Collect these tips and make pounds pounds pounds s! I could be a collec tor's item

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The Independent Online
From time to time, you read of vast sums being fetched at auction by collections of unused telephone cards or Dinky toys still in their unopened boxes and, if you are anything like me, you say to yourself: "What loony would pay vast sums of money just to get his hands on unused phone cards or Dinky toys?"

Then, after a pause, you say to yourself: "What loony, come to that, would spend all his life hoarding unused phone cards and Dinky toys?"

And then, after yet another pause, you say to yourself: "I wonder if I have got any phone cards or Dinky toys up in the attic in good condition?"

And you know the answer is going to be "no", because if you ever get any phone cards you use them, and if you ever bought any Dinky toys you played with them. And that is because you and I do not have the unnatural and perverted instinct of a collector, which is to store away, unused and unopened, things which a sane person would get their money's worth out of now.

When I was a child I collected such things as football programmes, and I collected postage stamps, and I even collected cigarette cards, and of course I collected train numbers, and it was all a waste of time because it was terribly unfocused and was not in the least geared towards that moment, 40 years later, when I could stand up in Sotheby's and see my collection go for a fortune.

The first mistake I made was to collect more than one thing. I should have gone just for one object and concentrated all my funds on it.

The second mistake I made was to go for things which were already valuable, such as stamps and cigarette cards. These were already well established as collector's items and had catalogue value, so I should not have touched them with a barge pole.

What I should have done was spot something which was just coming on the market and start buying it up as quickly as possible, confident in the knowledge that one day this thing would be rare in its mint form and possibly would have vanished altogether; just as when pictorial cheques first came in I should have started collecting those, instead of foolishly using them to get money out of the bank.

It is still happening. I read the other day that those milk cartons, the ones that have "Pull up wings to open" and "Please open other end" written all over them, are going to be gradually withdrawn in favour of something else and this can only mean one thing: in the very near future those milk cartons are going to shoot up in value and I should have started collecting them as soon as they came on the market. If I now had a room full of milk cartons, I would be a potentially rich man.

Of course, I would also be the owner of a lot of cartons full of very rancid milk, so it would not have been such a wise choice. But maybe one would be allowed to throw away the milk and keep the cartons. Perhaps there is a technique, agreed among collectors, for doing this, like blowing eggs.

I had a friend called John who collected milk bottles and, as far as I remember, he emptied all the milk out and just kept the bottles, though even that must have dismayed the people who shared his life. I suppose that is why people tend to collect things that are flat and easily stored (phone cards, postage stamps) rather than more interesting but bulkier items (telephones, post boxes).

The other day, going through an old drawer, I found some chewing gum I had bought in New York in 1960. I knew it must have been 1960 as it was the first time I went to the USA and the last time I took chewing gum seriously. While I was there I discovered a firm called Adams which did sticks of chewing gum in such exotic flavours as Blackjack and Wild Cherry and Sour Apple, and I bought lots of it and must have kept some without remembering.

So now I had some 35-year-old chewing gum: a collector's item! Sour Apple, as it happens. A fortune in the making.

However, I made the mistake of showing it to my eight-year-old son, and of course he wanted to try a bit, and of course I said no, and of course he overruled me, and so of course I no longer have that priceless piece of gum, which may well have been the last wad of Sour Apple chewing gum left in the civilised world.

So, children, the moral of all this is not to waste your pocket money on stuff you eat and drink now, but on things you can keep for 40 years until they are worth a fortune. If you buy comics, keep them in dustproof wrappers. If you buy Power Ranger stickers and a Power Ranger sticker book, do not stick them in. They will be worth far more that way.

And, if you are interested, 35-year-old chewing gum tastes horribly stale. I should know. My son let me have a stick to try.