Beanies, Dolls and Plates: The ‘Valueless Collectibles’

Yolanda Bello’s “Jennifer” doll charmed me into the Ashton Drake doll market. Like so many Beanie Babies, my collection will likely end up at a thrift store.

We all know that the Beanie Baby craze was a wild ride for a couple of years. People were actually acquiring these plush little darlings in the hope of building a nice retirement nest egg. I know a few people who really saw the Beanie Babies as the answer to their financial troubles.

I have a friend who spent hours putting her Beanies in little plastic boxes and purchased tag protectors by the pound. I don’t even want to think about how much money she spent to protect and preserve her plush retirement fund.

Unfortunately, this was just a passing fancy that left many homes overflowing with little plush critters that were eventually relegated to boxes and donated to thrift stores.

A non-collectible genre that I got swept up into were the mass-produced, beautifully crafted dolls sold primarily through magazine insert cards. I am a lifelong doll collector and have a wonderful collection of antique and vintage dolls, but when I saw Yolanda Bello’s “Jennifer” doll I just had to own her. This was back in 1991 and the purchase price for the doll was around $40.

My purchase of this doll created a snowball effect. My family decided that I needed to own every doll sold through Ashton Drake. The end result was storybook dolls, nursery-rhyme dolls, ethnic dolls and creepy newborn baby dolls. I had not just one doll from each series but every doll from the series.

After a few years I hit saturation with these lovely dolls and decided to start selling a few of them. Please keep in mind that some of these lovelies cost as much as $80. In 13 years, I have sold only one of the dolls—all of the rest are stored in their original boxes in my basement, and I see them being donated to the thrift store in the not too distant future.

So, what happened to the secondary market value of these dolls? They were touted as being limited edition, but if you read the fine print you will notice that they are limited to a production run of 365 days. Millions of dolls can be manufactured in a year’s time, which leads to market saturation and more supply than demand. If you can get $10 for one of these dolls on the secondary market, consider it a good day.

As a side note, with contemporary manufacturing processes there are very few true limited-edition, hard-to-find “collectibles.” A good rule of thumb is if it is sold through a magazine ad or insert, it will not increase in value.

Then there came the plates. Plates, plates and even more plates. One afternoon I had a lady show up at my front door wanting to sell me “a few plates.” I wandered out to her van and, I kid you not, the entire backend of her van was filled with Bradford Exchange decorative plates. Hundreds of plates!

She was very pleased with herself and offered to sell them to me for $20 each. “A bargain price,” she said, “They are listed on eBay for as much as $75 each.”

I don’t know if it was the look of sheer horror that came over my face or the fact that I was slowly backing away from the vehicle and the plates that made her question the value she had put on them.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s invested thousands into Bradford Exchange “collectible” plates that they’ll likely never see that money again.

We had a seat on my front porch and as gently as I could I explained to her that the vast majority of her decorative plates were worthless and that she would be better off donating them to a charity and taking the tax write off.

She became very agitated with me despite my gentle attempt to explain to her that these were mass produced; yes, some are numbered “limited edition,” yet the resale value is minimal. There might be a few that have a secondary market value of $10 to $20, I explained, but the time and effort involved in storing and selling them was really not worth my time.

Some of the Bradford Exchange plates are magnificent in detail and styling, but it is still a matter of supply and demand. If you have unlimited time and attention to put in to the selling of these plates, you might be able to sell them for close to the original purchase price. but it could take years to liquidate a large collection. Time is money.

If you enjoy owning the above items and love having them on display, then by all means continue to purchase and admire them. If you are buying them in hope of one day selling the collection for a good sum of money, you are better off putting the money you would spend into an interest-bearing savings account.

Oh, I still have my Jennifer doll on display. She is absolutely adorable.

Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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