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What’s Your Childhood Stuff Worth?

Antiques Roadshow's 'Boomer Years' program gave some numbers

By Richard Chin

Many of us boomers are nearly ready to downsize. But before we chuck all our junk, Grant Zahajko suggests we look twice.

Zahajko, an auctioneer from Seattle, Wash., is also an appraiser for PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. In December, he appeared in a special edition of the show, “The Boomer Years,"  focused on treasures from the generation’s coming-of-age years, including the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

A toy, piece of furniture or autograph doesn’t have to date back to the Victorian era to be worth a lot of money today, Zahajko says. Artifacts connected to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, pioneering television shows, The Space Race and The Cold War are now proving to be collectible — and valuable.

(MORE: A Boomer's Toy Story)
“I deal with those people from that generation almost every day,” said Zahajko, 45.
The 3 Categories of Boomerabilia

Good boomer stuff usually comes to his attention in one of three categories:
1. Souvenirs from a long career in an interesting field or company. For instance, a NASA employee who worked on the “vomit comet” aircraft used to simulate weightlessness once showed him a wonderful collection of signed autographs from early astronauts who trained on the airplane.

(MORE: Neil Armstrong: His Small Step, Our Big Movement)
He’s also seen valuable prototype jet models and other collectibles from longtime workers of aerospace giant Boeing, long headquartered in Seattle.
“Boeing memorabilia is very collectible,” he said.
People who had jobs in television, for sports teams, in newspapers, architecture or even advertising agencies also may have collected autographs or “that little memento they got 40 years ago,” that could be worth good money today, Zahajko said.
A military career also might be a source for good stuff if you managed to be present at important events or ceremonies and scored an autograph or two. Even a humble cigarette lighter can be worth hundreds if it comes with an emblem from a military setting.
“There’s a real strong market for Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War, or off battleships,” Zahajko said.

This 1956 Elvis "Love Me Tender" standee was appraised by Laura Woolley (right) for $10,000 to $15,000 in 2012. The updated value is $18,000 to $20,000. "The Boomer Years" aired Monday, December 22 at 8/7c pm on PBS. Photo by Jeff Dunn for WGBH, (c) WGBH 2014.

2. Artifacts from boomer youth or childhood. These could include baseball cards, toys or ticket stubs. Zahajko said a ticket stub or a brochure from something like a Beatles concert or Woodstock could be worth hundreds. A signed Elvis photograph might bring $1,000. A 1960s-era Roy Rogers lunchbox could be worth $350.

(MORE: How Much Is Your Childhood Memorabilia Worth?)
3. Objects that are handed down to boomers or inherited by them. They could include old furniture that long seemed as unfashionable as bell bottoms, but are now worth a lot, as long as the kids and dogs weren’t too hard on them.
“The hottest thing now, hands down, is the mid-century modern movement,” Zahajko said, embracing furniture from the 1950s and 1960s.
Furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Paul Evans can fetch thousands today.
As an example, Zahajko cites a Hans Wegner “valet chair,” a wooden chair that doubles as a clothes rack, worth about $8,000.
Here are a few other items from the boomer years that Zahajko has priced:

1960s Batman Robot toy, battery operated, manufactured by T.N. Nomura, Japan: $3,000-$5,000 in original box, $2,000-$3,000 without box. Photo from Pinterest/Karen Potgieter


1950s Roy Rogers Double Bar Ranch lunchbox with thermos, $250.
Photo from eBay

First issue G.I. Joe action figure, $500-$1,000.
Photo courtesy of G.I. Joe Collector's Club

X-Men No. 1 comic book, 1963, $2,500-$5,000 in excellent, ungraded condition.
Photo from

Elvis Presley signature, $500-$1,000, autographed photo, $1,500-$2,500.
Photo from

Richard Chin is a Twin Cities newspaper reporter who has written for publications including the Wall Street Journal, and Stanford Magazine. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and once won the Wisconsin Wife Carrying Championship. Read More
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