Smart Money Podcast- Cash in on Collectibles: How to Monetize Your Passions and Memorabilia

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

Discover how you could turn your collectibles and passions into an actual business and stay ahead of market trends.

How hard is it to make money from collectibles?

What kinds of things typically become collectible?

Hosts Sean Pyles and Elizabeth Ayoola discuss the unconventional method of selling collectibles to earn income to help you understand how your passions could yield financial gain. Sean speaks with Tyler Feldman, the Founder and CEO of Inscriptagraphs, a sports and entertainment memorabilia company, about the significance of researching market trends, leveraging platforms like eBay for sales, tips for staying ahead of market trends, and how to find a balance between passion and practicality in the business of collecting.

Check out this episode on your favorite podcast platform, including:

NerdWallet stories related to this episode:

Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

So tell us, dear listener, what do you have in boxes in your garage, your attic, your spare bathroom, that you think might just be worth something someday? Baseball cards, Beanie Babies, comic books, vinyl records. Today, we’re exploring another in a series of unconventional financial moves: collectibles.

One of them years ago was a Carrie Fisher movie script. After she had passed away, her family started selling off her items as well as her mother, Debbie Reynolds’ stuff. So there was an auction that had a script that she had owned from Star Wars, from A New Hope. We actually cut up the movie script and we sold every page out of the scripts.

Welcome to Nerd Wallet’s Smart Money podcast. I’m Sean Pyles.

This episode continues our Nerdy deep dive into weird money, the odd, unusual, funky things that we do to make or manage our money.

Yeah. Sean, I loved hearing in our last episode about one of our nerdy colleagues who has 37 credit cards. Yes, I said 37. I couldn’t keep track of all that credit personally, but she does, and I’m glad it works for her and she gets all those perks.

I think that’s a good way to put it, it works for her, and that’s what we’re highlighting in this series. We call it weird money, but weird in a good way. Things that might not work for everybody, but they work for our guests and bring some fun and interesting ideas to what can be a kind of dull topic, financial management.

It can be dull. So on that note, I want to know what our unconventional money behavior is for today. Tell us.

Today we are talking all about collectibles. So Elizabeth, do you have anything languishing in storage that you’re holding onto because it might be worth something someday?

I was about to say no, and then I remembered I have moved probably about six times and I carry my books with me to every country. So I carry them in a suitcase. Yes, I pay extra for shipping.

What about you, Sean? What do you have? Do you have any quirky weird collectibles?

Not really. I mean, a few years ago I bought a package of Lady Gaga’s special edition Oreos. They are disgusting. The cookies are pink and there’s green frosting. They taste really bad, but I’m holding on to an unopened package on the off chance that one day it’ll score me tens of dollars. So, we’ll see.

Tens? I was waiting for the millions, Sean. The millions never came.

Yeah, I’m trying to be realistic here.

I’m with you. I can certainly understand why some people might keep that Star Wars Chewbacca toy that’s still unopened, in its original packaging, because you just never know, that could be the retirement plan.

Could be, although we don’t advocate that anyone should count on that for retirement. But yeah, collectibles can be a way to bring in some income even if they’re not a sure thing. And the collectibles market is a big one. The data farm Market Decipher says that the collectibles market was worth $434 billion in 2023, and a good chunk of that came from trading in dolls. Can you guess why?

I’m going to take a wild guess and I’m going to say the answer is either Taylor Swift or Barbie.

Ding, ding, ding. Yes, it was Barbie. Sports memorabilia is always big too. Market Decipher says those collectibles are poised to go from a $32 billion market last year, to $227 billion in 2032.

Wow, that is a lot of signed jerseys and bobbleheads. I wonder if there’s a bobblehead Barbie.

I feel like there has to be at this point, right? So people might be wondering, I mean, how do you even go about making money from collectibles? Is there a real market for them? What’s it like to turn collecting into a viable business? We have some answers for you today and we want to hear what you think too, listeners. We would absolutely love to hear about the different and odd and wonderfully weird things that you do to either make money or manage your money. So leave us a voicemail or text the Nerd hotline at (901) 730-6373. That’s (901) 730-NERD, or email a voice memo to [email protected].

So on that note, who are we hearing from today?

Today we’re talking with a lifelong memorabilia collector who’s turned his passion into a thriving business. Tyler Feldman is the Founder and CEO of Inscriptagraphs, a sports and entertainment memorabilia company. We’ll hear how he makes a living from this weird money in a moment. Stay with us. Tyler Feldman, thank you for joining us on Smart Money.

