Wealth

Get in touch with your in­ner child—then put him or her to work gen­er­at­ing an in­vest­ment in­come by buy­ing and sell­ing rare toys, sug­gests Ge­orge Hop­kin

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Get in touch with your in­ner child— then put him or her to work gen­er­at­ing an in­vest­ment in­come by buy­ing and sell­ing rare toys

The most suc­cess­ful punt for a sin­gle in­vestor in the history of col­lectible toys is go­ing to be very hard to beat. Fol­low­ing his break­out suc­cess with the film Amer­i­can Graf­fiti in 1973, fledg­ling di­rec­tor Ge­orge Lu­cas ap­proached 20th Cen­tury Fox and sold the stu­dio on the idea of his next vi­sion­ary project, “a western set in outer space.”

It was a bold and some­what con­fus­ing pitch for the stu­dio; Fox al­lowed Lu­cas to keep the li­cens­ing and mer­chan­dis­ing rights for him­self, saving it­self an ad­di­tional US$500,000 fee. At that point in the mid1970s, se­ri­ous money sim­ply hadn’t been made through lines of li­censed toys tied to movies, so Fox ex­ec­u­tives thought they were giv­ing away 100 per cent of next to noth­ing.

The Force was strong with Lu­cas the day he made that agree­ment. US$12 bil­lion worth of toy sales later—out of a to­tal of US$27 bil­lion in Star Wars fran­chise rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to the Statis­tic Brain Re­search In­sti­tute—it’s hard to imag­ine any in­vestor get­ting any­where near this fig­ure in terms of a re­turn. Lu­cas is sim­ply light years ahead.

Of course, few peo­ple on the planet have a gen­er­a­tion-span­ning film fran­chise to lever­age. But even those with­out such a cel­lu­loid as­set can make money on toys with the right choices, though it’s far from child’s play, say ex­perts. Making a play with toys can be sur­pris­ingly hard work when sort­ing through the vast swathes of po­ten­tial in­vest­ments.

“Die-cast mod­els of cars, trains, dolls and teddy bears dom­i­nate the toy mar­ket, along with older tin­plate and clock­work toys and col­lectibles, such as ro­bots and fig­urines in­spired by TV or cin­ema,” says Ivan Mac­quis­ten, an arts mar­ket an­a­lyst, pun­dit

and di­rec­tor at spe­cial­ist con­sul­tancy Imacq who also served as the ed­i­tor of the An­tiques Trade Gazette for 15 years. While box-fresh, un­opened ex­am­ples of pure per­fec­tion will al­ways fetch a pre­mium, some of the most sought-af­ter col­lectibles to­day can ac­tu­ally be the re­sult of fac­tory er­rors or mar­ket­ing mis­takes, says Mac­quis­ten. It’s in this area that the Star Wars fran­chise can claim an­other key role in the rare toys in­vest­ment mar­ket.

“It’s not Han Solo or Luke Sky­walker that comes with the high­est ticket price among Star Wars fig­urines,” says Mac­quis­ten. “In­stead, it’s the real rar­i­ties.

“In 2013, for in­stance, toy auc­tion spe­cial­ist Vec­tis took £8,500 for a Jawa Star Wars fig­ure with a vinyl cape that was pack­aged and mounted on an un­punched card. Its value, apart from its con­di­tion, lay in the fact that the vinyl cape had proved un­pop­u­lar when first re­leased and was soon re­placed with a cloth cape, making the orig­i­nal release much rarer.”

When it comes to diecast toys, the devil is in the de­tail, says Mac­quis­ten. Rare colour schemes and slight dif­fer­ences in the cast­ing process add value in the same way print­ing er­rors can turn a sim­ple stamp into a phi­lat­e­list’s dream. “Toys where the de­sign means cer­tain orig­i­nal parts—such as de­tach­able com­po­nents— are com­monly miss­ing are un­der­stand­ably more de­sir­able the more com­plete they are.”

