How Big are the Collectible Markets? Are we really spending $200 billion every year on them?

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and this musings are sharing some of his collecting experience that are hopefully interesting.

I have always been interested in this subject and since starting my MBA in 1991 looked for studies or other data points.  I never found a satisfactory 3rd party study and ten years ago I commissioned the only one that I know of.  I am collating my thoughts and the various facts I found in this analysis.

The “Batmobile Thought”

I sometimes use the first Corgi Batmobile as an illustration of how big this market is (and when talking about the subject in the UK find that everybody in my age group had one!).

  • Corgi Toys sold 4,907,000 of them up to the end of 1968, the production run for its last year 1969 is not known and they were also sold in various gift-sets, so I assume a total of 5.2 million.
  • I further assume that more than one third of them still exist somewhere, almost all of them in collectors’ hands (and if some get unearthed today that is where they go).
  • Their value varies widely (there are 10 known variations and with conditions from poor to mint in box they can be worth anything from $5 to $2,000).
  • I assume that the average value is around $60.

This calculates to a total balance sheet value of $104 million for this casting alone and assuming a 12 year average hold period for vintage collectibles (7 years is the average for all collectibles) is correct translates into roughly $8.7 million in annual sales.  I checked this assumption against eBay which we believe has a 3% marketshare in collectibles but less for vintage items (due to an extent to age and internet savvy of sellers but to a much larger one on eBay’s policies in the last 6-7 years) and the 3% holds about true for this Batmobile model.  The Batmobile casting is one of about 4,000 Corgi castings (even if a very successful one) and Corgi is but one of thousands of brands in model cars.  Model Cars finally is just one of the 13 sub-market in Collectible Toys and Models (others are for example Slot Cars, Radio-Controlled Vehicles, Model Trains, Dolls and Bears).

The Hot Wheels Example

Hot Wheels is now a $1.1 billion brand.  While Mattel does not publish segment information of how much of that is spend by collectors (versus parents) many conversations with Mattel executives and others in the industry make me believe that measured by value it is around 20% (collectors pay significantly more per average model as they buy many Collector’s Editions).  That would represent $200 million in annual collectible sales in the Primary Market.
A typical Hot Wheels Collection

Since the brand started almost 50 years ago in 1968 Mattel has sold more than 5 billion Hot Wheels models.  Assuming that 15% of these survived in a condition suitable for collecting and an average price of $5 (I know this is all very rough) we come to a balance sheet number of $3.75 billion.  Further assuming a 10 year hold period we get to Hot Wheels products in the value of $375 million changing hands every year in the Secondary Markets.  As many of these transactions are sold as collections and therefore at a very large discount I assume the total sales to be more closer to $200 million for the Secondary Markets.

That results in a total of $400 million in sales for Hot Wheels.

The Collectable & Vintage Toys UK Market Size 

An MBA student analyzed this market for me in September 2006 by looking at sales on eBay, toy fairs, auction houses and other channels and came to the conclusion that is was valued at £310 million (around $627 million at the time).  With hindsight the study missed some sub-markets which I would estimate would have added around 10% of the total market.

UK Market Size Study from 2006
With the US constituting 2/3 of the collectible markets I believe that the UK represents about 1/15th of the world-wide market giving a total value of the Collectible Toy markets to be $10 billion per annum.

Collectible Models Sold in US Retail

The NPD Group is a market research company which monitors consumer purchase data from over 165,000 stores worldwide.  In 2012 they reported that Collectors bought around 15% of the total toys and models sold in monitored retail outlets in the US and that the total sales for these retailers was $23bn.

Model Kits on the Shelves

This does not account for eBay, other online channels, fairs, P2P sales and auction houses and is a larger number than my prediction (use the $10 billion number calculated earlier, adjust for 2/3 of that to be in the US and then for all missing channels).

Beyond Collectible Toys & Models

While I did the most of my research on the Toys & Models markets I have also monitored literature on other types of collectibles and have created a Segment Map which calculates the annual spend as $200 billion (this excludes the value of Classic Cars).

