Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scrapping the concept of "collectable"

You don't have to be an expert in pressed steel toys
to see there are serious issues here -- like missing
parts, dents, rust, and scratched paint.
Recently we attended an auction that featured "old toys." It's an area of collecting I'm marginally interested in, so I was quite curious so see what was offered and how the bidding would go. (It wasn't the primary reason we went to this auction, by the way.)

I snapped some shots of what was offered. If your first reaction to these photos is "what a lot of junk!" then congratulations. Your instincts are true.

Nevertheless, there were people pouring over these items, intently examining them. And worse yet -- they all sold. Why? Because old toys are collectable.

But they really weren't. In part of my series on the basics of collecting, I outlined three parameters that determined value -- condition, desirability, and availability.

Let's run down the list.

First, condition on all the trucks were abysmal. In addition to rust and scratched paint, every toy had missing parts that should have been obvious to just about anyone -- note the slots in front where tabs held the grills on, for example. The frames were bent, and working parts, like hand cranks, no longer worked.

There's a good chance that the most valuable thing in this photo is
the cardboard box.

And if you look at that train set, you'll see the same issues. Missing parts, broken mechanisms, and the absence of most of the set itself.

Yes, you could have these items completely refurbished and restored. And then you'd have brand-new looking toys that wouldn't be worth what you put into them. Because when it comes to toys, original condition is very important. Most collectors want an example of a piece in the best condition possible -- not a recreation of what it looked like new.

For the train set, this one's a non-starter. A partially destroyed locomotive and a box of track. There's nothing desirable here.

The pressed steel trucks do have some appeal. Many collectors either had one (or more) as a child, or wished they did, so there is a market. But size is an issue. The larger the item, the harder it is to display a collection of them. Many more toy collectors are interested in Matchbox-sized cars than pressed steel behemoths simply because of space issues.

Just from the photo you can see the left headlight is missing, as well as
the fixture on the roof. The sides of the dump bed is bent, and the
rear panel is missing. Mix in scratches and rust and you've
got an item no one would (or should) be proud to display.
Starting again with the train set, the box holds nothing of interest. That type of 0-gauge track is still being made. There's also plenty of used track that's in like-new condition at bargain prices.

When it comes to toy train track, condition is everything, as the rails have to clean to make good electrical contact with the locomotives. This is a box that should have been just thrown away.

The pressed steel vehicles aren't particularly rare. You can often find them on Ebay in very good condition for $50-$100.

It's possible these might be used for parts (just like real junk cars), but it's problematic. The surviving parts on these toys are scratched, dented and rusted -- hardly suitable for use in restoring something to like-new condition.

In conclusion -- save your money
All three parameters -- condition, desirability, and availability -- depress the actual value of these items. AT best, they should have only sold for a few dollars each. Although I can't imagine anyone actually displaying these items with pride. If they thought they could resell them later for big bucks because, you know, all old toys are collectible, there are unpleasant surprises in store.

You should really only collect because of your interest in the items -- not in an interest to make money from them. And definitely trust your instincts. I did. I have no regrets for missing out on these beauties. If they went for any money at all, someone paid far too much.

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