- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

Investors in collectibles are shifting their money into interests such as stamps, coins, sports memorabilia and even comic books rather than risk poor returns from the stock market.
"The collectibles market is on fire right now," said David Hall, founder and president of Collectors Universe in Newport Beach, Calif. "The rare-coin market has made the biggest impact on the collectible industry, and it usually does very well when the stock market goes down."
The company, which provides services and sales in rare coins, stamps, baseball trading cards and other collectibles, posted an 80 percent increase in revenue thus far in 2002 from a year earlier, Mr. Hall said.
"Investors are looking at collectibles because the other alternatives in the stock market just don't look too good right now," he said.
Michael Montileone, a financial adviser for Allegheny Financial Group in Pittsburgh, said more of his clients are investing in tangible items, such as real estate, collectibles, gas and oil.
"Some of my clients won't put a cent into the stock market. They just don't understand it," Mr. Montileone said. "But they know real estate and will buy and sell it like nobody's business."
Mr. Hall said rare coins, like real estate and rare comics, are a draw to investors. "They feel they have more control over their market when they are working with a physical asset, rather than a piece of paper saying they own a stock."
The coin market hit a record in sales last month with a 1933 $20 gold piece that sold for $7.5 million. "This was amazing, because the only thing coming close to that was an 1804 silver dollar for $4.2 million that sold a few years ago."
Mr. Hall said he expected expenditures to be high for comic-book investors, to remain the same for stamp collectors, and to drop for baseball-card collectors this year.
"Sports cards were selling through the roof during the '90s, and they were hitting 1,000 percent growth," he said. "But like stocks and the dot-commers, the cards were just air in the market, and now there is a backlash in that market."
James Halperin said he was surprised by the rapid response for comics, a smaller collectibles market, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, recession and corporate scandals.
"A lot of people looked to comics, something they knew and loved, as a safety blanket that would accrue interest for them even if it was at a slower growth," said Mr. Halperin, co-chairman of Heritage Capital Corp. and Heritage Comic Auctions in Dallas. "With each mention of corporate scandals like Enron, people are moving away from the risks of the stock market and more towards the collector's market."
The Heritage Capital Corp. reported record sales of $5.2 million for its weekend comic-book auction in Chicago last month.
Most investors use rare coins, stamps and comics as another way to diversify their investments, Mr. Halperin said. "It's the idea of not putting too many eggs in one basket, and comics are just another egg."
The success of comic-book auctions in the past six months has been unmatched, said Steve Borock, who rates comics at Comics Guarantee LLC in Sarasota, Fla.
"Getting $5 million off a single auction is just unheard of when the most recent comic-book auction success was two years ago and barely made $2 million," he said.
Mr. Halperin said the company's 50 percent increase in sales in collectible comics for the past year is linked to the declining stock market.
J.C. Vaughn, who documents the trends and sales in collectibles, said he expects the number of collectors in coins and comics to grow until the economy makes a stronger recovery.
"Comics have always had a weird relationship with the uncertainty in the world," said Mr. Vaughn, an executive editor with Gemstone Publishing Inc. of Timonium, Md. "You saw an explosion in comic sales during World War II when comics were really in their heyday. After that, the survival of comics has been to morph from trend to trend and then as things leveled out in the '90s and we were in a stable and relatively good period comics fell flat."
But like any investment, collectors risk losing thousands of dollars on an edition by not examining the finer points, Mr. Montileone said, adding that he had invested in the comic-book market 25 years ago.
"People who invest in comics we're talking about $600 or more an edition here have to know a broad base of things concerning the comic, like who the publisher is, whether he or she is alive or dead, what edition it is, how well the quality is, how many editions were initially printed on the publishing date, and that's just the basics," he said.
As with any investment, the selling time is also a main concern, Mr. Vaughn said. It's the reason one person last fall made the largest sale of $350,000 for a first edition of Marvel Comics, which first featured Captain America.
The greatest risk in collectibles investment is identifying the fads that will last, Mr. Montileone said. "Some clients invest in Beanie Babies, and who knows if they'll make out well or if they're another fad that will go sour. Remember the pet rock?"
The serious buyers are also the serious fans, Mr. Halperin said, adding that most buyers view their collectibles as another long-term investment. "People willing to take the risk and spend the money usually love the collectibles they buy."

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