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Supply and demand determine value of collectibles
"I wonder if it's worth anything."
Those words are spoken whenever a basement, attic, or garage is cleaned and a long-lost treasure surfaces. It may be a box of old baseball cards, a box of old magazines, or a candy dish that Grandma and Grandpa received as a wedding gift and was carefully preserved for several generations.
Sometimes an item may be worth $100 or $200. On rarer occasions, an item may be worth thousands. Oftentimes items are common and not worth the effort to try to sell them into the collectibles market.
Grandma and Grandpa's candy dish may get you a $50 bill, but it's sentimental value to your family may be worth more than the momentary profit from a sale. In that case, pass it on to a young relative who displays an interest in the piece and in family history.
What determines whether an item is valuable? The collectibles marketplace.
Like just about anything in a free-market economy, supply and demand govern the value of collectibles. How many examples of an item exist, and how many people want to own an example of that item? When the latter exceeds the former, an item becomes valuable.
Many people associate an item's age with value. But age alone doesn't make an item valuable.
There are 2,000-year-old coins that can be purchased for a few dollars apiece. Certain types of ancient coins have been salvaged in large numbers from archaeological digs. They can be purchased by the bagful from coin dealers.
These coins are interesting and historical, and their low price makes them a wonderful introduction to coin collecting. But there's an ample supply to meet demand, so their market value belies their age.
Nor is rarity alone a factor in determining value. In recent years, the U.S. Mint has produced some of the lowest-mintage coins in its over 200-year history. These are commemorative coins struck by congressional mandate and sold by the Mint at a premium price as collectibles.
Sales of the coins by law benefit special-interest groups, and they're an easy way for Congress to raise money for a pet project without raising taxes. Collectors have been overwhelmed by the number of different commemorative programs and their dubious place in U.S. coinage tradition and history.
As a result, these coins are lucky to maintain their original issue prices on the secondary market. Despite relative rarity, demand is low. Everybody who wants one has one.
How can you find out if that attic-cleaning find is a treasure or junk? One way is to take it to a collectibles or antiques dealer and ask him or her to appraise it.
If possible, take it to two or three dealers and see if the appraisals vary. Sometimes dealers specialize in a particular category of antiques and may not be familiar with your item.
Or watch this newspaper's listing of community events for an antiques or collectibles show in your area. A show gives you the chance to visit several dealers under one roof. It also gives you the chance to see if there's a like item in one of the dealers' offerings and its asking price.
There are also shows that focus on a particular type of collectible coin shows, stamp shows, baseball-card shows, and so on. These shows feature dealers who specialize in these specific items. It's better to take your coin to a coin show for a look-see than a general antiques show.
Value guides in book and magazine form also provide information on current prices for collectibles.
"A common misperception is that we determine what a collectible should be worth," said Bob Wilhite, a coin market analyst for value-guide publisher Krause Publications of Iola, Wis. "But really what we are doing is reporting market performance."
Wilhite and his fellow collectibles analysts at Krause monitor auction results, trading at shows, and trading on electronic dealer networks, and consult with experts who may specialize in a particular item within a collectible field. They then report a value that best reflects recent market performance for a particular item in a particular condition.
The values reported in these guides are retail prices. These are the approximate prices a collector can expect to pay when purchasing the item from a dealer.
If you decide to sell your item, a dealer will offer you a certain percentage of the retail price listed in the value guide. Like any businessperson, the dealer must mark-up the item to make a profit and stay in business.
Copyright 1997 by Krause Publications. For a free catalog of Krause Publications books or periodicals on collectibles, write Public Relations, Dept. IC, Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001, or visit www.krause.com on the worldwide web.
Congress has authorized a multitude of commemorative coins in recent years, such as this silver dollar marking the Capitol bicentennial. But few of these issues have maintained their value on the secondary market.
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