Back Up Next

Majel Barrett Interview
Majel Barrett  biography
Hallmark Trek Ornaments
Practical Star Trek Gifts
Saul Jaffe of SF-Lovers
Lost in Space Models
Collectibles as Gifts
Childrens Gifts

SNW Issue 14
SNW Issue 13
SNW Issue 12
SNW Issue 11
SNW Issue 10
SNW Issue 09
SNW Issue 08
SNW Issue 04

The Artful Collector
Strange New Worlds Issue 10 - Oct/Nov 1993

To give or not to give . . . collectibles as gifts
by Jane Frank
Director of Worlds of Wonder Gallery, Washington DC

If you have ever spent hours tramping through a shopping mall, trying to imagine what would please Aunt Harriet, convinced that anything you choose to give her will be considered eminently unsuitable, then triple that anxiety if you are contemplating a gift for Harriet as personal, and as idiosyncratic, as a collectible.

‘Gifting,’ as merchandisers like to call it, is no simple matter these days. Major department stores even provide special gift consultants; too bad these services are useless where collectibles are concerned. Even dangerously personal items such as perfume and lingerie can be returned — often collectibles cannot. This contributes mightily to the trauma of gifting. Imagine trying to return an item to a science fiction convention art show or huckster room the next year!

So, do you dare? Is it sheer folly to presume to know another’s taste in art? Is it worth the Christmas morning drama when Aunt Harriet, who previously disclosed her interest in Smurfs, discovers your little Smurfs animation cel from the 1980s TV cartoon series (which you bought for $201) under the tree? Will she give you big hugs, pleased to be able to add to her collection of Smurf memorabilia? You bet!

If you are considering buying collectibles as gifts, you must be brave. It helps to be informed and somewhat rational about the process. The chances that Harriet already owns dozens of Smurf figures are great. The chances of her owning this exact cel, however, are small. If you also collect Smurfs, so much the better, because you could have spent $10 on that cel or $40, depending on its image size, content, expression, and condition. It pays to know what you are doing when buying collectibles, whether for you or for Auntie.

It also pays to take a moment to answer this important question before you decide to buy collectibles as gifts: "Who is the collector?" Is this your passion, or theirs? You can buy collectibles as gifts because it gives you pleasure, or because it gives Harriet pleasure. Either way can be fun.

You can please yourself by buying gifts that expose your own collecting interests, while also matching the giftee’s interests. Or, you can add to another’s already established collection. Or, you can simply decide to solve the gifting problem by buying something that is not likely to be duplicated by anyone else . . . something ‘collectible.’ Any one of these possibilities can be satisfying.

If you and the recipient both enjoy the same collecting interests, then there is a higher likelihood that your gift will be well-received, so long as you keep a close eye on what your giftee is collecting. If the recipient is a collector but you do not share collecting interests, how much - exactly - do you know about their collection or about the ‘collectibles’ in question? If the answer is "not much," you run the risk of buying an item that the person already owns or would not consider worthwhile owning.

If you are buying something unique, unusual, and valuable beyond its obvious looks, and the recipient is not a collector, will they know what they are receiving? I have heard horror stories about rare airplane models that arrived in their original packages, only to have the box discarded and the model given to the giftee’s son for a plaything.

I know collectors who have a wonderful holiday time because they use it to indulge their own collecting passions. For example, if everyone knows you are a Trek fan, then they might be amused to find you have turned this holiday season into a memorable Star Trek holiday for your family and friends. Why not gift them all with an object related to your collecting passion. To be sure, you will match gifts to age, gender, and size of the recipient. Your budget will also influence choices. But, year after year, you can keep up this practice, until you, and your collecting interests, are not only memorable, but also unforgettable.

It is fun and easy to do this if you, or the recipient, are ‘thematic’ collectors, since there are usually available inexpensive items in all price ranges. Pins and memorabilia for office colleagues, special edition tree ornaments for those with Christmas trees, limited edition porcelain and pewter items, signed prints . . . plus rarer collectibles for those on your list who deserve something special.

Whether the interest is unicorns, dragons, or mermaids; Beauty and the Beast or Star Wars; Superman or The Hulk, holidays can be the ideal time to exploit any collecting theme.

Risks and Opportunities

‘Collectibles’ cover a wide range of gifting possibilities. One of them is unique works of art. It takes real guts to buy a ‘one-of-a-kind’ item. But one of the best fits I ever gave to a friend, and surely one of the most memorable he ever received, was a small painting I purchased at a science fiction convention for only $45.00.

The man was an avid golfer. One of his special goals was to play every masters golf course in the world. He had no interest in things science fictional or in collecting art; indeed, he was not a collector of any sort or kind. No, science fiction is my hobby and interest, not his.

