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Investment: Making Money from Toys

The recently-released Star Wars film not only rekindled our love of Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon, it also set into hyper-drive the toy industry, as Justin Harper reports.

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Toy collecting started in the late 1950s with model soldiers and cars along with Barbie dolls. But it wasn’t until the original Star Wars film was released in 1977 that collecting toys became a form of investing, as prices of original and well-maintained Star Ways toys shot up in value. And so began an army of toy collectors scouring second-hand stores for rare and mint condition Star Wars figures, vehicles and other merchandise. Nowadays they have moved online, searching across eBay, Amazon and specialist toy websites looking for undervalued toys that may be worth a small fortune.

With the recent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, demand for such memorabilia is likely to soar. In fact, the value of vintage Star Wars toys has increased 30 percent in the last year alone, according to toy valuers as a new generation of Star Wars fan push up the value of old memorabilia. Even new Star Wars toys now produced in China can make a lucrative investment, because as new films are made a new generation of fans are expected to emerge.

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But before you head down to Toys R Us to clear the shelves of the latest Star Wars toys, there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, the condition of a toy has a huge impact on its value. The simple fact is that many toys will be opened and played with, while much of the value of sealed toys comes from their scarcity. So keep your new toys safely stored away. Secondly, if you are thinking of investing long term, then be particularly wary of items that are specifically marketed as ‘collectibles’, or which are primarily attracting attention only from adult collectors. A prime example of this was the Beanie Baby craze, which saw the price of the items shoot up immensely over a short period of time and then collapse to almost nothing.

If you’re buying new toys for long-term investment, you need to think carefully about which toys are likely to appeal to tomorrow’s collectors, not today’s. Adult toy collectors tend to be driven by nostalgia, perhaps even the desire to acquire items that they are were unable to afford as a child. Look for toy lines that correspond to currently popular film and television shows, but also look at the toys themselves – are they well made? Do they seem to offer good play value? If you’re attempting to acquire vintage collectibles then you need to have a good understanding of which products are the most desirable to the current collector and what they will be willing to pay for them. It’s not all child’s play, as you can see.

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Items are more likely to become valuable if they are only produced in relatively small quantities or for short periods of time. Long-running shows or multiple sequels will often see many versions produced of the same toy. For example, Bumblebee, a popular character featured in the Transformers movies, might seem like an excellent candidate for a collectible, apart from the fact that there have been over 100 separate versions of the character produced since the movie’s release in 2007 (and that’s just counting the movie version of the character). Also, be wary of the recent trend of reproducing similar or identical versions of vintage toys in near identical packaging to the original. Make sure you can distinguish these from the original items. Old-school toys are more valuable than new-school ones dressed up in old-school clothes.

Currently, Lego toys are a good example of an item that may be expected to increase in value. Lego toys are currently experiencing a dramatic upsurge in popularity among children. They are often released in themed ranges (such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Ninjago) that contain unique components and mini-figures that are not typically re-released, and which are available for a relatively short period of time. They provide strong play value and are entirely composed of numerous small parts that are easily lost when the items are played with. This means future collectors will be strongly inclined to seek boxed items. There are also relatively few adult Lego collectors compared to those chasing Star Wars or Transformers toys.

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If you’re looking to buy or sell vintage toys then a great place to start is at trade fairs and niche events that give you direct access to dedicated collectors. Items at these events often sell for a considerable premium over online sales. So dig out those vintage Star Wars action figures, posters, games and cards which adorned your bedrooms in the 1970s and 1980s – they can be highly valuable.

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May the market forces be with you!