You’ve probably heard stories about people remembering they had boxes full of Beanie Babies or other collectibles in a storage unit and making a fortune. But the stories you don’t hear are those about people who’ve owned such items, kept them in poor condition and therefore missed a chance that could have changed their lives.
The collectible market has weathered the health crisis better than most, with people at home making more purchases than ever before. Online antiques and collectibles sales in the US saw their biggest jump in 2020, by about half a billion dollars. Then, in 2021, it happened again. The toy collectible market, also boosted by the 80s nostalgia craze from a few years ago, is forecast to reach a total market value of over $35 billion dollars by 2032. It’s not just child’s play anymore.
Caring for your collectibles is, therefore, not only a way to cherish the past or to enjoy a hobby – it can also be a surprisingly rewarding financial strategy!
General Tips for Handling and Storing Collectibles
Careful handling: handle your collectibles with clean, dry hands and avoid touching their surface as much as possible. Even better, use gloves!
Cleaning and maintenance: clean gently using a soft, dry cloth and avoid using chemicals unless these are specifically designed for the particular item and the particular purpose.
Proper storage: store collectibles in a clean, dry and temperature-controlled environment. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight and excessive heat, which can cause damage.
Professional appraisal: have your valuable collectibles professionally appraised to determine value and authenticity. This will help you make informed decisions about buying or selling them. It will also put your care and maintenance costs into perspective. Spending $1000 to protect an item may sound like a lot, but if that item is worth $100,000, then you may decide it’s worth it.
Insurance: this one is pretty straightforward. Any valuable collectibles should be insured, period.
Security: you should search for storage units with 24-hour surveillance and security staff. Buy a sturdy lock and most important of all – only the people you trust should know about your collection! If no one knows you have something, there’s less chance of finding it missing.
10 Of The Most Popular Collectibles and How To Care for Them
Collectibles are, by definition, whatever items you collect – they can be anything from bottle caps to sports cars. The one thing they have in common is that they have an emotional and material value to the collector, so treating them with care goes without saying. This includes not only the general tips mentioned above but also the specific needs of each collectible item type. Here are 10 of the most valuable things people collect that can be kept in something as simple as a room in your house or a storage unit.
Coins are amazing. They have a value much greater than the intrinsic worth of the material they’re made of, often serving as cultural milestones, political tools or literary devices. Whether you have something like an Ecuadorian 8 Escudos doubloon or a silver dollar from 50 years ago, their value is sure to appreciate over time.
A coin collection can be worth a fortune and should therefore be handled and stored with the utmost care. Always use soft cotton gloves when handling coins, and don’t take them out of their cases or folders unless absolutely necessary. Don’t even speak over them, as water droplets in your breath can create spots. Store them in plastic holders that do not contain PVC and avoid cardboard unless you’re sure it’s acid-free.
Your coin cases should be kept inside a sturdy safe located in a storage space that allows you to control the temperature and humidity. Climate-controlled storage units are the perfect solution for this. You don’t even need a large one – a small 5′x5′ storage locker will do the trick.
In 2014, an original 1938 issue of Action Comics #1, which featured the first-ever appearance of Superman, sold for $3.2 million dollars. The comic book cost only about $2 back when it was published, adjusted for inflation.
Here’s the interesting part. There was another copy of the same issue, which sold for half the price, because of half a point of difference in grading, according to the CGC system. That can mean as much as $1.5 million for as little as a folded page or a scuff mark!
When handling comic books, it’s better to use nitrile gloves rather than cotton, as it gives you a better grip and lowers the risk of dropping the comic book. And never, ever have any liquids nearby when handling one.
Storing comic books properly starts with the “bag and board” – a transparent plastic (but non-PVC) bag that holds the comic book, with a cardboard section for support. The cardboard should be acid-free and lignin free. Make sure your storage space is not vulnerable to pests – they love munching on vintage cellulose! A climate-controlled storage unit is a must, as moisture is an ever-present hazard.
LEGO sets are an investment that outperforms gold. And bonds. And the S&P 500.
That being said, LEGO sets are not as sensitive in storage as some of the other collectible items on this list. Most of the parts themselves are made of ABS plastic and polycarbonate, which will do just fine even during normal fluctuations in temperature and humidity. It’s the packaging that’s tricky!
Getting that coveted MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) rating means that the cardboard box is, in a way, more valuable than the contents. Large sealable plastic bags (acid-free, remember) are good for protecting them, and a dark, dry environment is crucial. Ultraviolet light causes discoloration in the packaging and can cause discoloration to the parts themselves if they’re kept in transparent containers exposed to sunlight.
