FROM COINS AND COMICS TO BASEBALL CARDS AND TIMEPIECES, HERE ARE OUR CHOICES FOR TODAY’S TOP TREASURES. LET THE DEBATE BEGIN.
By The Intelligent Collector staff
When you hear the phrase “classic collectibles,” numerous legendary items immediately come to mind. These treasures are timeless, with the best examples maintaining and certainly increasing in value and prominence over the years.
For our list of the 50 Greatest Collectibles, the staff at The Intelligent Collector went straight to the source for nominees – the category experts at Heritage Auctions. The task? Identify classic collectibles.
“The classic definition of ‘collectible’ is an item produced or manufactured as a series or run, and made available to the public,” says Nicholas Dawes, senior vice president of Special Collections at Heritage Auctions.
Obvious categories include coins, currency, baseball cards and comics books. But also included on this list are LPs, books, movie posters and timepieces. “Excluded from this definition,” Dawes says, “are unique items such as artwork, historical artifacts or one-offs.”
By no means is this list all-inclusive. Nevertheless, these treasures certainly are among the “classics” of collecting. So, presented here for your enjoyment – and perhaps for debate at your next friendly gathering – are what we consider 50 great collectibles.
COINS: 1894-S Barber Dime, Branch Mint
Barber coins – so-called because they were designed by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber – were minted between 1892 and 1916. The San Francisco Mint struck nearly 2.5 million Barber dimes in 1893. An economic depression led to the cancellation of 1894 dimes at the San Francisco Mint, but not before 24 dime proofs were minted. Numismatic lore says the daughter of the San Francisco Mint’s superintendent used one of these dimes to buy ice cream. Today, no more than nine examples are known to collectors. One sold for nearly $2 million at a 2016 Heritage auction.
BASEBALL CARDS: 1909 T206 Honus Wagner
Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner is considered one of the best players of all time. The American Tobacco Company cut short the run of his trading cards (with no more than 100 believed to be in circulation) because the baseball star either objected to smoking or being unpaid for the endorsement. In either case, by the 1930s, his card already was the most valuable trading card in the world. A PSA 5 example sold for $3.12 million in 2016.
COMICS: 1938 Action Comics #1
Action Comics #1 is the holy grail of comic collecting. The 1938 DC title features the first appearance of Superman and is considered the first comic of the superhero genre. Certified Guaranty Company has accepted 70 copies for grading, with 9.0 being the highest grade they have yet assigned an unrestored copy. A copy graded CGC FN- 5.5 sold for $956,000 at an August 2016 Heritage auction. Hot on its heels is Superman #1, which would command seven figures for a high-grade unrestored copy.
TIMEPIECES: 1969 Rolex’s ‘Paul Newman Daytona’
In the 1960s, when Rolex’s Cosmograph Daytona was in production, its auto-racing inspired design didn’t exactly grab the favor of consumers. That changed in the 1980s, when collectors discovered the watch was a favorite of actor Paul Newman. Today, the “Paul Newman Daytona” is one of the most popular vintage timepieces on the market. It is believed that fewer than 400 of these Daytonas were produced and of those, very few received what’s now called the Paul Newman dial. A 14k Gold Ref. 6241 Paul Newman Daytona, a John Player Special, circa 1969, sold for $804,500 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
STAMPS: 1918 Inverted Jenny
In the 101 years since a misprinted sheet of 100 stamps was unwittingly released from a Washington, D.C., post office, the Inverted Jenny has become, arguably, the most recognizable collectible stamp in history. Legendary collector “Colonel” H.R. Green acquired the sheet and divided the stamps. Single Inverted Jennys have sold for more than $950,000 while a block of four has realized more than $2.5 million.
AMERICANA: 1789 George Washington Inaugural Button
An estimated 10,000 people were on hand at Federal Hall in New York City for the April 1789 swearing-in ceremony for the first president of the United States. Making their way through the crowd were inaugural buttons with the phrase “Pater Patriæ” – perhaps the earliest artifact that referred to George Washington as the “Father of His Country.” It’s unknown how many buttons survive, but one example realized $225,000 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
HANDBAGS: Hermès Himalayan
Hermès’ Himalayan bags are made of Nilo crocodile, rendered in a subtle coloration meant to evoke images of the majestic Himalayan Mountains. All Hermès Himalayans – especially the Birkin and Kelly – are considered the most treasured handbags in the world. Extremely limited editions mean collectors will gladly pay a premium price, in some cases more than $200,000, for their own Himalayan treasure.
