about collectables and their alleged collectability and value

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 min­utes.

BUYERS AND SELLERS of collectables—whether records or mem­o­ra­bilia or Beanie Babies—often fail to achieve their goals of fi­nan­cial suc­cess be­cause they do not un­der­stand a few basic concepts on determining col­lec­tability and value of the “seldom found.” Be­cause this a record col­lec­tors web­site, I will gen­er­ally refer to records below, but you can sub­sti­tute al­most any other col­lec­table and the com­ments re­main vir­tu­ally un­changed. 1

But first, here are some de­f­i­n­i­tions of col­lec­table (or col­lectible): “suit­able for being col­lected” is Merriam-Webster On­line’s of­fering. It is point­less and tells us nothing.

Wikipedia of­fers a better de­f­i­n­i­tion: “A col­lec­table or col­lectible (aka col­lec­tor’s item) is any ob­ject re­garded as being of value or in­terest to a col­lector (not nec­es­sarily mon­e­tarily valu­able or antique).


A col­lec­table is any ob­ject that a few people want to pos­sess and are willing to pay for the priv­i­lege of owning it.


There are nu­merous types of col­lec­tables and terms to de­note those types; here are three of the most basic types:

  An an­tique is a col­lec­table that is old. 

  A curio is a small, usu­ally fas­ci­nating or un­usual item sought after by collectors. 

  A man­u­fac­tured col­lec­table is an item made specif­i­cally for people to collect.

Al­though col­lec­table is the spelling listed first for the ad­jec­tive by the Ox­ford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary and is stan­dard spelling in British Eng­lish, the dic­tio­nary ob­serves that [col­lectible] is also valid and this has come to be the common spelling in the United States.”

“A man­u­fac­tured col­lec­table is an item made specif­i­cally for people to col­lect. The terms spe­cial edi­tion, lim­ited edi­tion, and vari­ants such as deluxe edi­tion, col­lec­tor’s edi­tion, and others fall under the cat­e­gory of man­u­fac­tured col­lec­table and are used as a mar­keting in­cen­tive for var­ious kinds of prod­ucts.” (Wikipedia)


Beatles bobbleheads nobox 1000

That’s a set of four Bea­tles bob­ble­head dolls from 1964. The most col­lec­table and valu­able rock & roll nov­el­ties are those of Elvis Presley 1956-1957 and those of the Bea­tles 1964-1965. And nothing was held back: the man­u­fac­turers of this junk kept the ma­chines on, cranking out as many pieces as the market could bear!

The kitsch factor

On the About.com web­site, there is an ar­ticle ti­tled “Col­lectibles De­f­i­n­i­tion: What is a Col­lectible?” by Pamela Wig­gins. In it, she asks the ques­tion, “What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween an­tique and col­lectible?” She then answers:

“Some people say age and others use the kitsch factor to sep­a­rate an­tiques from col­lectibles. If you use the US Cus­toms Ser­vice de­f­i­n­i­tion, an an­tique is 100 years old or more.

By my de­f­i­n­i­tion, how­ever, items made prior to the early 1920s when styles dis­tinctly changed from flowing and frilly to more modern and an­gular are an­tiques and ob­jects made after that time are collectibles.”

So, sum­ming them up, a col­lec­table is any ob­ject that holds the in­terest of more than a few people, each of whom wants to pos­sess and own that thing/object and are willing to pay for that privilege.


Elvis whiskey bottles 600

Fol­lowing Elvis Pres­ley’s death in Au­gust 1977, an enor­mous market for “col­lec­tables” most of it reeking of kitsch emerged and was fed a vast array of items that would never have been as­so­ci­ated with Elvis during his life. Such as these in­cred­ibly tacky whiskey de­canters by Mc­Cormick. Few of these items have achieved any value as col­lec­tables; in fact, many of them are worth less now than they were when pur­chased new! 2

Parameters that define a collectable

It is para­mount that you un­der­stand that a col­lec­table is de­fined by a va­riety of factors:


How many col­lec­tors want it NOW is the most im­por­tant as­pect of de­ter­mining col­lec­tability. The longer that NOW lasts—that is, the longer that the de­mand lasts over a pe­riod of time—the more mean­ingful that de­mand be­comes in de­ter­mining both col­lec­tability (and some­times, ac­tual rarity) and value.

