The growth of interest in collecting bygones in general was triggered in the 1960’s when a fever of nostalgia swept over the countries of the civilized Western world, brought about by the many changes taking place in our general way of life during the post-war development period. Old ways and old values were seen to be disappearing rapidly.
As the realization dawned all kinds of “new collectibles” sprang into existence, ranging from enamelled advertising signs to acoustic phonographs. As these items changed hands across the years, and the supply gradually dwindled and demand increased with expanded interest, their values increased with every change of ownership. They began to take on an investment aspect, especially in countries where monetary inflation was running high. It began to be seen by the shrewd, that all this bygone bric-a-brac could be profitable and, in many cases, better than money in the bank.
In the long term many items turned out to have been a poor investment – take phonographs, for instance, which have generally seen little change in their values over the years. Collecting for mercenary reasons can often be a disappointment!
In the case of old toys the picture is somewhat different and the steady escalation of values still continues, especially in the case of the older, classical examples. Each important specialized auction sale seems to signal record prices and the outlook seems very rosy indeed! It was a decade ago that the leading auction houses began to realize the interest shown by the public in old toys. The London auction house of Sotheby’s were then averaging around £50,000 ($80,000 at 1.6 $ = £1, at the time of writing) annually. Today they turn over five times this amount! Recently they sold a toy Marklin battleship for a record £19,000 ($30,400).
Among the finest toys are the beautiful examples exported from Germany at the turn of the century and prior to the outbreak of the first World War. In excellent condition these are real treasures to the serious collector and are the toy investor’s equivalent of the “Old Masters” of the art world. These tinplate playthings are the leaders of the investment stakes for obvious reasons – for a relatively fragile item to survive both the attentions of children, and the years, is nothing short of a miracle.
The tinplate toys of later years, and originating in other countries, are also most desirable, the demand varying according to nostalgic whims. For instance, an American-made Lionel toy train would not have the same appeal to a British collector as would a Hornby train. A German collector would generally prefer a locomotive model in Continental outline but, as Germans appear to like all toys “Made in Germany” they would mind less about foreign outline providing the toy was made by one of their famous manufacturers, such as Marklin or Bing.
Diecast toys were collectible long before their tinplate equivalents, and for a different reason. The majority of these are automotive toys with an outright appeal to lovers of real motor cars and other road vehicles. Some of the earliest toy swapmeets were organized by diecast model clubs. Tinplate toys took second place of these events. These models have also good investment potential and realize high prices today, though they are preferably required in mint, boxed condition. ‘Collecting diecast models, which also includes toy soldiers, is more popular than collecting tinplate, though there are no statistics available. Toy makers still cater to the diecast market; tinplate is taboo for economical reasons, coupled with today’s legislation, and modern plastics have taken over on the production line.
One collector who has made a successful business from dealing in collectible toys is Jeffrey Levy. In just eight years he has progressed from being a part-time collector-dealer to becoming an international authority on the world’s most desirable toys. His London shop, appropriately named “Mint & Boxed” is a mecca for the world’s leading collectors.
Jeffrey Levy originally specialized solely in diecast automotive toys – the British made Dinky Toys in particular. From the very beginning he realized the importance of offering his mail-order clients only mint, boxed examples.
“The decision to deal solely in mint and boxed items and to reflect this in the name of my business, was to make sure that my mail-order customers would know exactly the condition of the model which they would receive,” he told me.
“I still believe that personal contact is the best way but, obviously, this is not always possible in an international business. Items which are described as ‘mint and boxed’ are received by a distant client in exactly that condition.”
“To describe a toy as ‘slightly chipped’ for example, may result in disappointment for a customer because one person’s idea of such a minor flaw can vary from another’s”
Since opening his showrooms and warehouse in London, he has included more and more choice examples of tinplate toys among his stock as a result of an ever-increasing worldwide demand. Although it is not always possible to find boxed examples of tin toys, it is amazing to see the number of early pieces which have still retained their colorful boxes and retain their original finish.
“I am still quite keen on the rarer diecast models, but I must admit that I am really fascinated by tinplate toys, especially the earlier examples.”
“The classical diecast models such as the desirable Dinky toys from the 1930’s and the 1950’s have also proved first-class in their investment potential. Take, as an instance, the Dinky “Weetbix” truck, which cost less then £1.00 when it first appeared on the market. A fine example of this model, complete with its original box, is worth in the region of £1,500 today,” Jeffrey exclaimed.
“The value of old toys is, of course, fixed by a combination of age, rarity, condition, and demand. For example, in the shop, I have a rare early toy horse and buggy, made by Lutz in Germany towards the end of the 19th century priced at £1,700. I recently sold a rare model of the London Transport Central Line complete train made in the 1930’s by Basset-Lowke and was in amazingly ‘brand new’ condition, retaining its original box.”
Clearly quality toys that have managed to survive in fine condition have become items with investment potential. To paraphrase the expression, “The Golden Age of Toys” (the period of toy manufacture until the outbreak of World War I), today collectors have entered an “Age of Gold.”