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Functional Collectibles and How to Find Them

Functional Collectibles and How to Find Them
By Allison Brickell
Date February 17, 2023

I’m new to the collectibles space. And I don’t consider myself a serious collector by any means. I just enjoy treasure hunting at flea markets and antique shops and finding things that speak to me

But I’d like to learn more about collectibles. And the more research I’ve done, the more overwhelmed I’ve felt at the sheer range of collectibles. Anything can be a collectible. The only thing that really determines an object’s status as a collectible is whether someone finds it interesting. So there are hundreds of different types of collectibles — probably even thousands. Here are just a few of the things I saw on my most recent antique shopping trip:

  • Old circus posters
  • Action figures
  • Vintage lamps
  • Maps
  • Tea towels
  • Hats
  • Stuffed animals
  • Baseball cards
  • Dishes
  • Dolls.

And that’s just what I can remember offhand. 

In order to mentally sort out all these collectibles, I’ve started to organize them into larger subcategories. One of those categories is what I like to call “functional collectibles.” These are collectibles that can be used, not just displayed. (Of course, whether they’re actually used is up to the individual collector. But the idea is that they could be used.) Functional collectibles include things like books, musical instruments, furniture, and electronics.

I like the idea of functional collectibles. As a casual collector, I’m not interested in filling my living space with tons of stuff. I’d rather my collectibles don’t take up much space. And I’d like to be able to actually use some of them, so they have a purpose beyond just gathering dust.

There are three types of functional collectibles I’m particularly interested in: books, records, and video games.


Books are an expansive category to collect. You may first want to decide on a specific focus — like author, genre, or subject, for example. Or you may want to just find what you like and go all over the place. 

First editions and collections by the same author can be particularly valuable if you can find them. In 2011, a rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” sold for $150,000 in an auction — after sitting in someone’s bathroom for decades. The most expensive antique book ever sold is the original printer’s draft of the Book of Mormon. It sold for $35 million in a private sale in 2017. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be able to make thousands or millions of dollars from old books. But they certainly have potential. 

Even better, you can find all kinds of affordable old books at antique shops and thrift stores. Bookshop.org is another great place to find (newer) books. And all purchases made through the site support local bookstores, which is a nice bonus. 

To better determine the value of a book, you can match it with a record in an online catalog like WorldCat, Addall.com, or the National Union Catalog. Check the publication date, copyright date, and any edition details of the book. It may be listed as first edition, second edition, second printing, etc. Using that information, you can compare your copy with the publication history of the book and get an idea of how old and valuable it really is. 

Music Records

To start or cultivate a vinyl record collection, it’s a good idea to find independent record stores in your area. They’re all unique, so you never know what you’ll find. But usually the owner(s) will be more than happy to help you search for something if you want a specific record. 

Events are also a great way to find new records. There’s a local record bazaar in my area of Maryland that’s hosted at a brewery. I’ve found all kinds of cool records there. Look for music events in your area and see what you can find. Another advantage of going to events is that they allow you to make connections with other collectors. You can learn a lot from both sellers and buyers — especially if you’re able to talk in person in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Discogs is a great resource for vinyl collectors. Its crowdsourced database contains more than 13 million music releases and 7 million records, so it’s a good place to find pricing info. To determine the value of a record, look for a catalog number — typically found on the album sleeve or on the inner ring of the vinyl. You can also look for a barcode number. If you can’t find either of those, you can just note any other info about the record. Then enter the catalog number, bar code, or other info in the search bar on the Discogs site. You can even use the “Find Your Version” function to pinpoint your specific record’s release. 

Video Games

Video games spark a particular kind of nostalgia for me. I prefer to only have games that are playable — usually ones that I played in my childhood. No matter what kinds of games you may be interested in, there is a fascinating market out there for video game collectors. 

As with other collectibles, one of the best things you can do to begin collecting video games is to find things you like and then research the heck out of them. EBay is a good research site for two reasons: you can easily check the prices of games you’re interested in and you can get a better sense of how games are priced in general. You can see which games are attracting the most bids, which games tend to attract the most money, and which games don’t.

If you plan on playing your vintage games, you’ll need a functional console for them. That can get expensive, as different games require different consoles. So if you’re interested in collecting games but not a dozen consoles, it’s a good idea to narrow your focus to a particular brand and/or era. Personally, I grew up playing Nintendo games. So I’m interested in finding games for the Super Nintendo, which was originally released in 1990.  

I hope these tips give you a framework for thinking about functional collectibles. Remember: find what makes you happy. And have fun!

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