Finding Valuables of Tomorrow Today

Times Staff Writer

Question: What's really hot now in collectibles? I'd like to convert some of my free time into collecting, but I haven't decided what to get into yet.--L.S.

Answer: We recently did a lengthy column on post cards, which, although collected for years, appear to have become quite trendy in the last few years. Anything that smacks of nostalgia, whether it's an old radio, political-campaign buttons or an original barber pole, generally holds its value or increases and attracts plenty of collector attention at trade shows and flea markets.

And don't forget collectibles created by relatively recent events. The Watergate scandal is a good example, in which collectors latched onto newspapers reporting the breaking Watergate story; Watergate hotel stationery; various Nixon memorabilia, including campaign buttons, and the autographs of some of the leading protagonists of the Watergate affair.

As with Watergate, current events quickly become history and produce eminently collectible items in the form of newspaper clippings, magazine articles and an assortment of oddments. More recently, the tragedy of the spacecraft Challenger generated epic newspaper headlines that undoubtedly will be traded by collectors decades from now.

One collector even told us that he religiously keeps copies of TV Guide, among other publications, as a reflection of American culture during a particular era.

What we have, then, is a national compulsion to collect almost anything and everything. What's "hot" is whatever that great mass of collectors out there says is hot--and that covers hundreds of collectible categories.

We can't advise you to save everything, but the smart collector generally attempts to spot a trend and jump in; then he keeps abreast of the market by reading any one of a number of dealer/collector publications and books easily found in a public library.

Q: I think I got burned with a counterfeit pocketknife, which I thought was a bargain. I collect knives, but now the problem with counterfeits makes me nervous every time I see a "bargain" knife in a flea market or a dealer's showcase. What tips can you offer knife collectors to protect us from being taken by counterfeiters?--F.B.

A: There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. First and foremost, study companies in which you are specializing. That way you'll know that a certain producer didn't manufacture bone handles or that the factory only stamped its knives a certain way.

Blade design is important, and deviations should raise warning signals. Additionally, many producers use serial numbers or patterns to identify their products, such as the dot or X patterns found on Case knives.

Another tip is to be wary of knives that have, for example, new blades while the handle is worn. And, as is the case with many other collectibles, take a look at the knife under a pocket magnifying glass. You will learn to spot new parts that have been married with the original knife, thus diluting its value. Or, worse, you may be able to discern major design changes that signal an outright counterfeit.

Since knives have skyrocketed in price in recent years, it's a good idea to get a bill of sale; and, if possible, a guarantee from the seller that the knife is, to the best of the seller's knowledge, the genuine article.

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