Is Investing Collectibles Risky?

Collecting can pay off. Why didn’t you keep this? A donation, a sale, or worse, straight into the trash. That’s what the classic story of a loved one who once had a collection of field hockey cards, stamps or vinyl records that would be worth a small fortune today might lead you to believe. 


Who could have predicted that some of these items would be worth a lot today? Only a minority of collectors. Those fortunate ones who kept these objects for so long were doing them for passion and not for the money.  


The potential return on investment 

From a strictly financial point of view, a collection is not a good move. A study by economists has attempted to measure the return on investment of collections. It shows that most collectibles have a lower return in the short term than stocks. The study also shows that collections are riskier in the long run than financial assets.  


One may need to consider the depreciation factor in this case. Most collectibles must be stored, maintained, and protected to prevent damage. Over time, all of this adds up to costs. That’s why financial planner Sophia Bera recommends that you invest less than 1% of your portfolio in collections. Beyond that, she says, “the risk is too high.  


Is it risky? 

Collecting does involve some risk, it’s true. Unlike the financial markets, no authority regulates collections. It is challenging to get recourse and help in case of problems (fraud, theft, accidents, etc.). Recently, a field hockey enthusiast living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Aron Gratias, had items stolen from his private collection. His storage unit contained thousands of dollars worth of Wayne Gretzky items: 19 autographed vests, 10,000 field hockey cards, photos, figurines, and more. What’s impressive is his financial detachment. He can’t even put a price on his collection. For him, it’s all about memories of his youth and his passion for field hockey culture.  


Why collect? 

Gratias’ financial disinterest is that collectors have other motivations besides money. In a large-scale survey of collectors, only 22% said that financial investment was the primary purpose of their collection. So if money is not the only motivation for collectors, what are the others?  


Psychological well-being 

Collecting feels good. Adding a brand new piece to your collection is a highly satisfying feeling. How does it happen? There are psychological explanations. First, psychologist Christian Jarrett suggests in The Guardian that “collecting would be a way to show others our ability to accumulate resources.” Really? Yes. Jarrett points out that “our desire to collect dates back to 12,000 BC. It became possible when our ancestors moved from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle.  


Secondly, psychologist Joéline Andriana mentions in an article on the obsession with collections that it is due to our desire to have control over the world. Why? Because according to Dr. Andriana, our collection allows us to create the illusion of a perfect world. The danger in this approach is that it can lead to obsession,” she warns. Once there, it can impact personal, family, and finances.” 


Third, according to Dr. Andriana, the desire to collect would be motivated by searching for memories and happy moments related to a person, context, or time. It may explain the craze for collecting old toys, movie artifacts, or celebrity items. They are usually closely linked to childhood, a happy moment, or someone important to us. 


The pursuit of happiness  

The Italian philosopher and writer Umberto Eco wrote that “the true collector is more interested in the quest than in the possession”. So the collecting journey also brings a lot of pleasure. It is what the psychiatrist Robert Neuburger maintains in an article on the phenomenon of collecting. 


 According to him, “collecting is neither a pathological behavior nor a disease. One could even say that it is a treatment in itself! The proof is that many collectors are depressed when they finish a collection. But all they have to do is start a new one, and the depression disappears. 


Sharing your passion  

Retired Star Wars fan Steve Sansweet has collected about 500,000 Star Wars items in his lifetime. In 2011, he decided to buy a ranch in northern California to turn it into a museum. It was in 2013 that the Guinness Book of World Records awarded him the prize for the most extensive Star Wars collection in the world.  


What started as a simple passion has turned into a career for Sansweet. Today, Rancho Obi-Wan is a nonprofit organization. It welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world to see Sansweet’s collection. Beyond his collection, his human, social and educational approach inspires different generations.  


Preserving culture 

During his TEDx conference in Montreal, Alexis Charpentier, a music lover, talked about how collecting vinyl records helps preserve musical culture. He used as an example the time discovery of vinyl by jazz pianist Henri-Pierre Noël from a collector in a Montreal thrift store. In 1979, the Haitian-born Quebec artist had 2000 copies of his album produced without much success. Noël changed his career, and his music was forgotten.  


Amazed by his find, the collector contacted the pianist and brought his vinyl to a production company (Wah Wah 45) for a reissue. When it was released, the record was critically acclaimed. The English radio station BBC described it as unheard of with its funky organic disco style. Now deceased, Henri-Pierre Noël devoted the rest of his life to his music and even performed for Radio-Canada. 



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