But at a convention, I spied a painting of a conventionally cute little BEM (bug-eyed monster) teeing off on the greens in front of the requisite flying saucer (neatly parked, or course). I immediately thought, "Now, wouldn’t this make an appealing present for Jim?" It was entertaining without being too trite, and only a $45.00 minimum bid. Even if I had to pay slightly more, it would have been a great buy because it allowed me to accomplish several important things at the same time:

bulletIt was within my budget for gifts for close friends on an important occasion — yet the gift would be perceived as ‘priceless.’
bulletIt satisfied my missionary urge to introduce all friends to the beauties and satisfaction of science fiction art.
bulletIt was directly related to my friend’s interests and so would tickle his funny bone.
bulletThe gift was definitely one-of-a-kind, yet fit into a collectible category: golf art.
bulletI could stop my search for ‘something special.’

As holiday season nears, thoughts inevitably turn to gift buying and the tempting thought of purchasing a gift that is unique, different, possibly original, and which might — just might — have worth to someone beyond its immediate entertainment value or apparent function.

Downside risks to giving collectibles:

bulletSome collectors are picky about what they collect. What they would consider a ‘good’ addition to the collection may be difficult to determine.
bulletCollectibles are perceived as ‘special,’ hence carry obligations not associated with ordinary gifts, such as the need for display, potential for future value, etc.
bulletNot everyone likes Star Trek (almost everyone, but . . . ) or whatever your personal collecting passion is.
bulletShopping for a collectible can be much more time-consuming than shopping for an ordinary gift
bulletNot every collecting hobby lends itself to this gifting strategy.
bulletThe recipient may not realize the value of what you are giving them. What is a valued ‘collectible’ to you may be only a book, comic, toy, miniature, model, to them. This especially applies to everyday items with utilitarian value in working condition, such as radios, tools, cameras, vases. The flip side: Uncle Harold may be terribly insulted to find a broken (dusty, torn, used) toy under his tree. He is "too old to play with toys!" If the giftee is the obsessed collector, of course, this problem is eliminated - and you can indulge THEIR interests, instead.

All you have to do is mention that you are hooked on Super Heroes, or your passion is pentagrams, or you crave C’thulu, and you will enjoy an endless stream of gifts from me with that theme. And what fun that is for me! I love to buy presents for people that I know they will like . . . don’t you? Heck, we are probably some kind of Aunt Harriet ourselves. And we love getting our version of Smurfs!

On the other hand, and as one friend confessed, "how many Darth Vader pins can one person wear?" If you are a casual collector, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Even maniacal collectors like the occasional mundane present. You also must know a person pretty well before you would want to spring for an expensive addition to their collecting. If the collector has been collecting for many years, the danger is always great that she/he will already have acquired that item. If you can find it, so can they — and probably in mint condition.

The most satisfying use of collectibles as gifts may be for you to just use them when the opportunity presents itself, when the match between the object and the giftee seems right. The trick is to know a potential gift when you see it, and act!

It’s Holiday Time and I need presents!

No one says you have to buy gifts just when you need them. Part of the pleasure of buying collectibles for others is being freed from the tyranny of shopping at the last minute. When you see just the right piece, at the right price for your gift-buying budget, you should buy it, then and there. Then stash it away for the appropriate moment.

But what if you have not thought ahead? For well-known and nationally distributed collectibles, try local gift stores and gift/art galleries. You can find Real Musgrave ‘Pocket Dragons,’ any number of plates, figurines, cottages/houses, ornaments, as well as Gurney’s Dinotopia signed books and posters. For specialty items, miniatures, models and the like, you can try gaming or comic stores, hobby shops, regional science fiction/fantasy conventions, or niche conventions (Dr. Who, Star Trek, etc.) For historical items or more esoteric collectibles, you will need to visit mainstream antique and collectibles shows, collectibles expos, and dealers who specialize in such items. Several times I have been called by friends and relatives of collectors who ask for my help in finding an appropriate gift. Most have a modest budget. When I can, I help to locate something suitable. I especially enjoy taking on the challenge when the collector is already a client, for I know full well exactly what the collector likes and covets! Finally, for surprisingly interesting items at affordable prices, there is nothing like local garage/yard sales, local auctions, estate sales, and school book sales.

Remember that art and collectibles do not go ‘on sale’ the way that everyday commercial products do, nor are they likely to rise in price just before major holidays when shoppers are out in force. The most critical factor affecting prices of collectibles is supply and demand.

