En español | If you're cleaning out your closets this summer, you're probably wondering why you kept your copy of The Beatles (known as the White Album since its release in 1968). And if your copy is scratched, with Cheez-Its mashed between the double covers, well, you have reason to wonder. On the other hand, if you have one in excellent condition, you could get $70 or more for it. And if you have the first copy of the album pressed, formerly owned by Ringo Starr, you could probably get at least $790,000 — which is what Ringo got for it in 2015.
Of course, you never know whether something is valuable until you research it. A Raleigh, North Carolina, collector looked in an old lunch box that had passed down from his great uncle to his father. Inside was a 1910 baseball card of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a legendary hitter whose name was forever tarred by the 1919 fixing of the World Series. The card sold for $492,000 at auction in May 2020, according to Heritage Auctions. Although you might not find something as valuable as a Shoeless Joe Jackson card, it’s worth looking for a few treasures in the attic (or garage, basement, shed or storage unit). Here are 10 of the hottest collectibles you might find.
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Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder
What makes a collectible valuable? Condition is one thing. If you're hoping your Donkey Kong 3 cartridge is valuable, it might be: A rare version of the video game sold for $28,800 in 2019. The catch: The truly valuable games have never left their original packaging. “If you played with it, forget it,” says collectibles expert Harry Rinker.
In some cases, as with rare coins, stamps and even comic books, professional grading services will validate how well-preserved something is. With coins, the difference between an MS-70 coin — the highest possible, with no imperfections — and an uncirculated MS-60 coin can be thousands of dollars. With other collectibles, however, you'll have to learn to use your own eye.
Another element is desirability. Although it's possible that you may have a Rembrandt in the attic or a Chippendale Mahogany Bombe Chest in the basement, it's not likely. And, to be honest, most people aren't going to be interested in your grandmother's tea set, either. “If you find something that appeals to people over 65, you can't sell it, because those people are trying to get rid of their stuff, not buy more of it,” Rinker says. The newest generation of collectors is looking at items they had as children in the 1980s and 1990s.
But don't be too quick to judge. “You never know how valuable things are until you tell people you have it and you want to sell it,” says Robert Wilonsky, communications director for Heritage Auctions.
Thanks to the internet, it's not hard to find the price of most collectibles. Nearly every type of collectible has an internet group, from Mattel's Official Barbie Fan Club to the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. You'll generally be able to get some sense of what their members find valuable. You can also check on auction sites, such as Heritage Auctions and Sotheby's Auction House. You can even contact them to see if you have something interesting. Finally, there's WorthPoint, which compiles information from dozens of sources and offers a searchable database for $39.99 a month.
People often make the mistake of thinking that just because something is worth $50, it's not worth selling. “You have to remember it's money,” says Will Seippel, CEO of WorthPoint. “Would you throw away $50? Why send to the dump when you can sell it?"
John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 2008 financial crisis. Waggoner's USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.