Collecting Treasures: 6 holiday gifts worth buying at auction

Dean Batson Blog

People always love the thought behind the gift

The holiday season can be so nerve racking. We all have that loved one or friend who is impossible to shop for. Be it odd, bizarre or just outside the box, I like my gifts to be different, memorable, sometimes funny or just plain thought provoking.

Where do I get my gifts? Nine times out of 10, at an estate auction. Sometimes something triggers a memory and I’ll try eBay if I can’t find an item at the local auctions, antique or thrift stores. People always love the thought behind the gift. Sure, gift cards are safe, but not much thought goes into that. TVs and computers and cool, but passé tomorrow.

Here are six ideas to help you this holiday season:

​For the man child friend


He’s 40, acts like he’s 12, and you’ve been buds forever. Go with a childhood favorite toy. Get him a 1980s carded He-Man figure for about $100 on eBay or at a toy auction. It’s still appreciating in value, and it will make for a great conversation piece.

For the woman in our life

Surprise her with estate jewelry. The price you pay for a vintage beauty at a fine estate sale will be one-tenth of retail. We often find vintage Tiffany, Cartier, and many with their original boxes. Imagine a 1930s Art Deco diamond cocktail ring with stories to tell, selling for $300 to $500. Beat that, Jared.

For your special man

You can’t go wrong with a vintage watch. Not only are they in style, you’ll find all price ranges and they can be a solid investment. You’ll be surprised at how much more affordable they are at auction or at an estate sale than retail, plus so much cooler.

For the avid reader

Sorry iPad and Kindle peeps, but a classic, first edition, leather-bound book can be an amazing present. I once gave a friend an early edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and he still has it on his mantle, 20 years later. It was $35 at an estate auction.

For the car buff

A classic car may sound crazy, but watch the local car auctions. You often can find that old Mustang he had in high school for $5,000 today. Plus, it will give the family a project.

For a good friend or colleague

Go with something unusual. The sky’s the limit when it comes to this genre at an estate sale or auction. I have found mounted insects and bats, bizarre medical devices, vintage board games, old typewriters, and even that special childhood lunch box can make a great gift. I once gave a 19th century brass microscope to a doctor friend of mine. He cried and said it was the coolest thing he ever received in his life. I paid about $85.

This holiday season, I hope you give real thought to finding special gifts for family and friends you care about. The rest can have gift cards and a new flat screen.

Josh Levine owns J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale. Contact: or @jlevines1 on Twitter.