What's Hot, What's Not, Part II: The 2020 Edition

February 21, 2020

In my last article, we looked at five collecting categories that are on fire at present time. In this article, we will be looking at five collecting categories that are definitely not hot. It should be noted that these are merely my observations in the trade, so you may agree or disagree with my findings. It is also important to note that most of these items actually sell well at auction, but the devil is in the details. Look at the prices a lot of these collectibles are selling for and then compare those prices over time. Most of the collecting categories on this list have seen massive declines at auction over recent years.
5. Vintage Metal Lunch Boxes
Some astute readers and market watchers will note that the vintage metal lunch box trend has been fizzling for several years, but now with the proliferation of millennials being fully active in the trade, I think it is time to realize that this collecting trend is quickly going the way of the Hummel. While it is true that pop culture collectors still fancy these colorful relics, younger collectors just have no connection to them, regardless as to what character or pop culture icon is displayed on the packaging.
Tip for Novice Collectors
Prices for most of these relics have been stabilizing over the past few years, and some have been declining. If you are attempting to build a collection and care about these items holding value, it would be wise to go after pop culture icons like “Star Wars” or relevant properties that still have pop culture cache. Very few are going to care about “Gunsmoke” or “The Lone Ranger” decades from now. Just know that from a financial standpoint, most of these items will make bad long-term investments overall.
4. Machine-Made Marbles
As a fan of both antique and machine-made marbles, this entry breaks my heart the most, but the market just does not seem to be turning around. Vintage machine-made marbles made by early 20th century companies like Akro Agate and Peltier started to gain prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s because the price of true antique marbles increased drastically in value during this time. Unfortunately, younger collectors on average are just not relating to these elegant glass spheres, and prices have fallen from their overall highs that were achieved a decade or so ago when auction houses like Morphy’s prominently advertised them. The trend has not affected the value for truly scarce antique marbles in high grade, however.
Tip for Novice Collectors
Antique marbles is where the action is, so if buying for financial investment, start there. Know that most marbles are starting to be seen more as curiosities than true collectibles. Given the rise of post-1980s toys being seen as valid investments in the trade, the market for machine-made marbles of the early 20th century is quite dim and getting dimmer. Perhaps it will one day turn around, but who knows when?
3. Non-Super Hero Vintage Comic Books
Make no mistake that popular vintage super hero comic books from the 1930s through the 1970s are still holding their own. This cannot be said about non-super hero vintage comic books. Even once coveted horror comic books such as “Tales from the Crypt” and “Vault of Horror” are not worthy investments anymore. Most of these golden age horror comic books have been republished too many times, and the current trend is vintage super hero comic books that feature the first appearance of a key character. Westerns and Disney-based comic books have already softened substantially over the last few years, with few exceptions. Make no mistake that in my humble opinion, the vintage comic book market will weaken over the next few years as more collectors tire over the amount of speculation and would-be investors operating in the market. Even the graded coin marketplace has learned that prices cannot rise exponentially indefinitely.
Tip to Novice Collectors
Be careful in this market. The market for vintage comic books overall is weakening, while the top 5 to 10 percent of the market continues to do well. Speculators with little knowledge of the collectibles market tend to only focus their attention to the top of the market while only being able to afford to invest in the middle tier. This is a recipe for disaster when investing in any kind of collectible in the long-term.
2. Vintage Japanese Space Toys and Robots from the 1950s and 1960s
The market that propelled most of these curiosities to new heights reached its proverbial peak in the early 2000s. Yes, it is true that ultra rare toy robots like Masudaya’s “Gang of Five” continue to be sought after in each and every auction they are offered. Unfortunately, this is not translating to bids on common and lesser known items that struggle to reach or exceed their previous auction highs that occurred years ago. Coupled with the fact that a lot of these robots are no longer in working order, we can see why the collecting world is no longer being enchanted by these items. Expect the market for these to fall even further as younger collectors with limited disposable incomes flock to toys from the 1980s and 1990s but forget about the toys their parents and grandparents played with.
Tip to Novice Collectors
If collecting, go after items that work and are in excellent to near-mint condition. Lots of deals can be had in this market if you know where to look. Just don’t expect these items to be a worthy financial investment in the future. The market is too murky.
1. Vintage PEZ Dispensers
To be fair, vintage PEZ dispensers have been on a notable decline over the past several years, if not longer. Just last year, I noted an ever increasing number of declining values on most once popular vintage dispensers. The few that appear to be bucking this trend are either based on popular super hero franchises or the always in demand Universal Monster PEZ dispensers that premiered in the 1960s. Almost every other vintage dispenser is selling less today than they were in the 1990s. It is a buyer’s market in this collecting category, and I don’t see the market changing any time soon.
Tip to Novice Collectors
Much like vintage metal lunch boxes, PEZ, while sold today, are not being actively pursued by younger collectors. Younger collectors who choose to collect PEZ are going after the newer and cheaper contemporary dispensers based on present-day super heroes and popular franchises like Nintendo. The market for vintage PEZ is dying a slow death and will not turn around any time soon, if ever.

Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace.


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