PRECIOUS MOMENTS FIGURINES

Few collectibles milk their rabid followers with such impunity that they almost insure fans will lose money with each passing year. Wide-eyed, innocence-embodying Precious Moments porcelain figurines have no such qualms about their greed.

It's bad enough that Precious Moments collectors have to watch as figurines they paid $45 for at retail sell on eBay for 99 cents to $5 apiece, but Precious Moments Incorporated (PMI -- yes, it's a corporate entity based on figurines) has no problem making fans bank accounts depreciate as quickly as their collectibles. For $36 to $39 a year, PMI offers collectors access to its "Collectors Club," with benefits including the opportunity to buy "collectors only" statuettes, a "member's kit" and a free figurine thrown in for good measure. PMI also partners with Bank of America on a Precious Moments MasterCard for the cutest debt imaginable and Precious Moments checking and savings accounts, so accountholders always remember where their expendable income is going.

Also, through a link on the PMI Web site, Collectibles Database Online will "value" collections for $30 in the first year and $19 each additional year. Collectors Club members are spared such indignities by getting a $10 discount in the first year. Most antiques dealers will tell collectors these statues are worth next to nothing for much less than that.

PMI's former business partner Enesco discovered as much the hard way in 2004, when it severed the relationship due to faltering sales. Even PMI hasn't been immune, as it was forced to scale back its Precious Moments Chapel theme park in Carthage, Mo., three years ago after "increases in gas prices and the general decline in tour bus activity" and a "reduction in paid admissions to the park." Kahn places the pricing of Beanie Babies and their ilk on par with the resale value of collectible plates containing Norman Rockwell illustrations, but that's still more than the return on the pastel, pink-and-purple Precious Moments figurines.

"Precious Moments are worth precious nothing -- they have no value," Kahn says, noting he refused to consign a woman's collection of 7,000 such statuettes that she'd insured for $110,000. "I gave her some advice: Leave your door open, your lights on and your back windows open."

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