Generally speaking, collectibles are mass-manufactured items made and marketed for the express purpose of being collected. Usually, they serve no purpose aside from filling an otherwise empty china or curio cabinet, but that never seems to stop folks from buying them.
If you’re buying a collectible because you really like it, more power to you. However, the trap many collectors fall into is forgetting that collectibles are usually not antique, rare or valuable. Because of this, they are rarely good investments despite what their manufacturers say.
“Collectible” is a marketing term
Almost everyone has purchased or received a collectible at some point in their lives. Most collectibles are made from porcelain and come in the form of plates, figurines, dolls and the like, but many other collectibles have come and gone over the years. These examples include paper cards and prints, metal miniatures, dolls, coins (usually non-negotiable), spoons and figural glassware, to name just a few. More recently, clever manufacturers have managed to create trends for items as common as stuffed animals and plastic toys by calling them collectible. These items were touted as collectible, and sometimes rare, while being produced by the millions (think Beanie Babies back in the 90s). Some collectibles manufacturers count themselves among the world’s most successful businesses.
Why people purchase collectibles
People claim to buy collectibles for many reasons, but those who are really honest with themselves will usually confess that they were at least partially motivated by the notion that their collectible would substantially increase in value over time. No wonder so many collectibles found today still include their original packaging (right down to the plastic baggies and tissue paper) along with their certificate of authenticity. This likely comes from the knowledge that old toys from the 50s and 60s that are pristine in their boxes often fetch high prices, but those toys were never made to be collectible. They were made to be played with until broken, and most kids did that, so a pristine example of a nostalgic toy got harder and harder to find.
Beware of things called “collectible”
The sad truth is, virtually no collectible ever made has increased in value and held that higher value for any length of time. With extremely rare exceptions, items such as Hummels, Princess House crystal, LLadro figurines and Precious Moments ceramics sell for a small fraction of what they originally cost. Collector plates that companies like the Bradford Exchange promised would be worth thousands today are selling on eBay for a few dollars, or sitting unsold. The same bleak outlook holds true for most Franklin Mint items (unless they can be melted down for silver scrap). Any item you purchased at the Christmas Tree shop, even if it’s a porcelain doll, has virtually no potential for appreciation.
The lesson to be learned here is that once an item is “made” to be collectible, it almost by definition can never be. “Limited Edition” really means the company only makes as many as they can ever sell. “Retired” really means discontinued, and “collector” is what unscrupulous manufacturers euphemistically call their unwitting prey.
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