While some prized collections stand the test of time—think rare coins, classic cars, fine art, and sports memorabilia, to name some popular ones—quite a few collectibles have simply come and gone throughout history, often fading as quickly as they rose to prominence. Here, we take a look at five collectibles from recent decades that inspired their own fads—some of which endure to this day, others less so.
- Collecting fads have come and gone throughout history.
- Many popular collectibles have faded as quickly as they rose to prominence, while others can endure for decades.
- As an investment, collectibles are never a sure thing, so it's best to collect what you simply enjoy.
1. Pet Rocks
In the mid-1970s, adverting executive Gary Dahl started selling what he called Pet Rocks. Packaged in a cardboard box with cutout holes, these perfectly ordinary stones came with an instruction guide on how to care for them. Initially, they sold for $3.95 apiece and Dahl reported in 1975 that he made a 95-cent profit on each one. At the fad's peak, he was selling 100,000 Pet Rocks a day, and by the time it ended, he estimated that he'd sold 1.5 million of them.
Dahl died in 2015, but for anyone who thinks they missed their chance at this fad collectible, not to worry. You can still purchase a Pet Rock on Amazon, complete with the cardboard box (now called a Pet Rock Travel Crate), nest, and care guide. The current price, however, is $29.99.
2. Cabbage Patch Kids
Created by Xavier Roberts, Cabbage Patch Kids originated as Little People Originals sold at BabyLand General Hospital in Roberts' hometown of Cleveland, Georgia. The handmade dolls were created using needle molding, a German technique for fabric sculpture. Each of the Little People Originals came with its own birth certificate, personally hand-signed by Roberts. They could be "adopted" by a "parent" who paid the $40 "adoption fee."
As the popularity of the Little People Originals started to spread beyond Georgia, the dolls were licensed under the Cabbage Patch Kids name in the early 1980s and quickly set the collectible market on fire. In 1983, they landed on the cover of Newsweek and, following sales of almost 3 million "kids" that year, were named the most successful doll introduction in the history of the toy industry.
Today, you can still purchase Cabbage Patch Kids at local retailers and online. Original hand-stitched dolls remain available for "adoption" at BabyLand General Hospital, with a current adoption fee starting at $260.
While collectibles are sometimes referred to as a class of investments, many never rise in price or even maintain their original value. That's why experts advise people to collect what they enjoy—and if it becomes valuable, consider that a bonus.
3. Chia Pets
In 1981, Joseph Enterprises Inc. offered the first Chia Pets for sale: a ram and a bull. The concept was simple. Spread moistened chia seeds all over a grooved terracotta figurine, and the chia sprouts would soon grow in, forming the animal's fur or hair. Commercials for Chia Pets took over the airwaves in the 1980s and by 2019, more than 15 million had been sold, making them a novelty item with rare staying power.
Part of the reason for the product's enduring appeal is that through the years, new figures have continually been added to the collection. These have ranged from various animals to U.S. presidents and many licensed characters, such as Scooby-Doo, Minnie Mouse, SpongeBob, and Shrek. While Chia Pets remain available year-round online and in select retailers, purchases typically spike during the holiday season, where they've become as much a tradition as a fad.
4. Precious Moments Figurines
Based on the popular illustrations of Precious Moments founding artist Samuel J. Butcher, Precious Moments porcelain figurines first appeared in 1978 with the introduction of 21 models. Featuring children with teardrop-shaped eyes, Butcher's art was inspired by his "faith, family, and friends," the company says. The response was immediate. In fact, so many people were snapping up the figurines that a Precious Moments Collectors' Club was started in 1981, amassing more than 400,000 members around the globe.
While the porcelain figurines are still available, Precious Moments products have grown to include books, apparel, home décor, and more. New figurines are available online and at some retailers, while older ones periodically come up for sale through such venues as eBay and Facebook.
If you sell collectibles at a profit, the IRS considers that a capital gain, taxed at a maximum rate of 28%.
5. Beanie Babies
Introduced by Ty in 1993 at the World Toy Fair in New York, these small stuffed animals of various styles, colors, and patterns weren't an immediate hit. Beanie Babies began to take off in 1995 when Ty had to discontinue one of its early animals—Lovie the Lamb—due to an issue with a product supplier. The company made the most of the situation, suggesting that other Beanie Babies also might be retired, so consumers should get them while they could.
That announcement had the desired result, with collectors flocking to stores to grab all the Beanie Babies they could find. However, as Ty continued to expand its Beanie Babies offerings, collectors grew weary of trying to buy them all. By the early 2000s, sales had plummeted 90% from their peak in the 1990s. Today, Ty has expanded its product line to include a variety of stuffed animals beyond Beanie Babies. Diehard collectors still hunt for certain older Beanies, so anyone who has a few in their attic might luck into a high-dollar sale.
Are Pet Rocks Still Available for Purchase?
Yes. You can purchase the original Pet Rock on Amazon.
Are Hand-Stitched Cabbage Patch Kids Still Available?
Yes. You can purchase one from BabyLand General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia.
Are My Beanie Babies Worth a Lot of Money?
It's unlikely. Most old Beanie Babies have little to no value today, but some original Beanie Babies can sell for several hundred dollars.
The Bottom Line
The history of collectible fads is long and varied—with beloved stuffed animals, figurines, dolls, and more rising to fame overnight and often fading away just as quickly. Some collectibles may still fetch a pretty price, but many only find value in the memories of how popular they once were. The bottom line: Enjoy them, but don't bet your retirement on them.