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The End of Collecting: Why?

6/1/2010



As appraisers, we come across client after client who asks, "I want to get rid of my collection, and tell me how can I sell it, and how much money will I get?"  Sadly, the amount you think it is worth is most likely not what you will get.  But, the question is:  Why do people stop collecting?  There are several reasons: retirement or age, pressure from family or friends, emotions, and divorce.


Retirement coupled with age is the major cause in stopping the "collecting addiction".  Disposable income tends to drop once retirement sets in.  That extra dollar to feed the search for the next piece to the collection is needed elsewhere.  The glitz of the chase has changed because the collector hits the wall of reality:  "so much of my money is now tied up in the collection, and I can't and won't continue putting more money in to the search."  We had one client who owned almost every Hummel made.  Her home looked like the gift shop at the Goebel factory.  Money had become an issue, and she believed that her collection would "save the day".


At one time Hummel's commanded respect, but not today.  Mass production, the internet, and changing tastes have obliterated the values.  We told our client that it would be best to sell it in  small lots over a long period of time in order to glean the greatest value.  If she dumped the collection on the local market, the values would drop even more as there would be too much of the same thing in the same market.  Her net return was less than 30% of what she had paid.  This scenario plays out time after time for most collectors and their collections.


Most collectors are orderly in their collecting habits, such as keeping track of what they own, identification of each item, its location, and its value paid and potential value.  Many collections tend to overwhelm and dominate the owner and the home.  It almost becomes a burden and to many casual observers the collection becomes a visual eyesore to the house. Sometimes the addiction destroys the collector's will, and he starts to want to cleanse himself and the house of the trappings.  Emotions have become the driving force to liquidate.


Emotions, age, and family pressure tends to be the perfect storm that drives the collector to dump the collection.  The disposition is difficult because the reality of the sale is coupled with a heavy heart and a possible heavy financial loss. 


We had a client who had a huge collection of dolls.  They were located everywhere in the house from the kitchen to the attic.  Thousands of eyes peered from every nook and cranny as we helped guide the client towards the necessity of having to sell her beloved, life-long collection. She had to leave her home with her nephew as the packers arrived to haul off over three hundred boxes of stored dolls to three different auction houses in two different states.  Her hundred thousand dollar collection brought less than $24,000 after handling and commissions.  The lesson:  start your sell-off slowly over a systematic time frame to garner the highest possible value from the collection.


Collecting can be a wonderful hobby and, hopefully, a unifying element in a relationship and a buoy in life.   It can be the glue that holds everything together, but once it is time to stop, letting it go can be as challenging as facing a death. 



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