I've Inherited a Breyer Model Horse Collection - What Should I Do With Them?
Dealing with a loved one's passing is always rough, and when they were a collector, there's the extra stress of figuring out how to best sell their collection. We have experience working with estate herds, so we've seen the challenges that families face, and I have some advice that will hopefully help.
Whether it's Breyer model horses, Star Wars collectibles, or pretty much anything else, it's going to feel overwhelming. You may even feel angry with your loved one for leaving you "all this work" while you're grieving. I have good news for you - It's very likely that their collection will be a very nice inheritance for you.... As long as the items are handled with care. I'll be speaking about model horses here, since that's our specialty, but this information applies to most collectibles.
You can't be expected to know a $5 collectible from a $1000 collectible, so I recommend treating every item as if it could be worth a lot of money. Sometimes it's the most boring-looking item that's actually the most valuable... Collectibles are sneaky like that.
The ideal situation is if the collection is out on display in a location where they don't have to be moved immediately. If that's the case, leave them as they are while you settle all the other things that have to be handled following a death. Give yourself time to grieve, knowing they'll be fine where they are until you feel up to tackling their sale. Simply keep odors away from them - No smoking near the collection, and close the door, if possible, to prevent cooking odors, smells from cleaning chemicals, etc., from reaching them. Also be sure to keep children and pets away from them.
If the collection was packed away and put into storage by the collector before their passing, they should generally remain safe as long as they aren't exposed to extreme temperatures, dampness or humidity. Check the conditions they're stored in, and as long as they're at normal room temperature (never getting above 78F or below 35F (25C - 2C)) and there's no dampness or mildew smell in their storage area, they should be safe there until you're ready for them.
If they are in a location where they have to be moved out immediately (because the house has to be sold or no one can pay the storage fee for a month or two), that's a critical situation. It's easy to panic and want to throw everything into boxes, but you could lose 80% of their value by doing that, unless you use safe handling. We'll teach you about that below.
Breyer model horses and other collectibles derive their value mainly from their condition. Every scratch, paint rub, mark, etc. can drop their value by quite a bit. A $150 model that gets a tail broken becomes a $10 piece. That's a big loss of inheritance, as well as something that would make your loved one sad... They spent a lot of time, money, and effort building that collection, and likely had an emotional connection to every piece they had. So, both out of respect for them and for the sake of the inheritance they'd like you to have, it's worth using extreme care. We'll tell you how, below.
Sell Them Individually Yourself
Pros: You'll keep more of the money from their sale, as you'll have fewer or no commissions. It can be a great way of showing respect for your collector and learning more about the hobby they loved.
Cons: Research takes a lot of time, and is necessary to get the most value of out each piece. For Breyer models, the best reference is: www.identifyyourbreyer.com . There you'll find photographs of every item Breyer ever made. You will need to either sell them locally (Pros: no shipping, cons: smaller audience and lower prices) or be prepared to carefully pack and ship them (pros: bigger audience, better prices; cons: Shipping is risky - If there's any damage, buyers will expect their money back).
Should I sell them individually myself? If you have the time and want to do it as a labor of love, yes. You'll want to invest in string tags to attach to a front leg as you ID each model, and also create a computerized inventory list with prices so you can keep track of what's there. If you sell them yourself, we recommend eBay, as collectors around the country (and world) check there for particular models regularly. They expect correct identification and clear, detailed photos of each side, front, and top of each model. EBay charges 10% commission. Or, you could sell them locally using Facebook Marketplace or craigslist. You'll still need good individual photos. There are no commissions, but expect a much smaller audience looking for bargains.
Sell Them As A Lot
Pros: Less time involved. Lots generally are sold locally, so you may not need to pack or ship them.
Cons: Local audiences can be small and prices are lower. Selling as a lot means you'll have to sell at a deep discount, because most people will only plan to keep a few and then will have the work of reselling the ones they don't want.
Should I sell them as a lot? If you want to handle their sale yourself, and value your time more than the money you'll get, this is a good option. You'll need to take several photos of the lot (probaby in small groups) from different angles. The best places to sell lots are craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, as they don't charge commission, and you'll find a local buyer who will come to your location to pack the models for traveling themselves. In return for that time savings, expect to sell them at very low per-model prices. Lot buyers are looking to resell, so they need to make a profit after THEY do all the work you don't want to do. This may be the best option if you have to move the entire herd out right away in order to settle the estate.