While Star Wars is with­out doubt the force to be reck­oned with in mod­ern-day pro­fes­sional toy col­lect­ing, there are older ex­am­ples and op­por­tu­ni­ties for those with more tra­di­tional tastes.

“Some of the high­est prices can be found among rare late-19th- and early-20th-cen­tury sur­vivors of tin­plate toys, such as clock­work fig­ures, model trains, cars and other forms of trans­port,” says Mac­quis­ten. “Col­lec­tors will of­ten look for spe­cific makes, such as those by the Ger­man firms of Märklin and Bing. At­ten­tion to de­tail, crafts­man­ship and the sheer beauty of rare items—like the circa-1905 spirit-fired, steam-pow­ered bat­tle­ship made by Märklin that took £57,000 at Spe­cial Auc­tion Ser­vices in 2013—are just the sort of thing [col­lec­tors] will fight over. They had sold an­other the pre­vi­ous April for £76,000.”

For those who like their in­vest­ments softer and cud­dlier—but still ca­pa­ble of making a killing in the auc­tion room—the hum­ble teddy bear has been cen­tral to toy-based port­fo­lios for decades. Spear­head­ing the push for plush for 135 years is Mar­garete Steiff, a Ger­man com­pany renowned the world over for its high-qual­ity prod­ucts and the famed but­ton in the ear of its plush toys, spe­cially de­signed to help buy­ers spot a fake from across a crowded play­ground.

Some of the com­pany’s most valu­able bears started out as much-loved friends and sleep­ing aids, says Steiff man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Daniel Barth. “At some point, when child­hood ends, the plush com­pan­ions with the sweet but­ton eyes are of­ten dis­re­garded. They end up in boxes, in the at­tic or in the base­ment, where they stay for decades. How­ever, when the for­got­ten com­pan­ions are re­dis­cov­ered, many of them get a sec­ond chance in the show­case of a col­lec­tor. A lot of old stuffed an­i­mals are rare and have gar­nered a cult fol­low­ing.”

Par­tic­u­larly rare pieces can be worth thou­sands of eu­ros. In 2002, a Happy Teddy Bear made by Steiff in 1962 set a new record, sell­ing for a whop­ping ¤156,240 at auc­tion.

So what should to­day’s teddy bear hun­ters look out for? “The Steiff an­i­mals that date back to be­fore 1970 are the most prof­itable,” ex­plains Barth. “A good and well-kept con­di­tion leads to an in­crease in value. The older and more in­tact the teddy bear is, the greater the chance of a high re­turn. Other valu­able at­tributes are if the an­i­mal was avail­able for only a lim­ited num­ber of pieces—and the Steiff an­i­mals’ fa­mous but­ton in the ear should still be in­tact, too.”

How­ever bliss­fully sur­rounded by fluffy bears, tin­plate trains and Princess Leia, col­lec­tors need to re­mem­ber to steer clear of the dark side and keep their ob­ses­sions in check, warn ex­perts.

Pro­fes­sor Cathy Carey of Western Ken­tucky Univer­sity—an econ­o­mist, aca­demic, writer and ac­tion-fig­ure col­lec­tor her­self—told spe­cial­ist web­site Doc­tor­who­toys.net: “It be­comes prob­lem­atic if in­di­vid­u­als be­gin sac­ri­fic­ing other val­ues in life for the sake of the col­lec­tion. Th­ese prob­lems will vary in in­ten­sity with dif­fer­ent col­lec­tors. Some col­lec­tors may be viewed as ec­cen­tric based on their col­lec­tions—and they will of­ten view this as a badge of hon­our.”

“WHEN CHILD­HOOD ENDS, THE PLUSH COM­PAN­IONS WITH THE SWEET BUT­TON EYES ARE OF­TEN DIS­RE­GARDED. THEY END UP IN BOXES IN THE AT­TIC... WHERE THEY STAY FOR DECADES”

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