Collectible Segments

A few comments on the graph:

  • The size of the circles represents annual global trading of collectible segments and are based on similar type of assumptions or comments from experts (many of which are on on the hobbyDB Catalog Advisory Council)
  • Segment colors denote clusters, for example dark blue is for value based collectibles such as coins, stamps and shares
  • Concentration is an approximation on how many items make up a segment and how many of those are responsible for a large percentage of the sales in one segment – take PEZ Dispenser which would probably be less than 12,000 database entries (we consider that a very small number) or model cars where the Golden Brands (Corgi Toys, Dinky Toys, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Minichamps, Wiking and maybe 4 or 5 other brands make up more than half of the total collectible sales.


How many of us Collectors are out there?

I have also run some calculations on the number of collectors worldwide and estimate it to be 75 million. This number is supported by research by Pam Danziger who runs Unity Marketing, the only firm that I found that had focused on researching collectible markets (they have now pivoted their focus to the Luxury Markets).  Pam had earlier been the Director of Competitive Analysis at Franklin Mint. One of their reports from October 2000 that was based on their regular omnibus questionnaire said “Some 42.9 million U.S. households, that is 42% of total households, report that someone in their household collects any collectible item, according to Unity Marketing’s latest consumer survey.  With an average of 1.7 individual collectors living in each collecting household, the total number of U.S. collectors is estimated at 72.9 million — about 35% of the total U.S. population!”  More about her finding can be found in her 2004 book called Why People Buy Things They don’t Need (you will find key excerpts here).

Growth of the Collectible Markets

Elroy Dimson, Emeritus Professor of Finance at London Business School did a study in 2014 on returns of Collectible Assets (which he calls Emotional Assets) since 1900 and calculated Nominal Returns over the period of 6.4% p.a. and Real Returns of 2.4%.  This dovetails with my estimate of an annual growth of the total market of around 3%.  That growth is fed by new collectibles entering the market (like those $200 million in Collectible Hot Wheels referred to earlier) and appreciation of collectibles already in Collectors’ hands.

Chinese Stamps

We see particular strong growth in some of the Emerging Markets, primarily in China and expect the relationship of 2/3 of collecting happening in the US to reverse over the next 20 years.

46 comments to “How Big are the Collectible Markets? Are we really spending $200 billion every year on them?”

  1. Karl says:

    Great post! I really enjoyed it. Being very analytical, what do the colors mean in your bubble graph? And how do you define Concentration? I assume the size of the bubble is the market size.

    • Joschik says:

      Great questions, Karl.

      Colors denote clusters, so dark blue is value based collectibles (here coins, stamps and shares). It is easier to move from same color segments to same color segments than to other color segments.

      Concentration is an approximation on how many items make up a segment and how many of those are responsible for a large percentage of the sales in one segment. Take PEZ Dispenser, I believe there are around 10,000 models that we would have to catalog (we consider that a very small number) or model cars where the Golden Brands (Corgi Toys, Dinky Toys, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Minichamps, Wiking and maybe 4 o5 other brands) make up more than half of the total collectible sales.

  2. Karl says:

    Ooh, so if I collect toys, the I am more likely to move into collecting comics more so than coins.  I also like your term “Golden Brands”.   Never thought about Minichamps or Wiking being  up there.

    • Joschik says:

      The idea of Golden Brands in this context is the ones that have the largest amount of sales in the Secondary Markets measured in US Dollars and are a guess on my part.  For example I have no idea of how big Tomica is in Japan. I believe Minichamps to be in the range of $25 million in new sales and with a long history I think they make it into this list.  Wiking is just very, very big in Germany – check for example Auktionshaus Saure, a specialist for Wiking and Siku Plastic only. I would assume that with more history Greenlight and Oxford Diecast could also make this list and might miss Bburago.  Any more information here would be more than welcome.

  3. Maz Woolley says:

    Fascinating but how do we factor in partworks, subscriber collections and the like which may be lower in value but greater in volumes and only incidentally appear on secondary market. And how do we also look at collectors who collect models for specific themes because they are an adjunct to their main hobby like the owner of a 1:1 Corvair who also collects Corvair models for example. Or someone whjo collects film cameras and model cars but never photographs model cars with a film camera.

