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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Silver screen goldmine
By Clare Matheson
BBC News Online business reporter

Gandalf bust - Forbidden Planet
Limited edition merchandise could be a wise investment
It could not be easier to get into, but will the toys and merchandise you buy now be worth a fortune in future? BBC News Online explains the world of collectables in the latest in its series of fun investments.

Everyone's owned one, and all but the forward-thinking few have thrown them out.

Far from being worth a few pence, treasured childhood toys like a Star Wars Millennium Falcon or a James Bond Corgi car are now being snapped up for hundreds of pounds by avid collectors.

Avoid disappointment and invest in what makes you happy
Dan Willetts, Forbidden Planet
Even today, if you spot the right bandwagon, you could clean up in a matter of months.

Lego's Harry Potter Hogwarts Express train was selling like hotcakes for around 80 at Christmas - now it's being flogged on the internet for as much as 500.

And you don't have to stick to shop-bought goodies.

Movie mania

Avid collector David Oliver set up his own business on the back of his memorabilia obsession.

How you can cash in on the memorabilia market

As a boy he used to find himself on film sets or locations as his father worked for a vehicle supply company.

His first acquisitions were direct from Pinewood Prop Store and included a James Bond Rolex watch from Live And Let Die that he recently sold for 24,000.

But what should the prospective investor set their sights on?

Mr Oliver says that while the market is mixed at the moment, some "here for life" genres remain like Indiana Jones, Star Wars and James Bond.

He also says studios have got wise to the burgeoning market, setting up online auctions to coincide with film releases "selling everything from cushions to cars".

But while that allows you to get your hands on something cheap, it does have its downside.

"This can mean the prospect of an affordable prop purchase but at the same time, if everything from that film is in the market place it loses it's elusive and exclusive appeal and gives it a 'common' feel to the more dedicated collector," Mr Oliver says.

I remember selling Indiana Jones's grail diary from last crusade for 4,000 and in the same year it was sold for 12,000
David Oliver, Propmasters founder
So what is a safe bet?

David reckons "hero props" are the place to put your money due to their "one of a kind" nature.

"I remember selling Indiana Jones's grail diary from last crusade for 4,000 and in the same year it was sold for 12,000."

While you may not be able to set your sights on the high-end, there are affordable props out there.

As Mr Oliver says: "I have items on my website from as little as 10.

"There is truly something for everyone's pocket and it is quite easy to assemble a respectable collection... having something that has actually appeared on screen gives you a real buzz."

Toy shop finds

And remember you don't have to look straight to the source for collectables, plenty are available in the shops.

Bonham's Niki Roberts advises beginners to get down to the toy shop.

She said: "With modern collectables it depends on how much money you have.

Store away from light, damp and temperature changes
Seal in an airtight box
Do not open the packaging
When buying originals, try to go to a reputable dealer - ask around on internet forums, ask about the dealer's reputation or check out groups like the Movie Props Association
With props, make sure you get a certificate of authenticity
Try to keep costumes on a shop mannequin or a shadow box
"With a little money you can go to a toy shop and get modern Star Wars and Dr Who toys, or even trading cards and holographic cards.

"With more money you can buy original props and posters. There's a whole range out there now and it depends on your price."

As for selling, she advises holding onto the goods until an anniversary, new film or similar event sparks a whole new buzz around a particular production.

To find out how much your collectables are worth, head to an expert or check out the internet.

Know your market

There are plenty of memorabilia events and conferences - three a year at Birmingham's NEC alone - and many auction houses which specialise in the area such as Vectis.

If you want to chance your luck, sites like Ebay will allow you to put your figures up for sale, but be sure you're getting the best price for them.

There's also a whole host of publications that will give you a guide to prices and places to sell, including magazines like Collectors Gazette and Model Weekly.

For reference you can always turn to the collector's "bible" Miller's Collectables Price Guide which is updated every year.

The book is an aid for trade an amateurs alike to identify whether that toy or whatnot that's been tucked at the back of a cupboard for years is a hidden gem.

Then it's up to you to make the tough decision of whether to keep that piece of small screen or celluloid history or sell it on.

Entertaining investment

Looking ahead, what should you be snapping up in the shops now?

Dan Willets at Forbidden Planet says Lord Of The Rings is the next big thing.

"Star Wars and Star Trek still have a strong following but these have been upstaged and outsold by newer trends. For example Lord of the Rings and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have strong fan bases.

"I would say this is the best overall investment, due to the history of the license when the films have been and gone the fan base will remain forever.

"You are not going to have the 'Star Wars effect' where the license is tarnished by terrible prequels that have effectively turned off a massive part of it's fan base."

Mr Willets adds: "If you want to buy to invest, don't open them. Check the paint job on the item you interested in and make sure the packaging is spanky. Collectors are a fickle bunch and if you want top revenue from your investment, be meticulous."

"Buy what you like and don't worry about buying everything. How can something be sought after when everybody has stashed a few copies of a certain comic or a case of action figures?"

And his most simple piece of advice: "Avoid disappointment and invest in what makes you happy."


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