Off-the-Wall Collections

Proof that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

There’s no explaining why some people collect the things they do. But some obsessive collections turn into massive wealth, such as the February 2012 sale of a man’s childhood comic collection for $3.5 million. Billy Wright left his book collection to family members when he died in 1994, but they didn’t realize what it was worth until his great nephew started to research the hoard.

Among the items the family auctioned at Heritage Auctions: Action Comics No. 1, a 1938 issue featuring the first appearance of Superman, sold for about $299,000; Batman No. 1, from 1940, sold for about $275,000; and Captain America No. 2, a 1941 issue with a frightened Adolf Hitler on the cover, brought in about $114,000.

Whether obsessive compulsion or the simple enjoyment of collecting drives some of the following, they’ve been recognized as some of the oddest—but possibly most valuable—collections of their kind. As far as value? In some cases, there’s documentation to show what they’re worth. Others, such as the largest collection of famous locks of hair, may just command what the market will bear … if there are indeed buyers out there.

Chocolate Wrappers
When Czech collector Martin Mihál began collecting chocolate wrappers in 1989, he started as a hobbyist. He’s now curating a museum of his nearly 40,000 wrappers online, obsessively categorized (and with statistics about such fascinating topics as largest and smallest wrappers) by country. His museum showcases wrappers from countries as far-flung as Uzbekistan, Cameroon and Yemen. See many of them here.

Locks of Hair
John Reznikoff has been interviewed by every outlet from The Wall Street Journal to NPR on his unusual collection. Obsessively catalogued in his library, you’ll find the locks of hair of celebrities and historical figures—the most expansive in the world, by most accounts. His collection includes hair from Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allan Poe, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. Morbid? Perhaps, but at least one lock has intrinsic, as well as sentimental and historic, value. In 2007, a company called LifeGem created a diamond from a lock of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair that had been in Reznikoff’s collection. To see a sampling from an NPR broadcast, click here.

Toasters
Who doesn’t love a good-looking toaster? Perhaps no one more than Jens Veerbeck, whose toaster collection contains more than 600 models, including one from the 1920s he sold for more than $5,000 on eBay. His online toaster museum—the very officially named International Central Services Toaster Museum, now displays hundreds of designs that are stored in his apartment in Essen, Germany.

Medical Instruments
On display at Birmingham, Alabama’s McWane Science Center, you can now see the medical instrument collection of otolaryngologist Dr. Dennis Pappas, who has been collecting medical devices for more than 40 years. The exhibit, entitled "4,000 Years of Medical Instruments," includes a 2,000-year-old Roman surgical kit excavated from William the Emperor’s house in Germany in 1901. Visitors will also find a Civil War amputation set and a medicine kit from 1890 containing every medicinal plant known at the time. Other items on display include Birmingham’s first X-ray tube and surgical instruments from all the great wars including the Revolutionary War, Civil War and WWI. (One level up in the museum, another exhibit explores the psychology behind people’s drives to collect.)

TO LEARN MORE
For an informative video on what to consider when insuring collections of all kinds, click here.