Special Reports

Commemorative items: what are they worth?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Big moments in history usually come with items you can buy to mark the event, but are these things valuable?

You may have seen the ad for the Obama commemorative quarter, marking the inauguration of America's 1st African American president.

Appraiser Rich Weaver said, "When they make items like this, it's done in massive quantities."

That's despite what the ads often imply.

From coin commercial:
"Don't wait to secure your order for this special limited release."

Appraisers said when ads indicate a product's numbers are "limited", or low, they inaccurately suggest it might have some future increase in value.

"It's a quarter; it's simply a quarter with a picture on it," said Weaver.

In this case, the Obama coins are normal quarters, commonly available, with stickers placed on one side. The New England company that sells the coins, also produced a $2.00 bill that is now the subject of a class action lawsuit, charging consumer fraud. Company officials did not respond to our repeated attempts to contact them.

At The Franklin Mint in New York, appraisers said even the most inane items can one day be valuable. For example a vintage 1965 Beatles lunch box in mint condition is worth almost $2,000.00 today.

They said there are basically three things that make a commemorative a collectible that could increase in value.

First is commodity or content.

"Does it have gold in it, diamonds, platinum, is there some material that has a market value that increases over time," explained Gwynne Gorr, the chief marketing officer of The Franklin Mint.

The second criteria are scarcity.

"Because if anybody can get it why would it go up in value?" Gorr said.

And third is the emotional impact.

"If it's important to people," Gorr said.

Most of these items aren't for the average collector but there are Franklin Mint ads for a $195.00 Kate Middleton doll, to commemorate her upcoming wedding to Prince William. It's a worldwide limited edition. Officials at the Mint said their value could rise dramatically. But most appraisers we spoke with said don't expect it.

"Anything purchased to commemorate the wedding of William and Kate probably won't be worth a great deal of money in the future," said David Walker who is an appraiser at Freeman's Auction, Auctioneers and Appraisers.

The same is true of the trinkets Lisa Thomas-Laury purchased while covering the royal wedding 30 years ago; the marriage of Prince William's mother and father. A Prince Charles ear mug is not worth much today and as for her Lady Diana and Charles trash bin?

"I think you could have a profit but can't tell you it's going to be a great day," Walker said.

A crystal bowl, also from the time of that wedding, isn't worth much today because Walker said there's too much of it out there.

But a set of Charles and Diana paper plates and cups could be worth a lot more than their original cost if most of them were used during the royal celebration and then thrown away.

The bottom line is to buy a commemorative for its meaning not its value and remember there could be something valuable in your attic, like a 17th century English snuff box, that went for $8,000.00 at an auction last month.

All of our experts agree collecting is always a gamble; there are no guarantees.

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