Earlier in the week I published a fairly extensive discussion on retro toys, which asked the question: ‘Are vintage toys worth money?‘ The post provided a rough guide to buying and selling toys, while using a few examples of toys that are perceived to be strong sellers.
Today I’m presenting a follow up post, this time offering up a guide to researching the cost of vintage toys. I’m going to go back to basics, to explore some of the best ways to find out what value is held in plastic playthings so you can discover whether or not your toy is worth millions.
Ready? Then let’s get started.
In order to find out the value of a toy you need to get to know it. You need to understand what the toy is, what toy line it is from, and how common or rare it is.
But how do you do this? How do you get to know a toy, if you’re not familiar with it?
For the purpose of this discussion I’m going to use the ’80s toy line, ThunderCats as an example. I’m also going to suggest that I’m a seller who has picked up an item at a car boot sale/flea market on the cheap, I want to resell it, but I don’t know what it is.
Research vintage toys on eBay
My first port of call would be to head to eBay to try and find a similar item. Not only would this give me an idea of what the item is, it might also tell me how common/rare it is.
But how do I find something on eBay if I don’t know what it is?
OK, so first I would take a look at the toy – the front, back, top, bottom, etc. Somewhere on the toy I’ll find some information about the manufacturer.
I’m going to use a ThunderCats Lion-O figure for this example (so presume I don’t know what it is). On the base of his foot it has the following manufacturers markings:
©1985 TELEPIX, LCI, T. WOLF, LJN TOYS LTD
Now I could type all this information into an eBay search listing, but in all honesty I don’t think it necessary. I’d just type in ‘LJN’.
If LJN was a popular manufacturer, then I’d expect a number of results to come up – possibly thousands. If thousands of items were to appear, then I’d type in the date and see if that reduces the number.
From here I can now begin to scroll through the active listings until I come across an image I might recognise. As Lion-O is a fairly well known character it wouldn’t be too long until I came across a listing.
This listing would give me a name. If it didn’t – let’s say it’s a job lot of toys without every character’s name – then I’d keep scrolling until I came to another listing.
OK, so now let’s presume I came across a listing with Lion-O’s name on it. Now would be a good idea to read through that listing to find out other information, such as what toy line he’s from.
Most listings for Lion-O would state that he’s a ThunderCats figure, in the same way that most He-Man listings would say he’s part of the Masters of the Universe toy line. So I now have two pieces of information that I didn’t have before: His name and the toy line he’s from.
Now this listing, and some of the other listings, might give me a clear indication of the price of the toy, but it would still be worth doing a little more research. This additional research might produce similar results, but it could provide me with further information.
So now I would go back to the search bar and type in ‘ThunderCats Lion-O’. This should now provide me with the following:
- The number of people who are selling this toy
- The price the toy is being sold for
- What accessories the toy should come with
- The general quality of the toy (is mine the same quality?)
This information is very important as it will allow me to work out if there is demand for this toy, what the demand is and what do buyers expect when they buy this toy? Does it only sell if it’s in mint condition and does the price increase if it comes with accessories?
I mentioned the importance of accessories in my previous post, but it’s worth reiterating: Accessories matter. If a vintage figure comes with all the accessories it can command a higher price tag.
Having all the accessories doesn’t mean a toy will always sell for more money, or that it will even sell, but it has the potential to provide a leg up on the competition.
OK, so I’ve now got a lot more information than I did before, but there’s still more information to obtain. I might know how much other sellers are asking for their Lion-O figures, but I still need to know how much the figures actually sell for.
Amongst all of the search options, eBay provides the opportunity to filter results. This is a handy tool as I can choose to filter for ‘sold items’.
I can now scroll through the sold items and this will give me a much clearer picture of what sells (condition, price, etc).
Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘What happens if I can’t find the toy I’m looking for?’
OK, so if the date/manufacturer’s name didn’t produce any results, the next best thing would be to try a broader search term. The date on the figure said ‘1985’, so typing in ”80s toys’ or ‘1980s action figures’ could produce useful results.
This will create a lot of random results, but it is still useful. At the very least it can provide a few more clues.
Of course, if none of the search terms produce results then it means one of two things:
- This is a very rare toy, so more investigation is needed
- There’s simply no demand for this toy
OK, so now I know more about the toy, how about the toy line it’s from? Well, I could continue my search on eBay, this time just looking for ‘ThunderCats‘ or I could try an alternative root.
My first suggestion would be to remain on eBay to get a feel for what other ThunderCats toys are being sold/have sold. With a line like ThunderCats, which is always popular on eBay, this should give me a lot of different characters to look into.
