How To Sell Your Childhood Collection / Matthew Davies

How To Sell Your Childhood Collection
  A Practical Guide To Unburdening Yourself Of The Past 

Why do we keep things from our childhood? Who cares! Over the last couple years I've been slowly cleaning out my parents basement of childhood treasures and have some practical advice to get you started. Here are the basics for getting the most out of your childhood collections.
  1. Does Your Collection Have Any Value?
The very first task is to determine if your collection has any value in today's world. Many things that were made to be collected are in fact, not worth much at all. While things that were never meant to be collected now have value. You might surprise yourself, so it never hurts to check even the most unlikely item. The price on collectibles also seems to correlate to people reaching adulthood and having disposable income to spend on things they liked as a child, so '80s and early '90s stuff is now growing in popularity.

I am most knowledgeable about '80s and '90s stuff, so can only really speak to that, but the basic guidelines are:
  • Worthless:
           Every baseball card from about 1985 to 1995
           Mainsteam comic books from '80s and '90s
           “Collectible” figures, pins, plates, coins, etc...
  • Depends:
          Lego sets
          Collectible game cards (e.g., Magic or Yu-gi-oh)
          Video games
          Action figures
          Coin collections (probably only coins with silver or gold content)

It can be pretty easy to tell from a basic Google search if you are barking up the wrong tree.

Note that things that people purchased because they expected them to be valuable in the future are now worthless while things that your mom threw out are now in demand.
  1. Research Individual Items
The value of any individual item in a collection can vary widely. Value can depend on a lot of things and again a quick Google search will usually identify any potential treasures.

Otherwise, the traits to look out for are usually things that were either very early in a product's life-span (earlier G.I. Joe guys are worth more than later) or that were rare and/or under-produced at the time. Strangely, things can be rare because they were not very good/popular at the time, so this is where you can sometimes find unexpected gold.

Really the only source you need for determining price is eBay. Do NOT look at what people are listing items for. Instead, search for your item and filter it to show only “Sold Items.” This option is a little tricky to find, but it is on the left-hand side of the eBay options list under the “Show Only” field.

If there are no results for sold items, you can throw it in the trash. Otherwise, this will give you a rough ballpark value for your item. There are a couple of things to note. First, condition is paramount on everything, so a pristine action figure with all accessories could go for $25 while a beat-up one could go for $3. Also make sure you have the exact item as as shown in the listing. Many things were re-released, re-printed, or even counterfeited. Unless you pulled that Jordan rookie card from the pack yourself or spent a lot of money to buy one, there is a good chance it is fake.
  1. Maximize and Maintain Value
Once you have a sense for what you have, there are some relatively easy steps to increase the resale value. There are two primary steps.

First, collect and segregate out each item. This applies primarily to action figures and toys, but you want to make sure you scour your parents' basement to locate anything associated with an item. I have found that in many instances the gun, hat, or engine casing is worth more than the item itself. For example, just the little plastic antenna off a G.I. Joe tank can sell for upwards of $30. The box, cards, inserts, and any other extraneous material is worth collecting and sorting out. This can be a tedious process if you have a large box of action figures for example, but there are websites that will provide you with pictures to help with the sorting. You can't really understand the value of your collection until you know what every piece is. 

Second, assess and maintain condition. Most toys from the 80s and 90s were not made to last. At this point your goal is to prevent any further damage. For sports cards you need penny sleeves and top loader cases to protect any valuable cards. For plastic items, like action figures, do NOT attempt to play or manipulate them. Most action figures have rubber bands inside holding together the joints which will have essentially disintegrated over the years. Additionally, vintage plastic is generally now pretty brittle.
  1. eBay vs Everything Else
There are two decisions to be made. First, where to sell them. Second, whether to sell them individually or together.

In terms of where it generally falls into two categories – eBay and local. While eBay is a pain and will take a hefty cut of your final sale price in fees, it has the most buyers and your item will sell if there is any interest at all. Ebay has a pretty steep learning curve and requires some additional extra research and work. There are hundreds of web-pages that will give you additional tips and tricks, but getting a good description and picture will get you most of the way there.

Other than eBay there are additional online places to sell that require less effort, but will result in significantly lower returns (see below discussion about selling pieces individually or as a lot). Online, you could post to FacebookMarketplace, Craig's List, or Mercari, among others. There are way less eyeballs here, so you'll mostly find people looking to flip your collection or buy on the cheap. In rare instances, some collectibles will have their own online communities where you can sell. While these are great resources, it is rare that they will beat out eBay on price (make sure you factor in eBay's hefty fees, though).

Finally, in most medium to large size cities there will be at least one, if not a number of, local retailers that specialize in your collection. Sports card stores, vintage toy shops, antique stores. It can be tricky to beat online for maximizing profit, but you don't have to worry about any of the headaches of posting or shipping. It really helps to know what you have in terms of rough value before entering into one of these transactions (I could write a whole other piece on this).
  1. Individual or Lot Sale
Pretty straightforward. Selling each item individually will result in more money, but significantly more work. Especially with vintage toy vehicles and play-sets, it can sometimes be more profitable to even sell individual pieces since collectors frequently are looking for the last antenna, missile, or hatch to complete their own piece. Selling the entire collection at once is hands down the best solution in terms or return on your time investment, but what fun is that!
  1. Shipping and Delivery
This may be the most daunting aspect of selling online. For sports/collectible cards this is pretty easy. You can pick up bubble wrap mailers and ship via USPS First Class Package to anywhere in the US for between $3-$4. You get a discount if you use eBay's own shipping labels. While riskier, if you are dealing with very cheap cards you can ship using the PWE method (plain white envelope). This entails shipping the card using a regular .55 cent stamp. You need to put the card in a top loader and attach it to some heavy card stock so it doesn't slip around in the envelope. Cut up manila folders or cheap greeting cards work well.

Bigger items are tougher to price out beforehand and therefore require more research and/or a higher price point. The post office has flat rate shipping boxes, but you need to estimate at least $7 for something that can't fit in a small padded mailer.

Dealing With Your Regrets

It can be tough to part with a personal childhood collection. See some of the other fine essays on this website. That said, it is hard to deny the satisfaction of clearing out some junk and getting paid to do so in the process.

I am available for consults, consignments, or commiseration. Leave a comment below.