ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #2003/Bonus
Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and A Closet (2003)
It is the end of September, and I have completed the shopping for this year’s “Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars And A Closet” column. I am in shock, a total state of disbelief. Last year I waited until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to do my shopping. In the past, I considered myself lucky when I finished the shopping by November 15 and had the column written by Thanksgiving.
Who kicked me in the pants and got me moving? The answer will surprise you – eBay. Two months ago, eBay approached me with a proposal to assist me in a nationwide promotion for this year’s “Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars And A Closet.” They had heard about my closet full of toys. While my pile of hundreds of toys hardly compares to the 16 million items found on eBay at any given time, I was honored. Of course, I said yes immediately.
If viewed as a horse race, this year’s column is positioned a little more than halfway down the backstretch. An explanation is in order for those unfamiliar with my “Two and Fifty Dollars And A Closest” project.
In 1987 I began a thirty-year project to purchase a set amount of new toys each year and put them away in a closet. Besides the shear joy of buying toys, the project had a twofold purpose: (1) to see if I was a good prognosticator of what toys would be collectible thirty years into the future and (2) to see if the secondary market value of my toys would exceed the gains I would have made if I had invested the money in certificates of deposit or bonds.
In 2017, I will open the closet and revisit the toys I bought in 1987. In the interim, I just keep buying. After seventeen years, a traditional closet is far too small to hold the toys I have acquired. My closet is actually a large storage room in the basement of the former Vera Cruz (Pennsylvania) elementary school which serves as my home and office. This room is a treasure trove of childhood memories for children who grew up in the late 1980s, 1990s, and the first years of the 21st Century.
For the first five years, 1987 to 1991, I only spent two hundred dollars each year. Starting in 1992, I increased the amount to two hundred and fifty dollars. For ten years, I kept my purchases within the two hundred and fifty dollar limit. In last year’s column, I said I was going to sweeten the pot by another twenty-five dollars. Was this necessary? Read on.
I stretched my budget by buying discounted toys, either old stock that had been reduced or new toys on sale. When hunting discounted toys, Toys R Us and K*B Toys are my two favorite haunts. Last year, I bought most of my discounted toys at K*B Toys. This year I found the bulk of my bargains at Toys R Us. Kudos to Toys R Us for returning to the concept of multiple “Clearance Toys” sections throughout the store.
Toys are for kids. As a sixty-two year old adult, how can I be trusted to predict what today’s children will be collecting in 2032? My answer is simple. I have never grown up. I not only am a kid at heart, I am a kid. I refuse to accept any birthday or Christmas gift that is not a toy.
Of course, I am old and wise enough to know to cover my bases. As a result, I often take another adult with similar feelings or a youngster along shopping with me. This year, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, a Disney, Dream Works, and Barbie devotee, Robert Kahn, and Anna Kahn, their seven-year-old daughter and my honorary niece, accompanied me on my toy buying spree.
Collecting is memory driven. When Anna is an adult, her childhood memories will be among the first things she collects. Further, I have to thank Anna for providing the all important female perspective. Choices made during previous years have a heavy male toy bias. In fairness to Anna, I have to tell you that she is as passionate about Star Wars and Superman as she is about Finding Nemo and other Disney collectibles.
I also need to thank Jane for reminding me over and over again to consider the “play factor” of the toys and games that I purchased. Jane’s theory is simple. A toy has no long-term collectibility if it is not easy to play with. I agree.
I have set the stage and kept you in suspense long enough. Time to talk about the toys I added to my closet this holiday season.
As stated earlier, I spent the majority of my money on discounted toys. In fact, I bought toys that initially retailed for $600.56 for a grand total of $191.39. I feel I did exceptionally well. Hopefully, time will prove me correct.
