“Many people prefer to see it, inspect it, and not buy it online.”
As a dedicated toy and junk collector myself, I have admired Gary Sohmers for years. He’s among the best known toy and pop culture collectibles appraisers in the world, largely thanks to his years-long stint on Antiques Roadshow on PBS.
Sohmers also hosts annual events including NorthEast ComicCon and the upcoming Music Collectibles Extravaganza in Boxboro. It’s a blowout of sorts, featuring loads of vendors as well as the likes of Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath signing autographs. (I’ll be on hand myself, buying and selling vintage magazines).
The Dig is a co-sponsor of the event, and we caught up with Sohmers at one of his recent comic conventions to ask him a few questions (while we were speaking with him, he sold several records, a few toys, and a poster). What follows is an abridged version of our chat, but we encourage you to watch the full video since actress Tara Reid crashes the interview.
What are your favorite toys? What stuff do you never part with?
Everything is in my collection until I sell it. If I like it and it makes me happy and it brings me joy, usually it’s stuff from my youth. I collect a lot of toys from the ’60s because I grew up in the ’60s, and I also collect things that I think might eventually go up in value. There’s two logics to any type of collecting—you’re collecting for the now and how you feel, but there’s also collecting for the future and what it might sell for.
Part of my job is helping people with their stuff. I get to see a lot of great collections, and I get the things that I like for myself, and I get them the most money possible for their stuff.
What is something that you are a particular expert in when it comes to appraisals?
There’s three different valuations. There’s liquidation value, fair market value, and replacement value. So when anybody wants to know what their stuff is worth, I kind of have to get it qualified—like, How much is it to get rid of? How much is it worth for you to sell at auction? Or, How much if it burned up in a fire?
I ask people, What do you want to know the value for? … The great god Google will tell you anything you want, Why are you asking me? [It’s because people want to know] what they can really get for it, [not] what some guy in Iowa is selling it for in his underwear.
My job now is the three Ds—downsizing, divorce, and death. Usually all three of them come into play when people have to sell their collection.
But as far as what I am an expert in, I’m an expert in popular culture, rock and roll, and childhood stuff. We have this nostalgia curve, so childhood stuff could be my childhood, or it could be my child’s childhood.
I saw an estate sale on the way up here, and there were 300 people waiting outside to get in. As an OG of this world, where does a convention fit into the frenzy going on at the moment?
A lot of the different levels of collecting broke up and changed when the internet made it so you can shop from your bedroom, and these different levels evolve. Many people prefer to see it, inspect it, and not buy it online. There are also people who don’t want to travel, and online auctions, but people who come to conventions and comic cons and flea markets either want to get it for as cheap as possible and they just want it for themselves, and then there is the investment crowd. It’s well known now that a video game can sell for $20,000 or that a comic book can sell for a million dollars. Now they’re all trying to learn, so they come in here, they have their phones, and they look it up on Fleabay.