Without de­mand, there is no prac­tical need to know any­thing else about the record (in the sense of buying and selling and de­ter­mining value). There is no eco­nomic in­cen­tive to know its con­di­tion, avail­ability, etc.


How many copies are cur­rently known to exist in the hands of col­lec­tors and sellers? Fig­ures for ac­tual sup­plies will al­ways be es­ti­ma­tions be­cause no one knows what’s in the hands of people not ac­tively in­volved in record collecting.

This is a use­less point when it comes to re­ally rare records: the like­li­hood that a non-record col­lector would own a rare R&B 45 or pri­vately pressed punk/psych LP is rather unlikely.


How many are avail­able for sale at any given mo­ment. That is, if a record is valued at $300, and you go run­ning around from store to store, from record show to record shows, of­fering $500 for a copy and no one has it, what is it worth to you at that moment?

The ad­ver­tise­ments on eBay have been a great re­vealer of just how common records are—records that ap­pear in price guides for $4-12 may not sell on eBay for 99 cents min­imum bid! Records in price guides listed at $750 may sell for $2,000 every time they pop up in NM—which is per­haps once a year.


MeetTheBeatles mono

Capitol 2047, MEET THE BEATLES, sold al­most 5,000,000 copies in the US in its first two years in print 1964-1965. Given the market, the ma­jority of those copies were prob­ably mono, meaning as many as 3,000,000 copies of T-2047 were sold in those two years and it kept on selling. Meaning it may be the most common mono album in the world! Nonethe­less, finding a copy in VG and one in NM can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween a record worth $10-20 and one worth $100-200. Be­cause the con­di­tion is the major factor, not the rarity.

Condition! condition!! condition!!!

The mantra in the real es­tate busi­ness if Lo­ca­tion! Lo­ca­tion! Lo­ca­tion! Then the mantra in the fields of col­lec­tables should be Con­di­tion! Con­di­tion! Con­di­tion! After the de­mand and the supply are ac­counted for, the as­signed value of a col­lec­table or its asking price is usu­ally de­ter­mined by its condition.

Condition—and to a lesser ex­tent, age—are sec­ondary in defining col­lec­tability. Al­though, in some few fields con­di­tion has a dif­ferent meaning: for in­stance, in col­lecting rare blues records from the pre-WWII era, finding any copy in any­thing ap­proaching col­lec­table con­di­tion (and here I mean VG or better) can be impossible.

Most of these records were pur­chased by poor black music lovers, han­dled poorly, and played on old, beat-up record players, often with nee­dles well past the point where they were sharp and not doing damage to the record on each play.

In this case, a blues 78 could be rel­a­tively common in well-played (over-played?) con­di­tion but not known to exist in NM con­di­tion. So, in that case, the con­di­tion would de­fine the rarity, yes? No?

Con­di­tion does play a HUGE part in es­tab­lishing a value for any collectable.


BeanieBabies PrincessBear Diana

The Beanie Ba­bies phe­nom­enon of the ’90s was per­haps the greatest ex­ample of a bla­tantly man­u­fac­tured col­lec­table be­coming a na­tional ob­ses­sion with non-collectors in cul­tural his­tory. Still, rare and valu­able beanie ba­bies exist: the Princess bear was cre­ated as a way to help people re­member Diana, Princess of Wales after her un­timely passing. A very small number were made with PVC in­stead of PE pel­lets and of those, an even smaller number had a dis­crep­ancy in the tag where the lines had an ad­di­tional space be­tween them. The ver­sion with the PE pel­lets sells for al­most nothing, while the ver­sions with PVC pel­lets and with the spaces can bring some se­rious money. That isn’t to say the PVC with no space is worth nothing, it’s just not worth quite as much as the rarest ver­sion: in March of 2018, a PVC ver­sion without the space sold on eBay for $22,222! This bear also has a bad habit of being coun­ter­feited be­cause of her value.” (Gemr)

The seldom found this or that

An ar­ticle ti­tled “Eco­nomics Ba­sics: Supply and De­mand” on the In­vesto­pedia web­site states, “Supply and de­mand is per­haps one of the most fun­da­mental con­cepts of eco­nomics and it is the back­bone of a market economy.” They continue:

De­mand refers to how much (quan­tity) of a product or ser­vice is de­sired by buyers. The quan­tity de­manded is the amount of a product people are willing to buy at a cer­tain price; the re­la­tion­ship be­tween price and quan­tity de­manded is known as the de­mand relationship.