WORLD COINS: 1538 Rincón 8 Reales
Eighteen years after the fall of the Aztec Empire, Spain struck its first coins in the New World. The Rincón 8 Reales silver piece is considered the first dollar-sized coin produced in the Americas. Only three examples are known, recovered from a ship that sunk sometime around 1550 in the northern Caribbean. One example sold for $528,000 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
RECORDS: 1966 Beatles’ ‘Yesterday And Today’
When the Beatles appeared on the cover of their 1966 album Yesterday and Today covered with decapitated dolls and raw meat, outrage ensued. Capitol Records ordered a recall, with most of these albums getting a pasted-on second cover. Some of the original copies, however, escaped into the wild. These “first state” covers are truly rare, with a mint-condition stereo version (most copies were pressed in mono) selling for $125,000 at a 2016 Heritage auction.
U.S. CURRENCY: 1890 $1,000 ‘Grand Watermelon’ Note
These notes were printed to purchase the mass of silver coming out of Western mines. They were redeemable in both gold and silver, giving them preferred legal tender status. Today, just three are known in private hands, each with an ornate back design that resembles a watermelon rind. An example graded extremely fine sold for $3.29 million at a 2014 Heritage auction.
POSTERS: 1931 ‘Dracula’
The original 1931 one-sheet poster for Universal’s Dracula is one of the rarest and most desirable posters of the monster genre. Once pinned up at theaters everywhere, Bela Lugosi’s mug is now one of the hobby’s most iconic treasures, with a fine/very fine example selling for $525,800 at a 2017 Heritage auction.
COINS: 1907 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
The Saint-Gaudens double eagle gold coin – named for its designer Augustus Saint-Gaudens – was produced by the U.S. Mint from 1907 to 1933. It initially was struck as a high-relief design, meaning the metal was struck seven times to fully bring up the details in the dies. But the process proved too stressful and damaged the dies, so the relief was pulled back to allow for more efficient mass production. A near-perfect 1907 Ultra High Relief sold for nearly $3 million at a 2005 Heritage auction.
BOOKS: 1623 William Shakespeare’s First Folio
The First Folio of Shakespeare is the first printed collection of the writer’s plays, published in 1623, seven years after his death. It’s unknown how many First Folios were printed, but researchers put the number at about 750 copies, a typical print run of the time, according to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. About 235 copies are known today, with two discovered as recently as 2016. Auction estimates start at $5 million.
RECORDS: 1963 Bob Dylan’s ‘The Freewheelin’’
It’s estimated that at least 300 copies of Bob Dylan’s 1963 album were pressed before production was halted and four tracks were removed. Copies that include the tracks “Rocks and Gravel,” “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand” and “Talkin’ John Birch Blues” routinely sell for more than $20,000.
AMERICANA: 1823 Declaration Of Independence
In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned English-born engraver William J. Stone to produce an exact copy of the original 1776 Declaration of Independence. In all, 200 official parchment copies were produced in 1823. One such example sold for $597,500 at a 2012 Heritage auction.
COINS: Morgan Dollars
The Morgan dollar, minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921, has been called the hobby’s most collected coin. Millions remain on the market, so high value is limited to error coins, rarities and best-graded examples. A 1895 Morgan struck at the New Orleans mint and labeled the finest-known specimen (MS67 PCGS) sold for $575,000 at a 2005 Heritage auction.
ART GLASS: René Lalique Mascots
Legendary glassmaker René Lalique launched his first automobile mascot for owners of luxury cars at the Paris International Exhibition of 1925. By 1932, he had produced a line of 30 different mascots, most of which continued in production until the onset of World War II, though automobile design had made mascots redundant. Prices today can range from under $5,000 to more than $300,000 for the rarer examples. The “Royal Blue” or “Levrier 1” (Greyhound 1), created in 1929 for Prince George of England, is considered the rarest, with only one found so far.
