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The Art of Collecting Toys

by Bob Brooke


Toy collectors seem to live by the motto “Mint-in-box.” A toy is only worth half as much without its original packaging as with it. And the more of the packaging that’s included, the better. But toys were never meant to be stored on shelves. They’re meant to be played with. So how can you collect toys if most of them aren’t in their original boxes, especially the older tin-plate toys? The answer is very selectively.

Children who never damaged their toy soldiers, and carefully kept pieces and boxes; are reaping the benefit in later life. By carefully playing with their toys, these children, now grown adults, may have items that are worth quite a bit of money.

Collections of toys run the gamut from early tin-plate toys to modern-day action figures and everything in between. But not all fetch good prices. For instance, a German Bitty Lizzie maid with floor polisher, made around 1920, has sold for over $500. Made possibly by Fischer and in working condition, she’s lithographed with a blue pinafore over a red dress with white polka dots, brown shoes and dark brown bun hair. She has rosy cheeks and holds a floor polisher with wire handle, orange-yellow head with yellow felt polisher beneath.

Clockwork train sets were every child's dream. Marklin or Bing made some of the best, each coming with a selection of locomotives, cars, and accessories. Today, even a single passenger car by a top maker in original condition can bring hundreds of dollars at auction. But the brightly painted tin railway cars of lesser makers are still within reach.

On the other side of the coin, are toys made in such numbers that their value is practically zeroless than what they cost originally. A good example is the Hess Toy Truck. Early on, collectors learned to buy two trucks, one to give to their child to play with and another to keep safely sealed in its box for future value. Unfortunately, Hess Oil Company didn't limit the number of trucks it sold. In fact, it increased them while the consumers were still eager to buy them. Today, only the very early Hess Trucks are worth anything. And all those who began collecting later in the 1990s are literally left holding the bag.

Some action figures were likewise over produced. Once toy makers realized how popular these toys were, they made more and more of them. Only by controlling production and limited the number of toys produced can supply and demand work in favor of the collector.

Antique Toys
While all antique toys are not tin-plate toys, the majority of them are. This group in particular usually appreciates in value 10 to 15 percent each year. Popular antique tin toys include trains, robots, miniature soldiers, and tin lithograph toys. There are also many valuable antique character tin toys on the secondary market.

Unfortunately, you’ll also find many cheap reproductions of antique tin-plate toys on the market. Collectors consider toys antique if they’re at least 100 years old and vintage if they’re made before 1965.

Tin toys made in Japan during the 1950s and 1960s are most valuable because they were the most realistic tin toys of their time. After 1965, children's safety concerns drove the popularity of tin toys down, and production in Japan came to an immediate halt. When shopping for antique tin toys, it's important to be on the lookout for counterfeits.

One way of spotting a counterfeit is if Phillips head screws have been used in its construction. Also vintage tin toys are known among collectors for their workmanship. Seams match perfectly and there should still be traces of the original paint.

Popular tin toys from the 1950s and 1960s will not be worth as much as unusual tin toys produced during the same era. You may be surprised to learn the tin toys you played with a children aren’t the tin toys selling for thousands of dollars. The toys worth the most are often never played with by children. Japanese toys, for instance, are some of the most valuable tin toys on the secondary market. While some of these toys made their way to the United States after World War II, there are many that never reached the states or arrived in very limited.

And unlike their modern plastic counterparts, tin-plate toys are subject to rust. Corrotion from rust has ruined many a tin toy. And once it begins its work, rust is very hard to eradicate.

When collecting toys, it pays to know as much as you can about the ones you wish to collect. It also pays not to buy damaged toys, even if the price is low. Toys in the best condition will eventually bring the highest prices.

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