    It is interesting to see how much money is locked up in hobbies and that the holding turns round relatively quickly compared to say collections of Antiques or paintings.

    • Joschik says:

      Hi Maz, great to see you here on the blog (I have read MAR since years, am happy that you continue it and think you do an excellent job).

      I think that with stuff in permanent collections we are looking at around $2 trillion in total value worldwide (which is about the same as Italy’s GDP).  I tried to account for all the type of collectibles you mention and want to stress that my numbers are only ballpark.

  4. gsalg says:

    Hi. Awesome post!

    Maybe I missed it…is the segment chart you created based on US, NA or global data?


    • Joschik says:

      Thanks for the compliment, these are worldwide numbers and I added the global adjective that to the first bullet point.

  5. Todd Miller says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful analysis.  How is the market impacted by swings in interest levels?  For example I think it is a fact that model train and stamp collecting are on a downward trend.

    • Joschik says:

      Hi Todd,

      Yes, swings are very much part of what happens.  For example busses are on their way out as a collecting subject in the UK as kids have stopped travelling on them to vacations like they used to do in the 50s and 60s.  But then model planes exploded as a subject over the last 20 years as that is obviously now the way kids have been travelling for a while.  Or take Funko and its invention of the Pop that is currently trying to take over the world!  Funko now makes a reported $425m in revenues. So while the swings matter if you are in a market that is in decline overall the market is growing (if I had to guess I would say around 2-3% per annum).

  6. Chris says:

    Thank you for the analysis and infographic. Where could I learn more about the size and subcategories within the Nature collectible market? Am I correct that this includes segments such as minerals, fossils, meteorites, shells & wood collectibles?

    • Joschik says:

      Yes, these are included through estimates.  That being said they are the markets that have the least amount of existing studies or other information as there are no “manufacturers” in the traditional sense and therefore the hardest to estimate.

  7. Christian Braun says:

    I plan to add good 3rd party articles to this page in the form of a comment.

    Comicron does an annual article on the State of the US Comic Market, here is the 2016 article.  According to the article Diamond Comic Distributors shipped around $581 Million to North American Comics Shops.  While Diamond is by far the biggest distributor that leaves other deliveries out. I also assume Amazon orders directly. And obviously this does not include any secondary market transactions.

  8. Daniel says:

    Hi – can I use and source (?) the Segment Map please?  It’s for a marketing pitch on the Collectible Industry and I needed a ‘size and scope’ slide.


    Thanks – Daniel

    • Joschik says:

      Hi Daniel, thanks for asking and yes, that would be OK.  Please just reference back to this article and if you want to discuss your finding please reach out to us!

  9. Markus Schulte says:

    Hi, Joschik.

    Thank you for the post. I am looking into the collectible market an there is a lot of good information in this. You said you have done some research on the subject. Could you please share some reference to that research? who did what with whom and where?

  10. Joschik says:

    Hi Markus, yep, we did a lot of work as it is somewhat of a life-time calling…  I have emailed you so you can send me your questions.

  11. Hi Joschik – Excellent work, most comprehensive on the web.  I’m working on a paper for my masters program on markets and shifting tastes between demographics (e.g., baby boomers, gen x and millennials).  Firstly, is it ok to source your comprehensive study for overall mkt. sizing?  Secondly, and if so, could you share some of the underlying segment sources and research?  I’m particularly interested in segments that could show trending tastes between the generations (e.g., sports memorabilia, toys and comics, music, books & film, vintage fashion).  I appreciate any help you could lend.  Best, Thomas

  12. Andrew says:

    Thank you for this. It is curious that in the literature on collecting, people tend to claim that collecting is something most people do. When I try to estimate more precisely, I see references to figures like one-third of adults collect at some point in their lives, children collect at a higher rate, but I can’t seem to source the data behind these broad estimates.  Your approach seems far more reliable, basing on economic and trading data, but I am having difficulty translating that into proportions and estimates of adults in any given area. Do you have any pointers? Thanks

  13. Braxton Fonville says:


    This is a VERY helpful post! I am intrigued by the Segment Map you created. How did you arrive at the data here? I am trying to determine the size of the firearms / militia market in collectibles, but have been unable to find any information at all.

