Can collectables make you money?

Could those vintage Barbies your now adult daughter left in her old childhood bedroom really be worth something?

It’s a good question to ask yourself before you declutter and ditch those old comics and toys via a delivery to your local op shop.

But can collectables really make you money?

If you know what you’re doing, there are definitely some collectables that deliver great potential for high returns – think rare wines, old coins and even sports memorabilia and records.

But for the people who share their living space with stacks of treasured items they just can’t seem to part with, collecting is usually about more than investment diversification. 

It might also be about the thrill of the chase – looking for that rare edition of a favourite book or vinyl pressing. And sometimes, the value of collectables is more about the memories each item holds.

Five collectable investments

Although no investment is ever guaranteed, if you love collecting things that make you happy, explore these five categories to see if you already have the foundation of a potentially valuable collection.

1. Investment-grade wine

If you drink more than you admire, then collecting fine wine may not be the ideal collectable for you. But with investment in the right equipment, and some research, buying and selling wine can be an interesting way to add to your retirement income.

First you’ll need to outlay some cash. To maintain the quality of fine wine and keep it at the perfect humidity level (think 60–80 per cent for long-term storage) a wine fridge is essential. And for serious wine collectors, they’re not cheap.

When it comes to the most collected wines in Australia, Penfolds Grange never seems to go out of style. 

Perusing a list of the world’s most expensive wines ever sold shows that just a couple of the right bottles would fund your retirement in style. But, like any good investment, it’s not all about what you sell it for that counts. What you buy it for in the first place, and the profit in between, is the sweet spot.

2. Toys

One of the world’s most expensive toys ever sold? A 1963 prototype of action figure G.I. Joe was bought by a man named Stephen Geppi in 2003 for $200,000. Why? Maybe he was sentimental.

Antique mechanical toys tend to hold investment value, but even plastic toys have their appeal for genuine collectors who are looking for the missing piece of the puzzle that can add a new dimension to their display cabinets.

Check your garage for these items, and you might be able to book that holiday.

3. Comics

If you’re lucky enough to have some tip-top condition first edition or classic cover comic books as part of your collection (and hopefully in a protective sleeve!), you might have something valuable that can deliver a solid return. Certainly, more than the 5 cents you might have bought it for back in 1961.

In 2022, a single comic book page from the 1984 edition of Spider-Man sold for $288,000 at a Heritage Auction.

That news is enough to get you rifling through your own collection. And if you do happen to find any matches with these titles in the back of that old wardrobe, you might be lucky enough to have one of the world’s top 10 most expensive comics.

4. Sports memorabilia

The tangible assets in the sports memorabilia world include sporting equipment (the bat someone used, the ball someone caught), as well as clothing items that can include shoes, jerseys, caps and even sweaty sports socks that were worn during an iconic match. Sports trading cards can also be very big business.

One of the world’s most expensive pieces of sporting memorabilia ever sold is the Diego Maradona ‘Hand of God’ shirt, worn at the 1986 World Cup. It broke two Guinness World Records titles after being sold at auction for $8,958,124.

5. Records

For music lovers, it’s not about the value. It’s all about the sound. But for true collectors, how much a record is worth is about more than that incendiary guitar solo on track five.

“In a world of fake, mass-produced, cheap junk, vinyl takes us back to a time when there was a product that was beautiful, and real, and made with thought, pride, love, care, and artistic and creative desire,” says Warwick Brown of Melbourne’s iconic Greville Records. “Records represent the best aspect of the human race.”

Still, records can be worth a lot, so check your collection for these titles before you start sharing them out to your children.

And if you love Australian artists, having any of these albums could also prove to be a nice little earner.

Understand how to value collectables

If you’re looking for collectables to invest in, understanding their true value is critical.

To assess the investment perspective of the collectable, you should research its origin to learn what you can about the ownership history of the collectable.

Check the condition – and get a written guarantee

If you want to be in the business of trading collectables for investment purposes, condition and quality are paramount. Buying items that are well-preserved and undamaged will add to the value.

If you’re buying what you believe is a fine collectable, ask the seller for a written guarantee and proof of authenticity. Being told by that eBay seller that the Cabbage Patch Kid really is a one-of-a-kind production line mistake from 1982 sounds too good to be true because, probably, it is.

Combine investment potential with passion

Like many investments, the value of collectables can fluctuate wildly from one day to the next. But because collectables are so intensely personal and often rely on one person’s passion for the item, they can also surprise you with the potential for a ridiculously high return.

It can’t be relied on, though.

While some things, such as coins, stamps, vintage cars, vintage watches and fine art, do deliver stable investment returns, the typically smaller ticket items, such as comics, toys, records and that signed football jersey from your favourite grand final, are more likely to fluctuate, depending on who’s buying.

The beauty in collectables is, usually, in the eye of the beholder. But sometimes – if your eye is keen and you’ve done your research – that can also translate into a beautiful bank account balance.

Do you collect anything? Why not share something interesting about your collection in the comments section below?

Also read: Growth vs income investments

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Claire is an accomplished journalist who has written for leading magazines and newspapers, such as The Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Women's Weekly, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, Australian House & Garden, GQ, The Australian, Herald Sun, The Weekly Review, and The Independent on Sunday (UK).
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