7 Collectibles to Watch in 2016

By Josh Levine of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal
Posted January 2016

We’re into the New Year, and by now, you’ve probably heard all of the predictions regarding what to expect in 2016. Economists have shared their predictions about global and national markets, fashionistas told us what styles and colors will be “in” this year, and other experts have chimed in about topics ranging from sports and cars to food and travel destinations.

For those of us who love antiques and collectibles, trying to guess what will be “hot” in the next 12 months is not such a daunting task, especially if we look closely at cyclical cycles and take a clue from how the market has been behaving over the past year. I’m no expert at predicting the future, and I certainly wish I had a crystal ball, but between my experience as a certified auctioneer both in Pennsylvania and now in Arizona, I have a pretty good sense of what we’ll see develop in the next year.

Keep in mind, lots of factors could change the course we’re on, especially if we go through another bear market, but in my opinion, these seven collectibles are worth watching in 2016:

Chinese Collectibles: We’ve seen this trend for the past three years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Asian collectors are willing to pay top dollar for all things Oriental. And Chinese collectors can’t get enough of treasures and antiquities that were confiscated during the Cultural Revolution and exported to the U.S. This new affluent "middle class" is collecting their history and setting records while doing so. Our auction house in Arizona has seen a significant increase in the amount of Oriental items sold. Recent examples include: a bronze statue from the Ch’ing dynasty that realized $96,000; a Zitan wood chest from the Middle Qing Dynasty that sold for $10,000; a pair of Chinese Summer Palace chairs that sold for $10,000: and sterling silver enamel Chinese Foo Dogs that realized $1,100.

Photo Right: Ch’ing Dynasty bronze statue, $96,000.
(All photos: Josh Nelson.)

Vintage Toys: No doubt, toys from the past are always fun to auction off. I always get a kick out of seeing some of the old toys from my childhood, and no matter what the era, people get nostalgic about their past. When I first started out as a young auctioneer, the big craze was 1930s Lionel & Marklin trains. Not anymore. Now the big buzz is all about 1970s and 1980s action figures. You know…Batman, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Green Lantern and the list goes on and on. Did I mention Star Wars figures from the 1970s and 1980s? They’re crushing now in auctions, and I bet they’ll continue to do well in 2016. One of the highest prices realized last year came from a 1970s Boba Fett, Darth Vader's hired bounty hunter in The Empire Strikes Back. It sold for $27,221 in England.

Photo Right: These vintage Star Wars figures were part of a 149-piece set that realized $1,100 at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in 2015.

Art Deco: Often characterized by its bold stylized geometric forms and extravagant ornamentation, Art Deco was all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s after the world embraced Art Nouveau. Styles come and go, but Art Deco always seems to be cool. I credit the minimalist movement for this current trend. With the simplistic designs of Art Deco, it fits the mid-modernist and the minimalist trends of today's hip and downsizing baby boomers. Recent examples of items that did well at our auction house include: a Figural Statuary Lamp attributed to Max Le Verrier (1891–1973) which realized $3,000; a reproduction of a Tamara de Lempicka painting that brought $1,750, thanks to its deco look; and a small Walther & Sohne Uranium glass Art Deco nude lamp that realized $550.

Photo Right: Reproduction of a Tamara de Lempicka painting, $1,750.

Vintage Lunchboxes: People really do collect the craziest things, and recently, we auctioned off a consignor’s collection of more than 100 vintage lunchboxes. These were mostly metal rectangular lunchboxes from the 1960s and 1970s, and boy, were we surprised with the results. In total, the auction realized $55,000, with certain “stars” stealing the show. A 1954 Superman lunchbox realized $1,200, a 1974 Underdog brought in $275 and a 1966 James Bond lunchbox saw $180. Given our experience and what I’m hearing from others in the industry, I think vintage lunchboxes will continue to do well in 2016. A resurgence from a few years back.

Photo Right: 1954 Superman lunchbox and thermos, $1,200.

Retro Musical Instruments: Music is timeless, and retro guitars, saxophones, clarinets, flutes, trumpets and other instruments from the past will continue to be in demand this year. In my former life, I owned and operated a used musical instrument shop, and I was also in a band, so this is a trend I am personally interested in. Today, we are seeing the player collect some of the 1970s and ‘80s bizarre and retro guitars from the U.S. and Japan as these are still affordable but continuing to climb in value. The most sought-after guitars are commanding $20,000 to $30,000 at auction today. Examples of these include the 1950s and ‘60s Gibson Les Pauls, American Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, Gretsch Falcons and the like. A Selmer Mark 6 saxophone is averaging about $5,000 at auction. Some Ludwig Snare drums have sold for $2,000. Look for these retro musical instruments to continue to do well in the next year.

Photo Right: Selmer Mark 6 saxophones average about $5,000.

Historic Firearms: Whether they’re from the Civil War or they date back to the Old West, historic firearms do well and will continue to do well at auction this year, so long as they are in good condition and have provenance. Here in Arizona, we naturally get a lot of firearms from when the West was truly wild. Last July, we sold Bat Masterson’s 1882 .45 Colt Single Action Army Revolver for $96,000. We’ve sold several Wyatt Earp guns, including his Colt. 45-caliber revolver for $225,000 in April 2014.

Photo Right: Bat Masterson’s 1882 .45 Colt single action Army revolver, $96,000.

Mid-Century Modern Furniture: Again, the recent minimalist movement is dictating what’s hot and what’s not, and all bets are that mid-century modern furniture will do well at auction in 2016. With or without a brand name, this style of furniture is in demand, though a brand name will definitely command more at auction. Recently, we sold a Herman Miller Eames lounge chair for $4,500, proving they are still a hot staple. We also sold a Martin Borenstein Challenge Series Living Room set consisting of a sofa, love seat and coffee table that zoomed to $14,400 by the time it was all said and done.

Photo Right: Last year, this Martin Borenstein Challenge Series Love Seat sold for $4,250 at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal.

So, there you have it. Clearly, I’m not a modern-day Nostradamus, and while we’ve auctioned off Zoltar fortune telling machines in the past, I can’t say I gained any magical ability to predict the future by doing so. But I’ve got more than a strong hunch that I’m right about these predictions. And, if I’m wrong, maybe next year, I’ll consult Zoltar first.


Josh Levine co-owns J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale and EJ's Auction & Consignment in Glendale, Arizona. A Pennsylvania native who was raised in an 18th century Lehigh County farmhouse by avid antique collectors, he is a history buff who loves to hear consignors' stories about their collectibles. His favorite part of the business is dealing with oddities.

All photos courtesy of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal.




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