When most people reminisce about their childhood, they think of the classic rites of passage: summers at sleepaway camp, Little League sports victories, friends.
But I count myself among another, special group of children. Before we discovered Livejournal, zines, and the music of the Mountain Goats, we had to turn to collecting weird novelties like coins, figurines, and comic books. Who needs friends when you’ve got Spiderman, the Flash, and the Black Canary under your bed?
Cut to 2017. While we may have repressed the memories, our old collections might still be kicking around at home. Was any of it worth the investment?
Magic: The Gathering Cards
After its release in 1993, Magic: The Gathering quickly usurped Dungeons and Dragons as the game of choice for the awkwardly haircutted. It’s a complex card game that requires players to assemble 64 whimsical illustrations of demons and sorceress babes.
Since different cards grant different abilities — and over 20 million people around the world still actively play Magic Cards — there’s a huge online market for the most effective ones. Ancestral Recall is frequently tipped as the best card in the game, and asking prices often top $1,000. It sounds crazy, but this may actually be a decent investment if you play your cards right: each year, the international Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour gives out a total of $250,000 in cash prizes.
Barbie dolls: how entire generations of strange little girls discovered, and then mangled, human anatomy. Most of these dolls didn’t survive their safety scissors haircuts or the forced dalliances with G.I. Joe, but the ones that made it out can command some serious coin. 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie (which I and four other girls in my class owned) now goes for $160 on Ebay.
Listen up rich kids. There have been some big-ticket collector Barbies released in recent years, and if your parents left one of them under the tree you’re in (even more) luck. The 2003 Marie Antoinette Barbie originally retailed for $249.90. Now, it regularly nets $1,200 on auction sites.
People started collecting stamps as soon as they were invented. In 1862, British zoologist and proto-hipster John Edward Gray boasted that he “began to collect postage stamps shortly after the system was established and before it had become a rage.”
There’s still an active market of modern-day philatelists, though the hobby has dipped in popularity since its 50s and 60s heyday. With around 10,000 new stamps released around the world each year, and no rules on how collections are assembled, it’s tough to put a price on your binder pages. You’re better off looking at individual stamps.
Like most collectors’ items, old, rare, and riddled with mistakes are the best. A block of four “inverted Jennys,” printed by the US mint with the airplane upside down, sold at an auction in October 2005 for $2.7 million.
The San Diego Comic-Con attracts 150,000+ attendees. The latest superhero blockbusters earn billions at the box office. Surely our old comics are worth a fortune, right?
Well, the reason that superheroes are so popular these days is because millions of people grew up with their comics. There are way more dudes with catalogued collections in their basements than there are willing buyers. Unless you’ve got a mint-condition issue of Actions Comics #1, your local shop will probably give you $40 for your stash, tops.
But if you’re convinced that you’re holding onto something rare, the first, oldest and most famous comic book price guide is the Overstreet, now its 47th annual edition. Consult away, but remember that you’ll still have to line up a buyer yourself.
From the ages of 11-13, my brother spent his allowance, and basically every waking hour, commanding armies of one-inch elves, dwarfs, and the undead across a table in our basement. This tabletop war game featured dozens of races and hundreds of figure types, which lead thousands of pre-teen boys (and the like-minded) to stock up on the little monsters.
There’s an active trade for these things, though it’s primarily done through informal transactions on message boards. Unpainted squat figurines from early editions can net you $30-$40 USD a piece, while vehicles can top $70-$80.
Baseball and basketball cards
For the slightly more well-adjusted collectible card fan.
We’ve all heard the stories of people who stumbled across ultra-valuable sports cards at thrift shops and garage sales. Unfortunately, these are really the only opportunities you’ll have to make a killing on cardboard pictures of dudes with dated facial hair anymore. Anything you’ve collected post-1970 is generally too common to be worth anything.
Just for kicks, you might as well check your Grandad’s attic for a couple of key cards: Babe Ruth’s 1914 Baltimore News card could get you $517,000, and Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps Baseball card recently sold at auction for 3.1 million.
So what did we learn?
Once again, the most valuable collections contain items that are super rare, really old, or were messed up by the manufacturers. Start collecting if you really want to line your basement with Charmed action figures, but don’t expect to see any money back from it.