Hire Someone To Sell Them
Pros: Once you get the collection to the seller, your work is done. You won't need to do any research, tagging, inventorying, etc. The seller should be knowledgeable in the particular hobby in order to get the most value from their sale for you. Seller will handle dealing with buyers, as well as taking the risk of packing and shipping to buyers.
Cons: Seller will take a commission (generally 30% - 50%) from their sale. If you aren't within driving distance, you'll still have to pack and ship the collection to the seller. Sales often occur over time, so instead of a lump sum, you'll receive checks periodically, usually quarterly, for items that have sold. (This could be a pro or a con, depending on your needs.)
Should I hire someone to sell them? If you're too busy or overwhelmed to do the necessary research and then spend the time writing their sales listings, talking with potential buyers, and shipping each model to a different buyer, it's well worth it. A seller who works on commission is going to try to get the highest value for each model, because that will give them a higher commission, and result in you getting the most possible for each piece.
The commission covers the time the seller spends doing all of that work for you... Once they have the collection, you just "collect" the sales checks. To give you an idea of the amount of time the seller will put in, we spend about half an hour with each model, start to finish... And I know nearly every release, so I don't have to research them. For someone who will need to research them, you can add another 10-20 minutes per model.
For my personal collection, this is the option I hope my family will choose. An experienced seller knows to look for variations that can make a model worth more than others, even of the same release, resulting in a larger inheritance for my family.
Handling Models Before Selling Them
Often, non-collectors imagine plastic models as indestructible toys. They are actually incredibly fragile, particularly their paint work. We always instruct folks to treat them as if they were hand-painted porcelain. For many of the models, tens of thousands were produced, so there are often dozens available for sale at any given time, and collectors will only pay top dollar for those in the best condition.
Every tiny scuff and mark reduces their value, so they should never be allowed to touch each other or any hard surface (except with the bottom of their feet). If they need to be laid down, lay them only on bubble wrap, a dry towel, or other soft fabric.
When packing them, either for storage or for shipping, they should first be placed in a clean, dry plastic bag, and then be bubble wrapped with at least two layers of wrap, paying particular attention to "pointy bits" like ears, tail tip, muzzle, etc. Use plenty of packing tape to insure no pointy bits can work their way out during the vibration of travel.
If they're to be stored, they should be stood up in boxes or totes. If a second layer is going on top of the first, a good thick layer of bubble wrap should go between them first. No more than two layers should be boxed together, because the weight will be too much for the bottom layer, and legs will warp or break. Be sure the storage location is out of direct heat and sunlight, will stay between 35-75F (2-25C), and does not experience dampness or humidity. Models are sponges for mold and odors, both of which can render a model pretty much valueless. We recommend including silica packets in the storage boxes/totes to help reduce moisture.
For shipping - Whether shipping them to buyers or to someone hired to sell for you, wrap each model as above, and when packing the shipping box, stuff packing material into every air space in the box. Air spaces allow carriers to crush the box, and they will. (They're worse every year.) We recommend packing peanuts, because they won't crush down in transit and leave air spaces like crumpled paper will. When you're done, you shouldn't be able to move or shift any model... If it moves, add more packing material.
It will cost you a little bit in the beginning for string tags and/or packing material, but chances are that you've been handed an inheritance worth thousands of dollars, so taking good care of it is well worth it.
And, of course, if there are any models that have special meaning for you, or that "speak to you," consider keeping one or more as a remembrance. Your collector would be thrilled that you want to keep one to remember them by!
At Triple Mountain, we take in estate herds of Breyer and other brands of model horses on consignment, as space allows. Please feel free to reach out to us using our contact form if you have inherited a herd and are looking for someone to sell it for you. We have over 40 years of collecting experience and have been selling herds on consignment since 2012. Estate herds are treated with the utmost respect for their former collector, and we have a worldwide base of customers in the collecting community, so their horses will go on to bring joy to other collectors as they once did for them.
~ Eleda Towle
Triple Mountain Collector-In-Charge