Supply rep­re­sents how much the market can offer. The quan­tity sup­plied refers to the amount of a cer­tain good pro­ducers are willing to supply when re­ceiving a cer­tain price.

The cor­re­la­tion be­tween price and how much of a good or ser­vice is sup­plied to the market is known as the supply re­la­tion­ship. Price, there­fore, is a re­flec­tion of supply and demand.”


The word ‘rare’ gets bandied about so often in any field of col­lec­tables that it’s al­most mean­ing­less! But it does have a meaning: ‘seldom found.’


Wikipedia lists four basic laws of supply and de­mand that have some rel­e­vance to collectables:

1.  If de­mand in­creases and supply re­mains un­changed, a shortage oc­curs, leading to a higher equi­lib­rium price. 

2. If de­mand de­creases and supply re­mains un­changed, a sur­plus oc­curs, leading to a lower equi­lib­rium price. 

3. If de­mand re­mains un­changed and supply in­creases, a sur­plus oc­curs, leading to a lower equi­lib­rium price. 

4. If de­mand re­mains un­changed and supply de­creases, a shortage oc­curs, leading to a higher equi­lib­rium price.


KenGriffeyJr rookiecard 1989 Topps 300

I was going to use this Topps 1989 Ken Griffey Jr rookie card to make some kind of state­ment about in­vesting in base­ball cards and the card collecting/investing craze of some twenty-some years ago, but I re­al­ized that the last time I un­der­stood col­lecting base­ball cards was in the ’60s. Today, there are a hun­dred grades for a card and a card that is ab­solutely per­fect is pe­nal­ized if the bor­ders around the pic­ture are off by a frac­tion on any side. As Bill Haley so aptly put it, “Crazy, man. Crazy.” So I won’t be saying any­thing about base­ball cards today.

Why rarity is often unimportant

The word rare gets bandied about with such fre­quency in any field of col­lec­tables that its re­dun­dancy makes it an al­most mean­ing­less word! But it does have a meaning: Merriam-Webster’s third de­f­i­n­i­tion is the one that is ap­plic­able to this ar­ticle, and it de­fines rare as “seldom oc­cur­ring or found; uncommon.”

Which tells us the obvious.

The Google dic­tio­nary says that it “not oc­cur­ring very often.”

The second de­f­i­n­i­tion of rare at Dictionary.com is “thinly dis­trib­uted over an area; few and widely sep­a­rated.” The other de­f­i­n­i­tions they offer are ir­rel­e­vant to this essay.

I went to the trouble of searching out these de­f­i­n­i­tions to give the reader an op­por­tu­nity to see that the term rare can be some­what nebulous.

Rare has no nu­mer­ical value; in col­lecting, it’s relative.


Bil­lions of records have been man­u­fac­tured, the over­whelming ma­jority met with little com­mer­cial suc­cess. Just as no one wanted them then, no one wants them now.


With a record that is highly sought after and rather rare, the ‘rarity’ nat­u­rally boosts the value of that record. But that is not only not al­ways the case, it may rarely be the case.

Bil­lions of records have been man­u­fac­tured over the past hun­dred years; the over­whelming ma­jority met with little com­mer­cial success.

A first, mi­nus­cule printing was done with count­less records and when it didn’t sell, it was for­gotten, de­stroyed, tossed into dump­sters. Making many a record very rare indeed.

But, just as no one wanted them THEN, no one wants them NOW! Hence, there are count­less re­ally rare records that still have no value be­cause they are not collectable.


