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Eclectic Currents: Collectibles hobby enjoying a resurgence of new buyers

In the Sept. 3, 2014 cover story, Eric Bradley reveals the hottest collecting trends for 2015 in his newest edition of Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide.

By Eric Bradley

The Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide is a book entirely devoted to making you a better collector. As the No. 1 selling reference book of its kind, this big volume is overflowing with a broad range of items collected today – and each entry is illustrated with a full-color photograph to help you know what you’re looking at. If you’re

Receive free standard shipping to U.S. addresses, when you order this new edition, from our online store, by Oct. 3, 2014 and use Discount Code AT15.

Receive free standard shipping to U.S. addresses, when you order this new edition, from our online store, by Oct. 3, 2014 and use Discount Code AT15.

new to collectibles, your curiosity piqued after catching the latest episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” “American Pickers” or “Pawn Stars,” then you’ve come to the right place.

There’s no telling what precious objects might appeal to collectors. From carnival glass to firearms, kitchenware to quilts, every year we scan the spectrum of the hobby for examples of the most popular collectibles trading hands.

This year’s book is overflowing with color photographs to help you focus your collecting interests or teach you something new about the things you already own. The art and objects collectors are interested in changes over time, and these trends are influenced by several factors. Condition aside, the more unusual something is, it seems there is no end to the prices some collectors are willing to pay for it. A few trends surfaced during the last year, and we were surprised to see the number of categories on the move.

From our vantage point, the collectibles hobby is certainly seeing an exciting resurgence of new buyers and those curious about what they already own or have inherited.
Here are our annual picks of some of the hottest areas in the hobby:

• Regional U.S. paintings
• Advertising signs in all condition
• Vintage Colt pistols
• Americana
• Fine and contemporary art by well-known artists
• Celebrity memorabilia
• Sports memorabilia
• Jewelry (especially large colored diamonds and gemstones)
• First edition children’s books (signed first editions even more so)
• Scientific models and instruments
• Pre-1970 comics in excellent condition
• Abraham Lincoln memorabilia
• U.S. coins
• Curiosities or vintage objects that defy classification

These picks are influenced by a number of conditions, but last year three important factors rose to the surface as the chief influence behind auction prices:

Brass propeller anemometer

Brass propeller anemometer, airplane form with aluminum propeller, mounted to allow 360 degree rotation, tail to keep propeller pointed into wind, on heavy mounting plate with seven electrical connections, 30” h. Anemometers are also known as aerovanes as they tell both wind speed and direction from one unit, $923. (Photo courtesy Skinner, Inc.;

Fresh to Market Makes a Difference

Collectors love a chance to be the first to tap into a collection, even if the collection has been fabled in story and song for many decades. Privately held, single-owner collections are commanding strong prices. When these collections come to market, collectors acutely feel the double-edge sword. Although it’s troubling to realize these massive, carefully curated collections may likely never be assembled again, it’s gratifying to see other collectors enjoy rare objects for the first time in decades. Perhaps that’s why prices realized for these collections are on the climb.

“One-of-a-Kind” Means More Now Than Ever Before

Unique items are more highly sought after than ever. The term “rare” is bandied about these days with little care to its accuracy. Most of the time, the term “rare” is used to describe an item of which no more than 10 examples are known to exist. Dedicated collectors know rare when they see it, and they show plenty of enthusiasm when such an object is discovered at a show, shop, flea market, or auction. Several indicators show this trend has no intention of slowing.

This “best or nothing” mentality at the top of the market has introduced new pressure on buyers, but sellers must tread carefully as well. Collectors who are ready to sell should thoughtfully study prices realized across a variety of platforms to best decide where and how to dispose of a collection.

Condition is Still King

With the exception of advertising signs, it seems condition is the No. 1 arbiter of value. Even a common collectible in near-mint to mint condition demands a higher price on the market these days. Serious collectors have picked a side in the “quantity vs. quality” debate, and quality won out.

This doesn’t mean you should never consider purchasing an item in excellent to very

Vintage advertising sign

Early cardboard hanger sign on heavy cardstock for A No.1 Co. Chocolate Brownies penny candies, with images of Palmer Cox Brownie characters, excellent condition, 8-3/8” h. x 8-1/2” w., $1,000. (Photo courtesy William Morford Investment Grade Collectibles)

good condition. Just know that your resale price may be closer to what you paid the first time around, rather than the windfalls you see on reality TV shows. Top-shelf collectors are willing to pay what it takes to own the prime examples and this is something to keep in mind when you’re ready to make big purchases: Buy the best you can afford.

