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Making profits with pleasure: The world of collecting

Cover of  by Toby Walne

Can investing ever be a genuine pleasure? Absolutely: all you need do is take your favourite hobby or pursuit and apply a little financial nous. Imagine if you could find an investment that delivered both a financial reward and something far rarer - the pleasure of pursuing your own special interest.

Millions of people amass private collections that reflect their interests, be they collections of fine wines, stamps, paintings, historic toys or items relating to sports stars or celebrities - indeed, almost anything.

In an age of mass production, greater financial values attach to rare objects. And the internet has given amateur investor-collectors more power than ever to source and research items they may wish to add to their collections.

Here we look at four categories of collectables and explain the basic rules that, with luck, should deliver the collector profits as well as pleasure.

Teddy Bears
These are the world's most popular toy. The term 'Teddy' was coined in 1902 when an American newspaper cartoon showed President Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear. The same year, Richard Steiff, nephew of German toy maker Margarete Steiff, saw performing bears at the circus and was inspired to manufacture a cuddly bear toy.

These earliest Steiff bears can be extremely valuable and in 1994 a world record £110,000 was paid for a 1905 'Teddy Girl'. However, teddy bear collector and trader Sue Pearson says you don't have to spend thousands to get a vintage cuddly toy. Sue, who runs Sue Pearson Bears & Bygones in Lewes, East Sussex, says: 'The most important thing is to invest in a bear you love -something that makes the heart melt. It does not have to be a pristine example still in an original box. You can pick up a battered Steiff made in 1907 that has lost most of its fur for as little as £500.'

Other German manufacturers with a reputation for quality include Schuco, Bing and Gebruder Sussenguth, which made 'Peter Bears'. Peter Bears of the mid-Twenties were realistic and included alarming wooden teeth. This frightened both children and their parents, so production was limited. The few survivors can fetch £2,500.

Sue says anti-German sentiment after the First World War helped British manufacturers such as JK Farnell, Chiltern, Merrythought, Dean's and Chad Valley flourish.

A full record of provenance is crucial for dearer bears. As a rule, the oldest teddies command the highest prices, but they must have kept their looks over the years.

This helps to explain why bears made in the Twenties and Thirties often fetch up to £1,000 while those from the Forties and Fifties tend to go for far less, and rarely top £100. Modern 'limited edition' Steiffs should at least hold their value.

Contacts and sources: London International Antique and Artists Dolls, Miniatures and Teddy Bears Fairs,; Sue Pearson Bears & Bygones,

Travel Posters
These hark back to a bygone era when the sun always shone on unspoilt British beaches. Growing interest has seen poster values more than double in price in the past decade with some fetching thousands of pounds. Beautifully illustrated Edwardian railway posters promoted seaside resorts such as Bognor Regis, Weston-super-Mare, Bridlington and Skegness.

They captured a sense of romance and wholesome family values far removed from the grind of daily life. Later ones were done in the Art Deco style that, regardless of subject matter, holds enormous appeal for collectors.

Patrick Brogue, 49, of Stourpaine, Dorset, a collector and auctioneer at vintage posters and ephemera auction house Onslows, says: 'Nostalgia is the driving force. Images portraying the beauty of old holiday locations, beaches, families and bathing beauties always sell well.'

The most famous of all is the 1908 London & North Eastern Railways' poster 'Skegness is SO Bracing' by John Hassall, showing a jolly fisherman skipping along the beach. First editions sell for more than £5,000 while a 1928 reprint will go for £2,000 - almost double its 1999 price.

Other artists of the era whose travel posters continue to rise in value include Frank Sherwin, Tom Purvis and Fortunino Matania.

Contacts and sources: Onslows Auctioneers, Among the major auction houses that regularly sell travel posters is Christie's,

Moon Rock
Moon rock and meteorites have enjoyed rocketing returns in recent years, thanks to an enduring fascination with outer space. Prices for fragments vary from under £5 to £40,000 a gram. The fragments vary in size, too, from microscopic specks to boulders you could not get in the front door.

