In the Staten Island living room of Elizabeth Meaders, right next to her couch, is a life-size wax figure of legendary baseball slugger Hank Aaron.
Elsewhere in her home, she has a pair of Muhammad Ali’s white boxing shoes, a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon robe, a wooden mantelpiece depicting the abolitionist John Brown — and that’s just the start.
Ms. Meaders is a retired New York City school teacher. She never made much money. But over the years, she accumulated a spectacular collection of African American historical artifacts.
Now she’s selling her collection for an estimated $10 million. Not bad. And to get there, she didn’t have to worry about all the ups and downs of the stock market.
Want to try your hand at something similar? Let me show you how.
Collecting as a Passion
Ms. Meaders didn’t start collecting as a way to make money. She started because she was a history buff.
The first items she acquired were related to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier. Then she expanded into items from other Black athletes. Before long, she started acquiring Black military items, and over the years, her collection grew and grew.
Arlan Ettinger runs Guernsey’s, the auction house that handled the estate sales of everyone from Duke Ellington, to Rosa Parks, to Joe Frazier. As he said, Meaders’ collection “tells the whole saga of African American history, from the scourge of slavery to the struggle of civil rights, to Black soldiers in all of our wars from the Revolution through Vietnam.”
This is a collection built from passion. But as it turns out, such collectibles can become incredibly valuable.
In 2009, the founder of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center (a nonprofit focused on exploring the African-American experience) appraised Meaders’ collection at $7.5 million. More recently, Diane DeBlois, co-owner of a store that sells exotic artifacts, appraised it at $10 million.
Collecting as an Investment
$10 million. Wow.
And to get there, Meaders didn’t have to worry about market crashes or suffer through any sleepless nights.
In today’s environment — where the stock market is terrifyingly volatile, bonds pay next to nothing, and even “non-correlated” assets like crypto are tanking — that’s a neat trick.
So, should you start investing in collectables yourself?
Let’s take a look.
An Alternative to Stocks and Bonds
To kick things off here, let me explain how most people invest…
Most folks stick with stocks, bonds, and ETFs. If they’re adventurous, maybe they’ll add some bitcoin. But the rich invest differently. And this difference might explain why they keep getting richer.
You see, according to recent research from Motley Fool, the rich mainly invest in “alternative assets.” What are these alternatives? Well, for starters, they include private startups and private real estate deals — the kind we focus on here at Crowdability.
But they also include collectibles of the sort that Meaders gathered — from historical artifacts, to art, to baseball cards.
As of 2020, the wealthy held about 50% of their assets in these alternative investments, and just 31% in stocks. The remainder was in bonds and cash.
Why would they do such a thing?
Three Reasons the Wealthy Invest in Alternatives
For starters, investing in alternative assets provides diversification. So even if the stock market keeps crashing, these assets can keep growing in value.
Furthermore, they offer a hedge against inflation. In inflationary times like we’re in today, that’s incredibly valuable.
But perhaps most important of all, they can provide market-beating returns.
For example, as Stanford University recently reported: “Art has been emerging as a new asset class for the well-diversified portfolio. The reported returns are enough to catch anyone’s eye.”
So how can you get access to these alternative investments?
Access for All
Recently, a new type of website has popped up to give ordinary investors the ability to invest small amounts of money — $50 here, $100 there — into everything from historical artifacts to sports memorabilia.
Here are a few of these websites you can explore today.
Otis — On Otis, you can invest in collectibles including baseball cards, limited-edition sneakers, comic books, and art.
Collectable — This site specializes in sports. Its offerings include everything from a sports jersey worn by Willie Mays, to the sneakers Kobe Bryant wore in his 1996 NBA rookie game. It also offers a secondary market, so you can aim to sell your investments at any time.
Rally — Here you can find everything from vintage Porsches to one-of-a kind offerings like the double-necked guitar used by Slash from Guns N’ Roses. And similar to Collectable, Rally offers investors a way to sell their shares.
Keep in mind, all the typical caveats about investing apply here:
For example, don’t invest more than you can afford to lose; invest in what you know; and be sure to dip your toe into the water before diving in.
Furthermore, many alternative investments aren’t entirely “liquid.” That means they can’t necessarily be converted into cash at the snap of your fingers.
So don’t invest your rent or grocery money into these offerings.
But if you’re looking to invest like the rich — or build a valuable collection like Ms. Meaders — these platforms are a great place to start.