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It may be more lucrative to invest in collectible LEGO sets than in gold, study finds

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you're looking for a good investment to close out the year, you might not have to look any further than the Lego set under the Christmas tree.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That's right. Researchers from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow found that select unopened Lego sets on the secondary market saw an average annual return of 11%. That is more than the kind of return you would see when selling gold or even the shares of some large companies. Victoria Dobrynskaya worked on the study.

VICTORIA DOBRYNSKAYA: Everything started, actually, with the hobby of my son.

CHANG: The researcher also says that 11% is just the average market return.

DOBRYNSKAYA: So in some years, Legos delivered higher returns than in other years. So the 11% is the average over time. So there are some Lego sets which generated returns of 700%. Others generated negative returns.

SHAPIRO: Seven hundred percent - there are lots of reasons some Lego sets become valuable - special edition releases, like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, or limited production runs, to name a couple.

CHANG: And budget-minded fans of the colorful bricks need not worry. They can create their own potentially valuable asset through the 2008 fan collaborative project called Lego Ideas. People submit ideas for production, and if their design is chosen, they get 1% of the royalties.

BRENT WALLER: I can't think of any other companies who have this kind of collaboration with their fan base, where a fan can, for a small moment in time, pretend to be a Lego designer.

SHAPIRO: That's Australian Brent Waller. He designed and submitted a "Ghostbusters" Lego set in 2014. His most recent creation is inspired by another pop culture favorite - the NBC sitcom "Seinfeld."

WALLER: I saw that "Friends," the TV show, had had a similar set made through the same process. And in similar "Seinfeld" fashion, I thought it was outrageous that "Seinfeld" wasn't represented in the same way. So I thought I'd take it upon myself to try and build my version of the "Seinfeld" apartment to present to Lego Ideas to potentially become a real set.

CHANG: Waller's 30th anniversary "Seinfeld" Lego tribute required more than 5,000 hours of watching the show. And it took a weekend to recreate Jerry's apartment layout and then a few extra days after that to get the features of each character just right.

WALLER: I basically had one screen watching reruns of Seinfeld. And another, I had images of, like, the floor plan of Jerry's apartment that people had pieced together online over the years.

SHAPIRO: Researcher Dobrynskaya and super-fan Waller both cautioned that high returns on Lego sets aren't guaranteed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.