My extended family is tight. Growing up, all the cousins would spend plenty of time over at each other’s houses, playing, laughing and cavorting… close as most siblings.
I mention this not to paint an idyllic picture of a young Ryan.
No — I mention it for The Wall.
Going over to one family’s house, you would immediately be struck by The Wall. In a huge great room — before huge great rooms were popular — it seemed like The Wall towered 20 feet high. It was stone, with shelves lining the entire thing.
On those shelves? Duck decoys.
Scores of them — maybe hundreds. (I found out later my uncle definitely had hundreds, but who knows how many fit on The Wall at a time.)
You can imagine this was quite the curiosity for a young child… An enormous space with nothing but ducks staring back at me.
I had to gain years before I understood why — out of all the things in this house, full of toys and gizmos and early Ataris — these ducks were the only thing I wasn’t allowed to touch.
(Well, I couldn’t touch the long Remington hunting rifle above the fireplace either, but that was well out of reach.)
And it was more years still before I learned this wasn’t just my uncle’s favored collection. Turns out he had one of the more impressive duck decoy collections on the eastern seaboard.
His ducks were lent to museums… His ducks went to waterfowl shows… And I’m sure quite a few found their way into hunts as well.
In the family, my uncle’s love of hunting was famous. There were tales of him leaving straight from his neurosurgery job at the hospital, putting on a hunting jacket and pants over his suit and heading out into the woods.
That’s how he got hooked on duck decoys.
However, I know that some of his ducks never left The Wall. Because who’d risk a six-figure piece of art?
Unless you’re in the decoy world, you probably don’t know just how valuable they can get. The best hand-carved decoys from the most respected carvers and painters are indeed considered art. And they fetch a price to match.
And — while I don’t know how much my uncle paid for his decoys — I do know that he got many of them from artisans firsthand. Apparently, he had a great eye — two of his favorite carvers, the Wards, went on to become famous in decoy circles.
If I had to guess, I’d say new, he probably never paid more than a few hundred dollars for a decoy. Maybe a few climbed into the four figures.
But after passing last year, some of my uncle’s collection is going up for auction (you can see the listings here, starting on Page 64 with a profile of Uncle Morty and Aunt Carol).
And indeed, plenty of his decoys appreciated to tens of thousands of dollars. With the most valuable expected to fetch up to $100,000 (though don’t be surprised if the hammer price is higher).
What’s the lesson here?
Well — for one thing, if you like hunting or duck decoys, there’s money to be made if you’ve got a good eye.
But more importantly — any collection can be valuable. And you don’t need a lot of money to get started.
Provided you choose something you’re passionate about… you take good care of your collection, keeping it in the best possible shape… and you’ve got good taste or a discerning eye… I can guarantee there will be other collectors out there who appreciate what you’ve put together.
Which means you can turn that collection into the sort of profits that stock market investors would envy.
And in many cases, the more obscure your collection, the better. Less competition, after all.
In fact, I’ve got another uncle with a completely different sort of collection… one that has turned into great value as well.
I hope you’re starting to see how valuable a well-curated collection can be — whatever you choose to collect.
Even if you don’t have much spare cash at the moment, that’s OK. Just take your time, get to know your subject, develop an eye for quality and watch for underpriced items.
Do that — and even a few dollars invested in a passion today could turn into thousands tomorrow.
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...