What Is The Best Investment In Collectibles?


In my 30+ years in the collectibles market, that is the question i am asked most frequently. I have answered it many ways, naming cool, up and coming items from 1970s Star Wars action figures to hand painted Marklin trains from the 1900s. But as I get older and wiser, I have found a wonderfully evasive answer that happens to be the best advise I can give.

In an average year, I handle & graded over 50,000 toys & trains

What makes me somewhat unique in being able to answer such a question, is the thousands of hours I spent researching market values and collectible trends. In an average year, I handle & graded over 50,000 toys & trains, and have as part of my job, had to accurately attach a "current market value" those items. As a "perceived" expert in the auction business, bidders frequently asked, "What lots are sleepers?"(lots that may slip through the cracks and sell low), "What should I buy that will be a good investment", or my personal favorite, " What condition is this?" Just for fun, I will answer the above questions here:

If I did my job as an auctioneer, there will be no sleeper lots.

(Question 1)If I did my job as an auctioneer, there will be no sleeper lots. If you are asking me, I will direct you to lots that may have been late additions and may not have the exposure that others have had, thus allowing me to give those lots more exposure. Do you think, that you are the only person I'm telling this too? Knowing market value is the best way to notice potential sleeper lots during an auction.

If you base your buying on free advise, its' probably only worth what you paid for it.

(Question 2), The best answer to this, from an auctioneer's perspective(remember, he is working for the seller), is the lot he thinks will be the hardest to meet the consignors' expectations. From a buyer's perspective, the best investment is the item that will bring you the most joy or appreciation. As I have offered many times; make sure you really want the item, because you may have to live with it a long time to get your money back, if at all. If you base your buying on free advise, its' probably only worth what you paid for it.

"The only thing that cannot be changed is the way a collectible survived through history."

(Question 3), The 3 most critical factors in evaluating collectibles is Condition, Condition & Condition. The only thing that cannot be changed is the way a collectible survived through history. If a sealed item is removed from it's packaging, its no longer mint. If an item gets dented or scratched, it is no longer like new. If an item(automobiles not withstanding) get restored, it is no longer original and is worth less. In the world of toy trains, it is my experience that very few collectors have ever seen a truly Mint Boxed Vintage Example. In addition, it is rare that two collectors can agree on the accurate grade of any collectible. Ones ability to accurately grade is directly related to how many pieces they have examined. But giving up your decision to properly grade and relying on someone else, is a disaster waiting to happen and a direct path to disappointment. That said...

The best Investment in collectibles? The accumulation of knowledge.

Why Do You Need An Auction Planner

Amoto's Train Collection, CT

Amoto's Train Collection, CT

This was my 1st article on Linkedin. It seems that the longer I work in this business, the more need I see. I recently was successful at an auction in CA that was the worst deal for consignors I had seen in many years. While I do not know what they charged for commission, there terms of purchase were horrendous!

They charged a 25% buyers premium, among the highest in the industry; They included shipping charges for each lot, that made a UPS store look like free shipping; they didn't combine lots for shipping, and charged 1.5% insurance on top of the ridiculous charges. And to top it off, they didn't accept credit cards. I cannot imagine that they could have done more to discourage bidding at their sale!

Of course I participated, it was a turkey shoot, minor participation, especially in toy trains, but you had to allow for the add-ons. 3 lots are worth mentioning. One lot should have brought $400-500 at any national train auction house, It hammered for $120. The second lot should have brought $150-200, it hammered to me at $30 and the kicker, a very scarce uncataloged set, that I had sold in the past in the $1000-1100 range, hammered to me for $50. Do Not let this happen to you!!

I cannot imagine that they could have done more to discourage bidding at their sale!

Original article:

Wife, "Bob, what am I going to do with all this crap when you die, Have a tag sale?"

There are many reasons to plan, but the one that seams most pertinent is peace of mind for you and your family. You have worked your whole collecting life accumulating, enjoying and living your hobby, just to see it all end up at a tag sale? Have you given any thought about the future of your collection?

Questions that arise include, Do your children/grandchildren want it? Can your wife handle the subtleties of properly liquidating it? Do you think one collector will purchase all of it and at what price? Do you have an inventory? When was the last time you appraised your collection? Do you know what the current market value is or are you relying an an outdated reference book? How many projects have you left unfinished? Should I give it to an auction house? If so which one? Would they even want it?

Did you know that auction houses base commissions on more than the value of your collectibles. They adjust commissions for handling collections, in part based on how organized the collection is, how clean it is and how much work will be necessary to prepare it for auction. Where it is in the building and how difficult it will be to remove? Most auction houses will not do an inventory and fewer will reconcile to a list provided. Are your boxes matched with your pieces? If you have sets, are they together? Are they correctly built with the correct variations? Do you have a train layout? What do you do with it? Does it have value? What about your display cases? And most important, will they want to cherry pick the best pieces and leave anything behind?

It can be overwhelming to contemplate, but this is why an experienced auction planner can help. In my experience, every auction house has a speciality; an area that they do a bit better than their competition. Sometimes its more lucrative to split your collection and give parts to different houses or even call in big buyers or wholesale liquidators to take parts. It all based on bottom line; what is best for you, the client.

A planners participation can be is simple as negotiating contracts with auction houses, so when the time comes, a plan is ready. Or it can more involved with inventories, physical rebuilding and organizing your collection. It all comes down to what is best for you. Sometimes it pays to put a few thousand dollars into a project so you can get tens of thousands back out because of planning ahead.

I deal with Toys and trains as my specialty, but can handle an entire estate as I am familiar with 100s of auction houses nationwide, and what I don't know, I research. I'm working on a major gun collection with one client and 22 oil painting with another. The last 4 clients I met with, just gave their wife and children my card and said if anything happens, just call Mark.

Peace of mind for you and your family.