Friday, December 4, 2015

The Value of Antique Toy Shows

With Christmas soon upon us and an overabundance of Star Wars merchandise set to outrun the multimillion-dollar Frozen juggernaut, and with predictions that the sale of the movie merchandise will quadruple in the countdown to Christmas, I thought it would be cool to take a moment and visit an aspect of toy collecting that has proven value, time and time again. Those hidden treasures at antique toy shows. There might be one in you own backyard and you never knew about it. Read on to understand why.

The original Lost in Space robot with original packaging.

The secret of success with Star Wars is its reach across a broad range of retail segments, including toys, kids apparel, homeware, stationery and adult apparel. Perhaps the first to figure this out was William Boyd who, during the 1950s, mass-marketed Hopalong Cassidy in a means that was unprecedented at the time. Hopalong Cassidy wind-up toys, shooting galleries, wristwatches, holster sets, comic books and other merchandise made William Boyd a very wealthy man. Wealthy enough to convince Life magazine to put Hopalong Cassidy, complete in costume and black hat, on the cover of a 1950 issue. That same year, Time magazine reported a shortage of black dye as a result of all the Hoppy merchandise produced. Historically, though smaller by comparison, Walt Disney was the next person to succeed in mass production with the Davy Crockett coonskin caps.

Today, the collecting market has changed. The old joke among collectors was that in the days of old, for every 100 toys sold in the stores, one was saved and 99 was played with. By the late seventies and early eighties, with understanding that the value of an item was based on scarcity and condition, for every 100 toys sold in the stores, one was played with and 99 were saved.

Scarcity has become obsolete as a result of the internet. What used to be difficult to find is now a dime a dozen on eBay and other internet auction houses. eBay has changed the values in price guides. The value of an item is still dependent on the overall condition and the purchase price is relative -- based on an agreement set between the buyer and seller. But the internet is not the only venue to seek old collectibles and I encourage others to seek out Antique Toy Shows. There are treasures galore at these venues that remain virtually unscathed by serious collectors.

My mother told me she used to have one of these when she was a child.

If you buy off the internet, you are buying blind. Regardless of the item description, your idea of the condition may vary from that of the seller. What you feel is near mint, the seller may consider mint condition. Being able to review the item first-hand helps avoid such misunderstanding. Last week at an Antique Toy Show I purchased a Hopalong Cassidy coloring book for $5.00. The seller wanted $15.00. I looked inside and pointed out how the coloring book was partially used. The cover was not in mint condition and faded by sunlight (the back of the book was the exact same image as the front, but the color was darker on the back). She asked if I felt $5.00 was sufficient. I agreed and went home with my prize. Note that it was she who counter-offered with a price one-third of her original asking! Why buy a vintage coloring book partially used? The left page of each two-page spread was print colored with text below to describe the action. The same image was on the right page but in black and white so the child could attempt to reproduce the colors in crayon. The former owner never applied crayons on any of the left pages. This means I can scan the colored illustrations on the left side and use them for illustrating any future write-up about Hopalong Cassidy... illustrations most people have never seen. Well worth my $5.00 investment. ($15 for 18 illustrations would have been worth it, too, but hey, I saved $10.)

My wife accompanied my recent sojourn and, the tomboy that she was, observed a vendor selling old Hess trucks. She's bought Hess trucks for her father in past years, but never knew what the value was for pre-1970 Hess trucks. She took 20 minutes and talked to the vendor, learning just which years have more value, mis-prints that were quickly corrected, how to tell the difference from reproductions and originals based on packaging, and what the usual price is for a 1966 Hess Voyager Tanker Ship with and without the original packaging. Now if she ever sees a Hess Voyager Tanker Ship at a flea market, she will not make the mistake of paying too much without understanding the real value. For this education, she agreed that the admission price to the venue was worth every dollar. One of many reasons why visiting antique toy shows is necessary for anyone who wants an education regarding values and grading.

