You can, if you are ambitious, start your own mail-order business selling collectables to hobbyists. Preparing to sell collectables can be fun in and of itself, and it can be highly rewarding. One recent television report noted that a prominent medical doctor left his practise to devote all of his time to selling items from a box of movie memorabilia he purchased for just a few dollars. If it happened to him, it could happen to you!

To begin, you must first find a hobby that appeals to you. What is of particular interest to you? It may be a current hobby or something completely new. Perhaps you already know exactly what you want to sell. If you have been collecting old Valentine cards, start a mail-order business buying and selling collectable Valentines. Or, perhaps your interests include postage stamps or comic books. Whatever your area of interest, jump in and get busy.

Spend several weeks researching your chosen hobby. Examine it from every angle. You must learn what items collectors want and how much they are willing to pay for them. Learn how to evaluate the value of any item in your field of interest. What is the best source for these items? What wholesale prices do other dealers pay for the merchandise which they sell to their customers? Are you willing to pay the same amounts? Could you find a cheaper source for these items? What publications do interested hobbyists in this field read? Do these publications accept advertising? How do you contact them? All of these are important factors to consider. Whatever your interests, the first rule of direct mail selling is to sell an item that you would buy.

To give you an idea of what collectors buy and sell by mail, here is a partial list of many of today’s collectables:

Phonograph Records

Street Car Tokens      

Boat Photographs

Cigar Labels           

Fruit Jar Labels       

Advertising Cards

License Plates         

Old Magazines  

Dog Pictures

Beer Labels            

Gun Catalogues 

Movie Magazines

Circus Posters         

Paper Currency 


Music Boxes            

Cartoon Books  


Salt and Pepper Shakers        

Theatre Programs       

Hunting Licenses       

Greeting Cards         

Political Buttons      


Old Pencils            

Baseball Cards 



Children’s Books       

Rock Group Souvenirs

Military Medals        

Stock Certificates     


Sheet Music            

Old Toys       

Indian Relics  

Doll Clothes           

Gems, Minerals 

Railroad Books


Belt Buckles   

Fishing Licenses

Cigar Boxes    

Aeroplane Photos

Comic Books

Train Photos   

FBI Posters    


Old Calendars  


Automobile Manuals Maps





Antique Barbed Wire


Old Jewelry    

Railroad Passes

Matchbook Covers


Musical Instruments

Try to locate all the publications that deal with your field. Often, you can locate small self-published publications and newsletters which will give you all kinds of useful information. We suggest that you examine copies of two nationally circulated collectors’ magazines. They are read avidly by hobby dealers and collectors alike. Look for them at your local newsstand or library. You can also contact them directly.

Antiques & Collecting Hobbies 1006 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605

The Antique Trader Weekly Box 1050, Dubuque, IA 52001

Each of these publications contains multiple pages of ads from dealers and collectors. Also, almost every hobby publication — large or small — is listed somewhere within its pages.

Once you have collected several publications, start a file. Keep copies of all the ads selling your kind of merchandise. Also, keep ads listing other dealers’ buying prices. If price lists are offered in the ads, send for them and study them closely. Make yourself an expert in your field.

Your next step is to look for merchandise in your community. Here are some suggestions:

Start by attending flea markets and antique shows. Don’t be afraid to make inquiries of dealers. They often have what they consider “junk” stashed away, assuming that it isn’t of much value to anyone. I once discovered a fabulous stamp collection that way!

    Browse around through thrift shops.

    Study the garage sale ads in your local newspaper. Visit any that sound promising. Sometimes it pays to telephone first. Also, by telling people what kind of merchandise you are looking for, they may be able to direct you to others who have exactly what you need!

    Place “Want to Buy” ads in your local bargain newspapers and the local newspaper. Be sure to list your phone number.

If you can’t find enough merchandise locally, run ads in the various collectors’ magazines. Classified ad rates in collectors’ publications are generally low compared to other national magazines. You will soon discover that these ads are widely read, and you will likely have numerous responses to your request.

Once you have accumulated a decent stock of merchandise, you are ready to begin selling it. If publications are specializing in your field, by all means, advertise there — you’ll have ready-made customers! Also, run ads in the big, national hobby magazines. Your ad can offer your item/price list to interested collectors free or for a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE), or the cost of postage. Or, you can offer to make a sale straight from the ad. If you do the latter, however, include a copy of your complete price list with any merchandise sold.

Here are a few sample classified ads run by hobby dealers that may give you some ideas:

    Railroad Timetables, 1940’s. Four different – $4.00 postpaid.

    Old Children’s Books and Texts. Stamp for list.

    85,000 Comic Books, Movie Magazines, Funnies, etc. 1900-1980. Catalog $1.00 (Refundable).

    Original Movie Posters, Pressbooks, Stills, 1919-1994. Catalogue 50¢.

    Sleigh Bells! Stamp for list.

    Sheet Music. SASE for list.

    Fifteen Tobacco Labels – $3.00.

Prepare to answer any responses by typing up a list of what you have available. Make a sufficient number of copies at a quick-print shop and prepare to mail them out. Hobbyists don’t mind receiving a simple, typewritten or computer-generated copy of your list of offers — it’s half the fun of collecting. Always make sure you promptly reply to any requests for information. 

As you progress, you will learn continually. Most hobby dealers will tell you that they learn more from the collectors who buy from them than they could ever learn from any other source. Remember, information and study are your greatest allies in preparing to sell hobby items by mail. Keep after it. You’ll soon develop a going business that could eventually net you a tidy sum.

Good Luck!

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