The COLLECTIBLES MARKET got a big boost recently when actor Nicolas Cage fetched $1.6 million by auctioning off more than 400 classic comic books. A 1938 Action #1 copy with the first appearance of Superman sold for $86,000, while a 1940 copy of The Detective #33, featuring the debut of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, brought an astonishing $120,750.

Holy Paydays! But despite Cage’s blockbuster take, the soaring fortunes of eBay, and the popularity of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, veteran collectors know this quirky niche market sits at the very top of the so-called Risk-Reward pyramid.

There’s no NYSE, Dow, or NASDAQ where buyers easily can track the perceived value of a 1954 Willie Mays card or a mint-condition 1940 Life Magazine with Winston Churchill on the cover. Determining the age or authenticity of some items can be dicey. And while price guides and evaluators exist — including gurus Terry and Ralph Kovel at — the price of collectibles can turn on a 1937-D Mercury Head dime. If you buy that Princess Leia lunchbox at the peak of a Star Wars boom, there’s no guarantee you’ll find a bigger fan (or fool) willing to take it off your hands at a profit.