Collecting old toys is a relatively new interest. Although it is currently a fast growing, fashionable hobby, before World War II its few adherents were predominantly limited to those collecting early childhood playthings, chiefly reasons. The idea of investment potential as a hedge against inflation was unnecessary in an era of a stable economy.
It took a combination of post-war inflation and the nostalgia boom of the 1960’s to trigger off a wider interest in these long discarded playthings. The Plastic age was well on its way was heralded by urban redevelopment and modernization on a grand scale. The public soon woke up to the fact that many of life’s everyday objects and traditions were fast disappearing of were in imminent danger of becoming threatened species.
Old-fashioned telephones, acoustic gramophones, and even the colourful enamelled advertising signs which once decorated the streets were, along with a host of similar objects, suddenly elevated to the status of collectors’ items. The wholesale clearance of houses, shops, factories, and warehouses, for reasons of demolition or refurbishment, revealed many of these ‘new antiques’ – some of which were old toys.
At the time there was investment potential in most of these bygones but, over the years, some to then – old phonographs and gramophones, for example – failed in the race with inflation. Old toys, however, appreciated in value steadily as the years rolled by and today they certainly appear to be faced with a very rosy future!
Ten years ago the London auction houses became aware of the growing importance of old toys on the collectors’ market and set about arranging sales specializing only in juvenilia. Sotheby’s’ were averaging around £50,000 a year with their toy auctions then, and this figure has leapt to a tremendous quarter – of – a – million pounds per annum today! Toy prices have escalated amazingly and recently a toy Marklin battleship, made in Germany in the 1920s, was sold at Christie’s for record £19,000.
Tinplate main collecting areas of juvenilia; wooden toys, games, and so on, tend to be generally of lesser value although Noah’s Arks often realize high prices when they appear on the market. Dolls also have excellent speculative value but, although they are closely related to toys, are usually considered within an entirely separate category.
Diecast toys are mainly of automotive interest and the famous Dinky Toys lead the way in popularity. Examples of these are usually preferable only in the ‘mint and boxed’ state; the presence of the original box acting as a kind of assurance that the toy is genuine. Boxes are not easy to copy, but old diecast models can easily be turned into ‘new’! Pre-war Dinky Toys can be quite valuable, although many surviving examples are found to have ‘leas disease’ caused by a crystallization of the alloy. Post-war Dinky Toys from the 1950s period are very collectible, as similar toys from other manufacturers, such as the Triang ‘Spot-On’ and Lesney ‘Models of Yesteryear’ series.
Within tinplate toys, mint condition is obviously a bonus, although not quite as important as the requirements of the diecast side of the hobby. ‘Play-worn’ is an accepted condition, providing the toy has avoided the attention of careless ownership. The majority of tinplate toys originated in Germany whose output dominated world markets. Those produced from the 19th century up to the outbreak of World War II, Germany’s importance as a toy-making nation was superceded by Japan who, in the 1950s were exporting immense quantities of colourful tinplate novelty toys internationally. Examples of these toys continue to escalate in value on the collector’s market.
Jeffrey levy, a world-leader in the international toy business, runs a London-based international concern appropriately named Mint & Boxed, with showrooms, warehouses, and offices.
A mint-boxed Dinky Toy ‘Weetabix’ van which cost under £1 when it first appeared on sale in the 1950s is now worth around £1,500’, Mr Levy informed me as he took a beautiful tinplate model horse and reap from a glazed cabinet.
‘This is a rare and early product by the German firm of Lutz and was made around 1880. Its price is £1,700. The value of toys is a combination of age, rarity, condition, and demand. This fine model of a train from the London Transport Central Line was made much later by the British firm of Basset-Lowke in the 1930s. It is actually already sold for a sum of £12,500.
It was certainly in ‘brand new’ condition and still retained its original box. Nearby was a rather rare example of a New York street-car which had been manufactured by the famous German firm Marklin in 1908. Toys made by this prestigious company are highly valued by collectors and this example was being offered at £12,000.
Besides specialized auctions taking place regularly in the world’s major cities, there are also an amazing number of regular toy fairs, often called ‘swapmeets’ staged week in, week out. In the UK alone the number of toy collectors is estimated to be in the region of a quarter-of-a-million. Add to this the even greater number of collectors in Europe and the USA and it will give some idea of the strength of the potential offered by old toys to investors!
Not only are antique toys an excellent investment idea, but their aesthetic appeal will also provide hours of enjoyment into the bargain. Many believe it is now the dawning of a new ‘Golden Age’ of Toys!