Toys on Parade: Collectible Playthings are anything but Child’s Play

Collectors looking to bringing back childhood memories of Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Popeye, trains, banks, robots and much more will have several opportunities this month as a number of toy auctions are scheduled for May.

Morphy’s Auction will be hosting a toy auction on May 30-31 in Denver, Pa., featuring a robot collection, rare European toys as well as early French and German dolls.

This very rare boxed example of a 1960’s lithographed tin friction Batman in the Batmobile, done in colorful body pattern, features a Batman at wheel with movable arms is one of the items up for sale at Bertoia Auctions’ toy sale on May 8-9 in Vineland, N.J. The six-inch toy with the original box carries a pre-sale estimate of $4,000 to $5,000.

This very rare boxed example of a 1960’s lithographed tin friction Batman in the Batmobile, done in colorful body pattern, features a Batman at wheel with movable arms is one of the items up for sale at Bertoia Auctions’ toy sale on May 8-9 in Vineland, N.J. The six-inch toy with the original box carries a pre-sale estimate of $4,000 to $5,000.

One of the highlights is a group of sci-fi classics from the Robert “Bob” Gallegos collection. About 115 robots, mostly boxed, will be auctioned. Morphy highlights the boxed Jupiter Robot that had been in the Bob Lessor collection. Chime Trooper, Conehead, Hook Robot, Space Scout and Tremendous Mike, Topolino, Atro Man, Mighty 8, Thunder Robot, silver Mechanize Robot (Robby) and blue version Cragstan Space Man are other favorites. There are also rare blue versions of Winky, Robot with Piston Action and Moon Explorer.

The auction also will also have Popeye toys, many in original boxes, including Shadow Boxer, Slinky Handcar, Popeye & Olive Tank.

Morphys also has a collection of European tinplate automotives featuring 40 German cars, zeppelins and planes. Top lots include the largest-size Distler racecar, red, in 9.8 condition; a Tippco Autobahn Kurier car; the largest KBN car; and a rare sidecar motorcycle with Nazi driver and passengers.

This Linemar Disney Mickey Mouse as Magician is expected to bring between $200 and $500 at the Milestone Auctions on May 2.

This Linemar Disney Mickey Mouse as Magician is expected to bring between $200 and $500 at the Milestone Auctions on May 2.

Meanwhile, Bertoia Auctions’ toy sale is being held on May 8-9 in Vineland, N.J. Highlights include 200 trains from Ives, Voltamp, C&F, Marklin and Bing as well as the Michael Cann (former president of the Train Collectors Association) lifetime collection. Doorstops from the Jeanne Bertoia Collection are another highlight.

Richard Opfer Auctioneering in Timonium, Md., is offering two collections at its May 9 auction—one is a lifetime toy collection of about 250 lots. Manufacturers include Marx, Kingsbury, Doepke, Tonka, Buddy L, Hubley, Cor Cor, Tootsietoy, Nylint, Steelcraft, Keystone, Shuco, Wyandotte, and Structo

And in Willoughby, Ohio, Milestone Auctions on May 2 is offering the Hubley Archive Collection from the Lancaster, Pa, Hubley Foundation, as well as a collection of pressed steel trucks, Germany toys, character toys and other vintage toys.

Market cycles

As with other antiques and collectibles, the toy market went through a price adjustment after the financial crisis. EBay also hurt the toy auction market. “But the best and rare items still bring good prices,” says Chris Sammet, appraiser at Milestone Auctions. “The average items had the biggest price adjustment.”

Michael Bertoia finds the toy market in general has been holding its own. “The top-condition pieces—those in the top 25 percent—are increasing in value and are a good investment. Those items in the middle are holding their own but fluctuate.”

As prices fluctuate, new buyers can come in. The more advanced collector can get rid of lesser quality items while buying better items and branching out.

