Totally worthless collectibles you thought were valuable

Every now and again, news articles pop up talking about how there's an old Disney VHS tape or McDonald's toy from the '90s selling on eBay for thousands of dollars. These stories tend to be greatly exaggerated, often referring to a single, specific item that is valuable precisely because of its rarity. Perhaps as a result of these kinds of stories, people tend to think their childhood items are secretly worth a fortune; in reality, they're probably worthless.

McDonald's Happy Meal toys

McDonald's has been giving away free toys with Happy Meals since the 1970s, and a select few have become very desirable collectibles for one reason or another. The operative word there is "few." McDonald's has released thousands of toys since the '70s, and as you can imagine, not all of them have been winners.

The Guardian tracked and noted thousands of eBay listings of Happy Meal toys over several weeks, but "only a tiny percentage" of them actually sold and the majority went "for less than £1" or about $1.20. This shouldn't be surprising: there are tons of these toys out there. 

What's more, even massive collections still only tend to make a couple of bucks per toy. For example consider the tale of Kelvin Baines, a British man who spent 25 years collecting over 1,400 Happy Meal toys. Baines expected the collection to sell for thousands at auction in 2009 but ended up having to drag all the toys back to his house when nobody bought them. He was then low-balled with an anonymous offer — an offer he claimed to be "tempted" to take — of just over £1,000. 

Vintage Playboys

As weird as this is going to sound, buying used girlie mags is a niche business that attracts a very specific and discerning kind of pervert. In regards to vintage Playboy magazines, only a handful of copies are really worth anything. Discounting the outlier that is the 1953 first edition featuring Marilyn Monroe (which can sell for several thousand dollars at auction, depending on condition), the most you're gonna get for one is a couple hundred dollars and only then if it's from the early 1950s and in good condition. Although Playboys from the '60s and '70s have occasionally sold for about $50, this is only if they're in mint condition. This makes sense; the pre-internet editions likely saw, shall we say, heavy use.

An example: in 2014, a man paid $250 for a storage locker containing about 3,500 vintage, near-mint condition Playboys from as far back as the 1950s. Experts valued the collection at between $15,000 and $20,000, or about $4 to $6 per magazine. If you're in the market (buying or selling), note that without the centerfold, the value of a vintage Playboy is cut in half.

Disney VHS tapes

There's an internet rumor that makes the rounds every few months that there are special Disney VHS tapes out there worth a fortune. These tapes are said to be exceedingly rare and are marked with a black diamond signifying they're from the Disney Classics Collection. Oooh. They're supposedly worth thousands of dollars.

These stories are almost entirely fabricated and can be traced back to a single auction regarded as a fluke by Snopes. To be clear, there is exactly one known example of Black Diamond Disney VHS tapes selling for several thousand dollars: one person paid $9,000 for a set of two Beauty and the Beast Black Diamond tapes. However, every other example of these tapes selling for thousands of dollars is a lie. You see, in every other case where a tape has been listed on eBay for some exorbitant amount of money, no one actually bought it. In other words, just because something is being listed for $5,000 doesn't mean anyone paid that amount. 

According to Snopes, most Black Diamond Disney VHS tapes sell for "between $5 and $25." (Jackpot.) Collectors of vintage VHS tapes have further noted that the Disney Black Diamond tapes are definitely not rare and can be found cheaply enough online or in stores.

Beanie Babies

Back in the '90s, Beanie Babies were a cultural event. Adults would rush stores and deplete their entire stock of the toy in minutes; stories of people getting into fistfights over the last Beanie were common and kind of hilarious in retrospect. The value attached to Beanie Babies was such that in one famous case, a divorced couple divided their entire collection up under the watchful eyes of a judge to ensure nobody was cheated. For many, Beanie Babies weren't a cutesy toy, but an investment, an idea that was only fueled by news articles about specific Beanies selling for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on eBay. This was largely thanks to efforts from the manufacturer, Ty, to artificially limit the amount of certain Beanies in the marketplace, inflating their value and by extension, the value of other, more common Beanies in the eyes of customers.

The Beanie mania ended around 1999 when the market for the toy crashed online and prompted a massive selloff by collectors who flooded the market. According to one analyst for Fortune, the market never recovered. Today, only a select few Beanies are worth more than a few dollars and most sell for closer to the $1 mark. For anyone keeping score, that's less than the $5 they cost brand new back in the day.

Modern Star Wars toys

Star Wars is a merchandising behemoth, and the internet is lousy with stories of vintage Boba Fett action figures selling for thousands of dollars on eBay. Although it's true that a few vintage toys are worth more than their weight in gold, the same can't be said for Star Wars toys related to the prequel trilogy. This is because toys related to the original trilogy were produced in nowhere near the quantities they are today.