TOYS: Kaws ‘Companion’ Vinyl Figures
In 1999, artist and designer Brian Donnelly, known professionally as Kaws, made his first toy. Companion was a vinyl figure, with numerous limited edition versions released since that time. Companion Karimoku Version, released in 2011, is among the most popular. One example from a run of 100 sold for $62,500 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
TIMEPIECES: 1954 Patek Philippe Ref. 2526P
Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Ref. 2526 is considered one of the hobby’s greatest watches. Introduced in 1953, it was the brand’s first automatic movement, subsequently winning collector attention for its innovative caliber 12-600AT and crisp elegance. It’s believed that no more than 600 examples were produced. Even rarer is the double-branded Tiffany & Co. platinum model, circa 1954. An example sold for $642,500 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
U.S. CURRENCY: 1863 ‘Spread Eagle’ $100 Legal Tender Note
The first circulating currency that was federally issued was introduced to help finance the war effort against the Confederacy. Each note portrayed economic and military strength in its design. This note features a “Spread Eagle,” a numismatic art element that is considered provocative towards one’s enemies. One of the most stunning examples sold for $305,500 at a 2013 Heritage auction.
BASEBALL CARDS: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle
New York Times bestselling author Tony Castro in his autobiography Mantle: The Best There Ever Was argues that the beloved Yankee switch-hitter surpasses Babe Ruth as the sports’ greatest legend. That’s certainly true of the Oklahoma native’s trading cards, with his 1952 Topps called the greatest post-war example. Of more than 1,500 submitted to Professional Sports Authenticator for grading, only six have earned a Mint 9 rating. One of those realized a record $2.88 million at a 2018 Heritage auction.
COMICS: 1939 Detective Comics #27
The first appearance of Batman is among the top books in the hobby. While it enjoyed a brief tenure at No. 1 on Overstreet’s Top Golden Age Books list, eventually falling back to No. 2 (behind Action Comics #1), some collectors expect this issue to eventually retake the No. 1 position. A copy graded CGC VF 8.0 sold for $1.075 million at a February 2010 Heritage auction. Batman #1, which debuted a year later, can fetch more than $350,000 in grades over 8.0.
POSTERS: 1931 ‘Frankenstein’
A mad scientist, misunderstood monster, angry villagers, gloomy lab and creepy assistant. Every cliché of cinema horror was seen in Universal’s 1931 Frankenstein. A three-sheet poster measuring 41 by 78.5 inches, issued at a time when many theaters had only one screen, sold for $358,500 at a 2015 Heritage auction.
PHOTOGRAPHY: 1941 Ansel Adams’ ‘Moonrise’
Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941) is the photographer’s most popular single image. Gelatin silver prints originally made by Adams and which sold for $500 during his lifetime can now command more than $50,000.
COINS: 1909 VDB Lincoln Cents
The Lincoln penny was first struck in 1909. First-year coins included the initials of the coin’s designer, Victor David Brenner. After public outcry, the Mint removed the initials in the middle of 1909 production. Still, nearly 28 million VDB Lincoln Cents were issued. One such penny, designated the finest-certified example of the matte proof 1909 VDB cent, sold for $258,500 at a 2014 Heritage auction.
COMICS: 1962 Amazing Fantasy #15
When Amazing Fantasy #15 was published in 1962, it quickly became one of Marvel Comics’ best-selling issues. Today, the first appearance of Spider-Man is often ranked No. 1 on lists of the greatest Marvel comics of all time. A copy graded 9.4 sold for $454,100 at a 2016 Heritage auction.
DECORATIVE ARTS: Tiffany Lamps
In the late 1800s, Louis Comfort Tiffany began exploring the production of decorative art, with Tiffany Studios’ leaded glass lamps becoming its most triumphant success. Production continued until the 1920s, and today Tiffany lamps are among the most-coveted examples of vintage decorative art. Some examples, like the “Border Peony” floor lamp, circa 1920, can reach $150,000, while older creations, like the “Pond Lily” table lamp from 1903, have sold for more than $3 million.
PHOTOGRAPHY: 1945 Alfred Eisenstaedt’s ‘V.J. Day’
Perhaps the most-recognizable kiss in photography is Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Aug. 14, 1945, photo taken when World War II ended. The photographer continued producing and signing V.J. Day, Times Square, New York City until shortly before his death in 1995. An exceptional print from his studio can command more than $15,000.
