Tuesday 6 November 2012

Collect things only for pleasure, not for profit

Every time I glance at the Antiques Roadshow they seem to be fetching smelling salts for some delighted old biddy who has just discovered that the chipped bowl she uses to serve the dog’s dinner is worth several thousand pounds.

I always think “That could be me”, in the same deluded spirit that keeps me buying National Lottery tickets.

Because, over the years, I have accumulated vast quantities of old tat that I always believed I could sell at a profit one day. After all, they were usually limited editions, in the case of books, coins and prints. Or implausibly well preserved examples of rare, collectable toys.

It turns out that Bernie Madoff was offering far better and safer returns on investment than my loft full of this stuff

I discovered my mistake in the matter of books a few years ago, when I carefully conveyed a box of duplicate titles to a local dealer. When I had been buying, many of these had been very valuable first editions in exceptional condition. Now I was selling, there was no demand and most of them were only good for recycling: since it was me, they could stretch to £20 for the lot.

Last week it was model railways and coins. My extensive collection of the former is apparently now worth less than half what I paid for it 20 or more years ago, while the best thing I could do with most of my cherished coin collection is prise open the presentation cases, take the coins down to the shops and spend them.

This seemed odd, when the insurance company “expert” who insisted on coming to my house a year or more ago sucked through his teeth at all the immensely valuable stuff I owned, and how desperately underinsured it was. He even insisted that I install a burglar alarm as a condition of my continued and inflated cover.

Surely it cannot be the case that insurers are in league with the conmen who peddle this stuff in trying to persuade us that we are making an investment rather than simply squandering our money?

There is, I confess, one exception to the general rule. The few gold sovereigns I have acquired over the years have appreciated very nicely indeed. Though it turns out – surprise, surprise – that I was a mug to pay a premium for the Royal Mint’s beautifully presented proof sets, because they are worth not a penny more than the bog standard bullion versions of the self-same coins.

Quite possibly the only useful advice ever contained in this column: don't pay the extra for the polished coin in the nice box

Now I do, as it happens, know a man who wanted to get rid of the tiresome collection of Japanese miniatures that his late father had picked up in junk shops for a song over many years. And discovered, to his utter amazement, that it was worth more than a million pounds.

What’s more, that was the sum the collection realised at auction, not that ascribed to it by some wildly over-optimistic insurance assessor.

But that is as much the exception to the rule as the couple who buy a ticket for only the second time in their lives and scoop the Euromillions jackpot.

For the rest of us, the rule must be to laugh at those vendors of the “heirlooms of tomorrow” as heartily as we do at the spoof versions of their advertisements in Viz.

Only buy things because you like them, and feel that your enjoyment of life will be enhanced by having them around you. Never because you fancy for a moment that you may one day be able to make money from them.

The same rule should be applied, with added emphasis, when choosing a place to live.

Luckily it is not all doom and gloom. Two small boys will no longer be denied the pleasure of playing with vintage Hornby Dublo trains that I wrongly thought were much too valuable to be used for the purpose for which they were intended. In due course they may also look forward to inheriting a moderately interesting coin collection, too.

I also expect to make a huge saving on next year’s household insurance bill that I look forward to investing in something with truly lasting value. Like a lottery ticket, for example. 

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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