Snowglobes, toy cars and expensive lighters: Collectors and the dwindling auction market

Snow globes, toy cars, wine, and stocks. Charles Hartley of Hartley’s Auctions, Ilkley discusses the current collectors’ market and habits. 

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A Snowglobe |  Photo by Norm_Bosworth via Pixabay 

Collecting is something people do as a source of entertainment or as a hobby. Generally, when someone has more than one type of specified item and begins acquiring more, they are a collector. 

Whether that be a snow globe, a toy car, wine or even stocks, collecting something is what so many people around the globe find themselves doing.  

Interview with a Snow Globe and Toy Car Collector

But anything can be collected, and anyone can collect things; there is not a specific type of person who collects anything. 

Anyone can be a collector  

Charles Hartley of Hartley’s Auctions in Ilkley, Leeds, works as a director, valuer and auctioneer. He told Yorkshire Voice: “As an auctioneer, the faces in front of me don’t tend to get any younger. 

“The market that is out there is slowly dwindling because they are starting to die off. Now the younger generation will be more used to buying online.” 

With online chains like Amazon growing more and more popular or people finding things on social media sites like Facebook Marketplace, there is a decline in visiting a local auction house to find out what other people are selling.  

There is a whole world out there so many people are missing out on because of simply not going out and seeing what is out there to be bought. But when it comes to collector’s, despite younger generations not going to auction houses, the youngsters still find a way to build their collection. 

Snow globes and other collectors’ items 

In the middle of January, Ilkley based auction house, Hartley’s Auctions sold a Dunhill Lighter. 

Charles said: “The sale we had on January 20, there was a Dunhill lighter that sold for £3,200. 

“That is interesting because rather than just being a cigarette lighter, it’s a bit like a snow globe, it is a piece of blown art glass. 

“All those items inside have been sealed inside there and there’s a certain way to make that sort of lighter, no single lighter will be the same.” 

A Dunhill Lighter sold by Hartley’s Auctons | Credit: Hartley’s Auctions

“There will be collectors out there who are buying and trying to find all those they can afford to buy and it’s like having a mini aquarium, it’s hard to make and seemingly rare and that’s why they make quite a lot of money.  

“That is purest beauty collection and interest in production rather than an investment or the sales or any other reason why people might buy in that area.” 

Covid-19 hits another industry 

However, like everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the way people spend their money. Charles continued: “Since Covid has come around it has gone up a little bit so maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Prices have gone up a little bit. “

People can’t go on holiday; they can’t spend thousands of pounds flying to somewhere in the sun at huge expense. They are sat at home with money in their pockets because they can’t spend it anywhere else, so there has been a boom recently but only a 20% one.  

“Markets that have been quiet for a while have been a bit stronger which is nice. 

“This could, if I put my rose-tinted glasses on, be a catalyst for a change in the market going forward. People may have re-analysed what is important in life and what makes them happy. It may be a catalyst to reignite markets and possible collectors’ markets out there. 

“Who is to say as soon as Heathrow is back open as strong as it was before – people don’t put their wallets back in their back pocket.” 

Collecting habits 

In conversation with Charles, the auctioneer discussed collecting habits. A story he shared was when a gentleman had a season ticket at Old Trafford and would collect the chewing gum spat out by their manager at the time, Sir Alex Ferguson. 

No matter how disgusting that collecting habit is, it is a collecting habit where someone can make profit from selling the gum of one of the best managers the football club has ever seen.  

Tweet showing how much a piece of gum from Sir Alex Ferguson sold for | Credit: @ColossusBets

But also, a collecting habit that is unique. 

Charles shared his experience about a group of men who bought French wine from the war period. They bought wine, costing around £5,000, and drank it in a boozy night celebrating wine from the war period. 

Collectors all have different reasons for collecting and finding their holy grail pieces and whether that be to sell or enjoy themselves, so many people find themselves collecting various things. 

People collect things for stress reduction, social interaction or a competitive challenge. Sometimes even for the nostalgia.  

But with auction houses seeing fewer and fewer young people, collectors continue to find ways to build their collection in different ways outside an auction.  

What do you think?