Because I'm an only child, my parents have kept my old room exactly as I left it when I was a very uncool teenager. The evidence of my formative years is still tragically intact: A complete set of 1993 Topps baseball cards that I got at a silent auction is still under my bed, and the Pokémon cards I used to trade on Saturdays at Books-A-Million are all perfectly arranged in binders set on bookshelves. Tubs of Beanie Babies and LEGOs line the attic, and tubes of POGs are tucked away in various closets between the linens and towels. My walls are lined with movie posters from the movies I thought were good when I was 13, like The Ring and Forrest Gump; I got my first PayPal account when I was in middle school to buy an autographed picture of the friends from Friends because I thought it would be a "good investment."
My collecting habit came with me when I moved out, and every time I take a trip to my folks' house I schlep a ton of crap back with me. I take old clothing to resell at Beacon's Closet, stash snacks in my suitcase, load up on weird shit only parents buy, etc. I've already made a list of what books I want to transfer from the bookshelf there to my bookshelf here in New York, and later to the bookshelves at the Strand. Basically I'm a pack rat, although I prefer to think of myself as part of the mercantile class. Normally I just resell my clothes and books, but I got to thinking: What those toys from my childhood could be traded for cash, too? What if I could retroactively justify the fact that I never went to a high school party by, I don't know, selling that picture of Monica and Ross and using it buy alcohol that I could drink with the cool New York friends I'm supposed to have?
With the goal of smiting people from high school who probably don't remember I exist, I set out to see exactly how much my stuff was worth. As it turns out, it was "more than nothing," which is legitimately shocking.
There are just too many pogs for any of them to be worth anything. On eBay, you can buy sets of hundreds of pogs for less than $10. And if you want to build a collection of rare pogs, Verderame explained, you'd be spending an incredible amount of time getting each one, and you likely wouldn't be able to sell that collection to anyone.
But was there any single pog that might be lurking in my closet that was worth money? Are there individual pogs that are better than others?
"Which ones?" Verderame replied. "There are bajillion of them."
She literally suggested that I poke holes in them and make necklaces. If that's a million-dollar Etsy idea and you steal it, I will find you and kill you.
Where pogs were a trend that materialized out of nowhere, Beanie Babies were the product of a single mind: Ty Warner. In the 90s, the notoriously reclusive toymaker managed to convince a ton of people that generic plush animals were a sound investment. Thanks pretty much entirely to their collectible nature and clever marketing, Beanie Babies sales reached $1 billion a year at one point, and Zac Bissonette, the author of The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, estimates that 70 percent of sales came from people who were convinced the plastic-pellet-filled critters would later go up in value.
Sadly for soccer moms everywhere, a quick glance at eBay suggests that Quackers the Duck isn't funding anyone's retirement any time soon; most of the Beanie Babies are going for around five bucks a pop. Dig a little deeper, though, and it seems that some people are at least entertaining the idea of dropping a couple grand on the Princess Diana bear.
In 2013, some basic-ass bear with a heart on it sold for $10,000—which, to be clear, is the price of a car.
Verderame, the professional appraiser with a PhD in art history, was adamant when I spoke to her that people are still willing to pay money for Beanie Babies.
For instance, she says, if you have any first- or second-generation Beanie Babies with their tags on, they can be sold for anywhere between a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand. In 2013, some basic-ass bear with a heart on it sold for $10,000—which, to be clear, is the price of a car.
Actually, some joker on Etsy with the same Valentino beanie baby is trying to sell it for more than $25,000, which is the price of even nicer car. But that doesn't mean the bear is actually worth that much, Verdergame had to remind me.
Remember that story about the couple who ended up with a Princess Di first-edition bear that was supposedly worth $90,000? That number was completely made up, Verdergame said, because no one has ever paid that much money for it. That's merely what someone had tried—and failed—to get for such a bear in the past. Collectibles are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them, after all, which means that while there are some Beanie Babies that can buy you a car, there are none that can get you a house. Still, not bad.
Verdergame said that one of the reasons so many people have Beanie Babies is because they were cheap and could be bought with paper-route money. That suggests people have emotional attachments to them, and when millennials turn 60 or 70, they might be willing to buy Beanie Babies again out of nostalgia. At that point, allegedly, the hoarders of the world will be able to cash in.
"Some Beanie Babies are worth money," Verdergame told me. "Saying, 'Ugh, I'll just throw them out' means you're just throwing away money. For that person who doesn't throw them all away like you and your friends are going to, they're probably going to be sitting on something."
While I learned more than I could have possibly ever wanted to know about Beanie Babies when talking with Verderame, I also learned that all the time I spent stalking Central Florida craft stores with mom as a child was wasted. I don't think we had any first-editions, and I would definitely know if I had the Princess Diana one people seem to jizz their pants about. But was all my time at Books-A-Million trading Pokémon cards any better spent?
I remember them being worth money was I was in elementary school—in fact, I have a very distinct memory of selling a Japanese holographic card for $200 to another kid in a darkened classroom. (He was a professional golfer's son, which explains why he has that money, but looking back it seems kind of disturbing that a pre-teen would have ready access to that sort of cash. I hope he didn't develop a drug problem or anything later.)
To see what present-day value my cards might have, I called up Kristopher Bucher, who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to the trading card game. He said that Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh cards (!) were more valuable, but that Pokémon saw a resurgence in popularity around 2011, and that the game's world championship for is more popular than ever. So my dusty old cards could actually be worth something?
Japanese cards are slightly more valuable, Bucher explained, because they are higher quality and more aesthetically pleasing. But only slightly more so. As one might predict, the only Pokémon cards that are actually valuable are the ones that are extremely hard to find and were printed in limited quantities.
"The most valuable error card I can think of was a Pikachu that was printed in the Jungle set accidentally. It was called the Ivy Pikachu, and it was actually supposed to be a promo card, and it was printed as a first-edition and slipped into the Jungle set. It's the most sought-after forever, and goes for about $1,000."
At this point my eyes started to glaze over. I have a full Base set, and maybe even a full Fossil set, but I don't think I ever collected any of the error cards. What the fuck? I sensed my newfound hope slipping away.
"By far the most valuable cards from the early era are the first-edition shadowless cards from the original base set, especially Charizard," Bucher continued. "I've seen them go from $500 to $1,000."
I just had a regular Charizard; this interview was garbage. As the Pokémon expert went on and on about cards I didn't have, I started scraping my mind, trying to think of anything I might have that was of value. I remembered sitting in the Books-A-Million and trading some kid a run-of-the-mill Japanese card I got at an anime store for something. What was it? I could see the green cover of my Pokémon binder, but what was inside?
A first-edition Blastoise and a first-edition Venusaur. Cards that Bucher told me were worth between $100 and $200 apiece.
"I think in general the cards will increase in value again, and I would say the same card that's worth a thousand now, will be worth anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 in ten years," he explained.
But I didn't need to wait that long. I had two cards that were worth up to $400 now, and that was good enough for me. So, anyone want to buy them?
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