Commentary: Investments

By Louis A. Zona


One day I approached the Butler Museum’s parking lot and was pleasantly surprised to see a line from the front door of the museum to the middle of the lot.

“Wow,” I thought, “the new exhibition must be incredibly popular.”

As I approached the front door, I asked a couple of people at the front of the line about the apparent popularity of the new art exhibits to draw such an enormous crowd.

“We’re sure the new exhibits are wonderful,” was the response. “But we’re here because word has it that your gift shop has just received a shipment of the new Beanie Babies.”

As you can imagine, my heart sank. Beanie Babies!

That’s right, stuffed toys and not outstanding works of art was on their collective mind. Sadly, people who spent lots of money to acquire the biggest and the best collection of Beanie Babies now realize that the fortune that they dreamed of corralling from their Beanie Baby collections was not to be.

A cool 50 cents will probably earn you the very best Beanie in existence. The online magazine  Bleacher Breaker has done the research on the current value of the once treasured collectibles. To think that the Butler’s gift shop was once the epicenter of the Beanie Baby onslaught!

The biggest surprise as far as the evaluation of collectibles is concerned is the once-loved Topps baseball card. When I was a small boy, I remember a neighbor giving me heck when I attached a baseball card to the front wheel of my tricycle so that it would make a motorcycle sound.

“That card that you’re ruining could be worth a thousand dollars,“ I remember him saying. With that warning, I reverently housed my card collection until Mom tossed it into the garbage when I was in college.

I might be mistaken but I think a Mickey Mantle rookie card was in my collection. Like most moms, that meant very little to Mom who called Yogi Berra ”Yoggily” Berra.

Actually, anything that is mass-produced has either little value or no value at all. While I treasure a few old newspapers that I have with such headlines as “Korean War Ends” or ”Pirates Are Champs,” I probably should keep the Pirates headline since it will never again appear, at least not in this millennium

According to the magazine, a collection of old cameras is probably worthless although they would certainly make conversation pieces.

I just explained to one of my students about the once popular Polaroid instant camera. He was in disbelief that something like that actually worked before the digital age. In any case, despite the unique character of so many cameras through the ages, as a lot, they are not valuable collectibles according to the research compiled by Bleacher Breaker.

If you are wondering what you should be doing with your Disney VHS tape collection, you might simply want to deposit it into the nearest dumpster.

And as VHS players become scarcer, figure on the tapes becoming even less valuable. If you are also wondering about the value of a collection of Pokémon cards, you may want to handle it the way that my mother took care of my baseball cards collection.

The magazine that created this list of nonvaluable collections puts vintage clothing among the least valued items. Clearly, the editor of the magazine should come to visit my closet to discover vintage clothing at its best.

The late local businessman Clarence “Sonny” Smith told me when I complained that some of my favorite suits no longer fit that I should never keep my clothes in a dark closet. That’s because the darkness shrinks even the best of fabrics. He had me believing that for a few seconds.

I collect baseballs and while I have very few that might be marginally valuable, I found out from my years directing The Butler that something is worth money only if there is someone willing to buy it from you.

I recently heard a commercial about investing in art instead of stocks. I frankly don’t know what I think of that strategy. I would say that the art worth investing in is the work of the Old Masters or the work of a handful of contemporary artists who might be destined to hang in the galleries of the Old Masters.

I always caution folks who ask my opinion about investing in art to simply buy art that appeals to you and not speculate on its future worth. But hey, there was a time when Van Gogh’s art was unappreciated.

Today, his canvases might be said to be made of gold. I remember hearing that one of Van Gogh’s first exhibitions in Paris received a nice comment in a local newspaper. Vincent, unused to praise, wrote to the editor and begged him to never praise an artist’s work because it is the worst thing that you could do to an artist.

Poor Vincent Van Gogh, who died penniless, is today the one artist who investors in Old Master paintings gravitate toward. Although he never profited from his paintings, millions today are made in his name. In the end, collectibles are risky business if they are looked at as investments.

But I can’t get that Mickey Mantle rookie card out of my head. Maybe, just maybe, it will one day reach the status of the old Honus Wagner card that is setting auction records into the millions of dollars.

But come to think of my Mantle card – gee, I hope it wasn’t used to make someone’s tricycle sound like a Harley-Davidson. That would be OK for my Gil McDougal bubble gum card but not my Mickey Mantle.