Thank you very much for having me.

So to start, can you talk with me about how you got into selling collectibles and memorabilia?

When I was a kid, my parents, they tried to get me into baseball cards, and I was playing every sport under the sun. My dad actually is a professional sports gambler, where he bets on the games, and he’s been doing it forever and ever. The problem that that causes, especially in a family dynamic, for example, I could not get my dad away from the sports betting, watching the games, and in hand between both these two different niches, that my dad took an interest more in me when I learned more about sports. So when I was learning everything there was about baseball cards, looking at player stats, their names, the different teams, the divisions, all that stuff, my dad was able to communicate with me more and he took an interest in it as well. So I was dabbling in that for years as a kid, I really enjoyed it.

Then I had, maybe at 10 or 11 years old, I had a huge epiphany where I wanted to see what my stuff was worth that my parents helped me start collecting. So I went into a baseball card shop and when I literally walked in there, I just had an unbelievable feeling like, holy crap, I love this, this is awesome, I loved everything about it. So I ended up getting really friendly with the guys that owned and managed the stores and sure enough, after my sports games as a kid, I would literally just have my parents just drop me off at the card shop and literally these guys were almost like my babysitter.

So when you brought in your collection when you were 11 years old, did you make any money from it then?

Okay, at what point did you start making some money from the collection that you had?

So when I hit 14, I felt like I wanted to expand and maybe start not just collecting, but now investing in sports cards. So I asked my parents for a loan of $500, which they would never give me that kind of money ever, but they knew, here I am going into high school and they’re trying to teach me responsibility, maybe just life skills with money when it comes to like, you’ve got to work to earn money. So I borrowed the money from them. My friend that managed the shop sold me cards that I really liked and they gave me wholesale pricing on it because I was their friend. I got really… So what happened was, I took the $500 and I kept rolling the profit. So I would buy X card from them, then I would sell it for Y, and then I would take the money and the profit from Y and now turn it into Z. I kept rolling it and rolling it, and by the time I graduated high school, I did pretty much six figures in sales before I even hit college.

That’s pretty incredible. So you were hustling cards from your teenage years and that just set you on this career path that you’re on now.

Correct. All my interests peaked all at the same time, sports, the baseball cards, and then making money, all three.

So Tyler, can you give us an understanding of the scope of your collection, the various things that you have, because you have things that are well beyond cards as well.

When I was doing all the collecting with all the cards back then, we’re talking mid-2000s, the stuff just wasn’t worth what it is now, it wasn’t, like all the ’90s hype of baseball cards settled down, but at the same time I started having more of an appreciation for memorabilia, signatures, things like that, but I liked that a lot more. So I switched gears, I went towards memorabilia. I’m a big entertainment grouper. I love music, I love Hollywood. So I pivoted and now on the memorabilia side of things, that’s what I do.

What are some examples of those different types of items that you’re selling that might be unusual to people?

Yeah, so the name of the company that I own is called Inscriptagraphs, and the name Inscriptagraphs was derived from the word inscription and autograph. So if you mix the two, I created a word, by the way, it’s trademarked, Inscriptagraphs. When I was going along my path in this collectibles business, the standard thing that athletes for example would write would be, they would sign, for example, John Elway. He would write 1997 MVP, in addition to his signature. I just felt like that was just so boring. They would write that constantly. Who cares about the stats? Stats are broken all the time. To me it’s just like, yeah, it’s a cool accomplishment, but I just wanted some next level stuff.

So the one I really experienced changing the way an inscription was done was with Mike Tyson. So for years, another company I was working with at the time, we were doing signings literally every week with Mike Tyson. We would have him do some really cool things. Like for example, we’d have him sign photos of him fighting the Evander Holyfield and we would have him write “F yeah, I bit his ear.”

So you asked him to sign that on something?

Yes. And Mike being Mike, of course, he thought it was the coolest thing also, he thought it was so funny. I remember the first time we asked him, he was cracking up. So we tried again, no one was doing this, and sure enough, we saw that buyers coming from all over the world thought this was the greatest thing, and we figured out that there was a niche here in the memorabilia space. And sure enough now, I mean, it’s become a huge standard in the industry from what pretty much myself and at the time, the company I was working with, we created that standard almost 15 years ago now.

When you look around your shop, what sorts of things can you see? Can you give us an idea of what might be in one corner versus another? Because you have many different things all grouped in one place.

