Ever notice how “second-hand” has become “vintage” and “old” is now “collectible”? By trade, I’m a writer – I notice these things. As an eBay buyer / seller, it’s important to know the differences.
And for Baby Boomers, it’s especially advantageous to have at least a passing knowledge about what has value that may be gathering dust in a garage or attic. After all, if you start digging out those old 1950s toys or 1960s music memorabilia, or peace signs from the 1970s, you might be able to fund your retirement!Boomers bop around in basically two sides of the vintage markets: those waxing nostalgic, buying back their youth for collections that fondly send them back in time; and those in the throes of de-cluttering their lives with an eye toward a little extra folding green. I’m a little of both.
When I was just knee-high to a grasshopper (we can say things like that again in a Boomer blog without fear of ridicule for spouting clichés, can’t we?) my mother drove my dad crazy making him drive her around to various local auction yards. She could drive, but these were supposed to be “family outings” and in mid-twentieth century, the “man of the house” nearly always drove. If she had wanted to, mom would have – she was a feminist before it was cool. In truth, we were just by her side to carry stuff back to the car.
We lived in rural Northern California where pine trees outnumbered people and Manzanita stumps were stripped, sanded and polished for handcrafted furniture. Auctions were held every weekend – outdoors, weather permitting. Definitely not Sotheby’s or Christie’s, our live auctions were more like yee-haw, in-person eBay bidding – with beer.
In the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, practically everything on auction was “second-hand.” I don’t recall items labeled as “vintage”; and only those prior to the middle1900s were considered “antiques.” The antiques stores were just that – nothing was collectible – it was either an antique or just junk (except to my mother).
And talk about storage wars – mom’s favorite kind of auction item was the sealed / unopened, mysterious box. Invariably there would be a large, cardboard box of estate items that who knows who packed with promised goodies hopefully worth your hard-earned dollars. Dad did not agree. More than once he shook his over the contents of her winning bid.
From Just Junk to Cool Collectibles
Back then never did we think the new items we bought at the local Raley’s (think mini-Walmart) or even some promotional goodies we received free, would one day be worth more than a dollar-ninety-five and find their way to some big-ticket auctions, in the twenty-first century. Less space age and more stone age, we were buying Flintstones’ lunchboxes and Pez dispensers.
I began writing about collectibles in the mid-1990s for regional newsrag magazines that catered to collectors. Loved every second of it. Of course, the difficult task was me not becoming a collector as I poked into the corners of hundreds of vintage shops, spotting treasures to tell my stories.
I still miss wiping the dust off a fun find in the stores, but man, have the values gone up on some items, dusty or not, as Boomers and eclectic young’uns wallow in nostalgia. Particularly strong are items of the triple-threat decades: 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. This era heralded the beginning of mass-produced-now-kitschy toys and household items that are gaining decorative favor again; and it also signified the end of the same limited-production “quality” manufacturing. Nothing since has quite measured up to it.
INSERT ’58 WIBG SURVEY IMG-472k. I managed to fend off collecting until one day … Rock & Roll Radio music surveys surreptitiously schlepped into my life under the guise of research while writing my first book of a series about pioneering Rock & Roll Radio DJs. Well, I needed to research, right? And I needed images to spruce up the text in my books, right?
OK, I probably could have managed just fine on a few dozen surveys, specifically with pictures of the DJs I’m writing about, in their heyday. Ahem. I now have hundreds; many that have nothing to do with “my” DJs … but they are soooo cool!
I also picked up the occasional radio station promotional item, more than a few vintage record holders (you know, for those practically extinct black vinyl 45rpm records I won for a song), a dozen or so character / unique transistor radios, and as many authentic Wolfman Jack memorabilia as I could afford. After all, I did dedicate the book series to him.
Clap for the Wolfman …
During the past five years or so of moderate collecting (and a bit of selling) I’ve communicated with several eBay memorabilia sellers – largely Boomers – talking about “the good ol’ days” and why they’re selling. Most have made buying/selling a casual business – but some make a modest living from it.
Take the radio surveys for instance (think “Top 40” music charts), which were ALL giveaways when first issued, beginning back in the mid-1950s. Now, some rare surveys are seen to sell for $100 or more, each. My dear cousin, Ron, bought a 1975 KISN/Portland, Oregon, survey for my birthday a couple years ago, flaunting Wolfman Jack on the cover, for $50. There is also a rather active “underground” stream of collectors who trade offline. Amazing.
Other Boomers are just cleaning out closets and garages – some due to downsizing, others simply enjoyed their youth and are ready to let someone else treasure the bygone days.