The combination of an influx of new fans hungry for science fiction/fantasy items, combined with older collectors with fond memories of science fiction from them youth hungry for original merchandise, has resulted in tremendous recent interest in many science fiction/fantasy collectibles. Both categories of collectors have driven up the prices, but will this last? However much science fiction fans try to downplay the impact of trends in the greater collectibles marketplace, fads and buying trends do tend to be cyclical and are impacted by larger market forces.

It is best not to think in terms of worth or investment when buying or giving a gift; you cannot control either the future value of the item or its condition. If your budget can afford it, buy it. And it is healthier not to dwell on how that Darth Vader ceramic mug by Sigma, already valued at $302, will be worth a fortune some day. Otherwise, after gifting it to your younger brother you will find yourself lunging at him every time he uses it.

Collateral Gifts

You do not have to buy the real McCoy in order to make a hit with your gift. Some collectibles are just too expensive or fragile to make reasonable holiday presents. But there are alternatives. I call these ‘collateral gifts’ because, while they are not exactly the thing the giftee is collecting, they are supportive of the collection, or related in such a way to the main collectible so as to be perfectly acceptable as gifts. Plus, they are often surprisingly affordable. Sample items in this category are:

bulletbooks (also book marks, book bags, auction catalog subscriptions, book ends, book plates)
bulletpresentation or storage containers (frames, albums, carrying cases, protective bags)
bulletgift certificates (for hobby shops, book stores, etc.)
bulletentertaining, educational items related to the collections (for example, videos, ‘how-to’ workshops, memberships in clubs, posters, magazine subscriptions3)
bulletfunctional/miscellaneous (for example: clothing, desk accessories, stationary)


A final note: many times, the effect of giving collectibles as gifts are lost on the recipient because we are shy about disclosing background information, or reticent to make clear that the item is not what I cent to make clear that the item is not what it seems. Thanks to mass marketing, we have learned to be ashamed of gifts purchased at flea markets — even though these are just the places where we are likely to turn up highly desirable collectibles. But, if you are giving a strange and collectible gift, it behooves you to present it properly, and with appropriate instructions, to diminish the probability of misunderstanding, mishandling, or destruction.

Action figures in their original packaging, for example, demand huge premiums — at least two to three times as much as loose figures. Also, items must be in top condition - or very close to it - to retain ‘collectible’ prices. If you know that, but chances are your gift recipient won’t, doesn’t it make sense to alert them?

If the giftee is not a collector, instructions for cleaning, polishing, storing, even displaying the article should be included. If the item should NOT be dusted, or washed, or repaired, make that clear. If identification of the object is missing, or it may not be obvious to the recipient, you should spell out all details on an enclosure. Uncle Harold may otherwise be highly insulted by your "old broken toy."

Should the wrapping give clues to the contents? That is for you to decide. One nice twist is to use ‘collectible’ containers or packaging to present everyday gifts (and vice versa, for those flea market finds). Or, make a statement by wrapping everything in science fiction-themed wrapping paper. Just be forewarned: original Star Wars wrapping paper is worth $204. So, don’t wrap a $5.00 wool muffler for Aunt Harriet in it. l

1,2,4 - prices courtesy of TODAY'S COLLECTOR, May 1993.
3 - the author suggests a subscription to Strange New Worlds as a collateral gift for a collector. See inside front cover for subscription information.

Back Up Next


Articles by Jane Frank written for Strange New Worlds:

bulletHow to be a Sucker - why you paid too much, and how to avoid doing it again
bulletNegotiating the Rocky Waters of Collecting - learn how to bargain for price with dealers
bulletPossession Obsession - The Case Against Hoarding - are you building a collection or just a pack rat?
bulletTake the Diagnostic Test: Are You a Pack Rat?
bulletIs It Advertising or Is it Art? - You know what you like, but do you know what to call it? N.C. Wyeth and Rockwell were once scorned as "commercial" illustrators, but now their art is highly collectible.
bulletCollectibles as Gifts - the do's and dont's of giving collectibles
bulletHow to display your science fiction collectibles

Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Books by Jane Frank:
bulletThe Frank CollectionA legendary SF&F art collection, containing the largest assortment of fantastic art in the world — includes the most celebrated names in the field: Earl Bergey, John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, Margaret Brundage, Frank Frazetta, H.R. Giger, Frank R. Paul, J.K. Potter, Boris Vallejo, and many others. 112 pages (all in color). Hardcover.
bulletThe Art of Richard Powers"I think Richard Powers was one of the most original artists to enter the science fiction field, which he shook up considerably ... I am happy to see this collection of Richard Powers's outstanding work." — Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Hardcover, 128 pages (all in color)
bulletGreat Fantasy Art Themes from the Frank Collect 128 pages (all in color), hardcover. Available in May, 2003. Order now and save.



Back Up Next