no hits. That stupid box sold for like $100. It was ridiculous.

  8. Oh, man. It’s getting harder and harder to collect stuff, and less and less fun to keep the stuff I’ve already collected. In my late teens and early to mid twenties, I collected female action figures. I had a pretty good stock. When I was paying off my student loan debt, I thinned it out and made $45. I still have the ones that mean the most to me – characters from stories that I hold dear. But I would never think they’d put anyone through college. If anything, they’re just an interesting conversation piece.

    1. Collecting things that mean something to you is really a good thing. The fact that you’ve kept a few figures in your collection makes a lot of sense, especially if they bring back fond memories. I found my collections wound up stuffed in a box, never to be seen, and just take up space. That’s when I knew it wasn’t something I should keep on doing. Thanks for sharing, Amanda.

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