Antique Toys; What Makes Them Worth So Much?

6a0133ec87bd6d970b01bb08fe52c6970dS-l225French Tete Jumeau Bebe Doll, 1890, est. value $3,000

From time to time I receive messages from earnest amateurs inquiring about the value of a particular toy. I, of course, have no idea. I have never dealt in vintage toys. Never-the-less I, like many of you, watch Antiques Roadshow and marvel at the value of some of the toys upon which experts place such a value.

I have, as many of  you, seen products like Beanie Babies and Baseball Cards drive up to insane values and then crash. Why, we ask ourselves, is a piece of cardboard or a stuffed piece of fabric able to command such high prices and frenzied followings.

1967-Mercedes-Benz-230SLThat was why an article by James Tarmy for Bloomberg caught my eye. Entitled "Collectors are ready to bid thousands on antique toys", it explains a little about why, what we once owned and our mothers threw away, now costs so much.

I hoped that this particular article would provide me with a rational answer. Alas, the article opens with this quote from Jay Lowe,the doll department head at Morphy Auctions: "It's almost like the wind, or almost like fashion…What people want this year might be different than what people will want 10 years from now."

So much for the rational. Yet…yet Mr. Lowe does give us this little bit of obvious wisdom: "Desirability is a factor, rarity can play a factor, and condition is the biggest factor of all..." No surprises there.

Here are my thoughts: Certainly, what toys you had, or more importantly, did not have as a child may well be a factor. That plus the money to indulge yourself in retaining a memory of what you had or finding solace for a memory you wish you had. 


There is certainly an investment factor as those who won't play the stock market find it easier to believe in something more tangible. Yet, collectors I knew did not like those who were in it for the money. They simply wanted to collect and investors drove up the prices.

There also seem to be a generational aspect to it. The Madame Alexander collectors, just a short generation ago, attended shows, joined collector groups and happily bought and sold. They ultimately grew older, their ranks thinned and another generation moved on to something else.

Whatever the reasons, I would suggest that if you saved your Matchbox cars, see if you have a 1967 Mercedes Benz 230SL it sold at auction in 1999 for $6,765. Go figure.

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