Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 1998

Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and A Closet  (1998)

Since 1987 I have shopped in late November and early December for toys that I believe have long-term collecting potential, bought them, and stashed them away in a closet.  In reality my closet is the basement library in the former Vera Cruz Elementary School that now serves as my office.  When I first started this project, my annual shopping budget was $200.  I raised it in the early 1990s to $250, an adjustment necessitated by inflation.

My goal is to continue the buying process until the year 2017.  At that point, I will begin comparing the current secondary market values of the toys I bought thirty years earlier with their initial purchase.  If I am a good prognosticator, the final value of my picks will be substantially higher than what I would have realized had I put my $250 into a savings account or invested it in government bonds.  This year’s toy buys will be the subject of a column in 2028.  If I am not around to write it, hopefully someone will.

Given the negative media coverage about the lack of any true blockbuster toys this holiday season and my failure to spend my full 1997 budget (more about this later), I was quite lackadaisical regarding this year’s buying spree.  In fact, I kept putting it off and putting it off.  The Wednesday after Thanksgiving (December 2), my wife said she had the evening free and wanted to accompany me on my shopping spree.  I had tentatively planned to shop the weekend of December 5-6, the last possible moment, but thought what the heck.

The shopping went surprisingly well.  I spent the full $250, leaving plenty behind that would have found its way into the closet had I had the funds.  I played Mr. Scrooge far more this year than in previous years.  The vast majority of my purchases were discounted merchandise.  My Pennsylvania German thriftiness prevailed.  At one point, I resolved to buy nothing at list price.  I eventually yielded on three items.  Three out of twenty-eight is not bad.

As in “previous” closet columns, I am going to describe the reasoning behind each of my toy purchases.  The primary purpose is to remind myself thirty years from now why I bought what I did.  This project is as much about collecting philosophy as it is financial reward.

The toy industry is biding its time until the 1999 Spring arrival of the new wave of Star War toys.  The industry has a lot riding on the success of these toys.  It needs a strong positive boost.  Sales in many toy categories are down.  Toys ‘R Us’ financial woes have impacted negatively on every major manufacturer, especially Mattel and Hasbro.  Once the darling of the industry and slated to turn forty in 1999, Barbie is not the mega hit she used to be.  Rumors of troubles in Barbie’s house are rampant.

The recent re-release of the Star War’s trilogy made me a believer in The Force.  My purchase of Harry Junior’s Star Wars collection did not hurt either.  Imagine my delight and surprise when I unearthed a wealth of discounted Star War toys at K*B Toys and Toys ‘R Us.  Enhancing my Star Wars collection are Puzz 3D’s Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer ($14.99, discounted from $39.00), Kenner’s Star Wars The Power of the Force Wonder World ($7.99, discounted from $26.99), RoseArts’ Star Wars Trilogy Light-Up Drawing Desk ($5.97), and Milton Bradley’s Star Wars Millennium Falcon Blaster Space Shooter Target Games ($9.98).
Toys ‘R Us now uses a “New Lower Price” sticker that no longer lists the full retail price.  Assume most discounts are close to fifty percent or more.

The Wonder World set consists of a plastic tank to which water and gel powder is added.  The user creates suspended animation battle scenes by inserting various model fighters and other objects into the gel.  I do not expect many of these to be around in thirty years, let alone five.  Connie bought one of the Space Shooter Target games for Antonio.  I am a firm believer in giving grandchildren toys and games that create major mayhem in their parents’ homes.  This is a winner.

Having read that Walmart is challenging Toys ‘R Us for leadership role in toy sales, I made it a point to stop at the local Walmart.  Like Toys ‘R Us, it only lists its discount price on its stickers.  Unless one has done extensive comparison shopping, it is difficult to know which toys at Walmart are bargains and which are not.  Since my Walmart visit occurred at the beginning of my shopping spree, I only bought one item, Kenner’s Episode I, Sneak Preview Star Wars Power of the Force Strap and Battle Droid with firing laser missiles.  I paid $14.96, which I assume is close to full price.

I am reluctant to add regional issues to my closet.  There are no Dayton-Hudson Santa Bears in my closet, nor do I think there ever will be.  Hess trucks are the major exception.  I do not add one automatically, only when I feel the current issue is a great one.  Hess’ 1998 Recreation Van with Dune Buggy and Motorcycle fits the bill -- three great toys in one.  My second full price toy cost $16.99.

