7 of the Most Valuable Collectibles and Antiques of All Time
Whether their penchant is Star Wars figures, stamps, or vintage cars, for many, collectibles are an all-consuming hobby. In this article, we look at seven categories of antiques and collectibles that could end up earning you a fortune.
1. Duck Decoys
It may seem an unlikely concept, but mid-20th century duck decoys can command colossal sums, particularly for pristine, rare examples. If you have inherited one, it may surprise you to learn that rare examples can earn up to $650,000 at auction.
The duck decoy collectibles market first started with niche groups of enthusiasts in the United States through the 1950s and 1960s. After the publication of The Decoy Collector’s Guide, everything started to change — the magazine connected duck decoy enthusiasts all over the country. By the late 1960s, duck decoys were selling for upwards of $10,000, an exorbitant price at the time.
By the 1980s, executives started showing an interest in duck decoys too, with high-net-worth individuals keen to get their hands on rare specimens, pushing the price up from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
2. Vinyl Records
Despite the increasing digitization of the record industry, the passion for vinyl still runs strong in some quarters. In 2021 some 9 million vinyl records were sold in the United States, recreating the magic of old-school albums and vinyl collections before the age of iPods, CDs, or even cassette players.
Vinyl aficionados can pick up some excellent examples for cheap by shopping at garage sales, thrift shops, and estate sales, with many records changing hands for $1 or less.
Some original vinyl records dating back to the 1960s and 1970s fetch astronomic sums today. Take, for example, editions of The Beatles’ White Album. While the edition marked with the serial number A0000001 sold for $790,000 (this was Ringo Starr’s personal copy), other editions have sold at auction for as much as $13,750.
3. Novelty Barware
Most barware sets have a nominal value, typically falling between a price range of $20 and $100. However, some American barware items dating back to the early to mid-20th century are worth considerably more. Think fish-shaped bottle openers, penguin-shaped cocktail shakers, corkscrews with women’s legs, and other eccentric items.
After World War II, Americans up and down the country were in a celebratory mood, with at-home entertaining quickly becoming all the range. The era was epitomized by colorful barware embellished with old glitz, and glassware companies like Federal Glass, Libbey, Culver, and Hazel-Atlas rose to prominence. With rare examples fetching up to $1,500 today, retro barware makes a fun, quirky addition to any table.
4. Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia
Starting in 1866 and ending in 1928, America’s long-running women’s suffrage campaign started decades before World War I, producing an amazing array of artifacts and ephemera, including medals, badges, postcards, china, and games, in addition to an array of pamphlets and books. Each of these items tells a story, but, when placed together, they articulate a collective struggle for equality underpinned by passion and ingenuity that is as relevant now as ever.
5. Comic Books
Collecting early and rare comics is a fun hobby, with many collectors focusing on a character they feel an affinity for or a specific comic book publisher like Marvel or DC.
In 2011 a collector reportedly paid $1.1 million for a copy of Marvel Comics 1962 edition of “Amazing Fantasy” №15, which featured Spiderman’s first appearance. Subsequently, in 2014, a 1938 copy of “Action Comics” #1 sold for a staggering $3.21 million on eBay. Originally costing just 10 cents, the edition featured the first appearance of Superman. The 2014 sale easily ranks as the highest amount ever paid for a comic book.
6. Pocket Watches
In the early 1800s, the pocket watch was regarded as a status symbol rather than simply a practical mechanism for tracking time. In fact, only the richest of society could afford one. However, in the 1930s, the wristwatch started gaining traction, quickly marking the demise of the pocket watch, which was suddenly deemed unfashionable and bulky.
In 2014 a rare 1932 pocket watch produced by renowned watchmaker Patek Philippe entered the history books as the world’s most expensive pocket watch to ever change hands, selling for a staggering $24 million.
7. Fine Art
To make the top 10 list of international art collectors requires multibillionaire status, with a single painting selling for upwards of $100 million at auction. The highest price commanded for a painting to date was achieved by Christie’s auction house in 2017, when Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi sold for $450,312,500.
French art dealer Nathan Wildenstein started collecting art in 1905, eventually assembling one of the world’s most important collections of works by impressionists and old masters. Due to the family’s secrecy as part of efforts to reduce divorce settlements and inheritance taxes, the precise extent and value of the collection is unknown, but it is believed to include Caravaggio’s The Lute Player and Manet’s Café Concert Singer, along with countless other priceless masterpieces.