'Part of the appeal is that you are holding a piece of another world,' says meteorite hunter Rob Elliott, 48, of Milton of Balgonie, Fife.

Rarer specimens, such as samples of rock from the Moon or Mars, are more valuable, while pieces with an unusual story behind them are also in demand. A sliver weighing less than a tenth of an ounce from the Barwell meteorite, which fell on Barwell, Leicestershire, on Christmas Eve 1965, can cost £200. At the time, the Natural History Museum offered 7s 6d (371/2p) per ounce for fragments of the rock.

Another historic find is the Wold Cottage meteorite that 'alarmed the surrounding country' when the 56lb rock hit the East Yorkshire community on December 13, 1795. A half-inch piece can fetch £240 compared with only £100 a decade ago.

Rob's meticulous meteorite-tracking has paid off. He picked up a rare 15lb pallasite, an iron-rich meteorite fragment, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, in 2005. Called the Hambleton Meteorite, it is worth at least £60,000.

Rob hunts with a magnet attached to a golf club, claiming this is more effective than a metal detector. He says it is extremely unlikely that an amateur will strike it lucky.

Mars and Moon fragments result from collisions between those bodies and asteroids and rarely reach Earth. They sell for up to £84,000 an ounce, but particularly rare specimens have sold for £1.1 million an ounce.

Rob says: 'If you want to be sure you are buying the real thing, ensure it has been professionally analysed and classified.'

A scientific identity for logged finds is kept by the Nomenclature Committee of the Meteoritical Society, which provides details of makeup, plus where and when they fell. There is also a Catalogue of Meteorites, which is held by the Natural History Museum and has more than 22,500 authenticated findings.

Contacts and sources: The Natural History Museum mineralogy department, catalogue.htm; The Meteoritical Society,; Fernlea Meteorites,

Walking Sticks
As well as being an aid for the elderly or infirm and a fashionable accessory, a walking stick can be a collectable item whose value can grow. In Victorian times a gentleman might have a dozen canes to choose from - for city walks, weekend rambles or evenings out. The decorative handles are what makes the sticks valuable. Collector Melvyn Garland, 53, of Banstead, Surrey, who has more than 140 canes, says: 'There is so much choice - there were canes for every occasion.'

Decorative handles tended to be in wood, silver, ivory, ebony or porcelain and were inspired by a wide range of country sports, animals, or artistic and erotic figurines.

Dealer Dominic Strickland of Michael German in Kensington, west London, says sticks were typically made of the flexible malacca wood, known as the 'king of canes', but far more curiously, there was also a fashion for 'pizzle' sticks in the Victorian findings. Pizzle, an old English word for penis, involved stretching the skin from a bull's penis around a thin metal rod to form an elegant, leather-like cane. Examples of pizzle canes can still be picked up for about £200.

Ivory is also sought after - especially if carved in the Orient - and exotically carved handles can fetch £800 to £4,000. Melvyn, a builder, says: 'I am particularly fascinated by marine life canes and have some made of whalebone. You can also get them made from shark or with walrus tusk for about £500. One of my favourites has a whisky flask in the handle. I bought it for £60 about 15 years ago and it's now worth £800.'

Contacts and sources: Specialist shop Michael German of Kensington, west London,

Collecting Code: Simple rules to make your passion pay
Invest in a subject that fascinates you: enthusiasm will be key to any financial success. Focus on a niche area, especially where you are collecting popular or widely held items. This will build your confidence and help you spot items of value.

Always undertake research before buying. The internet is useful, but specialist books by experienced collectors remain vital sources of information - as do other collectors, so consider joining a club or association.

Beware fakes. It is better to pay over the odds with a reputable specialist than trust to luck.

Check each item?s provenance. A record of an item's origins and ownership is vital to boosting value. Spend the most you can afford, with quality a top priority. Rarity is important but appeal to other collectors also matters.

Store your treasures properly and insure them.

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