Mr. Alice: There’s a puzzle I’ve had in my mind for a long time. Every time I see those full-page color ads in Parade magazine and other magazines for “collectors plates” and “collectors dolls” and “collectors porcelain dogs,” I wonder, who are these collectors? Why do people buy this stuff? Is it valuable? A lot of it seems to be put out by the Franklin Mint, which sounds pretty official but probably doesn’t have anything to do with Benjamin or the federal government. Please clear up this mystery. Thank you. — A. Grovestead, San Diego
Ooooh, all those impossibly cute baby dolls, and gold-dipped War of the Roses commemorative coins, and Elvis-better-than-he-ever-looked plates do fly out of the warehouse. These Sunday-supplement goods fall into what auctioneers and collecting professionals call a “created market.” Until they started advertising it, you didn’t know you wanted to collect the 30-piece, limited-edition Sad-Eyed Porcelain Puppy series (each piece, six easy payments of $91.36 each, plus $25 shipping and handling). People buy them because they’re cute and hope that someday they’ll be worth more dough than they paid for them. Maybe, maybe not. They have no serious artistic value; some have a limited gold- or silver-content value; they have no historical value; so they’re of interest only as an adorable dust-catcher or to another collector, should you be able to find one. And, in Miller Analogies terms, the federal government: the Franklin Mint:: the World Bank: the dinner mint.