Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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Put it on the wall
Collector plates enjoy a long history, but in the 1970s interest notched way up as marketing firms promoted plates as collectibles.
You couldn’t open a Sunday paper or magazine without stumbling across advertisements for luscious creations marking holidays, current events, movies and art themes. Norman Rockwell never had it so good.
The history of commemorative plates dates back to the 1700s when factories started producing plates, bowls and mugs marking royal events in Europe and political events in America.
These have always enjoyed support from a small group of collectors. Prices are stable for these genuinely historic items.
In 1895 Danish porcelain manufacturer Bing & Grøndahl produced the first series collectible plate, a dated Christmas commemorative. Royal Copenhagen joined the club in 1908. While the companies have since merged, the Bing and Royal plates are still produced each year.
The two series enjoy a collector base that has largely supported prices over the years – except for plates issued during the boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s. Supply for these dates far exceeds demand, with the most common pieces cataloging for as little as $15 and often selling for less.
Royal Copenhagen and Bing have priced this year’s plates at $120 each.
Beyond these narrow areas, the market for collector plates pretty much went bust in the early 1980s. There was no secondary market to create price appreciation. Nobody really wanted a 1976 Mother’s Day plate in 1987.
In early August eBay had 163,544 listings for collector plates. Most had no bids. Among completed auctions, a Princes Diana collector plate went for 99 cents and a 1994 numbered, “limited-edition” Danbury Mint Betty Boop plate fetched $1.29.
As the original purchasers of collectible plates in the 1970s retire, die and downsize, more and more material is coming on the market. EBay listings are full of complete collections of various series of plates – often 20 and more – complete with boxes and certificates of authenticity that attract no bids.
Next: One that paid off