While the Great Recession has dampened the U.S. economy, prices for coveted American antiques and collectibles continue to set records. Here are 10 collectibles—from a rare 18th-century signature to a 20th-century pop art painting—that have millionaires tapping their bank accounts.
Founding Father’s signature
An autograph by Button Gwinnett, a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, sold for $772,500 in 2010 at Sotheby’s auction in New York. Gwinnett’s signature is rare because the Georgia statesman died in 1777, a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed, and is sought by collectors seeking signatures of all 56 signers of the famous document.
Baseball card rarity
A 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card sold last year for $2.1 million during an online auction. Tobacco companies issued the popular cards in the early 1900s to promote their products and stiffen their packaging. The Wagner card is rare because the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop demanded that American Tobacco Co. stop issuing cards with his likeness, either because he didn’t want children to use tobacco or because he hadn’t been financially compensated. Either way, less than 200 of cards were issued and only about 50 are known to exist.
A Barbie doll, wearing a custom-designed 3-carat diamond-studded necklace, a diamond ring and black party dress, sold for $302,000 at a 2010 charity auction. Proceeds from the Christie’s of New York sale benefitted the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in North America, sold for $14.2 million during a Sotheby’s auction last November, setting a record for a single printed book. Eleven of the sacred songbooks are known to exist.
Champion race car
In 2009, a 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe sold for $7.2 million, the highest price paid for an American car at a public auction. One of six models built by Carroll Shelby, the race car made automotive history when it clinched the 1965 World Manufacturers Championship for GT cars in Reims, France, becoming the first American car to win on the international stage.
Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), a 1963 painting by Andy Warhol, sold last November for $105 million at a Sotheby’s auction. Resembling a series of 15 black-and-white photographs, the 8-by-13-foot painting depicts a deadly scene after an automobile collision.
A 1787 Brasher doubloon—the first gold coin ever made in the United States—sold in January for nearly $4.6 million at a Florida auction. Displaying an eagle and shield, 13 stars and the national motto E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One), the coin was worth about $18 when it was minted by New York City metalsmith Ephraim Brasher. Only seven of the coins are known to exist, including one sold to an undisclosed Wall Street firm in 2011 for $7.4 million.
President George Washington’s annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for $9.8 million in 2012, setting an auction record for an American historical document. Dating to the 1780s, the nation’s founding documents were bound in a leather book and featured Washington’s handwritten notes in the margins of the Constitution.
A 1-cent stamp bearing a profile of Benjamin Franklin is the rarest and most valuable U.S. postage stamp, with an estimated value of $3 million. Only two of the 1868 stamps are known to exist, including one owned by the New York Public Library. The stamp features a Z-grill design, an experimental pattern of tiny square indentations pressed in the paper to absorb canceling ink.
Superman comic book
A near-mint copy of Action Comics No. 1, the first comic book featuring Superman, sold for $2.1 million in 2011. Considered the most valuable comic book of all time, a copy cost a dime in 1938. About 100 originals are believed to exist.