Exclusive interview: Toby Walne shows you the weirder side of collecting

From celebrity hair to shrunken heads, Toby Walne is an expert in collecting the unusual.

An award-winning writer and regular contributor to the Mail on Sunday, Toby has just published '101 Extraordinary Investments - Curious, Unusual and Bizarre Ways to Make Money. A handbook for the Adventurous Collector.'   

As the title suggests it offers advice for investors with an eye for the extraordinary, and Walne certainly knows a thing or two about the financial rewards to be found in weird and wonderful places.

"I wanted to capture spirit of adventure of the Victorian and Edwardian era when the wonderful world of collectables actually began" says Toby. "I like to imagine explorers braving the unknown in the name of the British empire, and coming back with exotic stamps, shrunken heads, lion's heads and the like; that kick-started the whole idea. Of course, it probably isn't true but certainly captures the imagination."

Writer Toby Walne

Although he writes regular columns for the Financial Mail and is an expert in financial and consumer-related issues, his passion lies in the collectibles market and the idea of alternative investments.

"I don't consider myself a financial journalist but a journalist who sometimes writes about finance." he says.  "The great appeal of collectables is it enables me to write about not just an unusual investment but also offer information on a subject that can be entertaining as well that might attract a wider audience."

"It helps being able to write about things that interest me like comics, plus toys I am still nostalgic for, such as Action Man, Lego and long lost Scalextric sets. Far more fun than pensions, mortgages and debt consolidation."

Celebrity hair and pedigree pigs

Indeed his new book offers an insight into areas of collecting that few would instantly consider, such as feudal titles, celebrity hair and pedigree pigs. He also professes a love for an item you are unlikely to find on a trip to your local auctioneers...

"A particular favourite of mine is shrunken heads," he says. "I love the idea that in the early 20th Century you could buy them to order (white heads being worth more) with a shopping trip to the Amazon. Back then you could pick them up for £20 a piece but now you find little change out of £5,000 if you want one to decorate the coffee table."

He believes strongly in the idea that investing in collectibles should first and foremost be an enjoyable experience, and that having a genuine interest in the subject is a vital part of the fun.

"Buying something you get personal satisfaction from provides instant returns," says Toby.

But with such a dizzying array of subjects to choose from, for many people it can be difficult to decide what to invest in. Toby's suggestion is to go for "something that you like and want. Chances are there is some other nutter out there that feels the same way and bingo, you have a market."

However, there are certain rules that he suggests any budding investor should follow.

"A collectable only really starts turning into an investment when it is in top quality grade, ideally with original packaging. It is a rule for whatever you buy. Oh, and if the deal looks too good to be true you are probably being ripped off with a fake."

Tin robots and vintage golf clubs

Toby is more than aware that the market for alternative investments is a steadily growing one, and that in the current economic climate of low interest rates and poor returns on savings it can offer a great deal more security than the traditional markets.

"I think the recent collapse in the stock market has reminded people about the whole smoke-and-mirrors thing of stocks and shares," he says. "There is something refreshingly tangible about holding a collectable investment in your own hands."

He also recognises the important role the emerging Asian market has had in fuelling investment in unusual collectibles. "It's not just fine wine and cigars - the effects are felt as far as tin robots and vintage golf clubs." As for his top tip for 2011, one area in particular is head and shoulders above the rest.

"Oddly, I think celebrity hair is an untapped market. It's less open to forgeries than autographs."

Toby's book shows that with a little imagination the strangest of subjects can become a gold-mine for the more adventurous collector, and that the world of alternative investments can be as much fun as it is financially rewarding. After all, there's nothing like having a shrunken head put aside for a rainy day...


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