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Five Ways to Protect What You Collect

How to ensure that those treasures you’ve gathered over the years maintain their value

spinner image thomas ruggie with framed boxing trunks that were worn by muhammad ali
Thomas Ruggie owns a pair of boxing trunks worn by Muhammad Ali in the famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight.
Zach Stovall

Americans take pleasure in collecting things: Some 61 percent of us accumulate items of a similar nature, with coins, toys, trading cards and jewelry topping the list, according to a 2022 survey by MagnifyMoney by LendingTree. Collectors have spent an average of more than $6,000 on their treasures.

“Owning a collection isn’t as simple as putting it in the closet,” says Joe Orlando, executive vice president of sports at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. “It requires planning and care.” That’s especially true if you hope one day to sell or donate the collection, or you want your heirs to get prime value.

Here are five steps to being a top-grade steward of your treasures.


spinner image illustration of a calendar with tea cup, ring and coin in different squares; checkmarks in some boxes
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

1. Organize it

A detailed inventory of your collection (kept either in a computer spreadsheet or on ­paper) is an important tool in assessing the collection’s value. A good inventory should include a description of each item, noting where you bought it and how much you paid, plus useful data such as size, age and flaws. This baseline info can give you a sense of whether you should buy additional insurance coverage and also serves as a resource for your heirs. “Make sure they don’t sell something valuable at a yard sale!” says LaGina Austin of Hindman Auctions in Boston, who is a regular appraiser on the long-running PBS program Antiques Roadshow.


spinner image illustration of magnifying glass looking at baseball cards
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

2. Accurately value it

For a general sense of your collection’s worth (and you should update this estimate every few years), look at recently completed transactions for similar items at online auction sites. For example, Thomas Ruggie, 55, of Tavares, Florida, is confident that a pair of boxing trunks in his collection — worn by Muhammad Ali in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” bout against George Foreman in 1974 — would sell for six figures, based on his research of other unique pieces of sports memorabilia.

For a more official determination, find an appraiser who is a member of the Appraisers Association of America, the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers, all of whose members are trained and certified and agree to abide by ethical standards. You’ll want to get two valuations from your appraisal: Fair market value is the price that a specific collectible might fetch in a transaction between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Retail replacement value is the highest amount you might need to replace your collectible with another of similar age, quality, appearance and condition. This is the estimated value that collectors typically use for insurance purposes.

An appraiser should charge a flat or hourly fee, not one based on a percentage of the item’s value. That’s a conflict of interest.

You can also get an item graded. This is common for collectibles that aren’t so rare, but for which condition can drive value, such as comic books, trading cards, coins, video games or autographs. A variety of firms perform this service, including CGC Comics, PSA Authentication and Grading Service, Collectible Grading Authority and TAG. They will assign a letter or numerical value to it, a key factor at sale. “The grading services have removed much of the subjectivity,” says Edward Jastrem of Westwood, Massachusetts, a collector of model soldiers who works in financial services and advises clients who have high-end collections.


spinner image illustration of collectible figurine in glass case
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

3. Store it properly

Heat and light are not your friends. Raleigh, North Carolina, physician Perico Arcedo, 55, has a collection of about 1,000 bottles of perfume that he keeps in rooms that stay cool and dark most of the time.

spinner image perico arcedo with a bunch of perfume in front of him
Perico Arcedo has a perfume collection of about 1,000 bottles!
Cornell Watson

Even if you’re the type of collector who likes to display your items, putting some real thought into where you do that can preserve their value. Experts advise shielding valuables from even indirect sun exposure by using covers or a UV glass case. A basement can be a good place to set up displays and avoid sunlight, but be aware that humidity can cause mold, mildew, rot and warping. “The ideal temperature for just about any collectible is about 70 degrees, with lower humidity (35 to 65 percent),” says Colleene Fesko, a fine arts appraiser from Boston and 20-year veteran of Antiques Roadshow. If you do keep collectibles in your basement, running a dehumidifier can protect them from the dangers of dampness.

