Follow Your Collecting Passion, 5 Niche Areas of Collectibles

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You may be surprised by the variety of things people collect, it’s amazing; from teeth and toupees to skulls, cookie jars, and gas masks. Here is just a tiny sample of some of the items that may not seem like obvious collectibles.

Pencil Sharpeners

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the most common method of sharpening pencils was whittling with a knife; but the first small handheld pencil sharpeners began to be used as early as the mid-19th century. Antique mechanical pencil sharpeners are divided into three categories based on the cutting mechanism. One category of sharpeners uses an abrasive method to sharpen via sandpaper or steel file. The second category uses a steel milling cutter with multiple cutting edges. While the third category uses from one to a dozen or more blades.

Beyond the truly antique varieties of sharpeners are the mid to late 20th century styles of sharpeners such as souvenir sharpeners, cartoon character tie-ins, and die-cast miniatures. For more inspiration check out the world’s only pencil sharpener museum in Hocking Hills, Ohio which contains a collection of over 3,4oo sharpeners collected between 1988 and 2010 by retired reverend Paul A. Johnson. The collection was donated to the Hocking Hills Welcome Center by Paul’s wife Charlotte upon his death. The museum is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm and Sundays from 11am to 5pm 


A Kinder Surprise or Kinderegg is a chocolate candy egg wrapped with a thin foil; inside the chocolate egg is a small plastic egg, within this plastic egg is a small toy and instruction paper. Both the toy and the instruction papers are collected by Kinderegg collectors. The best known Kinder Surprise Eggs are made by the Italian candy manufacturer Ferrero but other companies make similar items. Kindereggs are not allowed to be sold or imported into the United States as the government believes they pose a choking hazard for small children. Kinder Surprise originated in 1974 in Italy as Kinder Sorpresa. The boom of collecting Kinder Eggs started in Germany ("Kinderschokolade") in the early '90s and collecting is still most popular in Germany but has spread in popularity across Europe. As with all areas of collecting some rare Kinder Surprise toys fetch large prices, often over 1000 German Marks ($500 USD), this has led to an influx of counterfeit items coming into the market. Smurf-themed Kinder toys are quite popular, the new toys come in many licensed themes including Marvel characters, popular cartoon characters, and internationally known TV and movie characters. Many toys and collections of toys can be found on eBay.

Glass Insulators

Insulators were designed to keep telegraph and telephone wires insulated from touching the wooden poles that connected them.  Antique and vintage insulators come in either glass or porcelain and were manufactured from the mid-1800s through their peak in the 1940s. They come in a wide range of shapes and colors, including amber, cobalt royal purple, olive green, and commonly clear. The clear and aqua colors are the most common and the least desirable by collectors but make good pieces to start a collection.

There are many online resources dedicated to providing more information on the wide range of insulators available as well as their value. A good place to start for more info is the Collectors Weekly page on antique insulators. They give a nice historical overview as well as a good description of the various styles; they also link to many of the web resources available and any current eBay listings of insulators.  

Chia Pets

Chia Pets, the terracotta figurines that sprout chia plants resembling the figures fur or hair are marketed by Joe Pedott and produced by San Francisco based company Joseph Enterprises Inc. The first Chia Pet, Chia Guy was created on September 8, 1977. The first widely marketed Chia Pet was the Ram, first introduced in a nation-wide campaign in 1982. Today, the range of Chias has expanded, with licensed characters including Elmer Fudd, Shrek, and Homer Simpson. The new Chias add to the popularity and collectible nature of Chia Pets but the original bull and ram are still the most popular, according to their makers. On average about 500,000 Chias are sold each year during the holiday season.

Licensed characters like Scooby-Doo, Tweety, and Homer Simpson have their own built-in demand as cross-collectibles but the fact that Chia Pets are only available during the Holiday selling season adds to the limited availability of some items which increases their value to a certain extent. The collectibles market for Chia Pets is not large at the moment since they haven't been around for all that long. No books have yet been written on the subject, and there are no dedicated websites devoted to Chia Pet collectors.

Air Sickness Bags

A surprisingly popular yet unusual item to collect is Air Sickness Bags. Air sickness bags come in a wide range of designs as each airline creates its own branded bags, some of which have a humorous theme regarding the intended use of the item. If you are a frequent air traveler this is a collection that can be easily and inexpensively started. The community of Air Sickness Bag collectors is keen on sharing information and swapping bags. There are several sites dedicated to educating collectors and encouraging swaps including; Rune’s Barf Bag CollectionKelly’s World of Air Sickness Bags, and The Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum. The world record holder for the largest collection of air sickness bags is Niek Vermeulen of the Netherlands; he has 6,016 airline sickness bags from 1,142 different airlines from more than 160 countries, as of 29 January 2010, which he has accumulated since the 1970s.