Photo: Flickr via orinrobertjohn
Michael Rorrer made headlines earlier this year when he stumbled upon $3.5 million worth of vintage comicbooks in his great uncle’s closet.Too bad Rorrer’s in the minority of most collectors.
Brainwashed by savvy marketing into scooping up “one-of-a-kind” pieces in hopes they’ll make a fortune in the resellers market, consumers often find that most of the junk piling up in their garage or basement is simply that—junk.
“You have to be really aware of ‘phenomenons,” said Rudy Franchi, a well-known appraiser who has often appeared on PBS’ hit show Antiques Roadhouse. “People get swept up in a mass craze to collect something … until it creates a giant bubble that bursts.”
Along with Franchi, we’ve asked a handful of appraisers to call out some of the greatest collectible shams of the last century.
After pop culture icon Andy Warhol died in the late 80s, friends and family discovered one of his greatest obsessions -- a massive collection of antique cookie jars.
The jars turned into hot-sellers at his estate sale, with some fetching as much as $250,000, Franchi said.
But what collectors didn't realise was that their value expired not long after their owner.
'I tell people at the roadshow that (the jars) are worth today what they were always worth -- about $200,' Franchi said.
Some vintage movie posters from the early 20th century have been sold for upwards of half a million dollars.
The same can't be said for more modern flicks, thanks to a couple of factors: For one thing, it's easy to recreate posters online, and secondly, theatre employees hoarded posters so much in the 80s and 90s that supplies began to outweigh demand.
'There's a difference between rarity and scarcity,' Franchi said. 'Now there's an absolute flood of movie posters from that period. It'll be a long time before they find homes.'
Forget the housing bubble. The 80s and 90s saw a massive baseball card balloon that made many modern ball cards (post 1970s) basically worthless.
'Manufacturers were coy about how many cards they were printing,' explained Zac Bissonnette, consignment director for Heritage Auctions. 'Once you had eBay--a searchable database of everything everyone wants to sell--it became obvious that stuff that was thought to be rare wasn't rare at all.'
Don Mattingly rookie cards used to sell for $50 a pop. Now you can find them for pennies online.
If you had a pulse in the early 1990s, then you probably came in contact with at least one of these ubiquitous animal-shaped bean bags.
Beanie Babies weren't so much a collector's item as they were a child's toy, but it when manufacturer Ty Inc., started rolling out special editions (i.e.: the Princess Diana and Millennium bears), people started hoarding the things like rare gems.
'Now you can't give them away,' said Franchi. 'People are trying to sell them, but there's just no market. You need an active market and (Beanie Babies) wasn't a sustainable or repeatable phenomenon.'
Hummel figurines started turning up in the early 20th century by way of Germany.
Probably any 80s babies remember getting chastised for playing too closely to their grandmother's display case of the tiny creatures. Too bad their popularity didn't make it past the millennium.
'People were paying ridiculous prices for Hummels, anywhere from $100 to $5,000,' said Kathleen Guzman, an appraiser for Heritage Auctions. 'In today's market ... for a group of 10, an auctioneer will hardly accept $30 for them.'
Seems like light years ago that cartoons and animated flicks couldn't be made without two things -- pen and paper.
In those days, thousands of drawings (called sericells) went into one hour of film, and afterward animation studios would sell one-off drawings as art to eager fans.
'Those were selling in 1995 at Sotheby's for astronomical prices, tens of thousands of dollars and up for some,' Guzman said. 'And you can't give them away today.'
She blames a 'perfect storm of problems' for the nostalgic renderings' plummeting value. Disney was and still is the biggest player in the game, but when it started mass producing the prints, their value instantly tanked.
No child's playpen was complete without one of these 'one-of-a-kind' dolls popularised in the 80s. Cabbage Patch Kid Dolls were so in-demand that parents turned to the black market when retail shelves ran empty leading up to the holiday season.
The craze eventually died down in the late 80s, along with the dolls' value. Unless you've got a rare edition (African American and freckled dolls, for example), you probably won't fetch more than 30 bucks on eBay.
Louis Icart had his heyday back in the late 1920s and early 1940s, Guzman said, when some of the French artist's pieces sold for as much as $10,000.
'The market has really softened on those incredibly,' she added. 'You see Icarts at yard sales for 50 bucks.'
The downward trend could be blamed on Americans' changing tastes, which have leaned toward 50s and 60s-inspired modern decor.
Fans of pop icons The Beatles pounced on trading cards that used to come wrapped in packages of chewing gum in the early 60s, said van Der Horst.
The cards were coveted for the facsimile 'autograph' on each face, which was written in blue. Today, eBay sellers are lucky to make a buck off a single card--in mint condition.
Guzman called the Precious Moments craze of the 1980s even more frightening than the Hummel figurine bubble.
'With Hummels, there was a limited quantity,' she explained. 'But Precious Moments were (advertising) something like 3,000 produced in one day, which was very misleading. They would have an entire two or three months that were firing days and (the figurines) were just incredibly overproduced.'