I also saved the plastic carrying bag which has a great picture of the toy on it.  I bought several trucks for my good friend Norman Martinus.  I though briefly about adding his bags as well to my collection.  Lucky for him, he is such a good friend.  The plastic bags are his.

Vehicles and action figures are the two major 1980s and 1990s toy collecting categories.  The Hess Recreation Van is the only “true” vehicle to make this year’s closet.  Matchbox, Hot Wheels, and other diecast vehicles were shut out.  The $0.99 price on dozens of Matchbox vehicles was tempting, but I was not able to find the full complement of cars in a specific series on the sales racks.  Buying a few examples just to include some diecast was insufficient reason to acquire them.

Discounted action figures, the past seasons’ failures from Dragon Knights to Lost in Space, were available in abundance.  I decided to acquire only those for which I could find a full set, were movie related, and/or had strong crossover potential.  The $18.85 ($3.97 each) for Playmate’s five Antz figures (Princess Bala, Colonel Cutter, General Mandible, Weaver, and Z) fit the first two criteria.  I suspect having just seen Antz influenced my judgment somewhat.  A close look at the licensed A Bug’s Life toy selection also helped me decide in Antz’s favor.

I bought McFarlane Toys’ Kiss Pyscho Circus Paul Stanley / The Jester at K*B Toys for $12.99 (discounted from $14.99).  While not a KISS fan, I think it a music group with long-term collectibility.  I wanted to add a KISS item to the closet for several years and felt good that I have.

Fortunately, I did not buy the rest of the KISS series at K*B Toys.  This year I noticed that K*B was only offering small discounts on many toys.  Since K*B had always offered the best discounts in the past, I cast aside suspicions that something was wrong and paid the $12.99.  I was not thrilled a half hour later when I found the same toy at Walmart for $10.99.  Walmart also had the other three toys in the series, but I opted not to buy them.  I did acquired two of the three missing examples (Ace Frehley / The Stiltman and Peter Criss / The Animal Wrangler) at Toys ‘R Us for $9.99 each.  This is the first time K*B let me down.  Failing to comparison shop cost me $3.00.  Live and learn.  I hope to pick up Gene Simons/Ring Master at a good after-Christmas price.

Last year I began acquiring richly endowed female action figures.  Someday I would like to meet the wives of the designers of these toys.  I would love to know if they live in a world of fantasy or reality.  This year’s additions are big women, Toy Island’s 10” tall Jade from the Mortal Kombat Trilogy ($5.99, discounted from $9.99) and Toy Biz’s 10” tall Storm from Marvel Universe ($5.99, discounted from $11.99).

This year’s shopping spree further confirmed the dominance of movie over television licensing in the toy industry.  I was surprised at what I did not find, deep discounts of Godzilla and Small Soldier toys.  Both groups of toys experienced only modest sales.  There is not as much year around buying of this type of toy as the toy industry wishes.  All three stores I visited still had them at full retail.  They have to be counting on desperate last minute shopping parents because few collectors will pay full price.

I did pay $3.99 for Colorforms Godzilla Adventure Set.  I bought it more as a Colorform collectible than a Godzilla or monster collectible.  Colorforms have great collecting potential.  My principal problem is finding complete sets.  Most examples for sale in the field have pieces missing.  I prefer to buy new and stash.

Several other movie licensed items made it into the closet.  While not convinced that store exclusives will prove a future value added feature, I do believe strongly in the staying power of Batman.  I succumbed temptation and bought K*B Toys’ exclusive Batman & Robin Remote Control Batmobile for $17.49 (discounted from $24.99).  Display quality is a value added feature; and, bigger can be better.  K*B Toys’ exclusive limited edition of 25,000 (trust me, there is nothing limited about 25,000) Aliens vs. Corp. Hicks features 12” action figures and has great displayability.  It cost $19.99 (discounted from $39.99).

Time has also proven the staying power of the James Bond movie series, although for me Sean Connery is the only James Bond.  Toys ‘R Us was selling Exclusive Toys’ three Tomorrow Never Dies action figures (James Bond, Elliot Carver, and Wai Lin) for $3.00 each (discounted from $9.99).  I bought them because they were Bond, not because the faces and bodies of the figures even remotely resembled the individuals who portrayed them.