Once I have all the information I can get, now would be a good time to try a different method of research. I’ll come to that in a moment, but first a little tip.
Top tip: Sometimes toys (and pretty much any other product) can be listed incorrectly on eBay. This can be due to confusion over a name, or simply down to misspelling. It’s always worth trying a few variations on names to see what the item might be listed as or trying a different decade (some people confuse ’80s and ’90s etc).
Google Retro toys
A simple Google search can often bring up a wealth of information. Not only can it provide some lovely images to look at, via Google images, it could also point me in the direction of people who love ThunderCats.
Using Google I could try searching for ‘ThunderCats action figures’, ‘ThunderCats toys’ or ‘ThunderCats action figure list’. By doing this I’ll either discover some basic information, or if I’m lucky I’ll come across a website dedicated to the entire toy line.
There are many retro toy collectors out there and some of them will have websites specifically designed to list all of the toys in a particular line. These websites can be very, very useful as they can provide a lot of information about rare figures.
So for example, the ThunderCat known as Bengali is deemed to be quite valuable amongst collector’s. If I gleamed this from a website, I could then take this information back to eBay for yet more searches.
Collector’s websites can also help establish the difference between toy lines. For example, the original ThunderCats cartoon spawned a range of toys, but it’s not the only catalyst for ThunderCats toys.
In 2011, a new ThunderCats animated series was released, and subsequently an accompanying toy line followed. The animated series ran for two seasons, which was long enough for Bandai to produce a range of figures.
The 2011 ThunderCats animated series is available to buy on Region 1 Blu-ray or to purchase digitally from Amazon. It has a different tone to the 1980s ‘toon, but it is a great addition to the ThunderCats mythology.
Incidentally, the original 1985 ThunderCats animated series is also available to purchase digitally. Amazon have all 130 episodes available, spread across four ‘seasons’.
The important thing here is that it’s good to get a feel the property as a whole. Getting to know the different eras of ThunderCats is really useful for selling/collecting toys as it can clear up any confusion when researching items.
Top tip #1: Google can be used to connect with other collectors/potential customers. If I have access to more ThunderCats at some point in the future, then maybe the owner of a ThunderCats website might be interested in what I have in stock.
Top tip #2: Google searches might offer up some YouTube suggestions and it is worth taking a look at these. I might only have one figure, but it never hurts to obtain more knowledge.
Retro toys on Instagram
Social media can be a good place to connect with other toy collector/buyers/sellers or to do research. There are lots of toy fans on Instagram, many of whom like to display their collections.
Before I joined Instagram I already knew a lot about toys (mostly from being a life-long toy enthusiast), but I’ve since learned a lot more. In fact, I regularly get lost down a toy wormhole (usually sat in bed on a Sunday morning), which teaches me more about different toy lines.
Following sellers and collectors is a good way to become familiar with the toy ‘holy grails’ – those items that are rare and can command high prices. It is also a good way to learn the common problems some sellers/collectors face with their favourite toy lines (loose joints, bad paint jobs, flimsy parts, etc).
I’ve used eBay, Google, and social media to research the heck out of ThunderCats and I have a better understanding of the toy line, but what next?
The final stage is to attend collector fairs and/or conventions!
There are a number of collector fairs or conventions up and down the UK, which provide direct access to toys. Collector fairs put buyers and sellers face-to-face with each other and this is very useful, especially for comparing prices.
Some sellers will price their items according to what they feel is the right amount for the toy – this can depend on supply and demand. Others will price their items based on what eBay is selling the toy for.
Wandering around a fair, taking a look at the stalls and rummaging in the dump bins can provide a flavour of what’s being sold. It is also an opportunity for more research, which could become useful in the future.
Top tip #1: If you’re at a collector fair and you see carded figures, take a look at the back of the box. This is where more toys are advertised and is a great way to become familiar with a line.
Top tip #2: Collector fairs can be a great place for picking up old toy magazines/publications, such as ToyFare magazine. These can be fairly inexpensive ways to broaden your knowledge even further.
I hope the information contained in this post has been useful. While I’ve used ThunderCats as the primary example, this guide to research can be applied to any toy line/property.
And don’t forget, if you’ve still not read my post ‘Are vintage toys worth money?‘, then check it out too. Combined with this post, it should give you a better understanding of the marketplace when it comes to buying/selling toys.
Thanks for reading.
- A guide to buying and collecting toys
- Vintage catalogues on eBay
- Toys terminology and jargon explained
Disclaimer: I earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.