While all these factors affect what people sell, dealers, auctioneers, and shop owners are changing how people collect. It’s easier than ever to start a collection or sell what you’ve got, and this means a host of new services to help. Here are three major developments from the past year:

1. eBay’s new mobile app has revolutionized the auction service provider, making it easier than ever to snap a photo, type a description and post an item for sale from anywhere in the world. This in turn has encouraged auctioneers and other auction service providers to embrace mobile computing as the new frontier in collecting.

2. Dealers faced with increased competition have turned their Facebook, email and Instagram accounts into storefronts. An innovative picker I know sends an email filled with photos and brief descriptions of his wares to his customer list every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Few items are priced more than $200 and few items ever appear twice. Adapting emerging technology is a great way dealers are reaching new collectors. Several new services now hold “flash sales” on Facebook pages, in which customers compete in real time to lay claim to an antique posted on the business’ page. Some dealer consortiums are now holding “virtual shows” on their websites to introduce collectors to new and interesting things.

3. Shop owners are re-imagining “quitting time.” The standard Monday-Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 open hours for traditional shops no longer serve working couples juggling demanding careers. Shops are increasingly extending their hours to as late as 9:00 p.m. some evenings. Some offer wine pairings or craft beer samplings to attract customers. A shop owner in Wisconsin reached out to his local library system to host special talks on pop culture collectibles. He also hosts movie screenings at his store or lets shoppers’ children play video games on vintage consoles while parents shop.

Stoneware jar

Stoneware jar, circa 1825, salt-glazed, James Miller (active 1797-1827), Alexandria, Virginia or Georgetown, D.C., reversed “3” gallon capacity mark, ovoid form with single incised ring below flanged flat-top rim, slightly arched tab-like handles, crudely beaded foot, brushed and slip-trailed cobalt spread-wing shield-breast Federal eagle decoration on one side, additional cobalt across top of handles, 12-1/4” h. x 7-1/4” dia. rim, $75,750. Photo courtesy Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates

Researching before you start collecting and selling is one of the smartest moves you can make for the long-term health of your collection and your pocketbook. Here are a few other tips to consider to start you on your way:

Head out – Visit shops, shows, auctions, and flea markets. Take the time to chat with the clerk behind the counter or the auctioneer behind the podium. Most everyone collects something and you might be surprised at how gratifying it can be to learn something new about your interests.

Join a collecting club – Active clubs issue newsletters filled with practical information on fakes and reproductions as well as offer an instant marketplace for hard-to-find items.

Read, read, read – From pottery and porcelain to Star Wars figures, reference books are available on thousands of topics. Take the time to build a strong reference library and you’ll avoid costly missteps, scams, and dishonest sellers.
And that’s where the Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles 2015 Price Guide comes in. In this year’s edition we’ve expanded and updated the most popular sections and added new ones, too. You’ll notice special attention is drawn to the very best items pursued by collectors as Top Lots! Special features show why some categories are irresistible to collectors.

We’ve also been on the road – like many of you – meeting dealers, auctioneers, collectors, and show managers who gave us the scoop on what’s really happening in the hobby. You’ll see their smiling faces along with their top tips, opinions, and observations under the header “Inside Intel” located in various chapters across this new edition. We hope this helps you get to know the people behind the prices as well as teach you something new about the precious objects you collect.

Editor’s Note:Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles 2015 Price Guide (Retail $22.99) is available for preorder online at, by calling 855-278-0403 (9 a.m.-6 p.m. MDT) or via mail at F+W Media Attn: Orders, 4868 Innovation Dr. Bldg. 2, Fort Collins, CO 80525. If you order your copy by Oct. 3, 2014 and use Discount Code AT15, you'll receive FREE STANDARD SHIPPING to U.S. addresses.

About the author: Eric Bradley is a public relations associate at Heritage Auctions,, the world’s third largest auction house and the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer; editor of Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, America’s No. 1 selling reference book on collectibles; and author of Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff. He is the former editor of Antique Trader magazine and an award-winning investigative journalist with a degree in economics. Bradley’s work has received press from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He served as a featured guest speaker on investing with antiques. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Kelly, and their three children, Patrick, Olivia, and Megan.

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