Alternative investments hit the spot

If you want to justify splashing out on antiques and collectables just think of it as an "alternative investment".

By definition an alternative investment is any investment that is not in shares, bonds or cash.

This makes it a fairly loose term, applying to anything tangible which may increase in value over time.

Often this type of investing is more about fuelling a hobby or an interest rather than yielding capital gains.

So rather than calling it alternative investing, it is probably more accurate to simply label it "spending".

However, there is still money to be made.

We have all watched Antiques Roadshow where things bought for a few pounds can be worth a small fortune.

"How do I find something like that?" we ask ourselves.

If you are thinking of heading along to the auction house for a bargain, or trawling through Trade Me's 32,000 antiques and collectables listings, here are some tips from the experts to consider.


Whether you want to decorate your home or on-sell something for a profit art and antiques is a quintessential alternative investment.

Auction house Dunbar Sloane has been in the collectables game since 1918. Dunbar Sloane Jnr says there has been a resurgence of new buyers coming into the art and antiques market partly because prices have fallen from seven or eight years ago, he says.

"They're at a level now where people are realising they're good value."

Antique furniture, estate jewellery, silver and historical New Zealand items are all in high demand.

About half of bidders now are Chinese buyers seeking oriental pieces such as Chinese porcelain, jade, silver and pottery, he says.

Many buy oriental pieces in New Zealand and on-sell them in China, particularly Hong Kong, for a profit.

Art, however, is a slightly different kettle of fish, he says.

At the top end of the market people buy art for investment purposes.

"People buying in the top end have done their research and they've seen the artist's price rise in the past and they're taking a bet that they'll continue to rise."

But most buyers in the lower end of the market buy for decorative purposes.

Any money made on the investment is a bonus, Sloane says.


That 30-year-old case of Bordeaux left over from your wedding day might be worth more than you think.

Auction service Webb's holds about eight wine auctions a year and European wines are some of the biggest sellers.

Head of wine Simon Ward says most of its wine comes from private vendors cashing in on their plonk for a variety of reasons.

People's tastes change, wine cellars need clearing out and funds need freeing up.

Most buyers purchase for consumption not investment purposes, he says.

Certain New Zealand wines from key producers might offer some gains but our industry was too young for any real current value.

But given time there could be some real opportunities, he says.

"It'll happen and it is slowly starting to gain momentum."

People wanting to get their collection valued can contact Webb's for a free assessment.


Books don't have to be old to appreciate in value but it certainly helps.

Hard to Find Books owner Warwick Jordan says some books can appreciate in value but on the whole books are not a lucrative investment. "If someone's just doing it for money than they're in the wrong game."

Like any lucrative investment, good foresight is needed to make money on books, he says.

Jordan says he once bought a signed first edition of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller for $2000 and sold it five years later for $7000.

"If you pick the right authors you can certainly make money on them."

He also bought some first edition hard covers of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries for a small amount shortly before it won the Man Booker Prize.

He is now selling one copy for $350.

"In a few more years it will be worth quite a bit more than that, I suspect."


Marilyn Monroe famously sang Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend but is this true for investors?

Jewellers Association chairman Monty Knight, who owns Knights The Jewellers in Kaitaia, says gold and diamonds sales increase during times of recession.

"People feel that gold and diamonds are a safe harbour.

"It's definitely a long-term investment."

People who get jewellery valuations are often surprised at how much the pieces increase in value, he says.

"If people are thinking of long- term investment gold and silver are still an attractive place to be."

Initial gains on jewellery are low because of high margins, but over time it does appreciate.

"I'm talking 10 to 20 or 30 years there definitely seems to have been an enormous growth in value."

Chinese are buying large volumes of gold, which is driving up prices, he says.

Jewellery owners wanting to find out what a piece is worth should take it to a bonafide jeweller for a valuation, which costs about $80.

This also provides a document with photographic evidence which is helpful for insurance purposes.

Adequate insurance was also a no brainer, he says.

Buying high-quality stones cut well, with good clarity, low carats and supporting documents, makes a big difference to future value, he says.


It's no secret that vinyl has experienced a renaissance in recent years.

But that doesn't mean auctioning your old Seekers records will lead to an early retirement.

Vinyl Countdown director Mark Thomas says people who buy records as investments are usually looking for very specific and rare vinyl. "Because of all the publicity about the vinyl resurgence recently people sometimes think that what they've got is worth a lot more than it is."

A vinyl's scarcity, pressing, release year and most importantly condition contribute to value, he says.

"A lot of people won't buy records at a premium price unless they're in mint or excellent condition."

Collectors of high-value records were particular about every minute detail of collectors' items.

"You have to be really specific when selling records like that to collectors at that end of the spectrum."

Collectors buying at the top end of the market will be waiting a long time before any decent returns on an investment could be realised, he says.


Snail mail is slowly becoming obsolete but the art of stamp collecting still has some life left.

New Zealand Collectors Service proprietor Steven McLachlan says, as with many collectables, stamps are a long-term investment.

Classic stamps tend to go up at between 5 per cent and 15 per cent a year, he says. "You do really have to be in there for the long haul."

Collectors should always look for top-quality stamps and generally ignore anything that has been put out in the past 50 years by post offices, he says.

"If it's got the word investment written on it when it's launched or sold by the issuer then invariably it won't be."

Business was going well for McLachlan despite the number of people collecting stamps dropping by about 20 per cent in recent years, he says.

However, a stamp club McLachlan is president of has been experiencing a slight increase in membership.

"They enjoy the scientific work and discovery involved in them. They enjoy having something from remote places. It's a bug that catches on with a lot of people."

Trade Me has made common stamps cheaper and rarer stamps more expensive, he says.

June 4: This story has been update to correct the surname of the Catch 22 author.