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Toy Collecting- Great Timing and Current Trends

No one normally will shout out about great opportunities, but I’ll let the cat out of the bag– It is a great time to collect toys.  Why now, why more so than in the past?   Well…. timing is everything.



Trend– Timing is Great as Older Collections are being Liquidated.

Trendy items are often not the thing to collect.  Beanie Babies, Hot Wheels toys, and Star Wars toys are hot; prewar and antique toys have fallen out of fashion.  I’ll argue that frothy late century toys are at high prices now & a dangerous area to collect;  the kids of the mid-twentieth century are duking it out, setting record high prices.  On the other hand, cast iron toys, prewar tin toys, and many Antique toys are currently being offered at very fair prices.

We have an older collecting generation that has just passed away and antique toys are more available than ever before.  Don Kaufman’s collection is a perfect example of recent timing.  There was just so much to behold and bid on, and formerly unavailable toys surfaced.  Up to that point, similar toys to his hadn’t been offered for sale in decades.


Trend– We are in Modern times

Then we are in the midst of a “modernist” movement as I personally see things.  My observation may have some local bias, but we see modern Ikea furniture sales spiking, 50’s modern homes becoming trendy again, strong Dwell Magazine influences, and we are seeing minimalist lifestyles.  One can draw a parallel to the 1950’s or early 60’s living styles.

Back in the 50’s brown furniture and collecting trended down and priceless antiquities were given away.  Those outmoded items were fairly priced if not an outright steal.  Later in the 70’s and 80’s collecting cycled back and prices rose.  We have a modern parallel to those historic times.


Trend– Prices are more affordable than in the past.

Today we have great toys for sale at great prices, especially when you look back and the highs a decade ago.

In the 1980’s, Lehmann toys spiked in prices that haven’t been seen in some time.  Marx Popeye toys and Mickey Mouse toys were white hot a decade ago.  This last year I’ve found Lehmann windups, Mickey Mouse, and Popeye toys at very fair prices.

Cast iron toys were at higher prices a decade ago.  Right now I see opportunities to great top notch Arcade toys at lower prices as well as Hubley toys.

Please note that temporary populations of toys have been available recently. Many of these buying opportunities have been related to estate sales where the family would prefer cash.   Yet these have and will continue to get soaked up.  ‘Black Hole’ collections will continue to swallow up superb toys.  So I foresee now as a great time to buy the toys you have always envied.  That, and you will find toys for sale now that weren’t previously offered.


Trend– Inflation is coming and toys can be a hedge

Then one must mention inflation.  Collecting offers a great opportunity to enjoy a physical artistic item, care take it, then watch it appreciate as inflation rises.  Just track the price of a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, or the cost of a pickup truck and you will see the ravages of time on buying power.  Toy collecting can help you counter the effects of inflation and the paltry savings account rates.  -Or just enjoy toys and later reflect on how reasonable your past purchases were as time marches on.


Trend– They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Stating the obvious, our old toys are made to standards that are obsolete.  These are evolutionary dead ends where the toys were too heavy, too costly to produce, had too much labor, and required expensive postage.  The best new products (from a profit perspective) today are ones that miniaturize the toy, automatically paint items, robotically package the toys, and have a minimum of parts and weight.

If you were currently reviewing product options, you would recognize the absurdity of making a Buddy L style pressed steel toy with hundreds of parts, then shipping them around the US.  Costs are just too high to do this and make a semi-affordable kids toy.  Likewise, we don’t have kids and ladies to hand paint cast iron with the dirt cheap labor costs of the past.  Safety, age labor laws, and times have progressed forward (or at least labor progress has been made in the West).

On a personal note, I enjoy the toys that are evolutionary dead ends.  -Items that were made so well and at a high price that few could enjoy them; they were simply labors of love (or economic mistakes).  Extra intricate American tins like those of George Brown or Althof Bergmann didn’t sell well and were phased away quickly.  Current populations and X’ed out catalogs support this evolution.  Extra large pressed steel items faded away too as you see “progress” from 1920’s steel trucks to the 1950’s.  Toys with more than 4 colors of paint became imprudent to produce.  Hand painting became too luxurious.

Trend– Countless items are available via computers.

At this point in time, countless items are for sale at the click of a computer.  We have a great selection of toys for sale, but it wasn’t always that way.  About 30 years ago, readers will remember Toy Shop Magazine where collectors had to wait for their next fix.  Toys weren’t that available from your home town, and this magazine/news paper was the “it” source for buying.  Collectors would have to wait years for great items.  Condition snobbery wasn’t as common when could not tap into the world market.   Currently we have dynamic content delivered to your computer or phone.  The opportunities are there 24 hours 7 days a week.


Trend– Toys are Art

Toys at the high end of the Antique scene can be considered art.  More people that appreciate paintings and sculpture will soon catch on to what has been a secret– it took artisans to make these toys; castings took great skill, actions took artistic engineering prowess, hand painting required a trained hand.

Early Marklin and Bing toys have long been appreciated for the elaborate hand painting and pin striping.  Early American tin toys by George Brown and Bergmann have been collected for their hand made flourishes.  Toys from the early 20th Century have an artistic naivety and the designers masterfully transitioned artistic drawings and concepts to the toy realm.

We are only an acrylic case or wood display away from setting off our artwork.


Toy Collecting Summary

Bottom line– toy collecting has cycled and, in my opinion, is ready for another surge of interest.  There are great items for sale at wonderful prices.  Older collectors are selling at reasonable prices, and modern web sites are providing great opportunities.

Then as items age even further, we will be seeing more toys collected as art.  My collection has received more acrylic display treatment, glass enclosures, and the museum care that it deserves.  Toy art auctions will continue to grab more attention and bring in deep pockets; we are a bit ahead of this curve.

Please give that old dusty toy another look & appreciate it for all the history.  Contact us if you need more research help.  Just like art and other historical relics, these crude and primitive objects can’t talk, and are a challenge to investigate.  They need a curator and detailed findings in order to gain a full appreciation.  The current wave of antique toy sales requires a new torrent of curators; we now have a wonderful opportunity for vintage toy collectors.


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