U.S. CURRENCY: 1934 $10,000 Federal Reserve Note
The single-largest denomination ever intended for circulation was the $10,000 Federal Reserve note printed from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. They are considered by many as one of the “trophies” of U.S. currency collecting. Many of the surviving examples come from one small hoard, a group of 100 pieces that were on display at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. This Binion example realized $188,000 in 2015.
PULPS: 1931 The Shadow #1
The Shadow is one of publishing’s most influential pulp magazines, inspiring countless comic-book heroes, including Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman. The first issue went on sale on April 1, 1931, and today the publication remains among the hardest to find. A copy in very fine condition could fetch at least $25,000.
BOOKS: 1997 J.K. Rowling’s First ‘Harry Potter’
British publisher Bloomsbury in 1997 released 500 copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, about 300 of which were sent to English libraries and schools. In subsequent years, J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard became a cultural phenomenon, and now those first-edition copies of Potter’s first published adventure are prized by collectors. A copy sold for $81,250 at a 2017 Heritage auction.
POSTERS: 1941 ‘Maltese Falcon’
Humphrey Bogart achieved true stardom portraying Sam Spade, a hard-boiled San Francisco private eye, in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon. Studio-produced six-sheet posters today are extremely rare, with an example selling for $191,200 at a 2015 Heritage auction.
INSTRUMENTS: 1933-1942 Martin D-45
Only 91 Martin D-45 acoustic guitars were produced before the company stopped production shortly after the United States entered World War II. Subsequently, “pre-war” D-45s – produced between 1933 and 1942 – have become the most sought-after and highly valued acoustic guitars in the world. Values can run from $100,000 to $400,000.
COMICS: 1941 Captain America Comics #1
The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide has called this comic book Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s “most classic creation, a patriotic paragon that set the comics market reeling.” Nearly 80 years later, the comic ranks among the hobby’s most popular books. An example graded 9.4 realized $915,000 at an August 2019 Heritage auction.
VIDEO GAMES: 1987 Stadium Events
The sports fitness video game Stadium Events is one of the rarest titles in the hobby. It was published by Bandai in 1987, but shortly after the game shipped to stores, Nintendo purchased the rights, ordered a recall and rebranded it as World Class Track Meet. It’s estimated that about 200 copies of Stadium Events were purchased before the recall. Today, a factory-sealed copy could fetch more than $50,000.
FIREARMS: Circa 1839 No. 5 Paterson Colt Revolver
The Colt Paterson, patented in 1836, was the first commercial repeating firearm that employed a revolving cylinder with multiple chambers aligned with a single, stationary barrel. The Republic of Texas purchased 180 pistols, now known as Texas Patersons (with 9-inch barrels), for its Navy. Many of these were subsequently issued to Texas Rangers. A cased and shell-carved ivory-gripped No. 5 Texas Paterson Colt Revolver sold for $977,500 at a 2011 Heritage auction.
WINE: 1945 Romanée-Conti
The French estate Domaine de la Romanée-Conti produced only 600 bottles of its Romanée-Conti in 1945. Today, the bottles are considered the epitome of the highest-quality Burgundy. In 2018, a bottle sold for nearly $560,000.
COMICS: 1940 Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories #1
Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories is one of the best-selling comic book titles of all time, with its first issue sometimes called “the Action #1 of funny animal comics.” A copy of #1, graded 9.4, sold for $116,512 at a 2008 Heritage auction.
DECORATIVE ARTS: Josef Hoffmann Silver Set
Josef Hoffmann was among the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte, a company of designers, artists and craftsmen founded in Vienna in 1903 to produce luxury objects. Rediscovered in the 1980s, Hoffmann’s pieces are now extremely coveted. A four-piece Hoffmann silver, silver gilt, walnut and ivory tea service, circa 1905, sold for $112,500 at a 2015 auction.
