Collecting categories for investment-minded buyers

A copy of Detective Comics #27, May 1939, marking the debut of Batman, achieved $482,435 + the buyer’s premium in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK – In uncertain times there are certain types of antiques and collectibles that investors like to have in their portfolios as a hedge against market volatility. Like the stock market, the antiques market offers no guarantees on your investment, but there are some collecting categories that have tended to appreciate consistently over time. Remember: Buying an item for the pleasure it brings rather than its investment potential remains the advisable way to collect, but if you’re intent on rolling the dice and buying in hopes that an item will go up in value, make sure you buy the very best example of that item that you can afford. If you follow that rule, it’s unlikely you will ever be sorry. If the item’s value increases, you’ll be happy; if it doesn’t, you’ll still have something in your home that you can enjoy.

Not every item is investment grade, and it takes deep knowledge to separate the wheat from the chaff and buy with confidence. Among the categories generally considered to be investment grade are: coins, sports memorabilia, fine art, Gold and Silver Age comic books, and first-edition books. Over the long run, these items have risen in value and will cost several times more today to acquire than a decade earlier. Rarity, condition and quality of craftsmanship will continue to be the factors affecting their value.

Action Comics No. 1 featuring the first appearance of Superman. The Stephen A. Geppi Collection. Image courtesy of Mr. Geppi

Comic books

The Golden Age (late 1930s-1950s) and Silver Age (circa 1956-1970) of comics produced blue-chips like Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman (shown directly above) and Detective Comics #27 (shown at top of page), featuring Batman’s debut. “Those are the top two books from the Golden Age (or any era),” said Alex Winter, president of Hake’s Auctions in York, Pennsylvania. Marvel Comics are strong in the Silver Age with such desirable issues as Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man debut), Incredible Hulk #1 and Fantastic Four #1. “First issues and first appearances of characters are paramount when it comes to value. If all of these factors are present, a key issue and in high grade, the sky’s the limit to value,” Winter said.

A 1925-S Buffalo nickel brought $800,305 + the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Photo courtesy of Pacific Global Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Coins

From 1850 silver dollars to Indian peace medals, coins are big business. Not only is numismatics a fun hobby, it can also lead to big profits through wise buying. Before buying, collectors should l take care to learn everything they can about coins of interest from their size, shape and heft to their date of issue and those odd details that make them particularly rare or desirable. A coin can be scarce because it was recalled or if something unexpected caused it to be minted in low numbers. A mid-19th-century yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans affected the production of certain coins struck at that city’s U.S. Mint, making them very rare. A 20th-century gem, a 1913 Liberty Head nickel — named the Eliasberg Liberty Head nickel in homage to a previous owner, financier Louis E. Eliasberg — was sold by Stack’s Bowers Galleries in 2018 for $4.5 million. The firm noted on its website that their example was the finest graded example of the five that were made. Two of the five are held in museums.

A Jean-Michel Basquiat mixed media artwork made $1.1 million + the buyer’s premium in December 2015. Photo courtesy of Miami Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

 Fine art

In recent years, the art market has been driven largely by postwar and contemporary art from marquee artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Baquiat, Keith Haring and Cy Twombly. According to an Artnet article, about two dozen artists account for just about half of all contemporary art auction sales. Collectors are always on the lookout for the next big thing, however, and there are several up-and-coming contemporary artists whose work is increasing in value. In particular, investors are focusing on street artists, from the better-known Banksy and Shepard Fairey to the rising stars like Vhils and John Matos (aka Crash). If you can’t afford a particular artist’s original art, look for low-numbered prints from their better editions. Educate yourself by following auctions and prices realized on LiveAuctioneers. That’s where you can identify the big names of tomorrow and buy their art at today’s prices.

A 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente #164 rookie baseball card, graded a high 9 Mint rating by the PSA, earned $400,000 + the buyer’s premium in February 2016. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Sports

Sports memorabilia from trading cards to game-worn jerseys or equipment that once belonged to the likes of Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle or LeBron James are consistent auction stars whenever rare examples cross the auction block. The gold standard for baseball cards, of course, is Honus Wagner. In October 2020, a rare T-206 card depicting the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop sold at Goldin Auctions for more than $1.4 million, setting a world record auction price for the card. A Cleveland Cavaliers uniform game-worn by LeBron James in the 2006 season sold for $30,000 + the buyer’s premium at Julien’s Auctions in November 2019.

A first edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sold for £125,000 ($155,498) in June 2020. Photo courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers

First editions

A first edition refers to the run of books made from the first printing. There are two main collecting classes: first editions published before 1900, and modern first editions, referring to books printed after 1900. An example of a pre-1900 first edition that netted a big payday for its consignor was Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, which fetched $250,000 + the buyer’s premium in a March 2017 auction conducted by Arader Galleries. Modern first editions are usually printed in larger quantities than their earlier first-edition counterparts, so they are not typically rare, however smaller-run titles have achieved six-figure sums at auction. British first editions of J.K. Rowling’s first book in the Harry Potter series — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — set the bar high in contemporary publishing. Given that only 500 copies were printed initially, demand runs high for this title, which is considered a modern classic. Lyon & Turnbull sold a first edition of Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June 2020 for £125,000 ($155,498).

Other categories that are popular with investment collectors are classic cars, rare watches, vintage wines, and historical manuscripts and documents. Entertainment memorabilia, including costumes, autographed items, handwritten song lyrics, guitars, props from films or TV series, is another category that attracts a large following amongst collectors. As always, it is advisable when buying autographed celebrity material to purchase from trustworthy auction houses as opposed to sources that do not provide certification from industry-acknowledged experts.

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