From traditional teddy bears to matchbox vehicles and model railways, the vintage toys of yesteryear are every bit as enchanting today as they were when we were young.
The nostalgia surrounding toys is so strong that almost two out of five adults still own their childhood toys, according to research from TSB Home Insurance. As well as a sentimental attachment there can be a financial attraction too, with sought-after pieces regularly fetching high prices at auction, especially items in mint condition and in their original packaging.
Frequently collectors will simply seek out the toys they loved as a child and traditional die-cast British model vehicles – such as Corgi and Dinky toys – regularly attract international interest: a Dinky No.934 Leyland Octopus Diesel Wagon recently sold for £2,200. Similarly, model railway maker Hornby has been a favourite among collectors ever since the first model was produced in 1920, with some examples from the 1930s fetching over £3,000.
In an era dominated by technology, it would be reasonable to expect that digitally-driven toys have affected the popularity of traditional items, but the death knell isn’t tolling for vintage toys just yet – especially in the world of teddy bears. “Despite a world of more complex toys and video games, the teddy bear is still around,” says Marilyn Miller of The Old Bear Company.
“Almost everyone has owned a teddy bear at some time and they serve as a reminder that qualities like companionship and imagination truly are timeless.”
Ever since the first bear was produced in the early 1900s, values have fluctuated, especially with the increasing popularity of buying off the internet. Marilyn says: “This means that the rarer bears have a bigger market audience and the values have risen, whereas the more prevalent bears – such as 1950s/60s British bears – have dropped greatly in value as they are more easily sourced. Early robust Steiff bears from Germany, originating from 1905, are the crème de la crème of the bear market today.”
Bear collecting took off as a hobby in the 1960s and there was a resurgence of interest in the 1980s, Marilyn adds. “Many auction houses devoted sales entirely to these cuddly bruins, museums were established, teddy bear festivals were – and still are – a regular occurrence and teddies continue in popularity amongst collectors worldwide.”
As with all antiques, value is based on rarity, condition and provenance – such as a photo of an original owner holding the bear or a letter documenting the history. “An early Steiff bear called Teddy Girl set a new world record when she sold for £110,000 at Christies in 1994. She was the life-long companion of the late Colonel Bob Henderson, who devoted his life to collecting bears, and Teddy Girl’s richly documented history was responsible for such a price.”
Vintage toys don’t just have a sentimental value: recently there’s been a renewed interest in traditional toys as objets de art. Doll’s houses – particularly those crafted in the first half of the 19th century – are sought-after and a painted English wooden doll’s house and contents, circa 1848, sold for £9,375 at Bonhams.
Whether you’re seeking investment or simply looking to conjure up nostalgic feelings, letting your inner-child run wild by rediscovering childhood treasures can be an exciting – and rewarding – experience.
“The nostalgia surrounding toys is so strong that almost two out of five adults still own their childhood toys”
ABOVE:Model railway train sets can be worth a lot of moneyBELOW LEFT: Vintage find from The Old Bear Company