I don’t know what it is in human DNA that causes people to want to collect things, but countless times in my life I’ve been suckered into accumulating stuff in the expectation that one day it would all be worth a lot of money. Happily, by the time the Beanie Baby Craze was in full swing I had long ago learned the lesson that investing in anything new that was touted as “Collectible” is likely a fool’s game. As that particular bubble was building, I was able to stand calmly on the sidelines and shake my head sadly when I heard people talking about how their collection of little stuffed animals would one day provide the money to send their kids to college.
Purchased in the 1990s for around five bucks each, some of these silly toys were expected to be worth upwards of a thousand dollars each ten years later, so countless collectors happily spent a couple of hundred dollars on individual pieces as the aftermarket price just kept climbing -and spending more for display cases to protect them. Today these “sure things” can sometimes be found at yard sales priced for a quarter, and the hapless owner still can’t unload most of them even at that low price. It would have been better had they taken the little critters out of their packages and let the kids play with them.
Like every other boy in the 1960s with an allowance and access to the ads in the back of Boy’s Life magazine, I plowed my money into the usual hobbies at one time or another: coin collecting, stamp collecting, you name it. Later in life it was Disneyana, collector plates, and books. Lots and lots of books. All this swag was accumulated with the expectation that it would one day be worth zillions more than I paid for it all. I kept everything in pristine condition.
I’ve written previously about how heartbreaking it was to receive scores of nearly worthless sheets of unused, mint condition commemorative stamps after my father passed. My parents had bought those stamps with the expectation that they would be worth many times what they paid for them. In reality those 3 cent stamps are pretty much still worth only three cents each, but only if you can crowd enough of them on an envelope to cover the current cost of sending a letter.
How did the stamp collecting market evaporate so rapidly? Simple: most rabid stamp collectors, the ones willing to pay huge sums of money for glue-backed pieces of paper, were part of my father’s generation. They’ve all died off. When they went, their collections flooded a market that simply did not have enough people left who were interested in them. There are no buyers.
In the early 1970s when I was in my early twenties, I jumped on the nostalgia bandwagon as toys from the 30s and 40s were fetching incredible prices. So I paid way too much for the items I collected back then. I learned much later that the reason for the increase in demand for those things was because kids who had grown up in that era were nearing retirement age and now had the disposable income to spend on the trinkets their mothers had thrown out long ago. Today I can still get something for a cheap looking Lone Ranger cardboard cut-out, but nothing close to what I paid for it. That’s because the nostalgic old men who wanted to again hold in their hands the toys they remembered from their childhoods, and were willing to pay outrageous sums of money for the experience, have pretty much all died off. There is simply no one left who grew up reading Big Little Books, so demand for my little collection of Big Little Books is today worth very little.
One of my treasured possessions is a silver plated cereal spoon with Howdy Doody on the handle. I once paid quite a bit of money for it and I like it a lot. Why? Because I grew up watching Howdy Doody and I have fond memories. When I’m dead and gone along with everyone else who loved Howdy Doody as a child, how much do you think that spoon will be worth to the generations that never knew that TV show? Toys like that won’t have sentimental value to anyone who wasn’t there.
Today I have a new hobby, one that is finally paying off. I collect food. Specifically, storable food that is designed to last 25 years or longer. I started out spending sometimes under $50 a month on my new hobby, and now I have a substantial collection. And guess what? Everything I purchased has retained its value, and I expect it will continue to increase in value for years to come. Why? Simply because food keeps getting more expensive. I could turn around right now and sell to one of my neighbors (who also wisely collects) something I bought in 2009 for more than I paid for it then.
While my sizable collection of comic books continues to decline in value, my collection of storable food will always retain its value. The reason is simple: you can actually eat food! It’s always in demand, and while my Howdy Doody cereal spoon will be of interest to practically no one after I’m dead, the crates of food I have in my collection will be in great demand. The potential market for food is every single person on the planet!
Isn’t it time you started putting your money in a sure thing? Set aside something every month so you and yours can have plenty to eat in the next five or ten years. And don’t limit your hobby to collecting only food. I haven’t really been inclined to show it off, but I’m pretty sure I have the most valuable collection of toilet paper on my block.