Today I thought it might be useful to go back to basics with a beginners guide to buying and collecting toys. This post is designed to be read by those who are new to collecting, so if you already know all there is to know about toy collecting, this post is probably not for you.
A guide to buying and collecting
What is the best way to start collecting toys?
The best way to start collecting toys is to consider what line you would like to collect and why you want to collect it?
Most toy collectors collect lines that hold a specific meaning to them (i.e. a toy line they adored as a kid), so they return to this line in later life because there is an emotional attachment to it. Others will collect lines they didn’t own when they were younger, so the prospect of this new collection fills them with a sense of wonder.
Whatever the reason to choose a toy line, pick one that a.) is affordable for you and b.) you genuinely want to invest your time and money in. If you can’t meet the requirements of a.) or b.) then why bother collecting in the first place?
As for the actual ‘best way’ to start collecting, well this can vary from person-to-person. Some like to work their way through a toy line in order of the toy’s original release, while others will pick up what they can, when they can. Whichever method works best for you, is the best way to start collecting.
Where can I purchase toys?
Toys can be purchased online, via online stores or eBay; they can be purchased from bricks and mortar outlets such as vintage stores or specialist/comic shops; or they can be picked up (usually on the secondary market) at conventions, market stalls or car boot sales. Car boots can actually be a great source for old and sometimes obscure toys, as the people who sell toys via car boot sales tend to be non-collectors, who just want to get rid of their son’s/daughter’s old toys for a quick (and cheap) sale.
It’s always worth asking around amongst your friends too; especially if you’re looking to collect a specific line from your childhood. Never forget the potential of a friend’s attic/basement, which could house a heap of forgotten toys that have gathered dust since the 1980s. Chuck your friend a few quid or a six-pack for their trouble and you could amass a collection quite quickly.
Is toy collecting easy to get into?
Heck, yes! No matter what toys you’re collecting, be them modern or vintage, obtaining toys is relatively easy. Just do a quick Google search or scroll through social media and you’ll find a thriving collecting community of likeminded people.
Is social media a good source for collecting toys?
Yes – a very good source. If you’ve just started collecting toys and you don’t own an Instagram account, then set one up now. Instagram is a platform where people can post pictures about everything and anything. Toy collectors LOVE posting pictures of their collection! Toy collectors thrive on Instagram, as do toy sellers. In fact, you’ll find some really cool toys for sale on Instagram, from sellers who love to trade, sell and talk about their stash.
What are the best toy conventions in the UK?
While toy conventions are few and far between in the UK, there are a few that crop up throughout the calendar year which are invaluable for toy collectors. Perhaps the best-known is Barry Potter Fairs.
Barry Potter Fairs is a dedicated vintage toy fair, which takes place at various times throughout the year. The fair crops up at locations all over the UK (North, South, Midlands etc) and is a great place to buy toys of all different shapes, sizes and prices.
Top tip: Barry Potter Fairs visits Birmingham’s NEC approximately three times a year and these events are usually the largest of all the BP Fairs. If you can make it to Brum, then do so, it’s worth it.
Is eBay a good place to buy toys?
Yes and no.
Yes, from the point of view that eBay offers you instant access to toys you might struggle to find anywhere else. No, from the point of view that some eBay sellers hike up prices way beyond what the toy is worth and this can mean some collectors will get ripped off.
Top tip: Before you buy any toy on eBay, try to do a little research first. Try to find out how rare the toy is; take a look at what price other sellers are asking for the toy; and always check the condition and/or postage costs.
Be warned, a lot of scalpers operate on eBay.
What is a scalper?
A scalper is someone who will specifically buy up a number of rare figures, usually chase figures (see below), and will then sell them on at an inflated price. So, for example, a new line might hit the market which includes three chase figures. A scalper will hit the local toy stores in their area, buy all the chase figures to take them off the high street and will then resell them at a much higher price. Reselling figures isn’t the problem; it’s the prices that are sometimes banded about that can be a bit of a nightmare for serious collectors.
What is a chase figure?
A chase figure is a rare figure, that is much harder to come by than a standard figure. Chase figures are not to be confused with variant figures.
What is the difference between chase figures and variant figures?
A chase figure is a limited-edition figure that is produced in short supply when compared to the other figures in that specific wave (see below). For example, a chase figure could be a Jean Grey figure that appears in a wave of X-Men figures. The manufacturer may have produced only a quarter of the quantity of the Jean Grey figure, in comparison to all the others. Collector’s effectively need to ‘chase’ this figure in order to find it.
A variant figure tends to be a variation on an already existing figure. For example, a new wave of Marvel figures could include a black suited Spider-Man and a traditional red & blue suited Spider-Man. The model is exactly the same, only the paint job is different. The figure which is produced in fewer numbers would be the variant. Put simply, it is a variation on the standard figure.
What is a wave?