Yeah, we have, for example, a really cool item we came out with years ago, is I looked for really cool opportunities to buy unbelievable marquee items. One of them years ago was a Carrie Fisher movie script. So her family, after she had passed away, her family started selling off her items, as well as her mother, Debbie Reynolds’s stuff. So there was an auction that had a script that she had owned from Star Wars, from a New Hope. So we did something that had never been done. We actually cut up the movie script and we sold every page out of the scripts and then we framed them. So collectors now have been able to access a piece of an actual movie script that she owned. So that’s one example of it.

Yeah, so considering that you have such unique items for sale and that other places may not be doing it in the same way that you are, how do you determine the value of these items that you’re selling?

So we do our research to figure out what the market will bear for maybe it’s not this exact item, but we do have ways of finding out what maybe similar items have sold. Now, it might not be of that entertainer or someone else, but we have a very good understanding of the collectible space where we’re able to figure out, okay, well, we have something, for example, we’ll go back to Carrie Fisher, we have something in Carrie Fisher, there’s nothing out there of Carrie Fisher that’s similar, but we’ll look at another entertainer that might have a similar fan base, and also the pull that Carrie Fisher has obviously on that item being a Star Wars item.

Sometimes we’ve overshot it where we got a little happy maybe, or maybe we overestimated it, but then other times it’s where we underestimated it, where we said, okay, well we’ll price this at $100, and then wait a second, we just had 50 sales in literally two minutes. We’re like, okay, we need to increase this because we only have this much left.

I’d like to hear how much money you can make from selling collectibles and memorabilia. What are your profit margins like?

The collectibles business has surged to parallels never seen before. The pandemic really, just like a lot of other industries, you had some where they went down, but the collectibles business is probably one of the highest increases in a specific industry that there is.

So right now, I’ll tell you what’s happening that I’m seeing is that the millennials have decided, obviously we’re at that age where we’re having families and we want to show our kids the awesome stuff we grew up with. So now this stuff is just going for huge, huge money. I’ve never seen anything like this, the returns are insane. It’s really cool, just the average person, if you just have, right now, I’m a huge proponent of this in the industry and I’m starting to see people are also starting to catch on, if you have a sealed VHS, like a tape just sealed, and it’s from a big movie, something as silly as finding that in your closet could be worth thousands and thousands of dollars. I mean, there’s copies of movies now selling for 20, 30 grand, all day. I see people selling old Blockbuster signs like, I’m not kidding you, off the marquees from the buildings, for $10,000 and they’re selling.

People may not know that they have something valuable in their house like that. I’m thinking of the show Antiques Roadshow, which I love to watch as well. People will have some random painting in their attic and find out it’s worth thousands of dollars. People might have a random movie poster and then discover, oh, this is actually worth a good amount of money too.

That happened a lot also during the pandemic when everyone was locked down in their homes and they were doing their cleaning, they were figuring out stuff, that also helped ignite the collectibles industry because people found stuff that they forgot they had. So yeah, I mean you never know. Coins have been doing great, stamps. I mean, anything collectible, comics I just saw, are setting records again.

How about the biggest one that I had said even before the pandemic happened, I knew was coming and I told all my friends in my industry, I’m like, this is about to explode again. It relates to what I was just saying about the millennials showing their kids stuff, Pokemon.

Right. I remember that earlier in the pandemic, right?

Yeah. I’ll tell you right now, a month or two before the pandemic happened, I bought three or four sets, complete sets of first edition Pokemon. I brought it to my friend that was one of my original friends that I’ve known that helped me get into this business and manage the card shop. I bring it into him. I said, this is the next thing, I’m telling you right now, and they laughed at me. Guess who’s the number one distributor of new Pokemon cards?

My friend is now. I told him right before the pandemic and it’s unbelievable. So you never know what’s worth something and you should take it down to either a pawn shop, you don’t have to sell it, if you don’t know what’s worth, just bring it into, like I said, a pawn shop. You can go to a baseball card shop, a memorabilia store, you can go to a comic shop. Bring it down and let them look at what you have because you never know, but definitely do your research. I mean, I’m not going to tell you they’re all good people where they won’t rip you off. So you’ve got to let them help you out, figure out what you have, and then do your research to see what it’s worth.

Maybe get quotes from a couple places before you sell it to a single shop.

Yeah. You’re making me regret getting rid of my Pokemon cards back in the day because I had plenty of those first generation cards.

I know. I mean, you have a first generation Charizard, I remember before the pandemic, you can get a top graded company card, a perfect 10 out of 10, you can get them for 10, $15,000. They’re $300,000 now, and that’s just because the pandemic made everyone get into Pokemon cards.