After seeing the high quality, life-like facial sculpturing for Mattel’s new personality dolls, e.g., Lucille Ball and Audrey Hepburn, at the 1998 New York Toy Fair last February, I was afraid that I would have trouble accepting character dolls that did not meet these standards.  Alas, I was right.  The absence of Xena and Hercules collectibles represents a major gap in my closet.  When I saw a discounted Exclusive Toys’ Xena doll on the discount shelf at Toys ‘R Us, I was elated, albeit only momentarily.  Upon close inspection, the doll looked nothing like Lucy Lawless with her manly facial features and muscular thighs.  Even the most ardent Xena fan would be unable to pick this doll out of a lineup.  I put it back.  I also rejected George Burns and several other personality dolls.

I did not reject every personality doll I encountered.  Creation Entertainment’s Drew Carey doll at $17.99 (discounted from $21.99) and Starting Lineup’s 97 Timeless Legends’ Muhammad Ali action figure (I do not want to insult Ali by calling him a doll) at $14.98 (discounted from $29.99) were my two choices.  The Carey doll rates a D- for facial accuracy but the packaging is great.  I rejected the Mimi Bobeck doll as too grotesque.  I bought the
Muhammed Ali figure because I wanted to add a Starting Lineup item to the closet.  It was a close call between Ali and a Hank Aaron/Atlanta Stadium set.  My mental bell rang for Ali.

While I did not see the movie Mulan, largely the result of my disappointment with Disney’s cartoon releases over the past three years, I am smart enough to hedge my bets when it comes to the long-term collectibility of anything Disney, especially when I can buy at discount.  Mattel’s fashion dolls for Mulan at $5.00 and Captain Li Shang at $10.00 are now in my closet.  Each was marked down fifty percent.  I also bought Mattel’s Mulan Matchin’ Fashion Puzzle Game for $7.00.  If it does not make it as a Disney collectible, perhaps it will as a peripheral puzzle collectible.

Barbie items occupy a large amount of space in my closet, perhaps too much.  Last year I resolved to add very selectively in the future.  My first choice was the new Barbie digital camera which I simply fell in love with at Toy Fair.  Alas, it was sold out everywhere I went.  Since it is not a seasonal item, I will pick one up next spring.  The Barbie that did make this year’s closet was Becky in her wheelchair at $12.99 (discounted from $19.99).  Given the large number of politically incorrect women action figures in my collection, I should have at least one that was representative of 1990s political correctness.

Mattel is offering a $50 U. S. Savings Bond with every $100 purchase of Barbie products.  The hook is that the total must be from one retail store on one receipt.  There is no requirement that the purchases had to be at full retail.

In last year’s column, I wrote: “Mattel’s 30th Anniversary Collection Edition Barbie & Ken Star Trek Gift Set, #150076, at $75 was my lead purchase in 1996.  Beginning in early 1997, I saw the set discounted to $35 or less at dozens of toy outlets.  I still see it, and it galls me every time I do.”  Talk about fate.  As I entered Toys ‘R Us, there was the Barbie & Ken Star Trek Gift Set for $10.00.  I was tempted to buy ten and send in the Savings Bond certificate to Mattel.  I should have.  When I returend two days later determined to buy ten, Toys ‘R Us was sold out.  I did buy one $10 set during my shopping spree, so now my average cost for the two is $42.50.

The Barbie & Ken Star Trek Gift Set was only one of more than a dozen Barbie items Toys ‘R Us was offering at deep discount, e.g., Dr. Barbie for $10 and Barbie as Cruella de Ville for $40.  Only a few dregs remained when I returned two days later.  Hopefully, these discounted Barbies will make children happy on Christmas morning and have not wound up in toy scalpers’ hands.

I spent a total of $250.14, not counting the $10 for the Barbie and Ken Star Trek Gift set which I subtracted from the leftover moneys from my 1997 shopping spree.  While not wildly enthusiastic, I am quite satisfied with this year’s purchases.

As I did in last year’s column, I want to discuss some things that did not make this year’s closet.  For the second year in a row, there are no fast food collectibles.  I did acquire two of the four Burger King Rugrat watches.  I left them out because they are too similar in design to past watch issues.

There is nothing from any mail order catalog.  As always, the FAO Schwarz catalog was loaded with temptations.  The principal problem is that these temptations started at $80 and ran into the hundreds.

There also is nothing from the movies Babe and A Bug’s Life.  Given the poor box office performance of Babe, my exclusion made a great deal of sense.  I opted for the Antz action figures because I thought they had more personality than the characters from A Bug’s Life.

Finally, each year I resolve to add at least one radio control car to my closet.  Each year I never have enough money left.  Next year I am going to begin my purchases with one or more of these vehicles.  They have one of the highest display factors of any group of toys in the current toy market.

back to top back to columns page