Everyone has favorite collectible toys that evoke fond memories of childhood. From Fisher Price Little People to Thomas the Tank Engines, most everyone saves at least a few toys. What do you have safely tucked away in your attic?
Antique Collectible Toys to Watch Out For
When people think of antique toys, typically they envision the dusty toys of a Victorian child's bedroom. While these might not be the only toys that people enjoyed in the past, they are actually some of the most collectible.
Dollhouses and Dolls
Hollywood's favorite antique toy to use in horror movies across the century is the slightly cracked, dust-covered, porcelain doll. Dolls and the doll houses that accompanied them have been a fond childhood plaything for thousands of years. However, it wasn't until western industrial manufacturing and the rise of leisure time, expendable income, and department stores in the late-19th century that children owning dolls became democratized.
Due to this, seemingly every young girl of some means was gifted a few dolls during her childhood, leading to the sheer number of antique dolls that you can now find in antique stores. Of the many dolls out there, the most collectible come from the late-19th to early 20th century. From porcelain, to bisque heads, to Madame Alexander, there are a ton of antique dolls to choose from.
While you can find a myriad of collectible dolls and dollhouses in estate sales, auction houses, and antique stores, the highest quality items can cost you a pretty penny. These dolls and dollhouses are quite valuable to the right buyers. Finely crafted dolls (such as porcelain or bisque) made by elite companies and in good condition from the 19th and early 20th century can sell for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For instance, these are a few dolls that've recently sold at auction:
- 1950s Madame Alexander Elise doll - Sold for $86.62
- 1890s lithograph dollhouse - Sold for $1,025
- 1949 Madame Alexander Scarlett O'Hara prototype doll - Sold for $3,300
- 1883 Bru, Jne & Cie 15" doll - Sold for $6,300
The rocking horse was one of the first mechanical children's toys to get popular in the global west, beginning in the 17th century with elaborately painted, realistic-looking miniature horses. These luxury toys only grew more impressive as time went on, making them a popular and valuable collectible with historic toy lovers today. When collecting antique rocking horses, there are two types to be on the lookout for: bow rockers and marqua rockers. Bow rockers came first and are made in the stereotypical shape with the horses' legs extending onto half-moon wooden planks. Marqua rockers emerged in the 19th century as stationary pieces where the rocking horse moved inside of a stable wooden stand.
All of these rocking horses can be worth thousands of dollars, particularly if they're of a high quality and have well-preserved paint and decorative details. Ones that've been rode hard and are deteriorating won't sell for nearly as high of a price, but restoration is something that can actually improve the value rather than decrease it. Take these antique rocking horses, for example:
- Unrestored Rocking Horse by Ayers - Listed for $1,800
- Restored Victorian marqua rocking horse - Listed for $3,780.53
The German toy company, Steiff, has been in operation since the early 20th century and continues to make lovely stiff, stuffed animals for children to enjoy. Once a must-have for all children, Steiff bears from the 1900s-1930s are particularly valuable, especially if they're found with their characteristic ear tags still intact. While most of these mohair bears can sell between the $200-$500 in good condition, specialty bears (like the Titanic Mourning bear of which only 665 were produced and the unique 1925 Harlequin bear) can sell for around $100,000.
Due to their aristocratic connections and luxury construction, antique Steiff bears are quite valuable, frequently selling in the thousands when they're in good condition and they have their iconic ear tags intact. For example, here are a few Steiff bears that've recently sold at auction:
- 1907 Steiff bear - Sold for $1,495
- Antique golden jointed Steiff bear - Listed for $2,950
- Large jointed Steiff bear circa 1905-1909 - Sold for $2,386.23
Toy Train Sets
A classic in the antique toy genre is the toy train set. As transportation became a pop culture point, toy train sets quickly enthralled children of all ages. These train sets were immensely popular and manufactured to be incredibly realistic, modeling many of the train cars after existing railroad companies and their fleet. Often, collectors like completing toy train sets or buying pieces from particular manufacturers.
When you're looking to collect these toy trains, you should gravitate towards three manufacturers in particular: American Flyer, Lionel, and Marx. These notable brands have produced toy trains all throughout the 20th century, and individual train cars from their collections can sell for upwards of a hundred dollars. Take these model train sets, for example:
- Early 20th Century Lionel model train set - Sold for $200
- 1950s Lionel model train set of 10 cars with broken wiring - Sold for $250
- Early 20th Century model of the Stephensons locomotive - Sold for $8,773.21
Collectible Toys of the Post-War Period
The post-war period was a delicious point in history for toy collectors, as there was an economic boom and increased spending money creating a consumer culture that trickled into the newfound children's market. This meant that manufacturers could expand their operations into creating more and more toys for kids to collect, leaving modern collectors with a treasure trove of items to sort through.
Before Hot Wheels dominated the toy car market, Matchbox cars were all the rage. If you've rifled through your parents' or grandparents' childhood things, chances are high that you've come across a few of these miniature automobile replicas haphazardly thrown about into boxes and bins. While not every Matchbox car deserves a gold star for collectability, certain cars can sell for high dollar amounts to devoted fans. Things like manufacturing errors, limited production numbers, interesting color schemes, and pristine condition with packaging included can turn a dime-store toy into a valuable collectible.
If you're thinking about buying a few of these Matchbox cars or want to pick out the best ones to sell from your grandparents' stash, here are a few to keep an eye out for:
- No. 30 Crane Truck
- Aveling Bardford Road Roller
- BP Dodge Wrecker
- Major Scale Quarry Truck
Vintage Matchbox cars are one of those collectibles with a huge value range, spanning pennies to thousands depending on their condition, whether they've been used or come in the box, which specific models they are, and how rare they are. That being said, you can find an abundance of these toys for sale online and in-person for super cheap, though larger assortments tend to sell for more. However, you don't often find Matchbox cars selling for over $150-$200, though it's much more likely that you'll find them selling for $10-$45.
