DRIVING A HARD BARGAIN: Toy Cars as Collectibles

by Eric G. Anderson, MD

The following article was publised in the September 1997 issue of "Physician's Money Digest" (pages 46 -47). Since this digest is limited to Medical field only, collectors may have missed it. Another reason for posting this article is because "yours truly, i.e., Shabbir" was interviewed for this articles besides with a couple of other collectors including Dana Johnson & Frank Carnahan. This article is reproduced here with permission from the Author (Dr. Eric G. Anderson). Dr. Anderson can be reached via email at: anderson@sandiego-online.com I would like to Thank Dr. Anderson for giving me the permission to reproduce this article for the Matchbox community. Now enjoy the article.

Outside, grubby little hands push battered old cars through the dirt. "Stirling Moss is driving this one!" says a small voice. "He was the best driver in the world even though he never won the Championship." "Baloney!" says another voice, "A.J. Foyt was better and here he comes now. Vroom!"

Inside, a father smiles. He is poring over a catalog because he knows that toy cars are no longer kids' stff. He reads: FOR SALE: Military Staff Car, 1976, $200. Custom Mustang, open hood scoops, unique, valuable car, $100. Canadian Pontiac J-2000, 1984, original green paint, $75.

Sticker shock at those prices? Maybe. These are the prices of toy cars which, new, probably went for 99 cents. Does that mean they're good investments? No, say enthusiasts who collect them, just a fun pursuit. Collect what you enjoy because you may end up stuck with it all, unable to sell.

That doesn't worry most toy car collectors, many of whom aren't thinking about selling anyway.

Shabbir Malik, for example, started collecting in 1974 but became more enthusiastic in 1993. His collection has grown from 715 Matchbox cars to over 5,400 pieces. "I don't know what my collection would be worth if I sold it today," he says. "I've spent over $40,000 so far. Some pieces are really expensive and rare. I'm not even sure if anyone could afford to buy the entire collection at once. Some models, which cost as little as $5 a few years ago, I've had a couple of offers on for $200 each. I really don't want to sell because to me there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of collecting Matchbox cars."

Malik, an administrator at New York University, pops into toy stores looking for new items almost every weekend. He's learned the ultimate Matchbox lesson: buy the model when it first comes out. Otherwise, you end up paying fellow collectors a lot more than the original store price. Furthermore, says Malik, stick to one brand -- don't try collecting everything, because no one has the resources and attempts to do so only make you lose interest.

Dana Johnson, in Bend, Oregon, has a similar interest in Matchbox toy cars; he started collecting in 1962 at age 7. He has written several books on the subject and produces a monthly newsletter for his club, the Diecast Toy Collectors Association (Dana Johnson Enterprises, P.O. Box 1824, Bend OR 97709-1824)

He suggests beginners start collecting at retail chains, such as K-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, or Walmart, since they are the primary sources for many current models. "But much of the collectors market is supported," says Johnson, "by those persons and dealers who buy selected models in smaller quantitites, often from wholesale and retail sources but perhaps just as often from private individuals and estate auctions. Because they purchase whole private collections, they usually try to buy well below book value. They then resell to individual collectors, usually by mail order."

Johnson advises beginners to preserve the original package because it increases the item's value, some say up to 40%. "My solution," he says, "is to buy two or more copies of each model, one to take out of the package for display and handling, and the rest to leave in the package for investment and potential resale. With inexpensive models, it's the best compromise."

The more expensive models don't come in bubble packages; instead, the boxes usually can be opened, closed and reopened, and the contents ejoyed.

Whether the original parts are still included and still attached to the plastic tree in the package are critical factors in determining value. Condition is very important. Frank Carnahan, a Springfield, Missouri, attorney and long-time collector, notes: "Most models have a samll chip, box rub, or other blemish, making them less than mint and typically lowering value tremendousley. A car that might go for $100 in mint condition may sell for only $10 in even moderately played-with condition. However, some models in less than mint condition may bring the price [nearer to that of] a mint piece if they are rare."

What makes one toy car more valuable than another is the same for any collectible: scarcity and condition. Some models have universal appeal, such as Corgi, Dinky, HotWheels, Lledo, Matchbox, Solido, Tomica, Majorette, Siku, or Tootsietoys. Others, like Racing Champion and Quartzo, might be enjoyed only by enthusiasts interested in special editions of racing collectibles or miniature vintage nonracing cars.

The type of construction is also relevant. Is it all-metal, or is a large component plastic or other material? A few of the early toys were made of flour-based paste and are valuable, says Johnson, if they're still in mint or near-mint condition -- an unlikey event because they tended to crumble or discolor with age and handling.

Some resin and cast-iron toys have historical interest (hence value) as do all of the lead alloy toy cars of the 1930s and 1940s that were taken off the market due to safety concerns for children.

FYI -- your best bet for finding buyers and sellers is Toy Shop magazine, 700 E. State Street, Iola, WI 54990. Phone: 800-258-0929

G Book

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