By John Waggoner, AARP July 2022
Don't overlook these items when you're cleaning out your attic, garage or basement. If you're cleaning out your closets this summer, you might wonder why you kept your copy of The Beatles (known as the White Album since its release in 1968). And if your copy is scratched, with Cheez-Its mashed between the double covers, well, you have reason to wonder.
On the other hand, if you have a copy in excellent condition, you could get $60 or more for it, depending on the shape it’s in and whether it includes the poster of all four Beatles. And if you somehow have the first copy of the album pressed, formerly owned by Ringo Starr, you could probably get at least $790,000 — which is what Ringo got for it in 2015.
Of course, you never know whether something is valuable until you research it. A Raleigh, North Carolina, collector looked in an old lunch box that had been passed down from his great-uncle to his father. Inside was a 1910 baseball card of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a legendary hitter whose name was forever tarred by his part in fixing the 1919 World Series. The card sold for $492,000 at auction in May 2020, according to Heritage Auctions.
Although you might not find something as valuable as a Shoeless Joe Jackson card, it could be worth your time to look for a few treasures in the attic (or garage, basement, shed or storage unit). Here are 10 of the hottest collectibles you might find.
As long as there have been movies, little kids have played with action figures. Now that they’ve grown up, they collect them. A Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype figure from 1979 fetched $204435 in March 2022, and an X-Men Magneto figure on a throne sold for $4,400 in 2020 according to WorthPoint, a site that records prices for collectibles.
Autos and gas stations
Rather than try and sell your 2002 Chevy as an antique, consider selling some of the old signs in your garage or on your deck, particularly ads for autos or auto services. You may not have a 1939 Greyhound Bus sign ($2,200 in February 2021), but a 1953 Mobil Pegasus sign sold for $426 in the same month. In May 2021, an Indian Motorcycle sign sold for $120. That Sinclair Dino wall-mounted bottle opener in the den? One sold for $22 in April 2021.
Barbie made her appearance in March 1959, and has been sought after by collectors since then. Although interest in Mattel’s popular plastic doll has waned in recent years, some models still pull in big bucks. A 1959 1 Brunette Barbie doll in its original box sold on eBay last August for $96,500. A 1964 set of Barbie, Ken and Midge — remember Midge? — went for $3,000 in January 2021. And a 2019 Barbie Dia De Muertos (Day of the Dead) doll sold for $599 in April 2022.
Did your mother throw out your baseball cards? Don’t be your mother. Even some cards in the 1985–1995 “junk wax” period, when the card industry pumped out millions more cards than anyone wanted, are valuable. A 1989 rookie card for Ken Griffey Jr. — in mint condition — sold for $1,400 in 2020, nearly double its price from the year before, according to the Wall Street Journal. In contrast, the Holy Grail of baseball cards — Mickey Mantle’s 1952 card — last sold for about $2 million in October 2021. (One in slightly better condition sold for $5.2 million in January 2021.) There are only three left in perfect condition. One reason: Lots of kids stuck baseball cards in their bike spokes to make noise, says Will Seippel, CEO of WorthPoint.
Baseball cards aren’t the only valuable trading cards. A 1979 Topps Wayne Gretzky hockey card sold for $100,000 in November 2020, and a rookie card for quarterback Tom Brady can fetch more than $11,000 if it's in pristine condition.
Comic book collectors swoon at the thought of owning the 1962 Amazing Fantasy #15, where Spider-Man made his debut, or the June 1938 Action Comics #1, where Superman first took flight. Both sell for millions. More recent comic books, however, also fetch a decent price if they’re in good shape; you can even buy them professionally graded for condition and enshrined in plastic for protection. In May 2021, a signed copy of Spider-Man #300 from 1988 sold for $9,999; it was the first appearance of Venom, Spidey’s nemesis.
The obvious problem with selling furniture is that someone has to haul it to its new home. Nevertheless, people need furniture, whether it’s a vintage six-board blanket box ($650) or a 1960s Danish Modern nesting teak side table ($260). While Scandinavian Modern has been coveted by buyers for some time, many are taking a more diverse approach to decorating these days, says Erik Gronning, head of Sotheby’s Americana department. “There’s an eclecticness about a dining room where everyone gets to sit in a different type of chair,” he says.
Pokémon (short for “pocket monsters”) cards have been around since 1996, and in the mind of an 8-year-old, you really gotta catch them all — more than 900 of them. The cards are part of a game that trainers (the person owning the cards) use to build a powerful 60-card deck. Prices range from 50 cents for common cards to more than $1 million for rare cards with obvious (to Pokémaniacs) errors.
The value of a poster depends on how famous the event was — and how much it means to you. Did you go to the closing of the Fillmore West and see (among many others) Elvin Bishop, the Grateful Dead, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tower of Power? Did you get the poster? A second printing of the poster sells for $1,091 at Wolfgang’s Vault; a third printing sells for $40. An original Wizard of Oz movie poster in very fine condition sold for $108,000 in 2019; a reprint sold for $45 in May 2021.
“You can’t go wrong if you have anything from Michael Jordan in the ‘80s or ‘90s,” says Robert Wilonsky, communications director for Heritage Auctions, which currently has Jordan’s rookie card for sale, with bids starting at $250,000. Most signed baseballs are worth something, as are signed bats and bobbleheads. Got a signed football? Those are good, too. In fact, just about anything that a sports figure has signed is worth something. Babe Ruth once signed a dumbbell for a fan; it sold for $8,000 in 2014.
While you’re cleaning out the garage, ask yourself: Are you really going to use all those old gadgets? If not, you could get some cash for them. A floppy disk signed by Apple founder Steve Jobs sold for $84,115 in 2019, according to WorthPoint. A World War II Fairchild Maxson MK1, an early navigational computer, sold for $20,000 in 2020.