History lovers and avid collectors have helped preserve pieces of the past through their own collections. Often these collections are labors of love that have been carefully curated over years. They usually start with a single piece that was discovered by chance or an heirloom handed down by a family member.
That’s often all it takes to spark an interest in collecting historically significant items. It can be addictive, thrilling and disappointing at times. When you’re just beginning a collection, it’s important to keep a few best practices in mind before you begin buying and selling.
Find Reputable Dealers
Whether you are buying or selling, you’ll only want to work with curators who have an excellent track record of authenticity and fair dealing. One way to determine if a dealer is reputable is by looking at their list of past clients. For example, the Raab Collection is a highly respected curator that has worked with the Library of Congress and the descendants of past presidents.
Before reaching out to a dealer, it’s worth your time to research them online. Despite what you see on the television show Pawn Stars, pawnshops aren’t usually the best source for authentic items with historical value. Antique shops are also hit and miss most of the time.
Working With Individuals and Other Collectors
eBay has added a lot more sellers to the collectibles market. On any given day you can find thousands of items listed as “historical memorabilia”. Many of them are offering genuine pieces, but there are also a lot of scammers looking to make a quick buck.
If you’re buying from an individual ask them for credentials and proof of authenticity. In the event they don’t have documentation, ask the seller if you can get the item examined by a professional. If they don’t agree it’s best to bypass buying because there’s no way of knowing if it will actually bring value to your collection.
Research the Real Value
There’s a good chance you know all about the backstory of the historical items you collect. But one thing that collectors sometimes fail to research is the retail and fair market value.
It’s easy to automatically think something you hold in high regard has significant value, but that’s not always the case. Like many other commodities, the value of collectibles is fluid. It goes up and down depending on demand.
Baseball cards are an excellent example of this. Steroid scandals have lowered memorabilia value for many players that once brought in top dollar. Some dealers have noted that scandals can cause sports memorabilia to plummet by as much as 90%. Savvy collectors understand they have to stay on top of the market and constantly research to know when to buy and when to sell to improve the value of their collection.
Always Get Appraisals
Before buying or selling an item, especially a high-priced or rare piece, have it appraised if possible. But there are a few rules when it comes to choosing an appraiser.
· Don’t use an appraiser with an active interest in buying what you have to sell. There’s a conflict of interest that could cause unscrupulous appraisers to low ball the value.
· Do use an expert for your specific collectible. Appraisers each have their own specialty so you’ll want someone who works with your particular items.
· Only use certified appraisers. You can find them at the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers.
· Don’t use an appraiser who charges a fee based on a percentage of the value. Again, this is a conflict of interest that could cause them to artificially inflate the value of your collection.
· Always get an official report that states the value, a description of the item and how the value was determined.
Some dealers, like the Raab Collection, can help collectors authenticate and appraise items. They can also work with collectors to help them build collections every step of the way.
Protect Your Investments
One of the most important aspects of collecting is preserving the items you acquire. The value of historical documents, coins, and even toys often lies in their condition. Safeguarding photographs and documents is extremely important, because these items can easily be damaged just from air and sunlight.
You’ll also need a way to securely store historical collectibles. Many collectors choose to keep high-priced items in a locked display case or a safe. Having the items under lock and key means you have full control over their handling.
You may also want to consider insuring your collection. Most mainstream insurers like USAA can help you obtain what’s known as collectibles insurance. It’s designed to provide specific coverage that protects valuable items better than a standard homeowners insurance policy. It will cost a little extra every month, but the peace of mind is worth every penny.