American Pickers, Canadian Pickers, Picker Sisters and Down East Dickering are just some of the shows on television involving a pair of humans showing up on an unsuspecting stranger's front porch asking to see stuff in their garage that they might be able to make money off of.
The fantasy is that unassuming piece of junk sitting just to the right of your car gathering dust is actually worth hundreds of dollars and in demand from collectors. Most of the time, it never gets beyond the fantasy, but every so often, your junk is actually picker-worthy and would probably be snapped up by Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz (American Pickers) from Antique Archeology in a second.
So how can you make sure that actually happens? Here are a number of surefire ways to tell if your junk is worth money, attracting pickers and their cash from all across the land.
We’re all trying to recapture our childhoods, so toys are always a potentially valuable item. With those who grew up in the 80s and 90s now adults, first generation retro toys from popular franchises from that era like G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are extremely hot. In package, all four of the turtles are going for $120.00 on eBay.
Even hotter are toys from the 60s and 70s, particularly from popular franchises like Dukes of Hazzard, Star Wars or The Monkees and it’s not limited to figures. Painted lunchboxes, vehicles and other original merchandise could be worth money.
However, it all comes down to condition. The better the condition (particularly if it’s still in the package and mint or near mint) the more money you get. Condition grades start at mint or near mint and go down from there to fine and very fine. The more damage, marks or wear on your toys, the less they are worth.
Also, beware of re-issues – new toys made to look like the original toys from when they first came out. These are made for those who wish to recapture their youth, but can’t afford the original toys, so often toymakers will release new versions based on the original sculpts or looks of the older toys. These look nice and are very affordable alternative, but they won’t fetch top dollar among collectors. Instead, always look for originals and look for toys that may have a certain timelessness or sentimental quality.
Fads such as pogs and beanie babies are also popular among collectors. The same goes with anything else that was very popular one moment and at garage sales the next.
Books and Magazines
First editions of popular books known around the world, such as Lord of the Rings and The Hound of the Baskervilles are extremely valuable, but the key to their value isn’t just that they are old, but, as Powell’s Books writes in their Rare Books F.A.Q., it’s because the demand for these rare books is high, but they are all in short supply. So, not only should your book be old, but a popular book with very few available first editions.
But, like toys, what matters here is condition, condition, condition – the more pristine the book, the more valuable it is. Also, the easier it is to establish its authenticity -- maybe it features the year it was published or is signed by the author -- the more valuable it is.
As for magazines, first issues of any popular magazine are always hot sellers (not re-launches, but the literal first issues) and the first appearance of any popular celebrity can get you a mint. Also, look for the first work by world-renowned writers and artists, such as the first appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan in All-Story Magazine (1912).
Stay away from significant newsworthy events, like magazines commemorating The Kennedy Assassination or the swearing in of Barack Obama because if you kept it, chances are other people did too, so there’s bound to be a lot of copies floating around and if something is common, it’s not collectible.
A comic’s collect-ability generally follows the same rules as magazines as well. First issues are generally a safe bet, but they have to feature the debut of a popular or long-running character. Also, look for relaunches here too, as new number ones of a cancelled book that is then restarted are not valuable at all, particularly in modern times.
What you’re looking for are issues of significance, like first appearances or the beginning of a significant storyline with far reaching effects on a comic’s history. Significant deaths, such as the death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #122, are also in demand along with significant storyline events.
The release of a new comic book movie usually sees collectors clamoring for the original comics the movies are based on. The release of Guardians of the Galaxy saw vendors feature the first appearances of Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon as wall books (sold at a higher price point) at comic conventions in the summer of 2014.
Signatures from popular creators on their crowning achievements help, but like all collectibles, condition is what determines value in comics and the better the condition the more it is worth. Of course, hugely rare and significant books in relatively poor condition will still fetch top dollar since there are no longer many of them to be had in the first place.
Graded comics will also fetch higher prices than comics that are loose or stored with bags and boards. These are comics appraised by experts and given a grade based on their condition and then sealed permanently in an archival acrylic well with alkali buffers. They are sold at double or triple the price of the same issue without the treatment because collectors trust the graded appraisal as the standard of the market.
For furniture to be considered valuable it must be old, but not all old furniture is collectible or an antique. CILSS Antiques has a useful guide to determining if furniture is old, saying that sharp corners often indicate recent manufacturing.
It also gives this advice: “If the upholstery is not original, lift one edge: the antique chair rail to check for the innumerable nail holes which, to a trained eye, are the reassuring sign of many re-upholsterings over the course of a long life” – along with many other fine points.
Once age is established, a piece’s value is determined based on four criteria: rarity, provenance, quality and condition. Patina, colour and finish are important as well, but these elements play a secondary role. The more ornate the design of the furniture, the higher the value as well.
Stay away from repainted or refinished old furniture, as re-painting and re-sanding decreases value. Replaced glass mirrors also decrease the value of furniture with a mirror. Look for more versatile pieces that can be used in modern homes – oversize pieces too large to fit through doors are impractical and unattractive to buyers. Original upholstery also is a good sign on chairs if it’s in good condition.
And the List Goes On…
There are countless other categories of potential collectibles that any picker would salivate over and could be gathering dust in your garage, so perhaps Bargainmoose may cover other antiques in a similar fashion in a future installment of this article.
Photo credit: Dandy Denial