Elvis Sun209 co.sleeve

Sam Philips did not use com­pany sleeves (or fac­tory sleeves or man­u­fac­tur­er’s sleeves) until 1957. So any Elvis Sun 45 with such a sleeve was put to­gether after the fact, often by a dealer to make the record more en­ticing. Unau­tho­rized re­pro­duc­tions of these sleeves have been around for­ever; au­tho­rized re­pro­duc­tions are still being man­u­fac­tured and sold online. 

Are there rare Elvis or Beatles records?

Let me use as an ex­ample the two biggest record sellers of all time: Elvis and the Bea­tles. With a few ex­cep­tions for both artists, it would be in­ac­cu­rate to de­scribe any com­mer­cially is­sued record in the US by ei­ther to be rare.

There are some, but most Elvis and Bea­tles rar­i­ties are label vari­a­tions or printing and pressing er­rors. Even the worse selling ti­tles by these two artists still sold tens of thou­sands of copies. Hardly what one would con­sider rare, yes?

There are rare Elvis and Bea­tles records, but most of them are of a pro­mo­tional nature.

Elvis leg­endary Sun sides are gen­er­ally ac­com­pa­nied by the word rare. The ac­tual sales fig­ures for those records were clouded in ob­scu­rity and second-guessing for decades. Ru­mors than total sales had sur­passed 200,000 for the five records by the time RCA Victor signed Elvis in No­vember 1955 have been around for a long time.

Given the re­cent RIAA Gold Records awarded to Sun 209, That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Ken­tucky (in 2004), and Sun 210, Good Rockin’ Tonight / I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine (in 2005), would seem to in­di­cate that the 200,000 number may be rather con­ser­v­a­tive. 3

Someone once said

Someone once fa­mous once said, “One man’s trash is an­other man’s treasure.”

Someone less fa­mous said, “Kitsch is kitsch, no matter how you dis­play it.”

Sellers of col­lec­tables often fail be­cause they don’t un­der­stand basic con­cepts on de­ter­mining col­lec­tability and value. Click To Tweet

BeanieBabies 1 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is ...Beanie Ba­bies! Made to be col­lected, with lim­ited edi­tions and un­lim­ited pro­mo­tion, these items at­tract col­lec­tors that have never col­lected be­fore. They at­tract people who are clue­less as to why and how col­lec­tability is built over time, not man­u­fac­tured in no time. Vir­tu­ally all such col­lec­tables end up a waste of time and money as investments.

This ar­ticle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in 2013 as “On De­ter­mining Col­lec­tability Value Rather Rare Records.” The un­gainly title is based on my be­lief that I had to con­struct ti­tles that fit cer­tain SEO pa­ra­me­ters, ex­cept I didn’t un­der­stand SEO.


1   This ar­ticle was orig­i­nally pub­lished on No­vember 11, 2013. I have learned so much about Word­Press and pre­sen­ta­tion and adding im­ages that I thought this could use a make-over. And it looks and reads so different—and had such a gaw­dawful permalink—that I have re­pub­lished it here with an al­tered title and new fea­tured image, among other things.

2   “Kitsch is ‘the ab­solute de­nial of shit, in both the lit­eral and the fig­u­ra­tive senses of the word; kitsch ex­cludes every­thing from its purview which is es­sen­tially un­ac­cept­able in human ex­is­tence.’” (Milan Kun­dera)

3   Few records have been more bru­tal­ized by the blind-leading-the-blind par­a­digm that is 90% of the web­sites in the world that men­tion records. Com­bine the fact that there are mul­tiple press­ings of each of the five Sun records with the mul­tiple re­pro­duc­tions or coun­ter­feits of each of the records and you have a BIG problem.

Add the fact that most sellers on the In­ternet are even stu­pider about grading 5645s than they are LPs (didn’t think that was pos­sible, did you?), and Elvis Sun 45s can seem like they have suf­fered as col­lec­tables lately.

Hah! If you want an orig­inal Mem­phis pressing in near mint con­di­tion, forget finding a ‘bar­gain’ on eBay. Go to an es­tab­lished, knowl­edge­able, rep­utable dealers and pay the real market value for one of these gems . . .


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