Big Kids’ Stuff — The ultimate collectible

Here’s something to think about next time you toss you see a box of cereal offering a free gift: A recent sale at Christie’s in New York City saw people pay big-bucks for advertising premium memorabilia.

The contents were from the private collection of Gordon Gold (b. 1926), whose father Sam was the creator of the cereal giveaway. Now an accepted — and expected — part of product marketing, the idea of the advertising premium has played an important part in the childhood of most people born in the 20th century.

“Since the 1920’s, premiums have had a long and colourful history and have touched our lives in one way or the other,” echoes Timothy Luke, director of the Collectibles Department at Christie’s East in New York. “Everyone likes to get something for free.”

In the early days of premiums, most were targeted at children and were tucked inside cereal boxes. Early 1940’s saw the arrival of comic character pin-back button cereal premiums which created a wholly-separate industry. It also marked the start of a pop culture phenomenon, whose momentum spurs today’s auction sales of baby boomer-era memorabilia.

Comic-book collectibles&lt/B
The most successful premium ever created is said to be the 86-button set of comic characters produced in 1945 for Kellogg’s PEP cereal.

According to Joe Mannarino, Christie’s Comics expert, “the premiums being auctioned are unique because of their rarity, while many are sold complete with original artwork, mockups and one-of-a-kind display items such as posters, window cards, die-cut standees and counter displays.”

Indeed, “original artwork” is always a touchstone in the field of collectibles. It can be the only identifiable factor that rockets the price of an item from the dime store into a world of exclusivity. It can account for the price gap between an item that cost $3.95 when it was new in 1960 and worth $200 when it was auctioned in 1990. The reason is the old standard of supply and demand. If thousands of items of a kind exist, but only ten are still in their original packaging, and only two of those are in pristine condition, then the marketplace will reflect that basic economic principle by driving up the price of the scarce item.

One person’s junk…
So be aware that those years of careful storage of something, wrapped in tissue paper and packed away carefully could be worth something — and they usually are — although rarely at as high a price as the owner might expect. The happy confluence of scarcity and desirability in a popular collectible item is not often realized on the open market.

Highlights of the Gordon Gold sale included a Mickey Mouse waddle book with unpunched waddles designed for Blue Ribbon, 1935; Dick Tracy display posters advertising the free Dick Tracy Jr. detective kit with the purchase of a Dick Tracy Miller hat; and a Superman display advertising a button in every box of Kellogg’s PEP whole wheat flakes, 1946. These items sold for prices between $3,000 and $12,000.