What's Hot, What's Not, What's Neutral, The 2019 Edition: Part One

January 11, 2019

It’s that time of year again. We have now said goodbye to the year 2018 and are focused on New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships, and tax preparation. Of course, no new year would be complete without the annual tradition of assessing what is hot and what is not as we enter into an exciting new year in the antiques and collectibles trade.
I will be starting off this entry by looking at five collecting categories that have either lost significant ground in 2018 or were already on a significant downtrend that continues to this very day. Some of these categories within the broader collectibles market have been routinely discussed by myself and other commenters in the trade. Others are based on my own observations in the trade and may be controversial to some. That said, as always, I stand behind all entries on this list and encourage any skeptics to place emotion and nostalgia aside and instead look at basic market fundamentals. Now on to the list.

5. Stamps and Philately in General
Stamps were once considered a great investment and an even better collectible. The amount of history contained within the hobby of stamps is immense, and arguably only numismatics rivals it. That said, general stamp collecting has been on a definitive downward trend for some time now and younger generations just aren’t latching onto it to prevent any noticeable upticks in the market. Much like coins and currency collecting, if you are lucky enough to own a very rare and valuable piece that sells for the high five-figure amount or the coveted six-figure numbers, then you can pretty much set your own price or let an auction house set it for you. For collectors of mid- to high-range pieces of which there are many examples, expect lukewarm sales at auction and less interest from the few buyers who are still playing in this market.
Advice to novice collectors and investors: A turnaround in stamp collecting just isn’t likely. If you are holding them for historic significance, you have the right idea. If investing in this category, you need to be in the top 10 percent of the market to create any real gains going forward.

4. Numismatics: Coins and Currency
This category pains me the most as I love the history of coins and paper money. That said, ever since the financial crisis and eventual collapse in prices of silver and gold that retreated off their highs from 2011, interest in numismatics for anything other than rare and highly coveted pieces has been less than stellar. You can buy a lot of what were once considered high-grade key pieces at a fraction of their highs. The 1896 $1 Educational Note is a great example of an item that has a lot of demand, but has fallen in value. The same can be said for almost all of the Carson City Morgan Dollars in gem mint grades. I’m sorry, but very little can spark renewed interest in the numismatics field simply due to the fact that very few younger collectors have a valid interest. This trend will not change any time soon.
Advice to novice collectors and investors: Novice collectors willing to invest significant sums of money and time would benefit if the market ever turns around. Investors should continue to trade up to rarities and high-valued items if they can afford to do so. Only the rarest of the rare are worth chasing for investment gains right now.

3. Mechanical Banks and Other Cast-Iron Collectibles
Some purists who have been in the trade for decades continue to disagree with my assessments in this realm, but facts don’t lie. Mechanical banks and most other cast-iron collectibles, with few exceptions, continue to lag behind their record highs achieved years or decades ago. Any of these items outside of the rarest of the rare are logging lukewarm auction sales, assuming there is interest at all. On average, even near-mint specimens of mechanical banks are failing to excite buyers. Expect this trend to continue as this is another high-profile collecting category that is going to be delegated to that of a curiosity as younger buyers continue to pass on these relics at auction after auction.
Advice to novice collectors and investors: Here again, going after the high end of the market is preferred, but there is no reason to believe that even that would be a foolproof strategy as younger collectors flee from what many consider to be their grandfather’s antiques. A revival in this category is just not feasible.

2. PEZ Dispensers
My fellow PEZ collectors had an incredible run, but the market for vintage and modern PEZ is murky at best. Most vintage dispensers continue to sell for less than they were selling for at the turn of the millennium. This has caused most speculators to jump ship years ago, which in turn contributed to the massive glut in prices for most vintage dispensers. There is, however, a bright spot. The vintage Universal Monsters series of PEZ dispensers continues to defy expectations and achieve good results at auction, but even they are off their high prices achieved several years ago. Contemporary PEZ dispenser collecting continues to be modest, with most collectors entertaining it due to how cheap new pieces retail for.
Advice to novice collectors and investors: PEZ collecting leaves behind its best days, but there are deals to be had if you know where to look. Vintage prices are affordable, but that does not mean they are good investments. More collectors are leaving the hobby than are entering it, and prices will fall even further over the coming years. Respected auction houses have become increasingly picky over what PEZ collectibles they will take regardless of age and condition.

1. Hot Wheels/Matchbox Cars
Vintage and contemporary diecast cars are dying a prolonged and slow death on the secondary market. Yes, there is still demand for vintage and sought-after Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars in near-mint or better condition. That said, if you check the prices at which common and even mid-tier cars are selling for, a troubling trend emerges. Younger generations are not collecting them at the same rate as older collectors. This is placing downward price pressure on cars that once sold for the $100-$200 range, which now can be seen selling for $75 or less in some cases at online auctions. Expect this trend to continue.
Advice to novice collectors and investors: Collect what you love, but don’t speculate. Contemporary pieces are overproduced and overhoarded. Much like modern PEZ dispensers, buy at your own risk.

And there you have it. My list of the top five collecting categories that are losing significant ground as we enter into 2019. My next article will look at five collecting categories that gained significant ground in 2018 and are poised to continue in 2019. Until that time, maybe I’ll see you at the gym? It is a new year, after all!

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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