Unsealed or even built sets can also fetch great prices but remember to take out any batteries that might be installed, as these leak and corrode components. LEGO minifigures can also cost a fortune if in good condition – a mint condition King Théoden from the LEGO Lord of The Rings series can easily fetch over $200.
The sets most likely to appreciate are the larger ones, so space is important. A small storage locker will probably be insufficient, in which case choosing a 5′x10′ with climate control might be a better option.
Sure, e-mail is instantaneous and free and allows for multimedia attachments, but snail mail will always have a special place in the hearts of stamp collectors.
Until the early 2000s, the volume of first-class mail sent per year had been steadily increasing. Then e-mail came along and completely reversed the trend. Ironically, the digital age has proven to be a godsend for the world of stamp collectors: communities, experts and markets could all interact on a level that was unimaginable before. The best time in history to be a philatelist is right now!
Stamps are made of various specialized paper types but being paper, they are still vulnerable to the same environmental hazards as comic books. An added challenge is the fact that stamps usually have some form of adhesive gum on the back. This gum has its own vulnerabilities – too dry and it will crack; too damp and it will cause “foxing” or staining on the stamp.
There are many specialized books to keep stamps in, like stockbooks and albums. The important thing, as always, is to keep them far away from excessive moisture, sunlight and pests. A 5′x5′ storage locker is usually enough for most collections, but if you can’t find one with climate control, consider installing a wine cooler in your locker and placing your stamps inside. Needless to say, this should be a wine cooler only in name – don’t store liquids next to your precious stamps!
Every now and then, something weird happens in the world of collectibles: an item will hit the market with a small error, like a misprint or a misspelling. The lot will be discontinued, and the item reissued with corrections. The initial lot containing the error now inadvertently becomes a limited run whose auction price far exceeds that of the corrected item.
That’s what happened to certain Pokémon cards like the 1991 First Edition Holographic Charizard, which had a missing shadow in the illustration. There’s one on eBay right now… for $300,000. The Pokémon card market has exploded in the last few years as YouTube and Twitch were flooded with card unpacking videos, appraisal videos and stories of fortunes being made overnight.
Therefore, it was only natural that a whole industry would grow around card grading, care and storage. Today you can find specialized binders, sleeves and holders for your cards from many different brands. Individual plastic pockets can be bought in large packs for cheap. These are must-haves if you want to preserve the value of your cards.
As with comic books and stamps, never handle cards without gloves and never leave them out in sunlight or damp environments. Make sure their storage area is protected against pests and, of course, rival Pokémon trainers!
Old vinyl records
Vinyl records looked like they were on the way out. Every dorm room, every car stereo and every computer had a CD player. Then along came streaming, and it looked like the physical medium in its entirety was in danger. Fast forward to 2022, and the UK recorded its first ever year when vinyl record sales outpaced CD sales. In the US, vinyl sales have been growing confidently since 2006.
Whether it’s the larger artwork, the physical experience or the audio quality itself, it seems that in the long run, vinyl records are proving to be a much more desirable collectible than a simple jewel-boxed CD. Therefore, collectors take great care to preserve their value.
The single greatest threat to a vinyl record is heat. Vinyl will melt at 200°F, but damage can occur at much lower temperatures. Leaving them out in the sun can and will warp them, making them unplayable. And just because vinyl is a plastic doesn’t mean humidity can’t do damage. Dirt and dust can accumulate in the grooves, which then store moisture and encourage mold formation. Record cleaning brushes are widely available and cheap, so it’s a good idea to give your collection a cleaning every now and then.
Whichever storage unit size you choose, it’s a good idea to install shelves and store your records vertically. They should never be stacked, or stored horizontally, as this leads to mechanical warping.
Speaking of things that should be stored upright, paintings are some of the most valuable items you can collect, especially if you consider the amount of space they need. Sure, a Ferrari F40 is worth about $1.5 million, but a single Warhol will easily reach or surpass that value while taking up almost no space at all.
The downside is that paintings are much more fragile than cars and pose a particular challenge when storing. There are several materials with different properties that make up a painting – wooden framing, clay binding, canvas, nails, the paint itself and the lacquer. Some paintings even use gold foil, which can tarnish if improperly stored.
For framed paintings, the priority is definitely the canvas and paint. Always maintain humidity at around 50% – too dry and the paint cracks and flakes, too damp and you risk water stains and mold.
Unframed paintings should never be stored rolled up. If you need to transport them in a tube for short terms, remember to roll them up on the shorter side, and always with the paint facing outward. In storage be sure to keep them flat, with layers of protective, acid-free paper or textile covering them.
