How to Buy & Sell Collectibles – Become a Successful Collector with Your Collecting Hobby

Classic antique collection.I love strange objects. The weirder the better as far as I’m concerned. Which is why I was almost giddy when I stumbled upon a Discovery Channel show called Oddities. If you’ve never seen it, Oddities profiles a couple who own a store in New York called Obscura which specializes in strange, rare, and downright crazy collectibles. The search for new inventory takes the shop’s owners and employees into the homes of other like-minded collectors, which is always fascinating.

The show made me think about collectors and how hard many of them work at their hobby. Quality collections of any kind require interest, attention, research, and a sharp eye, among other attributes. If this sounds appealing, and you want to get started as a collector, be prepared to spend time honing your skills.

Here are 6 tips to get you on the road to being a successful collector.

1. Study Your Subject
If you are not well-educated about whatever you are collecting, it will cost you. Not only could you grossly overpay for items, but you also may rob yourself of profit if you decide to sell them. There are countless books and web sites out there about nearly every type of collectible, whether it is artwork, sports cards, stamps, coin collecting, or anything else that may catch your eye. For example, condition is often immensely important. Doing the research will give you a good idea of what condition is normal or acceptable, which in turn will help you accurately assess the value of items and get a leg up on other collectors.

2. Get to Know Dealers and Insiders
The best way into the world of collectors is to get close to the sources. Talk to store owners to find out where they get their pieces. If your collection consists of sports or game cards, find a store or dealer with a very large and diverse inventory and contact the owner or manager. Collectors of like items tend to know one another, so the more people you know on the “inside,” the more opportunities you will have to obtain sought-after pieces. You will also be more likely to negotiate a better deal if you have a relationship with vendors.

3. Be Patient
Too many collectors “fall in love” with an item and decide they just have to have it. When this occurs, collectors tend to overpay. Bidding wars erupt at auctions which cause emotion to override common sense, and “winning” collectors are left with a purchase that will likely end up reselling at a loss (if it comes to that). Even if you think that what you are after is the most rare, one of a kind piece you will ever see, exercise restraint. Not unlike many consumers, collectors and dealers can go too far and end up shorting themselves or getting into debt for that “must-have” piece. Be sure to set a budget for hobby expenses.

4. Be Objective
Many collectibles including art, coins, stamps, books, cards, and countless other items are graded for quality by certified professionals. Knowing how items are graded is an important aspect of collecting that many people overlook. Expert collectors know this, and search for highly graded pieces. It is essential to think like these collectors when seeking additions to your collection. If you have trouble being objective when looking for new treasures, take someone with you who can be the voice of reason. Anyone can make foolish snap judgments. Do not be that person.

5. Go for Quality, Not Quantity
One big mistake that many aspiring collectors make is purchasing a bunch of mediocre pieces to increase their collection, instead of a few “perfect” specimens. Smaller, quality collections will increase in value at a higher rate than larger ones with lower-grade items. In addition, the more rare a piece in your collection is, the more it will be coveted and revered by other collectors and admirers. Quality always trumps quantity. It’s usually worth it to pay more money for quality.

6. Take Care of Your Collectibles
If you want to maintain the integrity of your collection, you’ll have to take good care of it. Use proper cases, shields, covers, and other protective equipment to protect your investment. The more valuable the collection, the more precautions you will need to take to protect it. Perhaps a safe is necessary to house your treasures, or maybe you need to buy insurance (i.e. check what your homeowners insurance policy covers). These are all important precautions to consider when looking to store your prized possessions.

Final Word

There are plenty of nuances you will pick up along the way as you learn about and grow into your collecting hobby. You will never know everything there is to know about your subject matter; learning and growing with your collection is part of the fun. These tips are merely a start as you work to become a successful collector. Follow them though, and you will have a great yardstick to measure your collecting prowess against similar collectors and collections.

What do you collect and how have you built up your collection over time?

  • RB Boren

    Nice post and I especially agree with #1. Knowledge is king and has enormous payoffs. I have a niche which lacks an organized published knowledge base, so I created my own, which is constantly expanding. Most dealers have their own organized knowledge base, which they value highly. Now I know why, and I value mine more highly because I think mine is now nearly the largest on earth. Only three dealers of whom I am aware likely are more knowledgeable in this niche. Yeah, I should write a book. I’m working on that, the text of my online knowledge base is about the size of an average book and if I am lucky about 10 percent complete.

    I find most of my deals on eBay, which has several dozen knowledgeable dealers, probably several thousand semi-knowledgeable collectors, and perhaps several thousand small un-knowledgeable sellers. The niche has tens of thousands of different specialized collectible items (and thus countless sub-niches), and sellers who are not knowledgeable cannot efficiently make optimal listings. This results in listings with Not Enough Information for bidders to properly value the item. and when my knowledge base has the right information, I can get great deals and resell them with better listings which include the most valuable information.

    #2 is also important. I often offer information to sellers when I know more about an item than they do, as this information makes the seller happy, improves the listing, makes the ultimate buyer happy (who probably gained more info from the improved listing and may have been prompted by the new information), and is sometimes reciprocated with deals or information bdown the road by the seller.

    #3 There are virtually no unique items in my niche, although some can be quite scarce and even rare. I usually have a very good idea of when to wait (about 99.99 percent of the time) and when to just go ahead and buy. Many buyers don’t wait because an item is sufficiently scarce or in high grade they don’t know if they’ll see another one like it.

    #4 There is a joke among coin dealers that sellers grade a coin two grades optimistically and buyers grade the same coin two grades pessimistically. That’s saying a coin that objectively grades Fine is offered as Extremely Fine while the potential buyer thinks it’s only Good. That has to be a major exaggeration but it’s common for people on both sides of a transaction to be at least a grade apart in their perception.

    #5 One coin dealer, in making the case for quality over quantity, said he’d rather have a great sandwich than a lousy steak. The only time quality ever fails is in a collapsing economy: your Gem Uncirculated 1913 Liberty nickel won’t be very valuable then.

    #6 It is indeed crucial to preserve your collectibles to protect their value. A tiny detraction from grade often makes a big difference in the value of a collectible. In many collectible fields there are specialized protective holders available, of varying quality. Go for the quality, it will be well worth it.

  • mattbreed


    #4 is more true than you will ever know. In fact, a few weeks ago, I was in a local “Estate Sale” shop at the mall and complained at length about the grading of two coins in their inventory.

    If you ask me, they were even more than two grades optimistic!