    Thank you!


  14. Joschik says:

    The Militaria market is probably one of the hardest as it is much more along national lines and there are lots of legal constraints.  I will email you.

  15. Jay says:

    Hi, thanks for such an informative post. Can you please advise if the graph is constantly kept up to date as the latest information comes in? Do you have more detailed information on figure amounts per collectible type? Do you have breakdowns for respective countries, that might ultimately amalgamate to create something akin to the global levels indicated in the graph above?

    Again, as a collector of sci-fi based toys I see much talk but very little transactional activity as many of the items are so scarce – to the extent that cash transactions are secondary to trading so as to lever items that ‘money won’t buy’. Does your research consider transactions (items changing hands), as distinct from cash sales?

    Thanks once again.

    • Joschik says:

      Hi Jay, we did not consider trading (items exchanged for other items) and sorry, it would take a lot of time to keep the graph up-to-date (more time than we have as we are trying to document billions of collectibles).

  16. Annabelle says:

    Hi Joschik,

    Thank you for sharing this incredibly helpful post! I’m curious to know whether celebrity collectibles are included in your Segment Map, and what would be its estimated global size?

    Thanks again for your insights!


    • Joschik says:

      This article is due for an update and I will try to add those in (this will be a little tricky as it touches so many segments).

    • Joschik says:

      That would be part of Vinyl Art which we already cover to an extent.  It is definitely a growth segment lead by Funko but also has 100s of smaller brands and artists.

  17. Jena says:

    Thanks for this helpful post. Also just confirming these are global market sizes, not just US.

  18. Cary Lee says:

    I am writing a research paper around collecting, and wanted to cite this article for an estimate of the size of the collecting market.  It is interesting that your estimate of $200b in 2016 is the same as this article of market size in 2018 – maybe they borrowed your work?

    Kind Regards,
    University of Newcastle, Australia

    • Joschik says:

      Hi Cary,

      Absolutely and yes, that Forbes article is using our research (and that without a citation which is disappointing).

  19. Karl says:

    Now. I’ll have to search hobbyDB for any digital collectibles.  I am still not sure what they are or why anyone would want them? 🙂

  20. Nagappan Arunachalam says:

    Hi this is the best article I have read on collectibles so far. I was wondering why video games (like old n64 games)was not included as this is a business GameStop , etc run

    also the sneaker market now 700 m revenue just stock x alone

    • Joschik says:

      Thanks and yes, you are right – there are certain areas that have come up such as sneakers, street wear and video games. Funko almost created its own segment with around $700m in sales. Other segments have continued to shrink such as model trains and stamps. It would be good to do another study.

  21. XXXERRT says:

    Hi. I am curious about your graph. It is well-designed and really clear. Could you please explain where did those market data come from?

    • Joschik says:

      Hi, I would love to but this is from 2016 and we collated many different resources together (eBay, auction house results, fair attendance, secondary data sources, some primary numbers). The market has changed a lot (for example we did not even look at Sneakers at the time). We also now define our market as fanmerch which is larger (including items that are licensed and not necessarily bought by a collector). Our most recent estimate of that market is $450 billion. If you have specific questions contact us please and we might be able to help.

  22. pmaulik says:

    This is a fantastic, comprehensive source. Huge thanks to you for developing and maintaining it. As you noted on March 26, the market has changed so much since 2016 it’s almost impossible to believe. I’m part of a group that’s researching the current landscape and emerging trends. Anticipating you’re doing this as a passion project, I wanted to reach out to see if we might be helpful. We have the ability to do some rigorous data analysis and I’d love to see if we could potentially work together to update the “map” and uncover some new insights about where things are heading. Please let me know if you’re up for an intro call, and we will make it happen. Thanks again.

    • Joschik says:

      Sure, feel free to contact me via the Green button on the right-hand side here. Our users own more than $800m in Collectibles and we have collaborated with Investment Banks and Universities (and yes, this is also a passion project).

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