TIMEPIECES: 1958 Tudor Big Crown Submariner
Vintage Tudor timepieces continue rising in value, with some collectors calling it one of the most collectible vintage brands today. The Tudor Ref. 7924 was released in 1958 as one of the brand’s earliest dive watches. Not extensively marketed and produced in low numbers, the Big Crown Submariner today is highly coveted by collectors. A model with all its original pieces, including bezel and dial, sold for $162,500 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
WORLD CURRENCY: Zanzibar Banknotes
One of the crossroads of international trade in the British Empire was Zanzibar. Located off the coast of modern-day Tanzania, its location was an important stop along the trade routes from Africa, Arabia, India and Asia. Africa was a sparsely populated continent in the early 20th century and these banknotes facilitated trade, employing multiple languages in its design. Few survivors are known, with a 1928 10 Rupees example selling for $87,000 in 2019.
BASKETBALL CARDS: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan’s rookie card is not rare. But demand for high-quality examples continues soaring … a remarkable achievement for a card that’s barely 33 years old. More than 17,000 have been submitted to Professional Sports Authenticator for grading. Of those, 307 have garnered a Gem Mint 10. One of these sold for $31,200 at a July 2019 Heritage auction. Today, the card is clearly the most popular basketball card in the hobby.
POSTERS: 1926 ‘Metropolis,’ German Release
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is the granddaddy of feature-length, science-fiction classics. The tale of a futuristic city divided between the working class and city planners is most associated with the Machine Person or gynoid (female robot) depicted on its posters. The original German three-sheet for the movie is among the hobby’s rarest, with copies easily fetching more than $1 million. The Museum of Modern Art counts a copy among its inventory.
SCULPTURE: Frederic Remington’s ‘The Bronco Buster’
Frederic Remington’s The Bronco Buster was his first sculpture, modeled in 1895. In the following years, he cast nearly 300 bronzes (each about 23 inches high). Remington later made slightly larger versions, nearly 33 inches high; no more than 20 copies of these larger example were produced. Prices for either bronze – often called the world’s most famous piece of Wild West art – can range from $350,000 to more than $500,000.
ACTION FIGURES: 1977-78 Kenner’s Darth Vader
Early Darth Vader action figures were manufactured with a double-telescoping lightsaber – meaning the main part of Vader’s lightsaber slid out of his arm; a smaller piece further telescoped from the tip of the lightsaber. Kenner quickly simplified production and ditched the telescopic versions, making early examples extremely rare. One, in its original, sealed packaging and sold in stores for $1.89, recently fetched $55,000 at auction.
TOYS: Circa 1901 Märklin’s Providence Paddle Wheel
The German company Märklin has been making toys for more than 150 years. The paddleboat series has some of the earliest production dates (1900-1902) and the most ornate detailing of all Märklin toy boats. Its 26-inch, clockwork-powered Providence Paddle Wheel tin boat, based on a majestic steamer launched in 1866, is noted for its detailed cabin windows, painted curtains and ornately stamped seating area. A superb example recently sold at auction for nearly $250,000.
PULPS: 1912 The All-Story, First Tarzan
It’s believed that fewer than 20 copies exist of All-Story’s October 1912 edition, featuring the first appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan in any medium. A copy in fine condition sold for nearly $60,000 at a 2006 Heritage auction; it could easily bring $200,000 today.
BOOKS: 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Great Gatsby’
The Great Gatsby wasn’t a best-seller when it was released. The book received mixed reviews and no more than 25,000 copies were sold before F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940. Since that time, the Roaring Twenties tale of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan has become a literary classic. A first edition, first printing inscribed by the author sold for $162,500 at a 2018 Heritage auction.
INSTRUMENTS: 1958-1960 Gibson Sunburst Les Paul
Gibson made about 1,500 Les Paul Standard “Burst” electric guitars between 1958 and 1960. These models were the only Les Paul Standards built with a flamed maple top and cherry sunburst finish, a stopbar tailpiece, a tune-o-matic bridge and a pair of PAF humbuckers. A 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst sold for $194,500 at a 2012 Heritage auction.
DECORATIVE ARTS: 1950 Picasso’s ‘Grand Vase Aux Femmes Voilées
After World War II, Pablo Picasso visited Vallauris, France, and was smitten by the coastal town’s ceramic artisans. Soon, the Madoura ceramics workshop was producing his designs. Grand Vase Aux Femmes Voilées was conceived by Picasso in 1950 and executed in an edition of 25. One of these sold for $1.1 million at a 2013 auction.