Are Grandma’s Collectibles Worth Anything?

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If your granny was a geek at heart, compiling an assortment of Star Wars action figures, Pez dispensers and first-edition comic books, you may have hit the mother lode — or grandmother lode.

What if she collected Beanie Babies instead? Remember when those were all the rage? If you have a Coral Casino edition, it could resell for $1,000. But that’s rare. Most of them go for a couple of bucks, if that.

How do you know if you should head to “Antiques Roadshow,” your local collectibles shop or simply plan a yard sale when your grandmother hands you her treasurers?

Last year Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson visited a collection of cars and memorabilia worth millions, and got advice from the men who had amassed it. Check it out, then read on.

Determining the value of collectibles

First, some general guidelines: An item could be worth something if it’s rare — meaning few were produced or few people own such things — and also if it’s in mint condition or was never removed from the original packaging. Popularity of an item will also affect its resale value.

Here are some collectibles with a promising track record:

  • Antique jewelry. WiseGEEK advises to check for a mark or signature that identifies the designer. Then research the piece as much as possible, finding out how rare it is and its potential worth. It doesn’t have to be fine jewelry. Costume pieces can also have value.
  • Books. You can check prices on Amazon or Alibris. This website, affiliated with the American Library Association, has a gamut of questions to help you determine the rarity, importance and condition of books.
  • Coins. The Coin Site offers estimated values of collectible American coins, including one that could be worth $3 million. If you have international currency, Coin Quest will help you identify the coin and appraise it for free.
  • Records. We’re not talking your run-of-the-mill Dean Martin album here. If it’s a promotional release or has a typo or replaced artwork, the price increases. The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” with the original sleeve sold for $10,000, according to “10 Highly Lucrative Collectibles,” because it had a controversial image of police brutality that was replaced with a less offensive photo of the band.
  • Pottery and porcelain. As with other collectibles, if the pottery is signed, its worth increases. Country Living magazine provides some examples.
  • Bird decoys. Certain vintage wooden decoys are fetching about $50,000. The most expensive, a 19th-century red-breasted Merganser hen, was auctioned for $856,000, says Paul Fraser Collectibles.

Another way to determine an object’s worth is to check sites like Ebay to see if similar items are for sale and what they’re going for. Some popular categories on Ebay right now are:

  • Decorative collectibles, such as music boxes, miniature houses, snow globes. Odds are you won’t luck into a Minerva Mortier 101 key organ music box with an asking price of $225,000, but that would be pretty awesome.
  • Seasonal and holiday wares – Halloween costumes, patriotic trinkets, Christmas decor. Here’s a vintage Thanksgiving candy box on sale for $449.
  • Comic books can be sold individually or in series. Of the nearly 2.4 million comics currently listed on Ebay, the largest asking price is $5 million for a Flash Comics No. 1 Ashcan Edition from 1939. But the listing is “or best offer” and it comes with free shipping.
  • Disney — anything and everything Disney, from clothing to housewares and both vintage and new. A set of rubber Seven Dwarfs from 1938 has an asking price of $500,000 and you have to pay the $49.99 for shipping.
  • Promotional glasses — Pepsi fountain glasses, Welch’s jelly jars, fast-food releases. A set of four glasses based on the “Star Trek” cartoon issued by Dr Pepper in 1976 is listed for $300.
  • Military items — medals, uniforms and helmets from all eras. Even an old parachute.

Not everyone has a million-dollar comic. (If they did, it wouldn’t be worth much.) But just because the collectibles now in your hands can’t cover the cost of a new house doesn’t mean they’re worthless. You can check a site like Kovels’ database of 900,000 prices for collectibles. But try to check more than one source.

In fact, some formerly popular collectibles have lost value, according to The Street. You might be disappointed about the price you get for some of these — depending on the year they were made and other factors:

  • Hummel figurines.
  • Thomas Kinkade prints.
  • Lladro figurines.
  • Hess toy trucks.
  • Precious Moments figurines.

With any collectible, the worth also depends on the buyer. Just because the item is not first edition, mint condition or new-in-box doesn’t mean you can’t profit.

And if the items’ only value is sentimental, so what? My grandmother was a Depression-era kid who hoarded sugar packets and Taco Bell sauce. While those objects wouldn’t be worth anything to anyone else, I kept a few when she passed away for the memories.

Have you been surprised about the worth of your collectibles? Tell us about it on our Facebook page.

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  • Y2KJillian

    When I turned 50, my husband spent over $600 to buy me a pair of Chinese Foo dog figurines at a local antiques mall. They had a provenance with them that said they were from the last dynasty of China (not that huge a deal, it ended when the Communists took over in what, the 1920’s?) — they had glaze and paint, were partly molded and partly hand-cast, and had huge, googly eyes. Very strange. I wondered if he was cheated, but had never seen anything like them. Then the other day I spotted something quite similar by itself on e-bay, asking $2,000 for a figurine of a foo dog that was alone, and half their size. It even had broken teeth, whereas aside from a few paint chips, mine are intact. It made it clear that the figurine (they are the same exact turquoise color with cobalt blue paint trim) was from the last dynasty of China. Mine are the same and it looks like they are authentic. Did we pay too much? Possibly, probably…since they weren’t essential to have. But were we cheated? I think not. I think they’re real and they really are something to look at!
    Jillian