The items aren’t the only things you should store. Receipts and original packaging can make a collectible worth much more than it would be alone. “The original box for a fine piece of jewelry can add 10 to 20 percent to its value,” says Rosalie Sayyah, a Seattle-based jewelry expert who goes by “Rhinestone Rosie” on Antiques Roadshow.

Jastrem says he devotes more storage space to his model soldiers’ packaging than to the soldiers themselves. “To preserve their long-term potential value and keep them nice, you have to keep all the boxes,” he says. “It’s a little ridiculous.”


spinner image illustration of duster wiping a framed picture
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

4. Keep it clean (but carefully!)

A little dust won’t hurt anything. But removing it could. Abrasives, waxy polishes and chemical cleaners are universal no-no’s; even soft cloths or dish towels can degrade some surfaces. You should refinish at your own risk and repair with caution. Original condition for a collectible is ­almost always most desirable. “Repairing can be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation,” Fesko says. “I say if you’re interested in reselling, just don’t.” Some collectors will never buy a piece that’s repaired, agrees Peggy Schroeder, manager of Mellwood Antiques and Interiors in Louisville, Kentucky: “But the proper thing is to disclose it, don’t hide it. And keep your records.”


spinner image illustration of tea kettle going into cardboard box
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

5. Plan its future

You might be one of the few lucky collectors whose children cherish the collection. But don’t count on it. “I don’t think you can expect your children to love what you love,” says Linda ​Krasner, who runs Vintage Repairs by Linda in Queens, New York. Your heirs would benefit more from written ­information about the collection.

spinner image david seufer holding pen; notebook, more pens and ink on table
David Seufer has a collection of fountain pens, many of which have significiant meaning to him.
Matt Nager

David Seufer of suburban Denver details his fountain pen collection in his estate-planning documents, telling his family what pens he has, why they are important to him and what they might do with them. “One of them, a Visconti pen made from Mount Etna lava, was given to me at the birth of my first son, and I would want him to have that pen,” Seufer says. “I’ve also left information about where to liquidate the bulk of the collection.”

One thing not to do is stress over your collection’s value. The going price for all but the highest-quality items can be unpredictable. Unless you own a timeless piece like a Picasso, the collectibles markets are subject to the whims of popular culture. One TikTok video can drive the demand for a vintage toy for a month—then interest moves elsewhere. Or one billionaire’s preference for, say, Shaker furniture can cause a sudden spike and then a likely downturn.

The bottom line: Care for items while they’re in your possession, but if stuff no longer brings pleasure, sell, gift or donate it. “It served you well,” Fesko says. “Let someone else treasure it while you enjoy having one less thing to care for.”

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Collectible Care Specifics

Artwork: The safest place to display is on an interior wall. Avoid the bathroom (humidity), kitchen (heat), foyer (outdoor elements) or spots near radiators or air conditioners. “One of the last places you should hang a painting is over your fireplace,” Fesko says. “You think, It’s so wonderful to have this American landscape above the fireplace, but you are frying it from above, below and behind.”

Precious paper: Unframed art, photos, prints, maps and trading cards are fragile, with pastels and watercolors being difficult to preserve or restore. “A watercolor that has lost its color is just gone,” Fesko says. The only truly safe place is in an archival box, where items are separated with acid-free ­paper, foam core or cardboard.

Antique furniture: “The best way to clean is with a soft, damp rag,” says Clare Horvat, owner of Excel Shop Furniture Restoration in Louisville. For intricate carvings, Antiques Roadshow’s Austin suggests a dry, soft brush. “Don’t vacuum under furniture with aprons or drop pendants unless you move it,” she says. “You can always see gouges where the vacuum has bumped it over the years.”

Jewelry: Avoid the urge to polish and clean jewelry, and never soak it, which can loosen stones or cause discoloration. “The only thing I tell people to do is to clean with a soft, dry toothbrush or a Q-tip dipped in alcohol,” Sayyah says.

Silver: Austin suggests polishing once or twice a year and storing in flannel chamois bags, never in plastic wrap. The plastic adheres to the silver and damages the finish. —C.F.


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