WHO DETERMINES WHAT'S HOT?

Nearly everyone collects something and some people collect nearly everything. But what makes something a collectible? Who determines what's hot and what's not? It's a simple matter of supply and demand. Plastic handbags, character watches, old credit cards, empty cereal boxes, anything sporting Roger Rabbit - the list of potential ``popular culture'' collectibles is endless.

``We're up to yesterday for collecting,'' says Terry Kovel, a leading expert on antiques and collectibles.

People have been collecting such items as coins, stamps, and butterflies for centuries. The emergence of ``popular culture'' collectibles spans the last several decades. Collectibles from the 1950s and '60s have largely taken over the market.

Perhaps its the baby-boom generation's penchant for nostalgia asserting itself. ``We've always claimed that the reason the 1950s is so big in collecting right now is that everybody saw `Leave it to Beaver' and it reminds them of a nice, peaceful childhood,'' says Mr. Kovel.

Gary Sohmer, owner of Wex Rex Records, a collectibles shop in Hudson, Mass., credits the search for perpetual youth: ``Everything that appealed to people as a child will eventually become collectible, because if you want to stay young, you surround yourself with the things of your youth.''

The fact is, people can't resist a good bargain. Who doesn't feel a bit smug - if not elated - at coming home with a real steal? Kovel calls it the ``treasure hunt aspect.''

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