So what are some unexpected challenges or maybe funny quirks of selling collectibles that people might not be aware of?

I’ll give you two of them right now. One of them that I’ve noticed is it’s a weird trend. So before the pandemic, it used to be where when a player retired or if they hit the Hall of Fame or they passed away, you would see huge increases. You would see the items would be doubling, triple, quadrupling. That’s not so much the case anymore. You might see a 20%, 30% increase and it’s very, very temporary, and then it goes back to, generally depending on the person, it’s going to go back and stabilize to what it was. The reason for that is because of the pandemic, everything is so inflated to begin with, that there’s not really much more room. Collectors have felt based off of what items are selling for, there’s not much more of a ceiling that people think that this stuff can go for. So that’s definitely a new weird thing that I’ve noticed.

Here is the weirdest one, I cannot figure it out. It’s been like this for years. If I try to sell a, for example, an Emmett Smith signed Dallas Cowboys helmet. If the Dallas Cowboys currently aren’t doing well, again, Emmett Smith retired 20 years ago, but if the Cowboys now with Dak Prescott aren’t doing well, I have a very difficult time selling any Emmett Smith stuff or any old legends of the Cowboys or any team. It’s not just specific to those, this is just how it is. It’s the same thing with the Yankees, if the Yankees aren’t doing well now, currently, it’s hard to sell Derek Jeter baseballs. So it’s a weird phenomenon that I can’t put my finger on.

So how do you stay on top of the trends? Are you on TikTok a lot or how do you see the next thing coming down the pipeline?

So in terms of the market trends, we see what’s going on, we just keep track, we see what other companies are doing. We see what maybe some of the leagues are pushing or the movie production studios. So it’s just, a lot of it’s research. That’s really what it comes down to, is you’ve really got to know what you’re doing and see what’s happening around you, and then you can determine what’s next, whether if you’re going to buy something or sell something. So research is key, if you don’t do research, you’re so far behind because you have no idea what’s going on.

Do you ever feel like this is an odd thing to do for money, or have you been doing it for so long that it feels completely natural?

That’s a good question. I will tell you right now, I have not worked a job since I was 14 years old. People normally can’t say that. I do what I love, I love sports and I love business. I have the opportunity to wake up every morning, stress-free, 100% doing what I love. So it’s a weird way of making money essentially if you want to talk like a traditional person, like a banker or a mortgage broker, yeah, those are cool. They’re not doing what I’m doing, which is, I get to hang out with athletes and celebrities all day. I get to go to really cool events, I get exclusive opportunities. These are people, people would want these opportunities just once in their lifetime, I get to experience them every week because of the business that I’m in. So it’s a really cool, dynamic way of making money. I do very well, my company does great.

So listen also, since the pandemic, things are different. Your traditional jobs, a lot of those are gone. Come up with your own job, if you could do something really cool that you love, that’s what’s most important, something that makes you happy, do it. Don’t care what anyone says. I can tell you right now, when I was a kid growing up, everyone told me when I told them what I wanted to do, they were like, oh, you’ll never do that. No, do what you love and if you get to make a living out of it, that’s the greatest thing in the whole world.

Well, I want to ask about how people can get into this business too. What sort of advice would you have for anyone that’s interested in selling collectibles or memorabilia and they’re not quite sure where to start?

The way I started and I love them to this day, I’ve built a great relationship with them, eBay. eBay is the best way to do it. So you can go meet a famous person, they have autograph shows every week, whether it’s a sports show or like a little comic con type thing. Go meet a celebrity and maybe see what their items sell for and maybe find a really cool unique item that maybe you haven’t seen online anywhere, it’s like a really cool idea, and have them sign it and then resell it. You could do that for multiple celebrities, just start small, do your research. Like I said, figure out what’s in the marketplace for that person’s specific items, and then put it on eBay and sell. eBay’s still the best website. I don’t care, Amazon’s really cool, don’t get me wrong. Love Amazon but eBay is the way to go just because any person can personally sell their item as opposed to Amazon, the barrier of entry is just a lot harder. So, that’s what I would recommend.

I would add onto that, as someone who’s always cautious with finances, consult with a tax pro when you’re going to do this because long term capital gains rate on collectibles is pretty high, so just be mindful of what you might owe when tax season comes around because it always does.

Okay, well Tyler, one final question for you. Do you have a favorite item that you’ve ever sold or maybe one that’s too precious to sell?

