What makes an item valuable? – Collecting 101

While searching through online listings and antique stores, you’ll always come across items marked “Rare”, “Hard-to-Find” and “One-of-a-Kind”. Watch out for these types of claims, since the seller may not be a seasoned collector. Just because an item doesn’t come up in a web search doesn’t mean it’s worth its weight in gold! What really makes an item valuable?
Nearly perfect condition, but a close up of Woodstock reveals he’s been broken. Woodstock is prone to breakage. Always check his neck and tail.


No matter how rare or common an item is, condition is always key. Here are a few key areas to look out for:

1. Breakable items – Always check for chips, cracks, scratches, crazing in the glaze, broken-off pieces, and reglued pieces.

2. Fabric & paper items – Touch it and smell it. If it’s smoky, dirty or mildewed, the item may need a lot to repair the damage.

3. Sets – If an item was sold as a set, check that all pieces are included. Missing pieces, especially non-Peanuts character items, can be difficult to replace.

4. Moving & Electrical items – Does your music box play music? Can you get a dial tone on that phone? Does the watch wind up? If not, it can be expensive to get the item in original working order.

5. Boxes, Blister Packs & Tags – If an item has its original box, blister pack or tag, that is added value to the piece. The condition of the box or tag is also part of the value. For some collectibles, the major part of the value is in the box, such as a board game.

6. Plastic – Plastics over time can start to yellow and become brittle. Items without signs of aging are more desirable to collectors.

If an item has condition issues and it doesn’t bother you, make sure you buy the item at a reasonable price. Showing a dealer an unseen flaw can help lower the price.

Subject Matter

Everyone has their favorites. Popular subject matter, characters, Snoopy poses, holiday seasons and certain item types will command higher prices. Popularity can fluctuate over time. Collectors specializing in an area may pay more for a piece they are missing.
A Silver Deer crystal Snoopy in a Thunderbird model car has the number and artist signature on the bottom of the piece.

Limited-Edition Pieces

Items sold as collector’s pieces generally have an issue number. Each item has a unique number to signify what number it is out of the limited edition. Lower numbers are usually preferred by collectors. The size of the edition plays a key in determining value. If the item is one of fifty made, then you have a rare piece. If the item is one of 15,000 pieces made, then it’s probably not so special.

Collector’s items are made to sit on shelves and collect dust. Anything less than perfect condition greatly reduces the value of the piece. Some editions include a certificate of authenticity. Though the authenticity is usually not in question, it can boost the value of some pieces. Complete, original condition pieces are always the most valuable.

Back in 1996, I was excited to buy the one in front for only $40, compared to over $100 I had seen in antique stores. My bargain phone now is right at fair market value.

Manufacturing Defects

Mistakes can happen during the manufacturing process. Sometimes they’re not caught by quality control and end up in the marketplace, like this Charlie Brown figure in a Snoopy labeled box. Certainly, with other types of collectibles, such as Beanie Babies, these defects can lead to exorbitant after-market prices. However, in the world of Peanuts collecting, there aren’t many examples of Collectors paying ridiculous prices for defective items. Three factors would be needed to cause an after-market frenzy: novelty, availability and information.

Novelty refers to how interesting the defect is. I heard about a Peppermint Patty figure by Memory Lane accidentally being produced with blond hair, instead of brown. The mistake was caught, so none of the figures made it to market. However, I could see that as an item some people might spend extra on. Part of the novelty is in the original packaging. The less chance an item has been tampered with, the more likely the defect is genuine. If an item is out of the package and easily manipulated, who’s to say that was definitely a manufacturing defect.

Availability and information are key in creating the frenzy that would raise the prices of a manufacturing defect. How many are on the market? The more there are, the less of a novelty it is. Also, if not enough collectors know about the defect, or just don’t care, then there won’t be enough market force to drive the price up. Sometimes a manufacturing defect is just a defect.

Rare and Hard-to-Find

Classifying an item as “Rare” is tricky. What do you base the assumption on? Snoopy Phones (seen above) used to be rare and commanded high prices. However, with the advent of the internet and mobile phones, a once rare item is now incredibly easy to find and becoming obsolete. Unless the item is known to be one of only a few made or a reliable source classifies it as rare, I would personally dismiss anyone’s assumption of an item’s rarity.


If a seller makes this claim, they better be able to back it up. Yes, a signed Schulz drawing is a one-of-a-kind and worth money. A production piece, such as a manufacturer’s model can be valuable to a collector if authentic. However, a hand-made craft item has more sentimental or kitsch value than monetary.

The Market

Ultimately, an item is only worth what another person will pay for it. Getting top dollar for an item takes research, time, patience and energy. Getting an item at your price requires knowledge and haggling. One of my favorite resources for doing research is Worthpoint.com (affiliate link) and Peanuts collector guides.

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