Prior to the twentieth century, collectors and collections were the province of persons of means. Wealthy jet-setters—even before the invention of jet planes—collected things of quality, rarity, and awe-inspiring beauty (translation: things that cost a lot of money). The affluent, influential folks in society adorned their stately mansions with fine art, exquisite musical instruments, ancient coins, uncommon books, and porcelain pots and vases from faraway dynasties with funny names. There were no Pokémon cards in John D. Rockefeller's desk drawers; no comic books resting on Andrew Carnegie's laundry hamper; and no Dreamsicles collector plates hanging in Cornelius Vanderbilt's study.
Our forebears, the Common Man and Woman collector, arrived on the scene sometime in the early twentieth century, the children of the Industrial Revolution and its cumbersome new machinery. Put quite simply: Mass production of lots and lots of things placed lots and lots of things in the hands of lots and lots of people. With more and more stuff winding its way through assembly lines, more and more commercial promotions were targeted at the lower classes, offering items at prices they could afford. The end result: Collecting things beyond butterflies, rocks, and autumn leaves, were possible for everyone, regardless of net worth.
The breadth of the collectible realm is massive. Within each collectible field, there are, of course, prized items in great demand that are trading in the big-money stratosphere. A movie poster from the 1934 film Three Little Pigskins, starring the Three Stooges and Lucille Ball (in her first movie billing), fetched $96,000 in a recent Sotheby's auction. A movie poster from the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt, on the other hand, is pulling in less than the cost of a movie ticket. Yes, it's true: The vast majority of collectibles and memorabilia, beyond the considerable sentimental value they offer for their respective owners, are not commanding mega-dollars in the marketplace.
It's a collector's world out there. In many ways, it always has been. Oh sure, the world has changed a wee bit over time—or hadn't you noticed? There were no Bubonic Plague series collector cards for kids to swap in the fourteenth century. George Washington's wooden dentures
didn't find themselves on the auction block of an early American equivalent of Sotheby's. Still, don't be surprised to learn someday, courtesy of an archeological dig, that the Cro-Magnon man collected artifacts of his primitive predecessor, the Neanderthal man, and proudly mounted them on the wall of the humble cave he called home.
It's the nature of the beast. The human animal was born to collect things. We just can't help ourselves. It's as instinctual as finding our next meal or coming in out of the rain. In reality, we are not far removed from the pack rat on the evolutionary scale, accumulating with abandon everything from empty grocery bags to bakery box string to burned out Christmas light bulbs. Rummage through Grandma's desk drawer sometime, or look in Uncle Joe's hall closet—with their permission, of course. You might very well be dumbfounded at the spectacle of what they've collected through the years—and I'm not talking about their cash stash (that's for another book).
Fortunately though, millions of us collect things of greater value—esthetically, sentimentally, and yes, monetarily—than the aforementioned fragments of everyday living. It's for these varied souls—be they collectors of baseball cards, stamps, coins, autographs, dolls, figurines, political buttons, comic books, beer steins, bobbing heads, postcards, books, records, ceramics, jewelry, or a thousand other things—that this book was written.
As a user-friendly primer, the book will introduce you to the brave new world of collecting and collectibles. It will assist you, whether you are a new or seasoned collector, in getting the most out of your collecting experience.
To maximize the pleasures of collecting something—anything—you need to achieve a higher education in your collector field, while fully understanding the ins and outs of the overall collectibles environment. You need to become aware of the unpredictable flights of fancy of the always-fickle collectible marketplace. After all, you deserve to get the most bang for your buck while you're pursuing your hobby, whether it be in the sheer pleasure of adding an item to your collection or in watching it appreciate in value.
Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” There are plenty of forks in the collectible world's roads. The more you know, the more right and proper turns you'll make. And the happier you'll be.