By Ed Kindle
As we get older, nothing connects us to our youth like finding something in an antique store or marketplace that we owned when we were younger, and nothing does this with more raw emotion than toys.
Toys can instantly bring back vivid memories and take us back to our carefree days of imagination when everything was safe and fun, and we didn’t have to worry about all the responsibilities that we have now as adults. Everyone remembers that one cap gun, action figure or a special doll that stood out. We looked through catalogs for weeks before Christmas to see what would be new under the tree.
So that brings us to the subject of collecting toys. Considering that most toys are small, it’s a huge topic!
What to collect? There are as many types of toys to collect as you could ever want. You can collect toys you specifically owned as a child or one of many types of toys. Tin toys, steel toys, plastic toys, paper, cast iron, dolls, games and much more. Take some time and really think about what interests or moves you.
Why to collect? Are you collecting as a hobby or for the thrill of the hunt? Are you collecting for a grandchild to share what you had as a child or are you collecting toys for investments to sell later? Determining your reason ahead of time may help to focus your collecting.
Where to collect? The usual places that come to mind are flea markets, auctions, antiques stores, estate sales, garage sales and thrift stores. The type of venue can greatly determine the quality, rarity, and value of what you find. The days of that unknown hidden treasure are getting scarce as everyone becomes more educated. The person holding a garage sale can always do a quick internet or eBay search to check values before they put that antique Marx bulldozer in the $5 pile. Online can also be an enormous resource for buying as well, but don’t forget to figure in the cost of shipping.
What kind to collect? You can collect by maker/manufacturer such as Reliable, Marx, Hubley, Buddy L, Minnitoys or Marklin. There are many different makers and the possibilities are wide open. Are you interested in only North American made toys or is the world your oyster? Think English soldiers, Japanese robots, German autos. If you prefer, you could collect by material such as cast metal. This can be broken down into categories also. Soldiers, banks, farm items, motorcycles, cars, trucks or trains. Tin toys are available by type as well.
What condition to collect? Toys vary greatly in condition. Remember, they were played with and most of the time children are not gentle. Toys were dropped, bumped, dragged and paper toys or games could be easily torn. They were left in the sand box, outside, in the garage, basement, or attics for years. Condensation, rust, insects, neglect all take their toll on old toys. The toys in the best condition will bring higher prices. Sometimes we will purchase a toy that’s a bit rough as a place holder until we can find one in better shape.
What to pay? The two most important factors are condition and rarity. The older a toy is, and the fewer that have survived, the harder it will be to find one in mint condition, and when you do, the higher the price will be. The important thing is to do your homework and know what the toys you are interested in are historically and currently worth. You need to have a budget and stick with it. Check auction sites for past sales, price guides, collector sites and conventions as values change frequently. We have all paid a high price for something because we got excited and then later found out we overpaid. It’s a rotten feeling but a learning experience. Don’t forget the box! Old toys with original boxes regardless of condition will add cost and value. Remember, the boxes were mostly thrown away and paper is fragile.
How to protect? This might not be on your mind when you start, but you need a place to put everything. Do you keep them in boxes or totes? Out on open shelves? Curio cabinets or display cases? You need to think about preservation. It makes no sense to buy expensive toys and then let them get ruined because you didn’t have the proper storage space available. Remember too, the more an item his handled, the more risk there is of damage. You also need to consider insurance (you will need an appraisal) if your collection is made up of very rare or high-end toys. Remember weather considerations also. Storms, floods or a roof collapse can be devastating on any collection. A collection that took years and thousands of dollars to amass, can be destroyed in minutes if not protected.
So, whether you are collecting toys from movies like Star Wars or Star Trek, television shows like Gunsmoke, Mickey Mouse or Peanuts, collecting lunch boxes, cartoon character toys, pedal cars, View Masters or cap guns, the most important thing to remember is to have fun. They are toys after all!