We sometimes throw away things that become quite valuable later on, but some old things aren’t worth a nickel. The trick is knowing which is which.

In the 1930s and 1940s, baseball cards came free in a penny pack of bubble gum. If you had the 175 cards that I had saved up they’d be worth an average of $12 apiece today, or roughly $2,100.

Mom innocently tossed them as “kid’s junk” after I joined the Air Force.

My oldest brother Bill was born in 1919, a time when owning a fat little Buddha-like statue called Billiken was a big fad. Mom saw a small cast iron Billiken piggy bank in a store window and bought it for 29 cents. It was passed down to me, but it too was trashed when I joined the Air Force.

You know what that thing is worth today? Between $185 and $225, or 700 times what it cost.

Between 1934 and 1942, beautiful little pitchers and glasses made of cobalt blue glass with the face of Shirley Temple embossed into them were given away free to promote Wheaties and Bisquick. I recently passed on to one of my sons a beautiful little milk pitcher I had treasured since 1937.

But what’s it worth today? Just $11!

Why so little? Well, anyone would trash an old cast iron piggy bank. No matter how cute it may have seemed when it was new, it looked like junk. So did the old baseball cards. They look like junk, so they were treated like junk; but a beautiful thing like that cobalt blue pitcher? Big difference!

The result is a scarcity created by the way people think.

Here’s a perfect example. In 1947, sales of KIX cereal received a big boost from a little plastic “Lone Ranger Atomic Ring” — one per box, free. It was quite something. If you looked into the little bomb on its top you could see flashing points of light as real atoms were being split.

Cost? Nothing. Value today? A whopping $125!

Why? How many of them do you think were tossed away as plastic kid’s junk? Mine was.

On the other hand, when Daddy died back in 1937 I became the proud owner of his collection of old German banknotes, all of them circulated bills in good condition and of high denomination. One of them was even a 50 million mark note. Think of that, fifty million marks! Just before Germany changed over to the euro, two marks would get you a dollar!

I had given the bills to my son, David, along with some other things I wanted to pass on to the kids. However, in 1973, when we shipped home from England, the British movers who packed our household goods were thieves. The bills and several of David’s other mementos were stolen.

David was just a kid; he felt really bad about it. So did I. But did those thieves really steal anything of value? You know what that 50 million mark note is worth today? Just $3.99.

Reason? No one throws away any kind of money, but there were tons of those bills. It took a wheelbarrow full of marks to buy a loaf of bread back in 1923 when the value of the mark dropped from 4.2 to the dollar to 4.2 trillion to the dollar.

It seems like you can’t win, doesn’t it? However, you CAN win if you think before you toss.

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