Bertoia says that some toy categories had been soft but then a large grouping comes along containing never-seen-before items. Buyers see these items and they appreciate. These new items also inspire new buyers. This was the case, he said, with Max Berry’s tin collection of very early, primitive horse and trolley cars.

This Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII Racer, circa 1914, is a tin race painted in a red and yellow color scheme featuring a working clockwork motor, foldable windshield, opening door and rubber tires, appointments include cast headlamps, grips, horn and driver. Measuring more than 13 inches long, it is expected to sell for $4,000 to $5,000.

This Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII Racer, circa 1914, is a tin race painted in a red and yellow color scheme featuring a working clockwork motor, foldable windshield, opening door and rubber tires, appointments include cast headlamps, grips, horn and driver. Measuring more than 13 inches long, it is expected to sell for $4,000 to $5,000.

Hot items

Speaking about toys in general, Rick Opfer says while robot toys are still popular, what the buyer owned as a child are going to be collectibles for them. “People who played with G.I. Joes are buying G.I. Joes while those who played with Barbie are collecting Barbies.”

Sammet agrees that robots and space items are good. Character toys—such as Disney characters, Popeye, the Jetsons—are strong and Star Wars is collectible.

Tin boats from Markland, the German company, have been another strong seller, says Bertoia.

While Bertoia Auctions tends to specialize in toys from the 1880s to 1930s, one exception is Japanese toys such as space, robots and action heroes. Bertoia points to a Batman car with a box by Yanoman from the early 1960s in near mint condition which is estimated at $5,000 at the upcoming auction.

 This rare German-made Lehmann Ikarus flying toy is is all original and complete with its original paper wings! Showing very little wear and beautiful coloring with working windup works, this toy is estimated to bring $1000 t0 $1,500.


This rare German-made Lehmann Ikarus flying toy is is all original and complete with its original paper wings! Showing very little wear and beautiful coloring with working windup works, this toy is estimated to bring $1,000 to $1,500.

Mechanical banks and trains are another pair of categories that have been steady over time, says Sammet.

Bertoia also highlights trains as a hot category, noting that the Train Collectors’ Association has more than 50,000 members. A lot of diversity exists in train collecting. Some people collect American trains while others specialize in German trains. Others focus on different sized trains.

Sammet says one area that has been slow is horse-drawn wagons.

A changing approach to collecting

Sammet sees younger people collecting toys of the 1980s and ’90s, lines like the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “What you remember playing with as a child is what people tend to collect.”

Another German-made toy, this very rare Distler Organ Grinder is all original, including the original Monkey! The colors are beautiful on this great toy and it works perfectly, still making a plunk noise. It also carries a 1000 to $1,500 presale estimate.

Another German-made toy, this very rare Distler Organ Grinder is all original, including the original Monkey! The colors are beautiful on this great toy and it works perfectly, still making a plunk noise. It also carries a 1000 to $1,500 presale estimate.

Bertoia sees the younger generation interested in comic characters such as Mickey Mouse or Popeye. They are more affordable and easier for a new collector getting started. “They are more approachable, colorful and could be passed off as Pop Art. They are interesting and appealing to the eye.”

Bertoia says that the new collector is no longer showcasing their items in a cabinet or bookcase but rather using them more as sculptured art throughout the home. “It might be put on a desk rather than on a shelf as part of a collection. They live with it as opposed to putting it in one place.”

The Box

“The main thing today is condition,” says Opfer. “In a softened environment, condition is the key factor. Rarity is always a key factor. This holds whatever the item is.”

Bertoia emphasizes rarity as driving value. “At the turn of the century, they didn’t mass produce items. They were handcrafted and hand painted. As a result, you sometimes see quality control issues with the penmanship.”

Sammet agrees, but also highlights the importance of having the item in its original box. He notes that some people will only collect items that are in the box.

“In some cases, the boxes may be worth more than the toy,” he says.


Lois Peltz is a writer and collector based in New York City. She can be reached at lois@peltzinternational.com.

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