It's tempting to think that all those baseball cards you have stashed in the attic will one day provide you with a comfy retirement. Think again, though. Many popular collectibles are far from the best path to wealth.

At Yahoo! Finance recently, Jason Notte reviewed several categories of popular collectibles, pointing out how "completely worthless" they can be:

  • Hummel figurines: Those sweet little ceramic urchins may have brought a smile to your grandma's face, but they're not likely to bring many greenbacks to you. Their supply outstrips demand, with many going for $50 or less on eBay.
  • Franklin Mint collectibles: These can be anything from plates to dolls to coins. According to Notte, "Sure, the Franklin Mint gets plenty of buyers to pay $260 for its silver medallions struck with the faces of every U.S. president, but it can't make them sell for more than $65 on eBay."
  • Beanie Babies: Along with Norman Rockwell plates and Precious Moments figurines, Beanie Babies are items that consignment shops often refuse to accept. In their heyday, they sold for around $4 to $6 apiece, and though a rare few fetch a good price today, most go for $2 or less.

Clearly, unless you know what you're doing and you also have some good fortune on your side, collectibles are not likely to be a powerful contributor to your retirement plan.

So consider some different kinds of collectibles, instead -- via the stock market.

Collect innovation
Remember that with the poorly performing collectibles above, overproduction and limited buyer interest is often at fault. A better way to grow your wealth is to invest in companies that are ramping up to meet growing demand. Investing in innovators rather than backward-looking old hand-me-downs can prove very profitable.

For example, if you believe that demand for natural gas will keep growing and that we'll soon be seeing many more natural-gas-powered vehicles on the road, you might want to invest some money in the companies helping to make that happen. Clean Energy Fuels (Nasdaq: CLNE) has plans to build and run 150 gas fueling stations, while Westport Innovations (Nasdaq: WPRT) is developing engine technologies for such vehicles and partnering with the likes of engine maker Cummins (NYSE: CMI).

If you see more and more hospitals offering robotic surgical procedures, you might look into companies such as Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG) and MAKO Surgical (Nasdaq: MAKO). Intuitive has been growing its revenue and earnings at a huge pace over the past five years, while MAKO, not quite profitable yet, has been posting strong revenue gains as it launches a new hip arthroscopy procedure.

Companies with the potential for explosive growth can be more risky than established blue chips, so you might want to devote just a portion of your portfolio to some of them. Even those that disappoint you might still outperform your Precious Moments figurines.

Collect dividends
You don't even have to take on the risk of youngish companies with newfangled technologies, though. You can build a better retirement by collecting dividends, too -- from relatively stable, established companies. Healthy, growing dividend-paying companies tend to keep paying them no matter what the economy is doing, and they generally up their payouts over time, too.

For instance, National Grid (NYSE: NGG) might look like a boring utility company, but it yields almost 6% and has hiked its dividend at a healthy pace for years. For more excitement, consider that Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) yields about 3.7% and sports a dividend growth rate of nearly 14% over the past five years -- while growing earnings at 16% annually.

Be a smart collector
If you really want to make money from traditional collectibles, perhaps consider investing in eBay or Sotheby's, as they profit every time collectibles trade hands.

For most of us, the best collectibles are clusters of dollar bills, stored relatively safely in proven investments, such as stocks and bonds.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of National Grid, Intel, MAKO Surgical, eBay, and Intuitive Surgical, but she holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see her holdings and a short bio. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Sotheby's, Cummins, Intuitive Surgical, MAKO Surgical, Westport Innovations, National Grid, Intel, and eBay, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.