It's easy to forget that nobody expected Star Wars to be a success when it was released. Fox famously gifted the merchandising rights in their entirety to George Lucas in return for him waving his director's fee. When the film did succeed, toy manufacturers simply couldn't keep up with the demand and began selling coupons for toys that could be traded for the real thing when they had more stock.

The fact that so few vintage Star Wars toys were produced in any significant amount is the reason they're so valuable today. The same can't be said for toys related to the prequel trilogy, which were produced in massive quantities and hoarded away by fans hoping they'd increase in value. Of course, it doesn't really work when thousands of people have the same idea. Because of this, you can find mint-condition prequel toys that have never been opened that sell for less than they did when they first hit shelves. 

Comics (from the last 20 years)

Two things that inform the value of any collectible: rarity and desirability. In regards to comics, the most valuable are ones that are both difficult to obtain and feature popular characters. So a mint-condition copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 is worth hundreds of thousands (and even up to $1 million) to the right buyer because it's rare and features the first appearance of Spider-Man.

Stories about these comics being worth more than a house have led some collectors to assume that modern comics will similarly be worth a fortune one day if they just hold on long enough. The problem is that a lot of people have the same idea, and thanks to a resurgence in the popularity of comics and superheroes, there are just too many comics printed today for them to ever increase in value the way comics from the '40s, '50s, and '60s have. To quote an article from Crave, "Today's current comic books are eventually going to be in tomorrow's dollar bin." Good luck, nerds!

Baseball cards (from the '90s)

Baseball cards are one of the most popular collectibles out there. That means a lot of people insist that their cards from the late '80s and early '90s are worth something. In reality, seasoned collectors will tell you that baseball cards from that period, however good their condition, "aren't going to put anyone through college today, let alone buy a ham sandwich."

This is because there are still millions of baseball cards from the '90s floating around that nobody really wants. Even cards that there were literally one copy of back in the day sell for as little as $30 today because the pool of people still collecting these things has shrunk so dramatically. In fact, one site dedicated to collecting baseball cards notes that "superstar cards limited to just 1 [print] can sell for less than the box they came in."

In short, if you have an old shoebox full of these things in your closet, the box is probably the valuable part.

Pogs

Like a lot of fad toys, Pogs once ruled the schoolyard. Stories about roving packs of bullies beating up kids to steal their rare Pogs were passed down like folk tales around the water fountain. Despite the fond memories you may have of the toy, it's absolutely worthless today.

Now you can buy bulk lots containing hundreds of Pogs for around $10. Of course, there are a couple uber-rare Pogs hiding out there that someone probably wants, but that someone probably already has that Pog and hundreds of others. The most valuable Pogs were released by the brand No Fear and sold in a single store in the '90s; a full set is said to be worth about $750 today. 

Along with being a very niche collectible, the time sink of sorting through a bulk lot of Pogs to sell the ones that might be worth a dollar on eBay is probably not worth it. According to a Vice article about your childhood crap, "There are just too many Pogs for any of them to be worth anything."

Pokemon cards

Back during the apex of the Pokemon card craze in the late '90s, certain holographic cards could net you a sweet $100 or more due to their rarity and the fact they were, at the time, the best cards in the game.

However, very few of these early cards have retained their value, partly because better cards exist today but mostly because there are thousands of them selling at any particular point in time. In fact, if you take a peek at PokemonPrices.com, which does exactly what it sounds like, even cards like a holographic Charizard (a veritable jewel in the '90s) can be picked up for around $15 if you shop around.

Of course like with anything, some cards in amazing condition are worth more. While there are cases of a few first-edition Pokemon cards selling for thousands of dollars, these are the exception rather than the rule. If you still want to hitch your economic wagon to a team of Ponytas, the costs of doing business (eBay's cut, shipping and handling, your time) "probably doesn't make it worth it," according to a writer from the Dallas Morning News.

Royal memorabilia

Royal memorabilia is a massive cottage industry in the U.K. and can be popular to a certain extent in a few other countries. Every royal event (whether wedding, birth, funeral, or other) is commemorated with a tidal wave of crappy, mass-produced memorabilia (think of the Queen's mug plastered on a mug) in an attempt to cash in on the public goodwill. It is all worthless.

According to a lady who literally wrote a book on the value of antiques, Judith Miller, royal memorabilia has no value because it's just not desirable. (If you've seen a piece of the stuff, you can read between the lines there; this stuff is not desirable because it's butt-ugly.)

As an idea of just how little market there is for this stuff, pieces of memorabilia from the 19th century celebrating the reign of Queen Victoria can be found floating around online for less than £10 (about $12). That means there are people out there who bought commemorative plates before the country began using decimals in its currency system. Collecting royal memorabilia sounds like a royal crock.