Collectible Toys: Not Just Child’s Play

Factors that determine the value of vintage toys.

August 2015

While many collectors’ tastes may run toward highbrow art and antique collecting, there is a thriving and undeniable market for toys.

You might be surprised at what the toys of your youth can command. For instance, entire Matchbox car collections—particularly the Hot Wheels collection—have sold for as much as $20,000. Rare Japanese Pokemon trading cards from the 1990s have fetched up to $5,500; and one vinyl-cloaked Jawa figure, from a rare Star Wars memorabilia auction in 2013, sold for an astounding $16,500 in Leicester, U.K.

Still, while you might not have kept your original G.I. Joe Mobile Command Center, original Princess Diana Beanie Baby bear or original Power Rangers merchandise, you can start building a potentially valuable toy collection from current market toys, using the same principles that apply to any type of collection.

Of course, the mostly eBay-driven market presents some risks. Toys have little or no intrinsic value, of course, and they’ll only fetch what buyers are willing to pay. As in any market, rarity is a key factor. For instance, of those Jawa figures, only six are known to have survived in the market. And there are only seven known Princess Diana Beanie Babies. It's important that buyers do their research and not rely on prices from auction sites like eBay as an indication of actual value. The amount an item actually sells for could be dramatically lower. For instance, an original Princess Diana Beanie Bear baby is being offered on eBay for $350,000, but has issued a fraud alert on the bear, noting "there is no credible basis for these value estimates."

The toy’s condition is also a factor. Where those once highly collectible Cabbage Patch Kids were the stuff of toy store brawls, they’re not worth much now unless they’re in pristine condition, in original packaging.

If you’re seeking to start a collectible toy collection from current or recent toy releases, keep these tips in mind.

While you’ll want to look for special collector’s edition toys, not every toy labeled as such is actually manufactured in small quantities. Rather, look for toys that are made for only special recipients, such as media recipients who get them in press kits. These special editions are sometimes only manufactured in the hundreds (or less).

If a manufacturer is releasing a toy to promote its anniversary, this can help spur future demand for the toy.

Finally, remember that toys aren’t a dependable investment vehicle. If you’ve purchased a toy that you think could be a collectors item in the future, keep it in great condition but don’t count on it. And if you’ve found one of the rarities that have recently sold at auction—such as the 1969 Volkswagen Beach Bomb Hot Wheel that sold for $72,000 or one of the G.I. Joe soldier prototypes ($200,000)—you can probably thank your lucky stars.