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Today's Pencil Sharpener Could Be Tomorrow's Antique

Who in America who has ever looked at an online auction site has not seen an old sports trading card selling for thousands of dollars? Or a lava lamp from the 1960s, for several hundred? Or a simple salt-and-pepper shaker set for $30 or $40? And who has not then exclaimed, "Oh, how I wish I had held onto my baseball cards, or my beanbag chair, or my cowboy watch years ago"?

In the somewhat "disposable" American economy, most of us buy things and use them until they break or we grow tired of them. Then we sell them or throw them away. How are we to know our particular toaster or unused theater ticket or toy truck is a valuable antique of tomorrow? If we did know which are tomorrow's jewels, we'd take better care of them. And maybe we would not be so fast to dispose of those thimbles or matchbooks, crocheted teapot covers or bottle caps we've been collecting.

Little did we know that whole books are being written about this subject. Lisa Roberts's Antiques of the Future, for instance, includes a long list of today's mass-produced objects that she's almost sure will be treasures once they're no longer made. That's because, she says, they fit certain criteria. They have won design awards, for one. And they're visually appealing.

She's saving ordinary stuff like a certain café chair, a particular decorative bottle opener, an iced-tea bottle designed by artist Peter Max, even something called a "Dr. Duck toothbrush."

Who knows if Ms. Roberts is right, or if she'll live long enough to make a fortune. But there's certainly a better chance of that happening for her than for those of us who just threw out that black, Bakelite, rotary-dial telephone; or sold that mint-condition miniature train set, the one our parents gave us, thinking it might be worth something someday.