If your painting looks faded, yellowed or stained, resist the urge to clean it! Cleaning and restoring a painting properly takes years of learning and experience. Every conservation specialist has stories to tell about clients who tried to clean paintings at home and only made it worse. If you’re not sure about how to best preserve your particular pieces while in storage, call a specialist.
Vintage computers & electronics
Computers went from building-sized machines of national strategic importance to wristwatch-sized consumer products within less than a century. Mass manufacturing then strengthened the impression that computers are just things to be used, discarded and replaced.
But many of them represent important moments in the history of computing, like the Commodore 64 or the Apple II. An IBM 5100 from the 70s can fetch you several tens of thousands of dollars if kept in pristine condition.
When it comes to storing vintage computers, there are the obvious issues, like temperature and humidity affecting circuits and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards). However, don’t forget about pests – to them, your prized Pravetz 82 is just a box with many entrances that can keep their nest safe. This, in turn, traps dust and grime, while on the outside, rodents will make short work of cables and other rubber parts. Make sure your storage unit doesn’t have cracked walls or gaps that pests can use to gain access. Buy a roll of archival tape and cover up any openings in the item. This will help keep dust out as well.
Remove any batteries from your electronics and store them separately, as these can leak and corrode. If you’re storing modern electronics, beware of lithium-ion batteries swelling over time – this means gas is building up inside and can be a serious fire hazard! Refer to an electronics repair professional for removing and preserving them.
Keep your electronics in sealed plastic containers along with some moisture absorbing packs. A climate-controlled 5′x10′ storage unit can easily handle many such containers, while providing enough space to move around and handle your items safely – vintage computers are both heavy and exceptionally fragile. Use shelves and avoid cluttering the floor.
Glassware and crystal
A toast just isn’t as impactful without that resounding “clink!” of the end. Glassware and crystal can be very valuable depending on their age, condition and manufacturing. These items are virtually invulnerable to pests and humidity, but they have one huge downside – they can shatter extremely easily. One second of carelessness can lead to your collection of Steuben uranium glass stemware lying scattered across the floor in a million tiny pieces.
Pack everything with extreme care. Styrofoam, packing peanuts, even crumpled up newspapers are better than just letting them sit loosely inside a box. Stuff the interiors of glasses, vases or other containers with padding as well, to provide some inner bracing against outside pressure. Pad the container as well as the items – making sure that things don’t move around is just as important as protecting them against impact. As much as possible, avoid stacking glassware and crystal. Keep them on shelves for easy handling and always ensure your accessway is cleared of obstacles or slippery surfaces.
Glassware can handle a decent range of temperatures just fine, but it’s the quick changes that can cause them to crack. Never pour hot liquids into glassware that has been sitting in low temperatures. This can cause the glass to crack or break, sending shards all over the place!
Despite newer and more precise manufacturing technologies, better materials and quality control, vintage instruments will always have something that modern ones don’t: the advantage of time. Wood and glue can set and stabilize for years after the instrument has been put together, resulting in a much richer tone. Decades of use can “even out” an instrument, making it more responsive, consistent and easier to play. Like wine, a good guitar only gets better with age.
And just like wine, instruments also have “good years.” The luthier may have had an especially good batch of Bubinga wood a decade ago, or the pickups may have had extra windings on the coils due to different manufacturing standards. That can give your instrument a huge boost in value.
That is, of course, if you store it properly. No one will pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars that a late 50s Les Paul is really worth if the pickups are rusted and the lacquer has cracks spiderwebbing across half of the body.
Since they come into contact with our hands so often, guitars should be thoroughly cleaned before storage. Use a soft cloth and specialized guitar cleaning products. Take special care when cleaning the fretboard, as most of the oils and dead skin from your fingers tend to accumulate there. Bridges, pickups, wiring and machine heads should all be checked for rust.
Store your guitar collection in a dark and dry storage space. Something the size of a 5′x10′ storage unit should do the trick, but for very large collections, you might need to upgrade to a climate-controlled 10′x10′ that will give you enough room to walk around and search for particular instruments.
Never leave your guitars tuned up, as the string tension can be equivalent to about 200 pounds of force being applied continuously on the neck. If your instrument has active pickups, you must remove the battery. Store each instrument in an individual case. This will protect them from humidity and impacts – there are high-end cases out there that can even survive being run over by a car!
The Best Protection Is Knowledge
If you’re storing a collectible that has potential value, there is most likely a community dedicated to every aspect of maintaining and storing that particular kind of item. Take advantage of these and learn from their successes and mistakes.
Remember to have all your collectibles properly appraised and insured before putting them in storage. If all goes well, your retirement will be sitting quietly in storage for the next few years, accumulating value instead of dust.