Updated on 11.30.07

An Inheritance of Collectibles

Trent Hamm

Not too long ago, a friend of mine inherited a collection of thimbles from his grandmother. Aside from one that he wished to save for nostalgia, he had no reason to keep the collection and wanted to liquidate it (that’s actually what she wanted him to do – keep any with sentimental value and get some money for the rest).

The only problem was that he was at a loss as to how exactly to liquidate such a collection without getting plainly ripped off.

This is a difficult question, one that I’ve faced with a few collections of my own. There are a lot of routes you can follow with this, some better than others, but I will say that the obvious answer – eBay – is often not the best one.

Let’s examine a few options that I’ve tried and that others have tried as well and see how they work.

Dealers Interacting directly with a dealer, unless your item is extremely esoteric, is probably the worst option, but it is the easiest. If you’re just in there to dump your collection, they will not see you as a customer – instead, you’re merely an avenue to profit.

eBay EBay is probably the strongest solution if you want to put in minimal legwork to get the items sold. Just write up a description of the whole collection and dump it out there as one auction, collect payment, and ship. Obviously, you can break up the collection into multiple auctions, but then the time factor begins to seriously escalate and you start seeing diminishing returns for your effort.

Research Another path is to meticulously research your collection by visiting library and online resources for pricing of such collectibles, if you can find it. This works very well for collectibles that are popular but completely unknown to you, like comic books, trading cards, political buttons, and so on. This usually takes significant work, but can really pay off because you can then use eBay to auction off the “best” stuff individually with reasonable minimums, then auction off everything else as a block.

Contact an expert This is actually where I’ve found the most success, particularly in selling comic books: I dove into the blogosphere. I wrote to several bloggers who blogged on the comic book industry and asked them how to start. I coupled this with some research, so I was able to name some of my top ones. Interestingly, I had very, very nice offers for some of the items and I ended up selling all of it directly to bloggers and their contacts at a very decent price. This won’t always happen, of course, but they can often point you in a very healthy direction.

So here’s my conclusion in a nutshell.

If you just want as little hassle as possible, take it to a dealer. This is the easiest way to go, but will have the lowest returns.

Otherwise, I suggest first doing some research into your items so that you know what you have, then follow that up by contacting bloggers who might be interested in or know about the items. Just inquire about how to sell the items and tell the real story; most bloggers are straight-up people who will guide you well. If this doesn’t work out, utilize that research to make appropriate eBay auctions, selling off the higher-priced stuff individually and the rest as a bundle. With this route, your time investment can really pay off, especially when it can be done mostly online.

Now, what am I going to do with that Russian doll collection that I’m likely to inherit someday?

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  1. Luke says:

    Here’s another option: several auction houses in major cities have certain days when you can walk in with your item(s) and have it examined by an expert, for free. It’s very much like “Antiques Road Show” sans cameras. I did this with a few items in San Francisco at Butterfields (now Bonhams & Butterfields – http://www.bonhams.com/us/) and found it useful without too much chaos other than long lines that moved quickly enough (or seemed to, since it was interesting seeing all the weird stuff people brought in).

    The advantage of an auction house is that they’ll be realistic about value. You could then put the collection on eBay at a rational price.

    There might be such a service where you are.

  2. Madd Hatter says:

    I’ve been wondering for the past couple years whether there IS a collectible market to speak of, in general. I don’t see any indications that anything is worth much of anything anymore. I live a rather sheltered life, so this is largely gathered by seeing dozens of auctions on eBay for anything you’re interested in, and seeing basement prices. Comics, sports cards, art, you name it. I know in the first two cases ridiculous overproduction by manufacturers is a primary cause, but I also wonder if an “eBay effect” is at work as well. Global marketplace and all that, leading to people asking why they should pay actual $ for something when they can go get it on eBay for nothing. The items I mentioned earlier are “worth” a very tiny fraction of what they were supposedly worth 10-15 years ago. I’ve thrown the comics (longbox of late 80s-mid 90s) and sports cards (baseball 87-92) on CL for pennies on the dollar and nothing. To sell to a shop, they want professional grading, which costs more than any of them would sell for anyway. Honestly, what kind of “collectibles” are worth anything still? Seems only the current “hot item” built up by hyperconsumerism and jonesitis (ie the Wii) is worth trying to sell.

  3. Thimbles? Wow….I guess there’s a collector for everything. Then again, I used to collect mechanical pencils when I was a kid…grew out of that one fast!

  4. LC says:

    @Madd Hatter
    Coins are one example that I am familiar with where the prices on Ebay are usually realistic and often quite high. Although coin collecting is relatively mainstream, I would think that there are people out there who know the value of certain other collectibles and are willing to pay what they are worth.

    I think that it really takes someone who knows a lot about the items to show you the real value of the collection and I think the advice in this article is very good. This is often why items on ebay with no reserve price sell for do high amounts – there are people out there who know what it is worth.

    What are your thoughts on collections? – should the money you spend be viewed as “hobby” money or “investment” money, or a little of both?

  5. Kim says:

    How do you suggest finding relevant blogs?

