With 30 years of reselling under my belt, I’m the go-to guy when friends need a quick appraisal. And over the years I’ve noticed a recurring phenomenon: The vintage items most people consider valuable usually aren’t, and the things they want to toss are often hot collectibles.
Here’s why: Many of us get our idea of what’s valuable from our parents. But markets change, and new collectors have different tastes.
What disregarded treasures are hiding in your home right now? The answers might surprise you. In this series, we’ll explore hot collectibles you might already own.
1. Vintage holiday ‘blow molds’
In the world of collectibles, plastic is having a moment. And this close to the holidays, I’d be letting you down if I didn’t mention plastic blow molds.
Blow-molding is a manufacturing process that shapes thermoplastic into hollow objects. It’s used to make everything from doll parts to detergent bottles. But in the world of collecting, a “blow mold” usually refers to some type of vintage lawn ornament.
In the 1950s and ’60s, illuminated figures of Santa Claus, reindeer, candy canes and choir singers gave a bit of kitschy cheer that today’s buyers want to recapture. Most vintage figures were made by Empire, Union Products or Poloron. But if you can’t find a maker’s mark, don’t sweat it; there other ways to identify a vintage blow mold.
Have a true retro Rudolph? You may want to secure it with a bike lock. This large 12-piece Nativity scene recently sold for $999.99 on eBay. And on Etsy, this vintage life-size Santa is listed for $650.
2. Ceramic tabletop Christmas trees
In the 1970s and ’80s, ceramic Christmas trees were all the rage. For city dwellers and older folks who didn’t want to contend with a large tree, these tabletop versions made perfect sense. Most trees were between 13 and 32 inches tall, could be dismantled in sections for easy storage, and featured multicolored plastic lights illuminated from a single bulb in the base.
Think there might be some ceramic magic packed away in your house? Check the base for a maker’s mark. Most vintage trees were manufactured by:
- Holland Molds
- Atlantic Molds
- Arnel’s Molds
- Nowell Molds
Though many companies have started reproducing them, the market is “merry” for vintage ceramic trees. Recently on eBay, this 24-inch pink tree by Atlantic Molds sold for $699, and this 22-inch version in classic green sold for $249.
Vintage Trapper Keepers
Before you think this is a holiday-themed article, here’s a wild card: vintage Trapper Keepers. A hot new academic accessory in the 1980s, the Mead Trapper Keeper never really went out of style.
Updated versions like this '80s-inspired Trapper Keeper are available through Amazon and other major retailers for $13 to $20. But collectors and hipsters are willing to pay up for truly vintage varieties.
On eBay, this 1980’s mountain scene Trapper Keeper sold for $69.99. And designs by Lisa Frank, an American graphic design licensing company, sell for even higher prices. This Lisa Frank pony-themed Trapper Keeper from the 1990s sold for $125 on eBay. (I guess my mom was right — being organized does pay off.)
The common thread
The collectibles we’ve covered here have one thing in common — they were all part of the childhoods of baby boomers and Gen Xers. Far removed from the world of high-end antiques, these items were just part of daily life. And like most everyday objects, their future value was impossible to predict.
Look around the room you’re in right now. Find one item, however humble, that inspires a sense of nostalgia. Then, just for fun, check the value of similar items on eBay or explore my deep dives into valuable vintage items. The results may surprise you.