I’ll give you one of each. The item I wish I didn’t sell. Years ago, I came into four tickets from Tom Brady’s game that he replaced Drew Bledsoe. This is the game that changed sports forever. When Drew Bledsoe got injured, Tom Brady, a young, I think he was still a rookie or he was a second year, came in and he replaced Drew Bledsoe and the rest is history. Bledsoe ended up losing his job on the Patriots. Tom Brady came in and guided them to multiple, multiple Super Bowls from this one game. Now, if Drew Bledsoe didn’t get injured, who knows if Brady would’ve even panned out? I had four tickets that I acquired from a guy, authentic, original tickets from that game. I was lucky enough years ago to get them all signed by Tom Brady. I stupidly sold the four of those for just too cheap before this collectible craze happened. That’s the one item that I regret.

So is the regret that you wish you’d held on to the item for sentimental value or that you know could have made more money off of it?

I don’t have too much sentimental love. First day of business school, I learned, don’t get attached to your own items. You need to just get in, out, make your money and be done with it.

So how much did you sell those tickets for then, and how much do you think you could have gotten for them more recently?

I would say, I think we sold them for between like eight and 12,000 each, and now they’re probably between 50 and 100,000 each.

Wow. So four tickets at that price, that’s pretty significant.

Then my most sentimental item that I have is I have a ticket from Kobe Bryant’s last game ever in the NBA. He signed it five days before he passed away and he wrote on it, Mamba out. So that’s something that is one of his last autographs he ever signed, period, and then it’s definitely his last ticket.

So you’re holding onto that one or are you going to sell it?

I’m holding onto that for the long term. I mean, it’s eventually going to be a huge high dollar item, but I have a connection just because there was a relationship with me and Kobe from when I was a kid that I just cherish it too much right now to sell it.

Well, Tyler Feldman, Founder of Inscriptagraphs, thank you for talking with us.

Thank you so much for having me.

So, what do you think, Elizabeth? Are you ready to take up a life of selling collectibles?

While I respect the hustle, anything to do with selling stuff? Okay, that’s not fully true, but selling physical items, I literally give things away. I’d rather give things away than sell them.

Sounds really time-consuming, I’m kind of with you. I have things that I could sell, but I just donate them to Goodwill.

But what strikes me about Tyler is just how passionate he is about his collectibles and memorabilia. That’s a through line with all of the people that we hear from in this series. In order to do something really weird and pull it off, you have to really care about it and be committed to the bit. What Tyler is doing goes way beyond storing random things in your house like a package of Lady Gaga Oreos and hoping it’ll eventually become valuable.

Of course, I think it’s way more than just keeping a few things in a box or in the garage. It just takes a lot more maintenance than that. But it is really cool that he was able to take something that he loved as a kid and turn it into a huge business venture.

Yeah, and that’s really what we’re getting at with this Weird Money series. You don’t always have to turn to traditional ways of making and managing money to fund your life. Think creatively and see what happens.

Oh my gosh, I’m so with you. So while I don’t do collectibles, I am constantly thinking about things that I enjoy and how I can craft my life’s work around things that I enjoy and monetize it, if that makes sense. But still, you likely want to hedge your bets and put money in a retirement fund.

Yeah, I would have to agree with that.

Yes, save for retirement. All right, Sean, what’s coming up in the next episode?

Next time we’re going to get out the scissors and clip some coupons.

No they’re not. I’m kidding, but couponing is still with us even if we’re not clipping from the newspaper. In fact, if you shop online, there’s almost always a way to get a coupon of some sort, whether it’s a promo code or a QR code or downloading an app for a better price on groceries. We’re going to talk with someone who, along with a friend, became a krazy with a K coupon lady who makes a living off finding discounts.

One of the principles that was true then is still true now, but it’s all about when you get a deal, don’t just buy one item, buy enough to last you for six months. It’s not the same as a closet full of toothpaste, but it does mean, don’t buy one toothpaste, buy like, eight.

All right guys, we hope that you were thoroughly entertained and strangely inspired, but that’s all we have for this episode. If you have a money question of your own, turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions. You can text or call us at (901) 730-6373. For the people at the back, that’s (901) 730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected]. Also, visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more information on this episode. And remember, don’t forget to follow, rate and review us wherever you’re getting this podcast.

This episode was produced by Tess Vigeland. I helped with editing. Kevin Berry helped with fact checking. Sara Brink mixed our audio. And a big thank you to Nerd Wallet’s editors for all their help.

Here’s our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy information is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes, and it may not apply to your specific circumstances.

With that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.