  6. Mrs. Micah says:

    I expect a Google blog search for “collect” and “thimble” might turn something up. Not guaranteed, but I’d start there…

  7. Artie Kuhn says:

    I’m looking to possibly unload a huge comic book collection as well. What’d you find?

  8. MattJ says:

    Instead of selling them to a dealer and walking away, why don’t you offer to sell through them on consignment?

    Contact a couple of dealers and get estimates for how much they think they can sell the collection for, and how much of a commission they would want…

  9. Katy Raymond says:

    No joke about those Russian dolls, Trent. I have a set of “Dionne Quints” from the 1930s. They were my mom’s. I am clueless how to liquidate them. I would keep and display them, but they need a dolly hospital’s care first, and the cost may be prohibitive.

  10. Minimum Wage says:

    With collectibles, condition (or “grade”) is a huge factor in valuation, and you need to provide a visual, so people can judge for themselves what a collectible is worth.

    Individual grading standards (especially among inexperienced graders, such as those whg inherit a collection), so a text-only description isn’t very helpful when selling. There are also individual biases in grading, and the “fair” (i.e. really beat up) comic book you are considering buying, might be offered by someone trying to pass it off as a “near mint” copy, so buyers will discount text-only descriptions offered by a seller.

  11. amanda says:

    I have done the eBay number with some collectables left me by my mother. There is a lot more involved with eBay than just posting the item up. You need to have a lot of transactions already on your account and rated 100% or 99%. Then if the item is not in demand you are wasting your time and money. You still pay for posting whether it sells or not. Then you can very easly have a painful encounter with a bidder. Several things can go wrong, because as we all know the internet has it’s share of mentals. I will never sell on eBay again after my last experience with it.

  12. Minimum Wage says:

    Also, consumer trade shows are a good place to sell most collectibles. At these shows you have dozens (or even hundreds) of dealers in one place during one weekend and you can shop for the best offer.

    Since hundreds (or thousands) of individual buyers are also at these shows, dealers also get many “want list” requests at the show, so there’s a good chance one or more dealers might have an immediate need for the item(s) you’re trying to sell.

    The only downside to trying this is that you usually need to have a pretty good idea (research!) how much your collectible is worth. With coins (and probably with other collectibles), the seller is expected to name the offering price, which the buyer (dealer in this case) can accept, reject, or counteroffer. So if you don’t know what your collectible is worth, using this method you might wind up selling your item for far less than you could have gotten, or dealers will think you’re expecting the moon or you’re nuts. You might try going around the room, starting with the highest price you hope to get, and adjusting downward as you go along.

    With most of the more popular collectibles, most people will find a show within a two-hour drive every three months or so, or once a year at worst.

    With thimbles, I have no idea, but I’m guessing there’s a national event every year, probably 2,000 miles away.

    One more thing, there is also a seasonal factor in these shows, so if you live in a warm-weather area, you can expect more, bigger, and better shows in the winter and fewer in the summer. If you live in a cold-weather area, expect fewer and smaller shows in the winter.

  13. Bellen says:

    Thimbles – I’d contact quilt shops, fabric stores, etc. See if they have any ideas for selling at shows and/or someone who was interested in thimbles. Check ads in sewing & quilting magazines, they also ususally list shows and sometimes ‘looking for’ ads. Research – don’t forget Kovell’s books & website. Best of luck to you.

  14. debtheaven says:

    Has anybody had any experience with stamp collections? My DH collected stamps when he was young (I’m definitely dating us here, lol). Then when he got bored with it, his mom took it up with a vengeance. I have no idea where to start. DH wants to save it for future generations because he thinks it’s valuable.

    It probably is, but when we go, our kids will probably end up paying somebody to get rid of it, or using it in lieu of firewood. If he can’t be bothered to sell his own precious stamp collection, I’m sure our kids won’t be either. It’s not even classified, it’s all in boxes, but there’s tons of it.

    Has anybody ever had any experience with this? I’d appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!

  15. DivaJean says:

    I absolutely agree about finding some internet groups or blogs related to the collection before proceeding.

    I would also be following eBay- especially at this time of year- to find prices for thimbles of similar subject matter and quality. See what the trending prices are and get some idea of what you’ve got. You can begin to sort the thimbles a bit from this- I would pick three catagories for ease: common, middle of the road, and rare. Think of potential ways to group the thimbles that make sense for easier selling. The prviewing of eBay should give you ideas on how this seems to work.

    If you have not sold on eBay before, I would not not start. I would first consider selling thru collector groups that are out there- many offer free posting when you join the group. Otherwise, I would definately consider going to a consignment seller. But you really need to be armed with the knowledge of what prics you can expect- otherwise, they can be just as clueless. Discuss your findings from eBay and the collector groups you’ve been viewing- they might have more information to offer into the mix.

    I am just SO thankful that my Mom took it upon herself a few years back to unload the extensive puzzle collection she had. When all was said and done, she sold over 500 puzzles (mostly Springbok) and has had the enjoyment of the extra money for herself. There is no way I would have had the knowledge to sell them and get top dollar like she did. Since it was something nearer and dearer to her, she knew the price ranges for each and every puzzle.

  16. Macinac says:

    Wow! Imagine the money and intellectual energy wasted on “collectibles”!

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