What is a Collectible?

Defining a Common Term Related to Antiques

Addison Bakelite Radio
An Addison Bakelite radio made during the 1930s would be considered a collectible rather than an antique. Morphy Auctions

Unlike antiques, a topic that has been hotly debated when it comes to dating, collectibles are a bit more easily defined. Basically, a collectible is an item that someone takes the time to collect. They range from extremely valuable objects to simple things that may only hold value to the collector who gathered them. Antiques would fall under the umbrella of collectibles, in fact. 

One might call out old-fashioned telephone books as an example of items folks collect that don't really hold much value.

However, there are folks out there who do pay good money to collect phone books nowadays so that assumption is indeed erroneous. 

In fact, since even cardboard cereal boxes, old bottle caps, and mint tins are considered collectible because there are people who value these items enough to purchase them from one another, you might say just about anything can be considered collectible. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand where the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” adage originated.

When Collectibles are More Than Just a Collection

Remember when you were a kid with a nifty rock collection? Or, maybe you fancied some nice seashells gathered at the beach on a family vacation. Either way, you owned a collection. Unless you were really, really lucky though, none of those prized possessions held much value.

Unfortunately, those rocks you carried around in a cigar box years ago are probably worth monetarily about as much now as they were then.

Now, if you kept your Lionel train set or your favorite Madame Alexander dolls, either of the 1950s vintage, then you’ve got yourself some nice collectibles on your hands if you kept them in very good to excellent condition.

What’s the Difference Between Antique and Collectible?

Some people say age and others use the kitsch factor to separate antiques from collectibles.

If you use the U.S. Customs Service definition, an antique is 100 years old or more.

By my definition, however, items made prior to 1920 when styles distinctly changed from flowing and frilly to more modern and angular are antiques and objects made after that time are "collectibles." Of course, this is a sliding scale and 2020 will be here before we know it making all those things true antiques.

For now though, items made from the Edwardian era on back are antiques in my book and pieces made from the Art Deco period forward are considered collectibles. Some examples of older collectibles include Depression glass, 1930s shoes, and Gone with the Wind memorabilia. 

Where Do Limited Edition Collectibles Fit In?

Limited edition collectibles are newly marketed items made in limited quantities. Sometimes they trade on the secondary market fairly quickly, and can even rise in value rapidly after they are issued. In the long run, however, they don’t generally demand the same high prices as time passes.

Once initial demand has died down, the value often plummets. Buy these pieces because you like them, but don’t count on them holding their value over time. Most experts don't recommend buying these things as investments. 

In the same vein, most new items made in mass quantities and marketed as collectibles will generally go down in value over time. This is especially true with fads. For example, remember Beanie Babies? While there are some exceptions, most of these cute little beanbags are worth far less now than what crazed collectors paid for them in the mid-1990s.

What makes an older collectible valuable is rarity, condition, and, of course, the demand for that particular item. The fact that toys, kitchen items, and a variety paper objectss were mainly used and discarded in days gone by makes them harder to come by, and in many instances, worth more money as well. These are the types of things that may rise in value over time, but again, the best advice is to buy what you like and pay a price you feel is fair. You can't go wrong that way.