Why Your Collectibles Are Actually Worthless

What to Expect When You're Trying to Sell Collectibles

“Beanie Babies” by Dominique Godbout is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Dominique Godbout

Most collectibles experts advise people to "buy what they like." That means if you really want something, then spend the money, but don't expect it to increase in value. In fact, some collectibles don't even hold their original value, much less increase over time.

Here's what you need to know about all types of collectibles, ranging from Beanie Babies and Precious Moments figurines to collector's plates and Barbie dolls, and what you can expect if you try to sell them.

  • 01 of 03

    What to Know About Beanie Babies, Barbie Dolls and Other Toy Collectibles


    One of the main things to keep in mind when you're evaluating collectible toys is that thousands, if not millions, of these items were made when they were new. Compound that with the fact that they were purchased as collectibles to begin with, rather than toys to be played with, and you have a recipe for a stagnant or declining financial future.

    Take Beanie Babies as an example. In his book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, author Zac Bissonnette notes that Ty, the company that marketed these toys, reported that annual sales had surpassed $1.4 billion in 1998. That's a huge number of $5 toys flooding the market, and that's at just one point in time. They were sold over several years in mass quantities. Immediate demand drove up prices. When the fad was over, the demand bubble burst with a huge bang. Do a completed item search on eBay and you'll find that several of the harder-to-find Beanie Babies still sell in the thousands today, while a few more sell in the hundreds. But the majority of these cute little critters are worth less than $5 each now, if you can get someone to take them off your hands. 

    Barbie dolls made purely for the collectible market have suffered a similar fate. Spurred by the demand for vintage Barbie dolls and their accessories in the 1980s, a plethora of new dolls were made to appeal to collectors and they were gorgeous. Many of these dolls sold for hundreds when they were new, but you can find these beauties today for a fraction of the original cost. The folks who purchased them to display won out in this case, because saving them new in the box hoping for a rise in value has not paid off. There were just too many sold to provide a return on the investment.

  • 02 of 03

    Sold as Collectibles–Figurines, Plates and Decorative Objects

    Bradford Exchange Collector Plate "Fairyland"
    Bradford Exchange Collector Plate With Original Packaging Gems by Gregoire / Ruby Lane

    Any time items are sold as collectibles, limited editions or otherwise, that should be a signal that they probably won't rise in value much over time.

    As one example, Precious Moments figurines were introduced in the 1970s and instantly had a collectible following. Since then a multitude of different designs featuring caricatures of children with tear-drop shaped eyes has been marketed to collectors. If you buy one or two because they're cute or you want to give a gift that conveys a special meaning, great. Buy them hoping they will increase in value and you're probably in for a big dose of disappointment. A few of these figurines have held their own or increased in price over time, but many of them are selling in the $1 to $10 price range today.

    You can say the same thing about Bradford Exchange collector plates and other similar brands. Since the 1970s, millions of these types of plates have been sold. Those who bought a few when they were new because they liked the theme for decorative purposes probably got good use out of them in their homes. Folks who sunk their savings into them haven't fared as well if they were hoping to leave something valuable to their grandchildren.

    Like many other items sold purely as decorative collectibles, unless you're fortunate to hold a rare example or an extremely popular series with a marketable theme, most sell for far less than when they were new. There are literally hundreds of different collector plates from the '70s and '80s selling online for $1 to $15 now, and you can readily find them for bargain prices at estate sales.

  • 03 of 03

    Lack of Demand–All Types of Collectibles

    Precious Moments Figurines
    Precious Moments Figurines g-dog777 / eBay

    With folks talking downsizing, fantasizing about tiny houses, and being told to collect memories instead of things, having a bunch of "stuff" isn't appealing to a large segment of the population these days. Those who have enjoyed collecting all these things in the past are growing older now, and their families don't want to keep all the tchotchkes either.

    Essentially, all types of collectibles are now entering in the marketplace without high demand for them. Stories from Forbes.com, The New York Times, and other news outlets have spread the word that "nobody wants your parent's stuff" recently. If you like these types of items, take advantage of the lull in demand and buy while they're cheap. If you can store what you have indefinitely, wait and see what happens before rushing to sell. Markets and demand sometimes turn on a dime in the collectibles marketplace. Everything Mid-Century Modern is hot now, for instance, but it wasn't always. 

    When you do move to unload some of your collectibles, yes, you might have an isolated instance where a toy or decorative piece has increased substantially in value. It is always a good idea to research each item in a collection individually to make sure you don't have a money maker in the bunch. Pickers in the know will be more than willing to do the homework to make a buck, if you don't.