Joshua Benesh, chief strategy officer with Heritage Auctions, Dallas, the world’s largest auctioneer of collectibles. HA.com
Are there things gathering dust in your attic that might be worth a small fortune—or even a large one? It is entirely possible! Today’s generation of collectors is driving up values of items that earlier generations never considered valuable. In fact, many of today’s rapidly appreciating collectibles date back only to the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s and could easily be dismissed as clutter. Among the hottest collectible categories now…
Still-sealed videotapes from the 1980s. Old VHS and Betamax tapes sometimes sell for thousands of dollars even though no one watches movies on video anymore. There is one very big caveat here—the tapes must be sealed in their original plastic packaging. A tape that has been opened almost certainly has no value. Perhaps you bought an iconic film on VHS or Beta years ago and never got around to opening it—if it is in pristine condition, it could fetch meaningful money. How meaningful? A sealed copy of Back to the Future sold for $75,000*…The Thing, $37,500…Jaws, $32,500…Rambo: First Blood Part II, $22,500…Top Gun, $17,500…and Gremlins, $15,000.
Video games and related memorabilia. It is not surprising that rare and beloved video game cartridges from the 1980s and 1990s have become a hot collecting category—after all, these games are as culturally relevant to Gen X and Millennials as TV shows and movies were to earlier generations. But as with videotapes, only cartridges still sealed in their original packaging are likely to sell for significant amounts. Examples: A sealed 1996 copy of Super Mario for the Nintendo 64 sold for $1.56 million…a sealed 1987 copy of Legend of Zelda for NES sold for $870,000…a sealed 1985 copy of Super Mario Bros. for NES sold for $720,000…a sealed 1990 copy of John Madden Football for Sega Genesis brought $480,000…and a sealed 1991 copy of Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis brought $360,000. Related collectibles, such as early Nintendo signs, video game development art and store displays, also are collected.
Vinyl records. This may be the right time to sell your old record collection. Records that would have ended up in charity shops or dumpsters a decade or two ago can bring at least a few dollars apiece…and rare and desirable records can sell for much more at auction or to record stores. Examples: A sealed early copy of the Beatles album Yesterday and Today with its original cover—featuring the band wearing butcher’s coats—recently sold for $112,500…a stereo copy of the Bob Dylan album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (shown above) featuring four songs that were removed from most pressings sold for $150,000. While these albums have long been sought after by collectors, until recently they typically sold for a fraction of these prices.
Vintage Nikes and other sneakers. Unworn pairs of Nike Air Jordan sneakers from 1985 with their original boxes have recently sold for $13,000 to $17,400 at auction—one pair even reached $32,400. These are not sneakers that were worn by Michael Jordan himself in games…they’re just the style of sneakers that Jordan endorsed. Even lightly worn early Air Jordans can bring four figures. Nike “The One Stripe” running shoes from circa 1980 are rare and potentially valuable, too—a pair recently sold for $22,200. Vintage Reebok, Vans, Converse and Adidas sneakers in great condition sometimes have value as well, though prices tend to be much lower than with these Nikes.
Action figures from the 1970s and 1980s. Early Star Wars toys are famously sought after by collectors—Star Wars action figures from the 1970s still in their original packaging can sell for $1,000 to $5,000, and some very rare examples bring even more. But you may be surprised at how much other action figures from the 1970s and 1980s are fetching these days. Examples: GI Joe and Masters of the Universe action figures from 1982 still in their original packaging can bring low four figures—one GI Joe “Snake-Eyes” figure even reached $26,400. Superhero action figures made by toy maker Mego in the 1970s have been surging in value as well.
Entertainment memorabilia including props and costumes. Items associated with iconic TV shows and movies are being valued not just as collectibles but as relics of great cultural significance. Examples: The wood bar from the sitcom Cheers recently sold for $675,000…and the living room set from All in the Family sold for around $400,000.
Baseball cards, tickets to past sporting events and sports memorabilia. Baseball card values, which endured an extended slump starting in the 1990s, have recently had a revival in recent years. Rare cards in great condition from the 1950s through the 1980s have been setting auction records. Examples: A copy of Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps rookie card in exceptional condition recently sold for $12.6 million…and a copy of Reggie Jackson’s 1969 Topps rookie card in mint condition recently broke the million-dollar mark. Ricky Henderson Topps rookie cards from 1980 in extremely good condition regularly reach $100,000.
Tickets to historically important sporting events can be valuable as well. Examples: A full ticket to Michael Jordan’s first NBA game recently sold for $468,000, and even a stub of a ticket from that game brought $99,000. A ticket to Tiger Woods’ first professional golf tournament—the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open—sold for $99,000.
Also: Game-used sports memorabilia have been trending sharply upward—a 1958 Mickey Mantle Yankees jersey recently sold for a whopping $4.68 million.
Non-sports trading cards. Kids who collected Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards in the 1990s are all grown up now—and some of them are spending huge amounts to acquire these rare cards. Examples: A mint example of the 1993 Magic: The Gathering card Black Lotus recently sold for $174,000…a Pokémon Charizard card from 1999 sold for $336,000.
Some non-sports trading cards from earlier decades have surprising value these days as well, including Topps Garbage Pail Kids cards from the 1980s…Topps Mars Attacks cards from the 1960s…and Fleer Three Stooges cards from the 1950s—a complete set of Three Stooges cards recently sold for $41,250.
US coins. An uptick in US collectible coin values in recent years has been driven in part by a younger generation of collectors. While other collectible categories come and go, coins always have appeal, perhaps because they combine art, history and that enduring allure of precious metals. Example: At the top end of the market, a 1787 Brasher Doubloon sold for $9.36 million recently—up from the $7.4 million it fetched in 2011…and from $2.99 million in 2005.
Comic books and comic art. There’s been a huge upswing in interest in comics—and it is not just famous treasures like early issues of Superman and Batman that now are worth a fortune. In fact, it’s not just the comic books themselves that interest today’s comic collectors—this market now values the original artwork used in the creation of comic books as if it was fine art. Examples: Original art by Frank Miller—the man behind famed 1980s and 1990s comics Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City—often sells for five figures if the art became an interior page of a comic book and potentially six figures if it became an iconic cover. The original cover art for the very first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns sold for $2.4 million. Those are huge amounts for art by any still-living artist, much less a comic book artist. Original art by Dave Stevens, known for comics including The Rocketeer, can sell for five or low-six figures as well—even though Stevens is more a cult figure in the comics world than an icon.
*Prices cited are recent results from major auctions, and many items were in exceptionally pristine condition. Seemingly minor variations in condition—or edition—can have a big impact on value. A mint first edition still in its original packaging might sell for life-changing money, while a later or lesser copy of the same item brings far less or nothing at all.