Making Money on Hot Collectibles: Vintage Toys

Updated September 22, 2010

Another day, another dollar (especially if you buy and sell collectibles at internet auction). This summer, considert dipping into your vintage porky piggy bank to buy some vintage toys.  Think of these toys as potentially good investments - sort of like stocks, except you can play with them.  Due to the Recession, many great vintage toys can be had for a song (or much less than what they were selling for last year).  Many of the good-selling old toys, listed below, were junked or donated long ago by Mom or Grandma, as the case may be, with the result, demand today pretty much exceeds supply. I predict this trend is likely to continue, and even go upwards, as it becomes more and more expensive to manufacture quality toys, and as we fondly remember the good old days.The following toys are in demand right now - and likely to remain so for some time.

Toys Are (All of) Us

1) Currently, the most valuable and sought-after toys that aren't 19th Century Museum pieces, are 1950s Japanese metal (tin) toys. The popular tin robots almost always bring the highest prices, (in the $2000 range), but also hot now are the 1950s metal cars, buses and even motorcycles. For example, a King scooter friction toy recently sold for $1200 on our favorite internet auction site. A 14" metal Jackie Gleason "Honeymooner" bus (14" long) also went for more than $1000 recently. These toys were made in Japan, and that's why many them are sold by folks who live in Japan today.  During my collecting years, I managed to find a few small 1950s tin robots, and they have some value, but not nearly as much as the larger, more like The Day the Earth Stood Still-style robots. If you'd like to hunt for some vintage metal toys, my recommendation is to scour your mom's or grandma's attic or basement to see if they have any put away in a trunk or box. You can also look for old tin toys at estate sales and  flea markets, especially if the seniors are selling their "junk."  Stay away from antique malls (toys are already marked up) and also from buying at auction, unless you are sure about the reliability of the seller (these tin toys have been reproduced so many times for so many years; earlier reproductions look like the real thing. But if they say "made in Taiwan" or "China", you want to pass. The real deal, valuable vintage tin toys come from Japan).

Here are a few1950s & 1960s vintage toys, including a boy riding a tin bicycle and a windup tin/metal sports car. Krazy Ike plastic pieces are in the tinker-toy container. The older Snoopy is composed of hard plastic. Also shown, two vintage ball-roll games.

If you come up empty on the 1950s metal toy category:

2) Scout around for 1950s Roy Rogers or Lone Ranger items. Recently a Roy Rogers holster set (in the box) sold for $1500 on that well-known internet auction site. This was a complete holster set, in great condition, reportedly discovered at an estate sale - a good place to find vintage western toys. At one estate sale, we found a big bag full of premium puzzles, including The Lone Ranger, which I sold for a pretty good price, considering the entire puzzle bag cost us very little. All we had to do was put the puzzle together to make sure it was complete. Both the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers are popular with collectors right now. So are Bonanza, The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Kit Carson, Gunsmoke, Gene Autrey, Hopalong Cassidy,  and so on.  I am sure Tonto (I've seen his plastic doll around, here and there) is also popular. Again, flea markets and estate sales make the best hunting grounds for vintage Western toys. The vintage Western niche is still going great guns in terms of selling; it just figures that vintage western toys would follow suit.

3) Then, there are the  popular TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s - certain Smurf figures and play-sets bring quite a lot of money at auction. I recently saw an individual smurfette PVC (form of plastic) figurine that  sold for $130. Important note: not all Smurf and Smurfette figurines are valued equally. You'll  want to look for the baseball Smurfs. Also worth hunting down, the complete Smurf castle set. Along those lines, in the recent past, I've seen the original (1980s) My Pretty Pony selling for a lot. Currently it looks like foreign vintage My Little Ponies are selling well.  Be on the lookout for original Pony outfits and the accessories - they are also worth buying cheap and selling for a profit, but not by the 1s and 2s - but by the dozens.

4) The Queen of all vintage toy finds, is the 1972 Kenner Blythe doll. I found one in a bin of broken toys at a thrift store a few years ago. My Blythe doll is missing a leg, but nobody's perfect. Recently, I saw a Blythe doll, with two missing legs, that sold for $1000. Those Blythe dolls, with all limbs intact, including the 1972 outfit, can go for $2000 or thereabouts. The reason for the high price is the limited production (Blythe scared the kids, because her eyes changed color when you pulled a string, so production ended shortly after she was introduced) and the recent hype and publication of numerous Blythe books (one shows her posing all over the world, in various outfits). If you have a Blythe doll or know someone who does, s/he is in the immediate money! Sort of like winning a jackpot, without having to put all the quarters in the slot machine. There are other dolls worth a lot of money, like original Barbie and Madam Alexander varieties, but doll buyers are among the pickiest buyers on earth (and you thought only fine diners cared about the presentation!). For that reason, when it comes to vintage toy re-selling, I like to stick to popular culture dolls I know something about.Blythe is really hard to find at a reasonable price, so here's a list of some currently (and almost always desirable) toys:

  5)-  Cartoon-related: Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang (the older toys, the more value). Of course, and always,very old Disney collectibles (pre-1960).

  6) - Michael Jackson - his doll, his stuffed animals, including Bubbles the Chimp, (which I sold way too early and way too cheap). Prices for original MJ 1980s toys are going up and up.

   7) - Toys about TV shows - Charlie's Angels, Get Smart,  Kojak, Superman, Wonder Woman, and so on. Many of these TV shows had games, coloring books, puzzles and paper dolls - all with some value to the collectors who specialize in the main character/s or TV toys, in general.  Howdy Doody and Bozo the Clown  toys bring a lot of money if you can find an original toy in good condition - and even much more if you have the original box.

     8)- Fisher Price toys. Recently the Little People figurines celebrated their 50th birthday. Since, over the years, so many of these small figures went missing, there is a pretty good demand for any extras you find (again, not by the 1s and 2s but by the 20s). Also in demand -  early Fisher Price pull-toys (1930-60s) and some of the big F-P vintage vehicles and houses - like the buses, the boats, the barns, and so on. In addition, there is the F-P roily-poly apple that makes noise. The apples are being sold at internet auction from $5 to $43 - but I would value them, in great condition, in the $10 or more range. A good buy at $1-$2.

Finally, vintage toys are one collecting niche where condition is extremely important. Since the toys were often played with excessively, some otherwise valuable toys might not be worth as much if they are missing paper (as many Fisher Price toys were covered in paper), or are scratched or dinged. If you are buying to please yourself, condition may not be as important as if you are hoping to sell.

The list above is not inclusive - collectible toy people are always looking for old and interesting toys. Everybody knows original Barbie dolls, certain Steiff teddy bears, and vintage movie-star related toys can bring a bundle. But, of course, with all collectibles, you will do better and have more fun if you're collecting in an area you know something about or have some passion to own.  You can launch a search on the internet or buy yourself a recent vintage toy guide to get started on buying and selling right.

Finding a vintage toy is a happy event - not only because of the investment value, but also because there is something so whimsical and charming about a toy that came from a time when being "all wound-up" had nothing to do stress.