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Predicting Next Hot Collectible A Gamble

Fri., Jan. 16, 1998, midnight

If only you had a crystal ball. You threw out your original Barbie doll, which would be worth $10,000 or more if you had kept it in pristine condition.

You didn’t save your Mickey Mantle rookie card, now valued at $8,000.

You sold your first-edition Hardy Boys books at a garage sale, only to learn they’d now be worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each.

Now you want to try to predict what will be the next hot collectible.

There are no sure bets when it comes to figuring out what will be popular 20 years from now, antique dealers and collectors said. But there are some trends worth following and guidelines to keep in mind when foraging through your closets for potential moneymakers.

Antique dealers say collectors need to look for items likely to have a sentimental attachment for people in future generations.

“It’s a generational thing,” said Jim Hartley, owner of Yesterday, Today and Tommorrow, a Westminster, Calif., shop that resells collectibles. “The older generation likes Hummels and Lladros. Those aren’t popular with the younger generation.”

For something to be popular, he said, it has to be in the public eye. Collectors need to think about items that will have worldwide exposure in years to come.

Forget Beanie Babies, he said. They are the stuffed animals people are buying and reselling in some cases for a few hundred dollars.

He and other antique dealers called them a fad, the Cabbage Patch dolls of the 1990s.

“People run out like sheep, and they buy all these things, and they’re going to get stuck,” Hartley said.

He points to the memorabilia from the movie “Star Wars” as a collectible with future potential.

Children today want collectibles from the movie, as did their parents 20 years ago. The products released in the late 1970s, when the first movie came out, are now worth hundreds of dollars or more, he said.

Shirley Temple dolls and “I Love Lucy” memorabilia are popular because the movies and the television shows are still being shown, said Jim Mulherin, owner of Mulherin’s General Store Antiques in Orange, Calif.

An Indiana Jones doll in the box at Hartley’s store is priced at $525, valuable because the movie is still popular on video and Harrison Ford has become a major movie star.

Disney is another company with worldwide appeal and worldwide marketing, Hartley said. But not all Disney items will go up in value, because there are so many available.

As with most collectibles, the early products are the most valuable, Mulherin said.

“My best (sellers) are 1930s and ‘40s Mickey Mouse items,” Mulherin said. “Wind-up toys, Mickey Mouse lunch pails, games. None of it was originally meant to be collected.”

Items marketed as collectibles rarely go up in value as much as those that were never intended to be collected.

Black memorabilia, like Aunt Jemima products and the book “Little Black Sambo,” became rare - and therefore valuable - when demand outpaced supply, he said.

If you want to buy items manufactured to be a collectible, there are general rules to follow, collectibles dealers said.

The first in a series usually goes up in value, like the first Barbie doll wearing a dress by designer Bob Mackie. Three Mackie dolls have been sold, but the first is the most valuable, said Donna Purkey, owner of Doll City in Anaheim, Calif.

The first Holiday Barbie, issued in 1988, is also popular among collectors.

Purkey said she believes Barbie will continue to be popular in the future because Mattel Inc. will be marketing the doll to future generations.

“I don’t see any end to it,” she said. “There are new collectors every day, and they are so enthused about collecting.”

But Mattel Inc. produces hundreds of Barbies, so collectors need to study which ones have become popular, she said.

“You have to be selective, or you’ll fill your house up with Barbies that don’t do much,” she said.

And if you have your Barbie untouched, still in the box, the prices almost doubles, Mulherin said.

If money is no object, some of the more expensive glassware tends to go up in value, antique dealers said. Baccarat crystal, Steuben glass and Lalique cost hundreds of dollars retail but usually appreciate in price, Hartley said.

Collectors also need to consider the worldwide market. Japanese buyers love Americana memorabilia, like 1950s gas pumps and drive-in movie speakers, he said. Mulherin recently sold $110,000 worth of such items to a Japanese collector.

“If you buy the right stuff, it’s better than money in the bank,” Mulherin said.


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