Collecting: Trash or Treasure?
By KRISTEN STERNBERG
NIE EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT
What do people collect? Just about anything you can name. Stamps, coins, rocks, stuffed animals, art, furniture, butterflies, historic documents, toys and books are just a few of the more well known items popular with collectors. The list may be endless.
Eight year old button collector Robecca smiles as she holds a small fish button, Thursday January 15, 2004, at the Florida State Button Society annual meeting and convention at the Daytona Beach Shores Hilton. (Photo: News-Journal/David Tucker)
What about you – are you a budding collector? Chances are you either already have, or will someday begin, a collection of your own. If so, what will be your reasons? Collectors have different motives. Perhaps they hope to make a profit, taking a chance that the items they own or buy will increase in value with time. Some collect for social reasons – they join clubs to learn more about their hobby and to share their interests with others. Some enjoy researching, cataloging and arranging their collections.
Many collect for sentimental reasons, in order to preserve items for future generations. Photographs and documents such as birth certificates, letters and school report cards, for example, will probably be of great interest to future generations of your family. In most cases, these collections will have more emotional value than monetary value.
How do you know what will become collectible? Will that toy you´ve recently outgrown be worth money someday? Maybe, and maybe not. Certain types of collectibles, for example stamps and coins, have remained popular for a long, long time. There is a fairly steady market for items such as these, and many books have been written to help you identify them and estimate their value. Items of historical significance, like Civil War swords or World War II memorabilia, also tend to increase in value. Sometimes, even mistakes become collectors´ items. There was a printing error that affected the value of some stamps, for instance.
Sometimes fads or crazes inspire people to become collectors. When fads occur, it´s hard to predict whether or not fad items (Beanie Babies, for example, or memorabilia of the 1960s rock group called The Beatles) will increase in value. What something is worth depends entirely on who wants it and what he or she is willing to pay to get it! People who hope to collect for a profit, therefore, make sure they are informed about their subject. They research by reading and talking to others, and try to predict the future value of their collection.
Most appraisers (people who estimate the value of items) will agree that whatever you collect, the better condition it is in, the more value it will probably have someday. In general, although there are exceptions, a doll complete with its original outfit and the box it came in will someday be worth more than it might if it were missing these or other items. Condition also applies to whether or not the item has been broken, or is very dirty or faded. For this reason, collectors of some items such as Barbie dolls have never taken the dolls out of their boxes!
Collecting seems to be gaining in popularity, especially antique collecting.
If you're a collector, your collection probably has great value to you. You may even wonder if your items are worth money. Events such as Symposiums are opportunities not only to have items appraised but to learn the history behind your treasures. Local museums and historical societies typically have collections of antiques-old machines, tools, clothing and toys, for instance.
Is there a special name for your hobby? Do you call yourself a numismatist (coin collector), a rockhound (collector of gems and minerals) or a philatelist (stamp collector)? These are some of the more well-known ones. How can you learn more about these names, and about collecting in general? First, try the newspaper activities and web links below. Check out resources in addition to your newspaper and the world wide web, such as museums and libraries in your area. You can also check your newspaper's TV listings for shows especially on PBS about collecting. Talk to others about your interests-maybe you can even start your own club!
If after deciding you don't want to have a collection, be sure to recycle at a yard sale or give to a friend because one person's trash may be another's treasure!
Try these fun activities using The News-Journal!
- From your newspaper, choose three or more items you feel might become collectors' items. Write a short description of each, along with the reason you included it in your selection. Show your choices to a friend and then to an adult, asking them whether or not they would agree with your choices. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.3, LA.B.2.2.6)
Two sets of collectable coins, in their cases are, at top right, a regular U.S. Mint proof set of the 4 common coins while at bottom right are the 5 "State" quarters the mint has issued to date. At left is a specialized collectors book to hold all 100 coins that mint plans to issue in the "State" collections with spaces for both the face and reverse sides. (Photo: News-Journal/Peter Bauer)
- Your newspaper's Classified section is useful for buying and selling merchandise. Search that section to find collectible items for sale. Choose one that you would like to buy. (Make sure you know the price the seller is asking.) Now, compute the cost of the item as if it were discounted by 10%. Write an imaginary letter to the seller, offering him or her that amount. Do you think a typical seller would accept your offer? Why or why not? (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.2, LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.3, LA.B.2.2.6, MA.A.1.2.2., MA.A.3.2.2., MA.A.3.2.3, MA.B.3.2.1)
- Many hobbyists enjoy visiting museums to see collections. Museums in your area contain collections not only of art works but of toys, dolls, furniture, tools and much more. Check your newspaper for listings of the collections contained in local museums, and choose several you would like to see. Try to visit one or more. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, VA.E.1.2.3)
- Some toys are popular collector's items. In your newspaper, find an advertisement for toys. Cut out three different toys you would like to collect and paste them onto a sheet of paper. Write the advertised price of each toy next to its picture. Using your math skills, find the difference between the highest and lowest prices. What is the average price of the three toys? Draw a graph to show your results. (Sunshine State Standards: MA.E.1.2.1, MA.E.3.2.1)
- Sometimes people start collections for personal reasons, rather than to make money on them. One example of the first type of collection is a scrapbook. Begin your own themed scrapbook using items you collect from the newspaper over a period of time. Some ideas for your collection might be the front page headlines, photos of world leaders, articles about your preferred sport or a favorite comic strip. Check the newspaper periodically to find and clip items to add to your scrapbook. What value might your scrapbook have one day? Are there other kinds of "value" besides how much money an item will sell for? (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org.
Check out these links to learn more:
Coins are commonly collected by many, including young people. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco offers a fascinating online exhibit of U.S. currency. You can view money from different periods of U.S. history, find out about the artists who design currency and more.
For more fun with coins, including cartoons, games and news items, visit the Smithsonian Museum's coin collecting pages, where you'll find lots to explore. Be sure not to miss the special, interactive storybook about Birth of a Coin. At another site for numismatists, you can see online exhibits of beautiful paper currency.
Collecting rocks-minerals and gems-is also popular with hobbyists. Check out these pages maintained by The Image Gallery, where you can browse the beautiful photographs and learn techniques for identification.
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check out some of them to see if they have recently published any articles on this topic. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state or click on the "Internationals" button to choose a country.
Published April 23, 2001
Updated June, 2004