A wave is simply another word used to describe a series of figures. The first series of a toy line would be ‘wave one’; the next ‘wave two’ and so on. ‘Wave’ is toy lingo for ‘series’.
Is toy collecting expensive?
It can be. This all depends on what you are collecting; how big you want your collection to be; and how easy it is to come by the line you are collecting. Prices can range from a couple of pounds up to hundreds and thousands, depending on how rare the toy is. Packaging and condition also play a big role in how much you will pay for a toy.
How much is the average price of a vintage toy?
There is no ‘average price’ for vintage toys. Prices rise and fall all the time and what you pay for one toy today could be a completely different price tomorrow. At the end of the day, a toy is only worth what someone will pay for it. So, if a seller is asking £100 for a toy and someone is willing to pay that, then that toy is worth £100.
Are toys worth more in boxes than out of boxes?
On the whole, toys tend to be more worth more if they are still housed within their original packaging. Toys that are sealed in boxes have a greater value as the collector knows that the toy has never been played with, so is complete (no missing weapons, parts etc).
Toys that are not in boxes, often regarded as ‘loose’, tend to be a little cheaper as there is no way that the seller can guarantee the toy has never been played with. It’s kind of like buying a second-hand car, rather than a brand new one. The cars could be identical, yet the moment the car leaves the showroom it decreases in value, as anything could happen to it.
Top tip: Not all loose toys will be cheaper than their boxed counterparts. On some occasions, where it is almost impossible to track down a sealed/still-in-box toy, the loose version will become highly desirable and therefore its value will increase.
Are all boxed toys worth money?
Not necessarily. Just because a toy is in its box it doesn’t mean the toy is worth all that much. Some toy lines just aren’t very collectable and as such, it doesn’t matter how many sealed toys a seller has, the value could still be pretty insignificant. As noted above, a toy is only worth the money a person is willing to pay for it – box or no box.
It’s also worth noting that just because a toy has a box, it doesn’t mean it is a desirable item. Boxed toys can range from ‘Mint in Box’ (MIB) which look as if they have come fresh from the factory, to ‘fine’ of ‘good condition’, which means they may have a few dings or creases here and there.
On some occasions, the box can be battered, ripped, sun bleached or even crushed – none of which are particularly desirable. So, just because there is a box, doesn’t mean the box is adding to the value.
If the box is in bad shape, why does the seller not just open it and sell it loose?
Remember what was noted above, about a new car losing its value when it leaves the forecourt? Well, the same rule applies here.
If a toy is in a dinged up, sun bleached box, but that box has never been opened, then at least the buyer knows the item inside is brand new. Sure, aesthetically the packaging looks a mess, but the seller can still sell the toy inside as new.
What is the most expensive toy?
This is something which will change over time and is all dependent on what is desirable at any one moment. Toys that retain and increase their value include Lego – especially boxed – as well as a number of vintage Star Wars figures (Rocket Boba Fett, Yak Face, Vinyl Cape Jawa etc), but really it all comes down to a toy’s collectability.
Where do collectors store their toys?
Good question! Toys (especially the boxed variety) take up a lot of room, so space is always an issue for toy collectors. Whenever you’re thinking about starting a collection, think about where you’re going to house it first. If you have limited space, then perhaps a loose collection would be best, as it takes up far less room to store/display.
Are modern toys as good as vintage toys?
This is a preference, age and value thing; so, there’s a lot to consider.
Kids nowadays do not play with toys in the same way as the past couple of generations did – smart phones, computers and the internet have changed the way kids interact with the world. As such, many standard action figures (the ones you find on most toy shelves) do not get the same level of attention as they once did.
Plastic is more expensive to produce; paint jobs are less important to kids than they may have been in the past (or so we’re led to believe); and playability is often spotty at best. The truth is, some kids’ toys aren’t as great as they could be – but then, do the kids who play with them really care?
You have to remember, the toys that are on shelves nowadays are aimed at kids and not collectors, so they are reflective of the current toy situation. They are not supposed to be there for adult collectors to invest their money in; most toys sold in high street toy stores are aimed at kids.
If you want modern toys that are more like the toys of your youth, then you need to look towards the specialist shops. Many toy companies understand that there is a huge market for adult collectors, so they produce toys that are aimed solely at adults. These figures will have more articulation; will have better paint jobs; and will come with a higher price point.
What else do I need to know about toy collecting?
Toy collecting can be a heap of fun – especially when you’re on the hunt for an elusive piece. If it’s something you’re passionate about and you really want to invest your time and money into, then there are many ways in which you can do this, while opening yourself up to meeting many likeminded collectors/sellers. Just remember, as with any interest or pastime, toy collecting can get very expensive, very quickly. Work out what you can afford and stick to your budget.
I hope this post has proved useful to you – especially if you are just getting into the pastime of toy collecting.