An old woman at the toy show had two tables of comic books for sale. "Estate Sale, Must Go!" Curious as I was since many of the comic books were from the 1970s, I asked her what the prices were. She told me $80 per issue and if I paid cash, $75 per issue. I asked her how she came to that conclusion. "My nephew passed away last month and I have these comic books which obviously have lots of value." I did not have the heart to tell her that the comics had little value at all -- at least the ones she was trying to sell. I could buy them at comic shows for a buck a piece. This happens more often than reported: someone hears about an Action Comics #1 (June 1938) selling for more than $1 million and believes that all comic books have extreme value. Half a dozen times in the past few years I witnessed people with overestimated expectations: "It is old, therefore it is valuable."

One of the vendors had a table with signs plastered all over: "Everything on this table is $4.00" People were skimming through boxes of magazines, VHS videos, plastic toys and other collectibles. I also observed a number of people who saw the sign and made a turnabout. It was if those signs and those prices were shouting: "Junk for sale." What they were looking for was not valued at $4.00. Sure, there might stocking stuffers worth a few bucks but they were looking for some items of REAL value. 

When I used to attend an annual convention in Newark, New Jersey, one acquaintance attending the show would only buy dollar items. Privately, he used to ridicule people who spent large sums of money on books, posters and other collectibles at the convention. More than once I tried to explain to him the value of financial support, for the authors of those books, the historians who prefer encouragement. I also explained how certain vendors will make an effort throughout the year to find articles of interest; such friendship among vendors forms a strong bond.

The best way to price vintage toys. Post-It Notes prevent damage upon removal.

Want to know the real value of an item? Fifteen years ago a friend of mine spent $3,000 on a movie poster. To him, not only was the poster extremely rare (one of four known to exist), but the color was lavish; the art was magnificent. As a vendor who buys and sells movie posters and lobby cards, he should know. He can tell you what time period certain movie studios offered the best art. That poster is hanging in his living room, professionally framed with museum glass. He sees that poster every day. Fifteen years times 365 days = 5,475 days. Take that and divide it by $3,000 and that poster cost him 54 cents a day to look at. To him, that poster is worth 54 cents a day. And that value will be cut in half 15 years from now. 

Another friend of mine has a Clerks movie poster hanging on the wall in his apartment, a giveaway at his local movie theater on opening day of the same movie. Yes, this is the same poster you can buy at trade shows for a buck. He keeps his poster on display in a cheap Wal-Mart frame. That poster is not autographed by the cast. He admits it is not his favorite movie. So why does he have it on display in his apartment? 

I find you can tell a lot about someone based on the books they have on their bookshelf and the collectibles that adorn the walls and shelves of their house. My in-laws' next-door neighbor is 95 years old and ballroom dancing, and his shelves contain dozens of books about herbs and medicinal organics. This tells me he took time to live a healthy life. He is self-educated. He is self-motivated. He is a man to aspire. For my friend with the Clerks poster on the wall... well, what does that tell you? As for my friend who spent $3,000 on that rare movie poster? It tells me he has taste, he has style, he knows the history behind the scarcity of the poster, and the condition of the surviving posters in collector hands. His treasure, displayed with pride, comes with a story... proving what I have said for years. How much someone has or how much they spent on an item does not impress me. Where they found the item and how they came into receivership may impress me.

At the antique toy show, I was set up as a vendor and offering a Hopalong Cassidy movie poster for $150. The condition of the poster was great. An attendee at the show asked about the purchase price and his response? "I can buy a replica of the same poster for $20 on the internet."

"You are correct," I explained. "But reproductions go for as little as a buck to as much as $20. And there is a reason for that pricing structure. No one can sell a reproduction of a Hopalong Cassidy movie poster for more than $20 on the internet or at events like this one. I don't know about you, but if I gave a tour of my house and pointed out a reproduction, framed, hanging on the wall, they would pretty much do what I would in their position. Shrug shoulders and say, 'Oh, that's cool.' But I would only be speaking polite. Now, having an original -- not a reproduction -- hanging on the wall, linen baked, framed in museum glass has something of value." 

