Toy scout:

Nos­tal­gic col­lec­tors are a ready mar­ket

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Benny Evan­ge­lista

Vin­tage buyer Joel Magee vis­its the Bay Area to traf­fic in mem­o­ra­bilia from child­hoods past.

Vin­tage toy buyer Joel Magee care­fully ex­am­ined the two dozen boxes of hand-painted minia­ture toy sol­diers, which in the 1950s marched in pre­tend bat­tles across the bed­room floors of chil­dren.

This army had seen bet­ter days, and the lead-based paint and sharp edges are no longer con­sid­ered safe. But Magee knows there are toy col­lec­tors who would pay top dol­lar to re­live child­hood me­mories.

“These are in very good con­di­tion,” Magee told his cus­tomer. “I’d be will­ing to do $700 for these.”

Magee, who bills him­self as “Amer­ica’s Toy Scout,” is in the Bay Area this week as part of a na­tion­wide tour seek­ing to buy an­tique toys and dolls that, like the lead sol­diers, may have been sit­ting in dark at­tics or dank base­ments for decades.

The Fort Laud­erdale, Fla., res­i­dent makes his liv­ing buy­ing vin­tage toys, restor­ing them and sell­ing them to col­lec­tors — toy flip­ping, one might call it. Their mon­e­tary value is tied to the sen­ti­men­tal­ity they in­spire.

“We get a lot of ex­ec­u­tives who I sell to now, and they’re like, ‘You know, I run a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar com­pany, but ... be­ing able to run my train set just takes me back, and my blood pres­sure goes down,’ ” Magee said.

Magee, 55, spe­cial­izes in older toys, comic books and mem­o­ra­bilia from the 1970s and ear­lier, from vin­tage Bar­bie and Madame Alexan­der dolls to Hot Wheels cars and Tonka trucks.

He’s also in the mar­ket for hard-tofind items, like the first set of “Star Wars” ac­tion fig­ures rushed into stores

af­ter the orig­i­nal movie pre­miered. One Chew­bacca doll from that set that he bought for $350 is worth about $425 on the col­lec­tors mar­ket.

Most old toys need restora­tion work to get them back to their for­mer selves. Magee even re­fur­bishes empty toy boxes that have been soiled by mois­ture.

Dur­ing a stop in Sacra­mento on Mon­day, Magee bought a set of “Star Trek” toys from the 1960s, in­clud­ing a plas­tic scale model of the Star­ship En­ter­prise that lay in pieces in a plas­tic bag.

Magee said he will spend from $5,000 to $15,000 per day buy­ing old toys. While in San Bruno and San Fran­cisco this week, he paid $400 for a Bat­mo­bile from the 1960s TV show “Batman.” And he paid $500 for a bat­tery-op­er­ated ro­bot from “Lost in Space,” an­other 1960s TV show that gen­er­ated some of the most pop­u­lar toys.

He also paid $1,100 for a set of 1960s-era Hot Wheels cars that a con­trac­tor found un­der an at­tic floor­board of a San Fran­cisco home he was ren­o­vat­ing.

But some older toys, like scale model rail­roads, are go­ing down in value, Magee said, be­cause they no longer res­onate with gen­er­a­tions who grew up play­ing with video games.

Magee, who wraps up his Bay Area tour at the Hamp­ton Inn in Alameda on Fri­day, said his col­lec­tion, built over 30 years, in­cludes a firste­di­tion 1938 Su­per­man comic book worth about $100,000.

Toy in­dus­try ex­pert Ste­vanne Auer­bach of Berke­ley said Magee is the only vin­tage toy buyer who tours the coun­try. But she ad­vised that any­one who wants to sell to a buyer like Magee, or to ven­dors at a doll and toy show, should first do some re­search.

Like buy­ing and sell­ing a car, “You should know what your toy is worth,” said Auer­bach, known as “Dr. Toy” and au­thor of “100 Years of Iconic Toys,” pub­lished in Novem­ber.

“It’s a busi­ness. He gets them as cheap as he can and sells them for a much big­ger price,” she said. “But he might buy it from you for $10 and it’s worth $1,000.”

Ann, a Daly City res­i­dent who gave only her first name, said she was skep­ti­cal when she came to Magee’s San Bruno stop to sell the toy sol­diers. But she was pleased that the price he of­fered was in line with what she found on­line be­fore­hand.

For her, the tiny army rep­re­sented many child­hood me­mories. Her fa­ther used the finely de­tailed sol­diers to teach her and her broth­ers about his­tory, in­clud­ing why cer­tain sol­diers wore par­tic­u­lar uni­forms.

“We spent years march­ing them across our bed­room floors, and ended up with won­der­ful life ex­pe­ri­ences and his­tory,” she said.

But her broth­ers are no longer in­ter­ested in the sol­diers, which she kept for years camped in their boxes be­cause of “the sto­ries they tell.” How­ever, she said she’s at a point in life when she knew it was time to sell the sol­diers, and she didn’t want them thrown out as garbage.

“I guar­an­tee we’ll be hav­ing these look­ing very nice and go­ing to a very wor­thy col­lec­tor,” Magee told her.

Carol Mur­phy of San Mateo came in with a col­lec­tion of care­fully pre­served sports trad­ing cards, in­clud­ing a 1965 Wil­lie Mays card, and sev­eral “Wiz­ard of Oz” edi­tion Bar­bie and Ken dolls cho­sen by her late son-in-law. Magee bought the set for $500.

“We’re sav­ing a piece of his­tory,” he said.

Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

“Toy Scout” Joel Magee looks over a 1937 cast iron Yel­low Cab from Ar­cade at a stop at Fort Ma­son in San Fran­cisco.

Pho­tos by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

Lee Trusty (left) of San Fran­cisco shows Joel Magee his col­lec­tion of die cast and cast iron toy ve­hi­cles from as far back as the 1920s.

Magee, a vin­tage toy buyer, looks over items at Fort Ma­son in San Fran­cisco.

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