Gotta Catch 'Em All: 5 Passion-Driven Collectibles Worth Pursuing
It may seem obvious that many women collect handbags—after all, the search for even a basic Hermès Birkin can be fraught with trials and tribulations before triumph—but imagine the excitement created by one of the rarer models. The one that has continually smashed world records at auction houses is Hermès’ matte white Niloticus crocodile Himalaya Birkin (pictured).
The official record was clinched in May 2017 in Hong Kong when a 30cm version with white gold and diamond hardware sold for HK$2.94 million, far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of HK$1.5-2 million. What separates this model from its brethren is the complicated hand-dyeing process that creates the white-and-grey ombre effect intended to resemble the hues of the Himalayan mountains, plus the diamonds that adorn it—and the fact that the maison reportedly makes only one or two of them a year.
2/5 Entertainment memorabilia
What’s so interesting about entertainment memorabilia is that its inherent value isn’t high at all. A used pill bottle would be of little interest to anyone should the label on it not read Frank Sinatra, but with the crooner’s prescription label for Vicodin firmly attached, it fetched US$4,000 at a Heritage Auctions sale in 1998. “Entertainment memorabilia is the most fun,” says Heritage’s New York managing director, Kathleen Guzman. “You get collectors that often have more passion than brains. And that combination is wonderful because they get wildly enthusiastic and their taste outpaces their pocketbook sometimes.”
Closer to today, a combination live and online auction in 2017 for items from Audrey Hepburn’s estate was launched with a travelling exhibition that hit Hong Kong, Hollywood and London, drawing some 12,000 visitors on its British stop. It resulted in frenzied bidding that brought in buyers from 50 countries across six continents—and a final auction take that was seven times the pre-sale estimate.
“The success of the sales—which saw thousands of [Hepburn’s] personal possessions across almost 500 lots all find homes—shows the immense continued affection for perhaps the greatest British actress the world has seen,” explains Adrian Hume-Sayer, head of sale for the Hepburn auction and director of Private Collections for Christie’s, which hosted the auction.
The sale’s superstar lot was Hepburn’s own working script for the iconic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, including deleted scenes and Hepburn’s own annotations, which ended up selling for a whopping £632,750, more than 10 times the conservative pre-sale estimate of £60,000. Fittingly, it went to Tiffany & Co, setting a new world auction record for a script.
3/5 Toys and figurines
The figurines created by street artist Kaws may cost a lot less than his canvases or large-scale sculptures, but in some ways they are even more coveted, thanks to limited edition releases that in no way sate demand from streetwear aficionados around the world, who sit poised before computers, trigger finger at the ready to click “buy” the second a hyped new toy hits the market.
It was widely reported news when the release of a Kaws “Companion” figurine crashed the website of New York’s Museum of Modern Art a couple of years ago.
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And while the artist is highly collaborative—his signature characters with crosses for eyes have graced merchandise for everyone from Uniqlo to Hennessy Cognac, Commes des Garçons to Nike—his work’s ubiquity has in no way dampened market desire.
Kaws’ latest brand tie-up is with Dior Homme; for designer Kim Jones’ debut show as creative director, Kaws installed a giant suited-and-booted “BFF” doll made from flowers on the runway, while models clutched plush toy replicas of the figure. A few days after the show in June last year, and with no official word on whether the toys would be released for retail, one specimen showed up on streetwear resale site StockX.com with an asking price just shy of US$10 million. The toy was finally released in January this year at a substantial discount—a mere US$7,500 each.
Serpentine queues outside sports shops would once have drawn attention, but today such occurrences are so common they don’t even warrant a second glance. The participants, almost uniformly clad in the latest Supreme collaboration, are there for the latest sneaker “drop.” You could make fun of someone willing to stand outdoors for hours through rain or Hong Kong’s summer heat, but chances are that they’re more likely to make fun of you and your “general release” kicks, the insider term for shoes that are released to the masses.
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So coveted are some of these sneakers that many never even hit the ground after purchase. True fans will try to cop two pairs, one for the feet, another for the display case (or for future resale on a metaphorical rainy day). While the price of a rare Hermès bag is tied to workmanship, material and rarity, making it fairly easy to suss out the worth of a particular specimen, sneakers have their own economy entirely, based mostly on hype, and as complicated and volatile as any stock index.
Take Yeezy. The early releases of the Kanye West collaboration sneaker with Nike could resell for more than 10 times their original cost, while recent iterations produced with Adidas, which have become more and more ubiquitous, might not garner very much interest in the secondary market at all.
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The early releases of the Kanye West collaboration sneaker with Nike could resell for more than 10 times their original cost
One guarantee of a hot-ticket item is the suffix “friends and family,” referring to editions so limited that they never even hit the retail circuit, having been reserved for—you got it—friends and family of the brand, like last year’s Pharrell x Adidas NMD Hu China Exclusive Pack. Already exclusive to China, these shoes were available to the Chinese public in red, green and blue, with a special “Happy Gold” edition that went to only 300 of the brand's nearest and dearest.
Used smoking paraphernalia might not seem worth keeping in the age of Marie Kondo, but ancient Japanese kiseru— tobacco pipes—were quite the rage in their day, thanks to the cachet attached to their makers, highly skilled swordsmiths whose jobs became obsolete when Japanese samurai were banned from carrying weapons under the Sword Abolishment Edict of 1876.
This particular specimen (pictured) was made by Kano Natsuo, an artisan commissioned by the emperor Meiji to decorate imperial swords, who later used his delicate metal techniques to decorate kiseru with exquisite details, connoting the social status of the pipe’s owner. This kiseru is on show at the Liang Yi Museum as part of its latest exhibition, Chrysanthemum and Dragon: The Art of Ornamentation in Japan and China in the 17th-19th Century.
“A kiseru pipe is an interesting way to look at the evolution of Japan’s arts and crafts movements from the 16th to 20th centuries; and more importantly, the Japanese’s way of life during the Edo period,” explains the exhibition’s curator, Stephanie Fong. “As well as giving an insight into a bygone era, the various methods employed to decorate these pipes make them appeal especially to collectors who appreciate the minute details of design and craftsmanship.”
“The kiseru is a super interesting item in terms of its relevance in social history,” adds the museum’s director, Lynn Fung. “It represents the point in Japanese history when the country is rapidly modernising and Westernising; one of the reasons swords were outlawed was because they were seen as not being on par with Western technology, but of course it was also an attempt to quell rebellions by the samurai. This didn’t really work, actually, because a lot of the kiseru were then made extra large, and when worn tucked into an obi sash, they deliberately looked like weapons and were used as such anyway. Aesthetically, they are also beautiful; demonstrate exquisite and elaborate craftsmanship; and could be made from a variety of materials, including bamboo, glass, gold, silver, copper, ebony and lacquer.”
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