Pssssst- want a Cosworth Sierra and perhaps a Gold ragtop for when the sun shines? Don’t say you can’t affored it. Have I got a deal for you. Get out the loft ladder and a torch, climb up there along the cobwebs and find those old toys you stopped Mother throwing away. Got them? Now, in the corner is that old tin colockwork car Grandad bought your father from Germany before ’39 war – remember? – seems a bit like a 1905 De Dion Bouton. Dust it off and take it downstairs.
Looks quite good doesn’t it? Green enamelled body, good gilt planting to simulate the brass, a realistic driver figure that feels like it’s made of papier mache. Forget dreamy memories if the days when you wound its rickety motor and skimmed it across the school yard. Instead, take it straight to the nearest bank. A little transfer on the back of the bodywork tells you that the maker was one George Carette, and somewhere recently you’ve read about him: he was a French toymaker working out of a factory in Germany’s Nurnberg. Didn’t that article say his toy cars were now worth thousands? In fact that toy is worth at least £22,500, enough for those full-size-cars.
Fanciful though it may sound, toy dealer Jeffrey Levy of North London has just such a 1906 tin car on sale for £22,500, and by now that figure is probably higher, the way prices are moving. Yours could be worth the same, give or take a little for trade exaggeration. But Levy’s not alone in asking, and getting, very high prices for old tin and die-cast toys. A tatty Makrlin German saloon of the mid-‘30s was recently ignored by dealers at a Sotheby’s auction. It fetched £15,000, leaving all the so-called experts breathless – or speechless.
Old tin and die-cast toys these days regularly sell to collectors and mseums for prices that a few years ago would have boon thought a joke. A Dinky Toy ‘Heinz’ Guy Warrior van for example, as new in its original box, would have cost your Dad eight shillings and ninepence when it was issued in 1960. Now, if we believe Jeffrey Levy, you could get £2050 and the similar Guy ‘Golden Shred’ that also cost eight shillings and ninepence in 1958 would today command no less than a cool £1350. Remember the famous Dinky Toy grand prix cars, the Alfa Romeo, Cooper Bristol, Ferrari, HWM and Talbot Lago, released as a boxed set in 1956? They set your father back a princely 12 shillings and sixpence (that’s 62½p) in 1956. Now the asking price is £750.
A dapper 30 year-old, Levy started his shop around four years ago, having first been a collector and then waking up to the rapidly escalating investment value of old toys. His stocks and prices now cause amazement, both among the uninitiated and within the almost closed world of antique toy collecting.
Levy regularly pays over the odds for trains, tin boats, planes and, of course, Dinky, Corgi, Solido and even Matchbox models. He produces a lavish colour catalogue that lists his latest prices, and keeps computerised tags on clients, stock and prices. But his market is not that of the traditional toy collector: “I’m attracting new money to toy collecting. The City is now takin an interest. Institutions looking for areas of investment are realising the potential of antique toys and now we even have museums beginning to assemble collections of old toys.”
The new generation of buyers, Levy says, only want perfect examples, this his insistence on ‘as new’ examples, known as ‘mint and boxed’. So he uses this as the name of his shop. When he opened the doors for the first time, the old toy establishment collectively went into paroxisms of hysterical laughter that anyone should try to run a business in high-price old toys. Now Levy claims the laugh is on them because he has made his market and is even asked by blue-chip investors to find them likely pieces. He certainly backs up his claims with finance. ‘I will pay 50 percent of my asking price for any model that I want’, he says confidently.
Levy is, of course, not the only dealer in old toys, even though he may have the finest stock we’ve yet seen – and the highest prices by far. Peter Ferner of Park Toys in Adlington, Chorley, Lancashire is one of the North’s leading experts and says that his asking prices are only half to 60 percent of Levy’s. Graham Du Cros runs Gems and Cobwebs in Hungerford, Berkshire, another establishment packed with old Dinkys of the 1950s. Graham claims that he, too, is cheaper then Levy and also that he pays just as much when buying as the North London whizzkid. “I’ve just come back from Detroit where I bought 3300 Dinky Toys” he told me, “and that proves I’m competitive on the price I give.”
There are other old toy specialists equally well worth talking to and visiting. In Windsor, Dinky toy and Minic historians Mike and Sue Richardson run Modeller’s World, in Grays Antique Market near Bond Street Station in central London you’ll find Colin baddiel, Mike Roum, Peter McAskie and Pierce Carlson – all world renowned toy experts willing both to buy and sell. Particularly well worth meeting is the effervescent Pierce Carlson, a full-size car enthusiast originally from the western USA where he owned most of the full-size classics we all dream of. My own company, Grand Prix Models in Radiett, and friendly rivals Lambert’s of Ley Street in Ilford both specialise in newer models but still deal in old toys. Grand Prix models even has a permanent display of desirable 1920s and 1930s tin cars, but they aren’t for-sale.
What does this frantic and often bitter battleground of an antique toy market add up to for the motor enthusiast? First, it’s a damn good area in which to capitalise on the toys you used to play with. Old Dinkys can fetch over £1000 each. A boxed set of 1933 sports cars really is worth £10,000 and a single Dinky van, if in good condition in its original box, could bring you over £2000 if you find the right buyer.
Second point is that there’s not much doubt that old toy cars are a good investment. Even if you halve Jeffrey Levy’s asking prices – which is what most dealers would like to think is possible – you still have Dinky cans at £500 and £1000 compared with the shillings they cost when released. You still have antique tin toys which, there is no doubt at all, could often be sold for many thousands. A Spot on Daimler SP250 dart could fetch £45 or even Levy’s £85 and a Dinky Triumph Spitfire £115 if Levy is to be believed – and he’s still there after four years of being laughed at by competitors. These models can be found.
If investing, shop around. Talk to the dealers we’ve mentioned, visit them and see their stock and prices. Use “Mint & Boxed” catalogue as a starting point, and do your own survey.
If selling you could, like me, finance the restoration of a full-size classic by selling all or part of a collection. My 1933 MG J2 was restored on the proceeds of the sale of a collection of tin land speed record cars. The toys, if I’d kept them, would have appreciated more, but I know which gives more pleasure.
If you have old toy cars, insure them. One collector we talked to recently had no idea of current prices. His collection was insured for less than the value of just one item.