- Used vintage Matchbox Lincoln Continental - Sold for $0.99
- Lot of 1968 Matchbox Volkswagen 1500s - Sold for $80
- #57 1960 Matchbox Impala with box - Sold for $150
Another group of highly collectible childhood playthings from the 20th century is board games. Whether you're a fan of the classics like Monopoly and Clue or like to get down with Milton Bradley's latest games, there're a ton of collectors with an affinity for these long-form toys. Not toys in the conventional sense, both antique and vintage board games engender a huge sense of nostalgia with people around the world, meaning that can make for some fun and still playable collectibles.
However, keep in mind that there're very few big-ticket board games out there, with first editions and out-of-print pieces being at the top of the list. For example, in 2011, a handmade prototype of Monopoly from 1933 sold in a Sotheby's auction for a whopping $146,500.
Generally, antique and vintage board games aren't super expensive. The earliest editions of the biggest names (with Monopoly topping the list) will always be an outlier in terms of value, but usually, these toys sell for around $20-$50. Having all of the pieces included is one of the major factors that affects these values, as well as how old the game is (mid-century games and newer have flooded the market and aren't that valuable), as these recent auction sales can attest to:
- 1988 Sealed box of Scattergories - Sold for $19.73
- 1970 Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game Parker - Sold for $25.49
- 1951 White Box Monopoly - Sold for $75
- 1936 Monopoly game - Sold for $155
Collectible Toys of the Mid-Century and Beyond
By the 1960s and 1970s, the children's toy market was well established, meaning that vintage toy collectors can be pickier about the pieces they purchase. Out of the bounty that was the kids' aisle in the 1960s-1990s, here are a few collectibles that've continued to gain fans over the years.
Star Wars Figurines
The film series that revolutionized the science fiction genre is well-known for its massive amount of product tie-ins, ranging from plastic light-up light sabers to massive Lego sets. Yet, before kids were buying these modern toys by the barrelful, Lucas Films was partnering with the American toy manufacturer Kenner to produce innumerable action figures of memorable and unusual characters from the films.
- Double telescoping Jedi
- Mail-in Boba Fett
- Blue Snaggletooth
- Small-head Han Solo
When it comes to buying or selling vintage Star Wars figurines, the earlier they are, the rarer they're going to be and thus more valuable. However, just because Star Wars collectors are quite passionate about their wares, they aren't going to fawn over every 1977 action figure you've got. Yet, the occasional treasure can be listed anywhere between $1,000-$10,000 and more. For instance, take a look at how some of these early Star Wars action figures were recently priced at auction:
- 29 vintage Star Wars figurines (gently used) - Sold for $270
- 1978 small head Han Solo action figure with box - Listed for $3,063.45
- 1979 carded Boba Fett action figure - Listed for $13,499.99
The '90s babies of the world are really proud of their whacky and zany childhood playthings, including the true phenomenon that was Beanie Babies. This multi-colored, plush toys took the west by storm, causing adults to fight over them during Christmas time and siblings to start intense rivalries over which ones they were or weren't gifted. Unfortunately, these toys that were once touted as investments for future payoffs are a plague on vintage and thrift shop owners. Buckets upon buckets of these discarded toys can be found in virtually every consignment store around the country.
However, '90s kids can rejoice because there are the rare and misprinted Beanie Babiess that can actually bring in more than $1.50, if you know how to sell Beanie Babies. Typically, the most desirable Beanie Babies for the modern collectors' market are ones with some type of factory error, came in limited numbers, or were made to commemorate a special event. From animals with unique colors to those made with an unusual pellet filling, here are a few Beanie Babies to be on the lookout for:
- Valentino errors bear
- Wallace bear
- Royal blue edition Peanut the Elephant
Barbie dolls have been a well-known collectible for decades and one of Mattel's best-selling products of all time. Thanks to the thousands of different Barbie and company dolls that've lined toy store shelves, there're a fair number of vintage Barbies out there that're worth a few twenties, at the least a few hundred at the most. Generally, the older the Barbie, the more collectible it is, with the first ever Barbie--released in 1959--selling for $2,800 at a Christie's Auction in 2002.
When it comes to collecting these dolls, there's really no rhyme or reason. Doll collectors gravitate towards all sorts of unique things like specific years, Barbie doll lines, special features, clothing styles, dream houses, and so much more. So, if you're thinking about starting a collection, it's a good idea to pick a focal point and collect around it. For instance, you might want to collect all of the Skipper Barbie dolls that you can find.
Specifically, Barbie dolls have the potential to be a really valuable collectible, though most of your parents' old stash of hacked up Barbies aren't worth more than a couple of dollars at the bargain bin in your local thrift shop. Barbies from the first few years of the toy's production (early 1960s) in their boxes and with their original clothes can sell for a few hundred dollars, and there's always a willing buyer around the corner for these fashion dolls.
- 1963 Skipper doll with box and outfits - Listed for $140
- 1964 ponytail Barbie doll #850 - Sold for $255.51
- Vintage pony-tail Barbie still in box - Listed for $799
For more info, explore a Barbie collectors price guide.
Let Your Inner Child out to Play
From 5 to 95, collectible toys can bring out a smile in just about anyone. There're no limits to the types of toys you can collect; pick ones from your past or select those you were too old to play with when they were released. Either way, you should let your inner child out to play with a new toy collection today.