If you're cleaning out your attic or poking through an antiques barn, you're probably wondering if the tintype or faded newspaper you're holding is worth a ton of money. It's probably not. But the collectibles market, like any other market, changes from year to year. What's hot now? Political memorabilia. Early 19th century furniture. Guitars. And comic art, just to name a few. USA TODAY's John Waggoner looks at the latest trends in collectibles. Who knows? You really might have treasures hidden in your basement.
Leading the pols
Unless you've been encased in plastic the past 12 months, you know the presidential election cycle is in full swing. And you might be wondering: Will this Obama or Romney bumper sticker be worth something someday?
Nope, says Steve Ferber, co-owner of Lori Ferber Collectibles in Scottsdale, Ariz. "People purchase things in a frenzy around election time, hoping to make a lot of money," Ferber says. During the last election, Ferber says, people would sink $100 into copies of Election Day newspapers, only to find them worth $5 three months later.
The key to political collectibles: scarcity. "Five to 10 times a day, people e-mail me and think they have something very, very rare — an issue of Look or Life magazine when Kennedy was elected or assassinated." But the magazines were printed by the millions, and still aren't worth much today.
(The one exception: A copy of the Chicago Tribune's newspaper announcing that New York governor Thomas Dewey had beaten Harry Truman in the 1948 presidential election. You can get about $2,500 for a genuine copy.)
Slightly less scarce, but still of interest to political collectors: invitations to an Inaugural Ball. Naturally, the older the better. Ferber recently sold a ticket to Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural ball for about $2,500. Some lucky relic-hunters have found buttons from George Washington's 1789 inauguration that sell for about $5,000. "Most political collectible dealers are frustrated historians by nature," Ferber says.
Axes to find
Do great guitars ever go out of style? No — but prices tend to fall in hard times. And that's just what happened to prices of vintage guitars — which might make them a good buy now.
Vintage Guitar magazine created an annual index based on the sales prices of 42 vintage axes. As of last October, the index was at $750,800, 23% below its peak in 2007.
David Kalt, founder of OptionsXpress and now owner of the Chicago Music Exchange, thinks you can find some good deals in vintage guitars, although the very best can come with steep prices. For example, the iconic 1952 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top sells for $23,000 to $26,000.
But many of the legendary guitars also get reissued, giving less affluent players a chance to get something of their feel. "Fender, Gibson, Gretsch — they all monitor the market to see what they should be reissuing," Kalt says. You can get some reissues of classic guitars for $3,000 or so.
Vintage guitars are one area in which the "Made in America" label really counts. "There's a kind of heritage already here that couldn't be re-created abroad," Kalt says. "Foreigners pay a big premium for U.S.-made products."