Unless your child has unlimited money and unlimited time, it's impossible to start with a great collection. It may take years to even get up to “good.” But he has to start someplace, and getting there is half the fun. In putting a collection together, there are certain rules for anyone—young or old—to follow.
Piggybank on It
It's best to deal with reputable dealers who offer protections. They'll guarantee authenticity, and they'll take things back if they're not what you expected. Ask if you can buy on spec if you have any reservations about a piece and want to check it out further.
- Buy what you like. The most important thing is to enjoy what you're buying. Whether the thing goes up in value or not, your child will like having it around. Some people buy an object with the expectation that it will someday be worth a lot of money, but this doesn't usually turn out to be the case. In fact, it's often true that if the money had been put into a stock mutual fund instead of the collectible object, the collector would have had more money in the long run. If you buy what you enjoy, though, you'll get pleasure from it throughout the years—something that can't be measured in dollars. And there's always the possibility that your item will be the one that does, in fact, appreciate.
- Buy the best you can afford. Quality always counts, and collecting is no different. Most seasoned collectors will tell you that it's better to buy one quality item than several inferior pieces. That quality item has a chance of appreciating, or at least holding its value, while the inferior pieces probably do not.
- Trade up. As your child's collection grows, she can weed out the things she doesn't treasure anymore. Sell those things and use the money to buy better-quality items for which she may have acquired a taste. One child who showed his collection of antique racing cars on the Antiques Roadshow explained that he could afford to buy a car for $1,500 by using the profits he'd made from buying and selling other cars in his collection. As with the stock market, however, it generally doesn't pay to be a day trader. If your child wants his collection to be an investment, then he should be prepared to buy and hold for the long term.
A-Hunting We Will Go
There's no telling where your child can find his next treasure—it may already be in your home or around the corner. The great thing about hunting for collectibles with your child is that it's a way to spend time together. A junior high school child may be loathe to be seen with a parent at a Saturday movie matinee, but she may gladly go garage sale shopping.
Here are some places to search for things to add to a collection. Where to look may depend on what your child is looking for:
- Antique stores. The sign says “antiques,” but don't let that term keep you out. The merchandise (and the price) may be well below the standards for Sotheby's and Christie's, the two largest auction houses for fine antiques.
- Antique and collectible shows. Shows are run on a regular basis at various locations throughout the country. On just about any weekend, it's easy to find one well within driving distance if you live near a city. Local shows are usually well-advertised in newspapers and with signs in the neighborhood.
- Flea markets. Less pricey than antique and collectibles shows, flea markets may carry the kinds of things your child is looking for. Flea markets usually are held at regular times at a set location (for example, every weekend, or the first Sunday of every month).
- Garage sales. Someone else's unwanted discards may be your child's treasure: Garage and yard sales may contain things well within your child's price range. Of course, there's no going back if you find there's been some mistake, so make sure your child knows what he's buying before he puts his money down.
- Thrift shops. Like garage sales, thrift shops may yield real finds if your child has the patience to weed through the piles of items on the shelves and knows what to look for. Look carefully at the condition of wanted items: Poor condition may mean a low price, but there's little chance that the value of the item will ever increase.
Of course, there now are online ways as well to find and buy collectibles to suit just about anyone's interests.