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  • Writer's pictureTrader Chris Staff

It came from the Attic - but what's it worth?

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

A standard piece of clickbait these days is usually headlined “If you have this item in your attic, you could retire,” coupled with a thumbnail photo of a doll or other vintage toy. It’s just a come-on of course, but who wouldn’t want to find a valuable relic resting quietly in some forgotten, dusty carton?

The collectibles market is huge and varied, and nothing in it is stable forever. The hot collectible items of 2015 may be has-beens today. There was a run on vintage Care Bears in 2015, but the same toys today seldom go for more than yard sale prices.

Here at Trader Chris, we’d like to share our inside information on what the best attic finds of 2022 might be.

Large vintage red white and blue vintage Pepsi-Cola sign
Vintage metal Pepsi sign

1. Vintage Signs: old time advertising signs, usually painted on sheet metal sometimes on glass, are quite popular. Most of these fall into the category of man-cave décor—oil company and gas station signs, tobacco ads, power tools (John Deere, Craftsman, etc.), automobile makes, hunting and fishing supplies. On the more domestic side, outdoor ad signs for food products are good too—flour makers, dairy companies, or appliances ads (especially for extinct brands). The exact item and brand matter most, followed by condition.

Always remember condition; it’s the gold standard for all collectibles.

2. Posters and Forgotten Photos

Recently here at Trader Chris we had on hand an early 1950s panoramic, black & white photo of all the contestants in the Miss America pageant. Nice, unusual item, but what made it special was the presence of Swedish actress Anita Ekberg (in bathing suit), lined up the rest of the contestants. This single photo went for $500+.

Another recent sale consisted of a trio of World War II home front posters urging safe habits for women war workers. One poster featured actress Veronica Lake, taming her famous mane of blonde hair with a tidy factory worker’s hairnet. It sold for $300. As an aside, World War II items in general garner a lot of attention.

WWII safety posters featuring actress Veronica Lake.  Orange "Obey Signs for your own Safety" sign, green "compressed air can be a killer!" , bright pink "To avoid being scalped, not this but this" poster.
WWII safety posters - the poster featuring Veronica Lake greatly increased the value of this lot.

3. Militaria

authentic Wac nurse's uniform from WWII
WWII WAC nurse uniform

Militaria, by which we mean anything related to war or soldiering. Vintage uniforms, insignia, unit patches, and medals are obvious collectibles that do well. Some of the best high-dollar items in this category include trench art, personalized items like embroidered leather jackets, and foreign militaria. Relics of the enemy always command a lot of attention. World War II German items in particular are prized, though the marketing of such items is closely watched. Symbols of hate are not allowed on most online sites, so these items have to be presented decorously. As always, condition is highly important.

4. Americana/Pop Culture

Vintage 1960 Original Barbie 850 #3 Blonde
Replicas of early Barbie dolls do not sell well, but this vintage 1960 Barbie #3 is the real deal, and sold for $570.

Nostalgia fuels a large percentage of the collectibles market.

If a collector always admired a particular toy or tool in their youth, many will pay good money to fill that childhood void

(or to relive owning a beloved item from their past long since lost). One of the best examples in this category are miniature toy cars, such as Matchbox, Johnny Lightning, Corgi, and Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels redline series (so called because their wheels have a thin red lines on the tires) are highly collectible and can fetch hundreds of dollars apiece, depending on the model and condition. A shoebox of red line Hot Wheels in nice shape would be quite a find.

One thing to beware of in this category are re-issues or reproductions of classic items. Replicas of early Barbie dolls are common and not collectible. Neither are reprints of classic comic books, reissued LPs, or reprinted movie posters.

vintage Hot Wheels cars with plastic "tire" case
Vintage Hot Wheels collection including "redline" cars.
Hot Wheels redline Mongoose Dragster in original packaging
Got Hot Wheels? Good. Was it made before 1977? Better. Is it a redline? Even better. Does it come in great shape with the original packaging? You've got Hot Wheels gold!

5. Entertainment memorabilia

If you have candid photos of your great aunt hugging Elvis, you might have

something. Original movie theater posters, 1-sheets, and lobby cards are collectible, but their value varies widely according to the film, the actors portrayed, and condition.

Vintage Michael Jackson Pepsi '88 Euro Concert Tour White Jacket
This Vintage Michael Jackson Pepsi '88 Euro Concert Tour White Jacket sold for $199.95

Autographs generally add to value,

but for potentially high dollar signatures an authentication process is preferred.

If John Wayne gave your dad a Stetson hat and autographed the brim, you’ll want to prove it’s the real thing. Authentication services exist, and while not cheap, they can add considerably to the final value. Sports cards are famous for requiring expert authentication.

Even more than in most categories, condition is paramount here.

6. Iconic items

Those collectibles that are unmistakable and universal from the list above will

always command buyer interest. As of 2022, retro video games, consoles, and related gear are the epitome of this type.

Pop culture titans of the past century like early original Barbie, Golden Age comics, and Disney merchandise made before 1960 or so, all earn high interest from collectors.

Not all icons are created equal, of course.

Do your research before you pop a champagne cork.

Original SNES Super Nintendo Entertainment System with box.
This iconic vintage Super Nintendo sold for $200.

Is there a box of Hot Wheels red lines in your attic? A Barbie No. 1? Louis Armstrong’s favorite trumpet?

We can provide a free, no-obligation estimate as to what your treasures are worth, give us a call!

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