It is possible to make money by buying and selling collectibles, but it’s a notoriously fickle market – and an expansive one. Mike Japp, a dealer in fine art, stamps, coins and collectibles, says he’s met people who collect cigar rings, marbles (only a certain type of glass, of course), even coat hangers. “The collectible market is enormous,” he says, “and covers so many things.” 

What will help you profit from collectibles? Japp, who is president & CEO of Anglo American Appraisal Services, Inc. in New York City, says: “You need money, you need knowledge and insight or taste and you need luck – there’s no free lunch.”

Add patience, of course. Let’s say you’ve researched what’s selling now and are contemplating what might make money in the future. You plan to buy items today at face value and watch their worth increase exponentially. But that can take decades. 

It’s easy to track what’s currently selling on eBay, where you can also get guidance for putting your own items on the market. Note that many collectibles only retain their value if they’re kept in their original packaging. As eBay explains it, “New in Box,” or NIB, means “a collectible that is new, in its box, and has never been removed from its original packaging” while “Mint in Box” (MIB) means “in mint condition and in its original box, which has been opened.” 

If you’re a sports fan, you might find sports memorabilia worth pursuing. But a rise in fake autographs has undermined this once lucrative market. To establish the authenticity of an autographed item, follow this tip: When you’re getting your sports hero to sign that home-run ball, ask someone to take a photo of you with the athlete while he or she is wielding the pen.

Here are some ideas for finding collectible items that might (and note that might) gain value in the future.

Investing in Toys

Let’s say you’ve already ransacked your home for any unopened toys you might have fortuitously stashed away, such as those original Star Wars figurines that your son turned up his nose at in the last century. Start thinking about what’s current in toys or movie tie-ins that you could buy today at face value – these items aren’t huge investments, after all.

Disney collectibles always have a strong market. How about limited-edition “Frozen” dolls? Oops, too late – there’s one posted on eBay for $2,500. 

Nobody could have predicted the runaway phenomenon that is “Frozen.” But let’s consider what’s coming up with Disney. How about those sloths working the DMV in  “Zootopia,” opening in March 2016? Hmmm, maybe not. A much better bet is the next “princess film” – “Moana” – about a Polynesian teenager who sets off on a quest in the South Pacific. It won’t be released until November 2016, plenty of time to mark your calendar so you can snap up those dolls as soon as they hit the market – perhaps October 2016.

Once you’ve bought a few Moanas, stash them away carefully – in their original boxes, obviously – and keep checking their value over the next few years. She could be the next big Disney collectible.

Emerging Photographers

Art photography is a field where collectors have lucked out in recent years. In 2007, three Chicago collectors stumbled upon a huge cache of prints and negatives taken in the 1950s–70s by a then-unknown street photographer named Vivian Maier. After one of the collectors, John Maloof, introduced some of the photos through his blog in 2009, the world quickly recognized Maier’s outsized talent. Since then, numerous books and documentary films have covered her work, and prints start at $3,500. 

Appraiser Mike Japp tells a similar story of a photographer named Frank Worth, whose claim to fame was that he was Marilyn Monroe’s secret lover. Allowed access to movie sets, Worth captured unposed photos of the stars. His images, which began appearing just over a decade ago, such as a brooding James Dean slouched in a lawn chair behind a barbed-wire fence on the set of Giant, are selling for around $2,000.

How do you find an emerging photographer? Visit local galleries and student art shows, and look online. There’s even a magazine called “Emerging Photographer.” Trust your taste and buy work that you love and want to live with on your walls – even if it doesn’t appreciate in value. Good art will lift the spirits.

The Future of Electronics

You won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a market for vintage electronic products. An old computer you might once have had trouble unloading could now be worth three times its original price, and listed on eBay as “a great conversation piece.” Collectors share tips on websites like VintageComputer.com.

The most valuable electronic items are the first of their kind, such as the Apple 1. In 2013, an original 1976 Apple I computer sold at auction in Cologne, Germany, for $671,400.  

Used electronics don’t necessarily bring huge amounts: For example, a seller recently got $2,749 for a 1984 Original Apple Macintosh 128k.  But prices are mounting sky-high for items that are “NIB”: for instance, an Apple iPod classic 2nd Generation (20 GB) in its factory-sealed box is described as “COLLECTORS RARE VINTAGE NEW” and listed at $29,999.99.

Who knows what an original iPad in its unopened box might fetch in 2025? Keep an eye out for the next groundbreaking electronic product to be released and grab it. Apple Watch? Maybe not. But there’s bound to be something amazing coming soon.

The Bottom Line

It’s likely that investing in collectibles will always involve a leap of faith. For that reason, it’s wise not to spend too much up front – there’s no guarantee which items will escalate in value. If you do buy with reselling in mind, be patient. And don’t open that box.