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How Much Is Your Childhood Memorabilia Worth?

If you have collectibles, like a G.I. Joe from the '60s or a Superman lunchbox from the '50s, in your attic, you might be sitting on a treasure

By Marcia Layton Turner | May 4, 2012

The buzz about this Friday’s big-screen opening of The Avengers has sent prices rocketing for classic superhero comic books. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a copy of the 1963 comic book in which Iron Man made his debut just sold for a record $375,000 at an auction. This follows a run of records shattered by other vintage Avengers-related comics in 2011 and 2012.

Maybe you’re wondering if your childhood memorabilia could fetch a small fortune. It just might. Or not.
 
Do you have a mint-condition Howdy Doody Show prop? You may have struck it rich. But that Hess truck collection from the '80s? Sorry. It’s nearly worthless.
 
How can you tell which childhood mementos are considered treasures and which are castoffs? Next Avenue asked PBS’s Antiques Roadshow appraiser Philip Weiss, of Philip Weiss Auctions in Oceanside, N.Y., for some guidelines.
 
Weiss says boomer nostalgia has driven up demand for some toys and collectibles that bring back cherished childhood memories for Americans now in their 50s and 60s. But their value depends on a variety of factors.
 
Q: Does the age of an item dictate its value?
 
A:  Absolutely not. What dictates the value is, first, the rarity or the scarcity of the item. GI Joes from the mid to late ‘60s into the early ‘70s are bringing big money. But in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, people started becoming collector conscious, putting away boxed toys rather than playing with them. It’s getting more difficult for toys of that period to really appreciate because there are so many.
 
Baseball cards are a prime example of that and Hess trucks are another. The Hess trucks from the ‘60s and into the ‘70s are very desirable, very expensive, but once you get to 1985 and up, people bought complete cases and never opened them. We see hundreds of cases of these every month.
 
Q: Any rules for collecting baby boomer memorabilia?
 
A: Buy the best condition you can and go after the rarest pieces you can. You’re better off buying one scarce piece in excellent condition for thousands of dollars than buying 50 pieces that can be readily found for $100 each.

Q: Since so much merchandise was created around popular TV shows of the ‘60s, how can you determine which products are valuable?
 
A: The higher-value items are things that came from the show itself, such as props or costumes. For example, if you had Buffalo Bob’s outfit that he wore on Howdy Doody, that would be mega money.
                 
Q: What are the top three items people should look for in their attics from their childhoods?
 
A: The 1954 Superman Versus the Robot lunch box [see photo] is a piece that always sells in the several-thousand-dollar range, regardless of condition.
 
Believe it or not, the little 3-inch GI Joe figures can sell for thousands of dollars.
 
And items from some 1950s and ‘60s TV shows are also big, like The Flintstones. There are Munsters pieces that go into the multiple thousand dollars. Same thing for The Addams Family.
 
Q: What’s the most valuable boomer item you’ve come across, and what was it worth?
 
A: We set a record for play sets. Back in the '50s and '60s, kids would buy play sets for characters; we sold a mint condition Wagon Train play set [based on the TV show] for $15,250. When you opened the box, it was loaded with all of the figures and little wagons and teepees. It's important to have the original packaging and that the items are in excellent condition.
 
Q: Which items should people hold onto because they’re continuing to appreciate?
 
A: Action figures are one area where I can see the market continuing to go up, especially the little 3-inch GI Joes. Comic books from the ‘50s and ‘60s have extreme value, and original art from those comic books have incredible value. We sold the original cover to a December 1966 Spiderman comic book for $101,000.
 
Q: What effect does the death of a boomer celebrity, like Davy Jones, have on memorabilia featuring him or her?
 
A: The minute the news hits that a celebrity has died, the phones ring off the hook. However, I really do not see any jump in values, with perhaps the exception of autographs, which obviously can’t be made any longer. There might be a resurgence in interest in the items for a short time, but in my opinion, not enough to really move the market over the long term.

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