Rinker on Collectibles: The 1980s are the New ‘Old’
Time condenses as one grows older. Linda and I just returned from our annual week-long Weihnachts (Christmas) vacation to Germany’s Erzgebirge region. It was a winter wonderland—two feet of snow on the ground when we arrived in Seiffen and snow every day during our stay. When we returned home to Brookfield, Conn., late in evening, it seemed as though we had just left. Seven days, 148 hours, 8,880 minutes magically vanished. For us, extended events appear to end moments after they start.
Five hundred and twenty “Rinker on Collectibles” columns ago, I pondered the relevance of the arrival of the 21st century and its impact on the antiques and collectibles industry. Now, 10 years—a full decade—have passed. Once 2011 arrives, “The Teens” will no longer mean 1911-1920, but 2011 to 2020. The 20th century, the century in which I have spent more than 85 percent of my life to date, is aging. Old is no longer defined in terms of the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s. The 1980s are the new “old.”
The year 1980 was 30 years ago. According to Rinker’s Thirty Year Rule—for the first 30 years of anything’s life, all its value is speculative—1980s objects are now entering the collectibles sector of the antiques market. Early 1980s objects have achieved a stable and trustworthy secondary resale value. By 2030, 2040 at the latest, 1980s objects will be antiques.
The teenagers of the 1980s are now between 40 and 50; the period when a nostalgic interest in the past gains in importance. Mom and Dad’s things are no longer junk, but something to be desired. The clothes they wore, movies and television they watched, music to which they listened and toys with which they played are now viewed as treasures rather than trash.
It is too early to define the 1980s. This requires another five to 10 years. It is only within the last year or two that the antiques and collectibles field has become comfortable accepting which objects best define the 1970s.
[Author’s Aside: This is a good point to provide the requisite caveat that defining antiques and collectibles by decade is fraught with danger. There is no magical transition between years ending in 9 and those ending with 1. More often than not, life in the 9s is virtually identical to life in the 1s. However, the media, scholars, writers and others think decade. They simply cannot resist it. Far be it for me to buck the trend, at least in this instance.]
Toys are among the first decade objects to reach collectible status. Movie, music, and television related objects quickly follow. For household goods, from dinnerware to furniture—the exceptions being designer and brand name products—usually lag 10 years behind.
Collecting is checklist driven. Collectors seek direction. What should I collect? How should I collect it? Which examples are more desirable than others? The answer to these questions and more is found in specialized price/collecting guides.
Mark Bellomo’s “Totally Tubular ’80s Toys” (KP [Krause Publications], 2010) has fired the opening salvo announcing the arrival of 1980s toys as full-fledged members of the collectibles community. The word is out. The hunt is on. Price increases are not far behind.
Each generation thinks of its toys as the best. Mark is no exception: “Oh sure, people who grew up in other decades may feel differently, but they were wrong. The ’80s were assuredly the greatest. How can a decade that brought us Michael Jackson, MTV, Princess Diana and John Hughes movies ‘not’ be the best decade of all time?” Since he did not experience the 1950s, the best toy decade, bar none, Mark’s misattribution is forgiven.
Familiarity with the toys from their own childhood and not those that follow is a problem faced by many toy collectors. In fact, the concern permeates collecting. Collectors become locked into a fixed time period and ignore what comes before and after. It is the rare collector whose interests span multiple generations.
How good is your 1980s memory? Match the year to the toy:
1. 1980 .
a. Masters of the Universe
d. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
e. My Little Pony
f. Barnyard Commandos—R.A.M.S vs. P.O.R.K.S
g. Rubik’s Cube
h. Pound Puppies
j. Cabbage Patch Kids (Coleco)
I resisted a sadistic urge to create answers that matched straight across. The answers are scrambled.
TRIVIA QUIZ: What was Alf’s name?
The antiques and collectibles trade is fond of “golden ages,” especially in the collectibles sphere. I grew up in the 1950s which, along with the 1960s, constituted the golden age of afternoon and primetime television licensed toys. Even “The Today Show” had a licensed boxed board game. By the 1970s, movies had replaced television as the No. 1 toy licensee.
The 1980s was an eclectic era in toy licensing, a precursor of society as a whole in the 1990s. The Star Wars franchise demonstrated the continuing strength of movies to drive toy sales. Unlike “Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope,” where toys appeared following the movie’s release, toy releases coincided with and/or preceded the release of Star Wars episodes V and VI. However, the Star War’s franchise faded in 1985. The Star Wars Power of the Force figurines and accessories issued that year did not sell well. “Beetlejuice,” “ET,” “Ghostbusters,” “Gremlins” and “The Karate Kid” also generated an extensive line of toy products.
Television licensing was selective. “A-Team,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “Knight Rider,” “M*A*S*H” and “The Dukes of Hazzard” collectibles graced toy store shelves. However, television licensed product was heavier for primetime shows that premiered in the first half as opposed to the last half of the decade.
If a golden age existed in the 1980s, its focus was Saturday morning television programs. Licensed toys were issued to drive interest in the shows rather than generated by a show’s success, a significant departure from previous marketing approaches. Toys such as Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers are examples.
The Marvel franchise reintroduced Batman, Superman and other super heroes to a new generation. Barbie continued to dominate the doll market. A raisin commercial, supported by a Hardee promotion, led to the 1987 California Raisin toy craze.
The 1980s is noteworthy for the number of generic toy lines it fostered. The decade opened with a Strawberry Shortcake toy craze. The Cabbage Patch Doll, Care Bears, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and Teddy Ruxpin followed. All continue to age gracefully.
While the golden age of the electronic game is the 1990s and 2000s, its ancestors date from the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Atari 2600 was at the zenith of its popularity as the 1980s began. Arcade games such as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. grew in their level of sophistication as the decade progressed.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Dungeons & Dragons. Bellomo includes the game in his book. Designed primarily for the young adult market, I have trouble classifying Dungeons & Dragons as a toy. I also have the same difficulty considering electronic games as toys.
Finally, I began my “Closet” columns, where I bought toys and put them away to see what value they would have 30 years in the future, in 1987. My closet contains a number of the toys illustrated in the final chapters of Bellomo’s book.
I wrote my most recent “Closet” column in the series in 2008. I skipped 2009 and 2010 because my toy store research failed to produce enough toys that “turned me on.” While I have not lost hope, I cannot help but wonder if children who grew up in the first decade of the 21st Century will feel the same way about their decade’s toys as Bellomo and I do about ours.
MEMORY QUIZ ANSWERS: 1-g; 2-a; 3-e; 4-j;5-c; 6-h; 7-b;8-i; 9-d; 10-f.
TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: ALF was the nickname of Gordon Shumway from the planet Melmac. ALF was an anagram for “Alien Life Form.”
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