The customer asked why I was selling the poster. "I have three different Hopalong Cassidy posters hanging on my wall and this is the least quality of the three," I explained. "And it's my least favorite of the 66 Hoppy movies." He counter-offered with $30 and I assured him that even with cash we would be speaking three-digit figures. The asking price was firm based on much I originally paid for the poster, and it cost me to have it linen backed. This alone, I explained to him, was an exceptional value of an asking price.) He walked away muttering to himself that he would never spend more than $20 for a movie poster and never consider spending that kind of money to have it framed. What was he telling me? He had no true appreciation for the value of Hopalong Cassidy. Tens of thousands of people know who Hopalong Cassidy is... but only a fraction have a real application for Hopalong Cassidy to buy Hoppy comics, toys and movie posters.

By the way... I never sold the poster at the toy show but wo days later I sold the poster. Purchase price was $200. The fact that he traveled to my house to check out the poster meant he was a serious buyer and knew how much it cost to have a movie poster linen backed and professionally framed. That poster has since been replaced with a different Hoppy poster for (the same price, $200) and happens to be my favorite of the movie series. The color and condition is beautiful. I do plan to have it framed. And the purchaser, who came to my house to check it out first-hand, went home a happy customer. That poster has a good home with someone who will take care of it because they appreciate what they bought. 

My wife and I booked a trip for a ride in a hot air balloon. It was one of those things we always wanted to do. The cost was $280 per person for a 90 minute flight. When I told my mother of our plans, she questioned whether $280 was cheap or expensive for such a trip. "I don't know" I replied. "But it is something we only plan to do once in our life, and the experience will probably turn out to be something so cool we will be recommending it to others for months following and you cannot put a price tag on something like that."

Of the 130 plus vendors at the Antique Toy Show, one of them earned my admiration. I was immersed in the vast collection of high-quality vintage toys on display and I asked for gloves to inspect a couple of them. Asking for gloves provided the seller with the understanding that I had an appreciation for the items on display and he gladly let me inspect them. (You have no idea how many idiots are quick to handle items priced in three and four-digit figures and then put them back on a table with careless regard for the way they manhandled the item. If you do not have enough money to afford purchasing the item, do not handle it. "You break it, you buy it" still applies.) Lots of vendors at the show had old cowboys and horses, Lincoln Logs in metal containers, circus programs from the 1950s, and toy cars. You almost wanted to shop around before making purchase because they all varied in quality and price. But what this vendor had was strictly top-notch quality that put everyone else to shame. Not an item on his table was priced less than $100. He was not catering to a clientele that wanted just any toy. He had what I would refer to as museum quality.

The photographs below are from his table. The item I was really impressed with was the metal Tom Corbett, Space Cadet rocket ship with practically no rust and near-mint condition. I did not have $1,000 to spend but I did get the seller's business card.

Make an effort to find an Antique Toy Show near you. They vary in size from a couple dozen vendors to hundreds of vendors. Many of those vendors do not have the internet and are unaware that they could be selling the same merchandise for larger sums of money -- an advantage you have compared to shopping online. I often ask if they have a website or sell online and when they say they do not... well, that provides me with the advantage. (Some of these shows fall below the radar, by the way, and do not have a website to promote their event. Check out the calendar of events for the county fairgrounds near you. Those are the shows that have hidden treasures.) During negotiations, after talking the seller down from his initial asking price, ask "I'm willing to pay cash, not credit card or check. What's the best you can do?" You will be surprised how the price will be knocked down again in your favor. (If they do not accept credit cards, this will not be leverage. Ask in advance early on if they accept credit cards.) And most important: make the most out of your admission. Most vendors are willing to provide a few minutes of instruction regarding the items they have for sale. It's both geeky and cool to find out when Lincoln Logs went from metal tins to cardboard containers, the few toys never released to market and leaked into collector hands (thus very rare to acquire), what items are prototypes, etc. Remember my wife who learned a few things about vintage Hess trucks? The value of an antique toy show is the educational aspect. Worth the price of any admission.


Dee said...

don't care how educated reason you believe old toys should be valued. I would not pay more than a few dollars for an old toy. would not want it to junk the house anyway. keep your museum pieces

Larry Natoli said...

Thank you for an educational experience. Now I feel as if I turned down a few golden opportunities to display something valued in my home. I wilt make the same mistake again. Larry Natoli

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