So, down to the nitty-gritty … what’s selling and what isn’t? Of course, a crystal ball would help here, but if you watch eBay and other auction sites for a while, you’ll see that the markets, just like stocks, go up and down. For collecting, the trick is to sell when the demand is highest.
Watching sales during the recession years has been an education in itself. Fortunately, when I first began collecting music surveys I was able to pick up a few very early editions rather affordably, like the WIBG/Philadelphia “Top 99 Records of the Week” Survey No. 7 (above), from the week of Nov. 15 to Nov. 21, 1958. My cost in January 2010? $5.24 (with shipping).
Today’s price? You can still find a few 1958 radio surveys for $5.00, sometimes less, but depending on the radio station or other factors, you could easily pay $15.00 and up. WIBG for instance, is a treasured station for its pioneering broadcast techniques and popular DJs. Its surveys can be highly desirable, especially with photos of the greats who worked early gigs here – Hy Lit, Tom Donahue,* Joe Niagara, Harold B. Robinson, Dr. Don Rose,* Joey Reynolds,* and so many more. (*Blast from Your Past DJs.)
My earliest radio survey is from WGH/1310 Tidewater, Virginia. Their red and white “30 Top Tunes” list for the week of Sept. 23-29, 1956, featured “Don’t Be Cruel” by “E. Presley” at the top of the chart. Thank you … thank you very much. Even more than a year ago I paid just over $15.00. And they’re going up – if you can find them. Any prior to 1960 are quickly disappearing into private collections.
OK, not everyone was into Rock music in the “vintage” days – so what might you have that’s going to throw a few coins in your coffer?
A few selling tips for eBay (or any auction site)
Vintage jewelry is selling fairly well right now – gold especially, as you might imagine. Generally the finer pieces, signed (brand stamp), sell best. But even some costume jewelry with and without makers’ marks can command bids of $50 or more. How do you price it to sell? Ah … that’s the tricky part.
Pick out a few of your collectibles that you’re ready to part with, and using eBay for example, enter a keyword search for one of your collectibles as if you want to buy it.
Let’s just say … you have an old French Poodle wall clock that Aunt Josie gave you as a wedding gift in the 1960s. You never used it. In fact, it’s still packed in its original box. It’s animated, with a wagging tail pendulum and mesmerizing side-to-side movement eyes. Yes, we had some tacky stuff back then.
And, there is such an animal for sale on eBay today (09/15/12). Now, I’m guessing here, but it might have sold for a whopping $5.00 back when – not a lot, but consider hourly wages were around $2.50. (Heck, it might even have sold for less, knowing cheapskate Aunt Josie.)
INSERT POODLE CLOCK IMG. In a search for “vintage 1960s wall clock” I found the (faux) bejeweled white pup with a starting auction price six days ago of a lowly 99 cents! His adorable face is worth more than that (in a kitschy den, perhaps?). 24 bids later, the proud Poodle is up to $95.01 with yet another bidding day to go.
That’s just one example … what items do you have stored in mothballs that your kids would care less about in your estate? Were you a Beatles fan in 1964? Ringo’s autographs are selling right smartly on eBay … tucked away with your record albums, scribbled on a yellowed scrap of paper, yours might have once cost you the price of a concert ticket … could now be worth a couple hundred bucks.
Even some autograph reprints sell on eBay for around $5.00 … how many times can you sell it? J One snapshot of The Beatles, framed with all four signatures (with COA) recently reaped $1,800 for its owner.
Get out your camera, dust off your old G.I. Joe action figure, and start the bidding – balmy island getaway, here we come!
On the Collecting Side …
You can also find a few decent Beatles’ autographs for under $50 – create a fun trip down Memory Lane meandering down the wall in your home, and frame them with a funky photo of you in bell bottoms and love beads. Or recreate the warmth of grandma’s kitchen with vintage metal cheese shredders, a jukebox cookie jar and Betty Boop accessories nestled next to your new, gleaming appliances.
Whether you decide to collect for reminiscing or reaping financial rewards, research before buying and don’t hesitate to ask questions of the seller prior to bidding. You can find nearly everything online.
Still have four or five favorite Pez dispensers? Make an easy, inexpensive, decorative display with a few more vintage candy pop-ups, for under $5.00 each. Maybe one for each holiday, or a colorful collection of different cartoon characters? Yabba dabba do!
Cheers to your day,
P.S.: If you have any questions about collecting, feel free to contact me. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but I’ll give you a place to start.