For the past five years, I told myself as I began my toy shopping, “I have enough Star Wars toys in my closet. I do not need any more. I will spend my money on something else.” I have yet to heed my advice. This year was no exception. I added a Lego Star Wars Tusken Raider Encounter (#7113) to the closet for $3.98 (discounted from $7.98). “Count the figures,” Jane kept telling me, “The more figures the better.” This set has three figures and ninety pieces. While there is no way I am ever going to own all the Star Wars action figures, I felt Hasbro’s Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Zam Wesall 12” high action figure with a reveal face feature, blaster, and rifle was a bargain at $9.99 (discounted from $21.99).
I love games. I bought Milton Bradley’s Star Wars Jedi Unleashed Game—The Battle on Genosis for $2.99 (discounted from $9.99). The game consists of a game board, 18 Jedi cards, 3 dice and labels, 74 pawns and stands, and instructions. My theory is simple—the more pieces to a game, the more likely one or more will be lost when the game is opened and played. Since I do not play with my games, my games are complete. Even today, a toy or game has to be complete to sell at maximum value on the secondary market. Milton Bradley’s Star Wars Epic Duels Game, $9.99 (discounted from $19.99), features even more pieces—31 painted figures, four battle scenes (2 double-sided gameboards), 12 character cards, 28 wound markers, 378 cards, 1 die, label sheet, and instructions.
When George Lucas re-released the first three Star Wars movies, I became a Star Wars convert. Previously, I believed it was far wiser to invest in Star Trek memorabilia than Star Wars collectibles. I stopped buying Star Trek items for my closet. Influencing my decision was that I simply could not identify with Star Trek Enterprises, the new television series. I remain convinced Star Wars collectibles have far more long-term collectibility than Star Trek memorabilia.
However, standing in front of the action figure section at K*B Toys, I noticed that Star Trek Enterprises action figures were discounted from $7.99 to $4.99. Always one to hedge my bets, I decided to buy four of the figures for a total of $19.96. There were figures from two sets, Away Team and Broken Bow. I selected a Captain Jonathan Archer and Sub-Commander T-Pol from each series. Although I had the opportunity to buy Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Ensign Travis Mayweather, Hlaang the Klingon, and Silik the Sublian figures, I decided to stick to the two principal characters. I fully realize that this may be a mistake since the Hlaang and Silik figures probably will be harder to find in the future because they were made in smaller numbers. The old adage “you pay your money and you take your chances” applies.
I was attracted to the Star Trek Enterprises action figures for two reasons. First, I found the packaging appealing. The space door motif has great displayability. Most blister packaging is very basic. Second, the figures came with four or more accessories, again, something likely to be lost in play.
I have read all the Harry Potter books and seen both Harry Potter movies. As each appears, I become a bigger and bigger Harry Potter fan. I expect the Harry Potter phenomenon to last more than a decade, more than ample time to hook a generation of youngsters. Lego entered the licensing game several years ago. Its decision was a wise one. Lego’s #4701, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Sorting Hat at $3.98 (discounted from $8.99) and #4705, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Snape’s Class at $9.98 (discounted from $19.99) joined the closet. Yes, Jane, I know the Sorting Hat has only one figure and Snape’s Class two, but the price was too good to pass up. However, I did follow your playability advice when I bought Mattel’s #43368 Harry Pottery Whomping Willow Game for $9.98 (discounted from $30.99). The game features nine sounds and motorized tree-twisting action, one willow housing, 18 filler branches, 12 luggage pieces, 4 flying cars, and 4 rescue rods. Few of these games are going to survive intact.
Jane encouraged me to consider adding several Galidor: Defenders of the Outer Dimension items to my closet, especially because of the heavy discounts. The television show premiered in the United States in February 2002. The show received a lukewarm reception. I am betting it will be a cult favorite in 2032. Lego received the toy licensing rights.
Into my closet went Lego #8315 TDN Module for $6.98 (discounted from $34.90). The module is large, which means it will display well, and the box has super graphics.
In the past, I did not buy action figures unless I could find the full set. Today, I am much more open-minded. Buy a representative group. If I feel compelled to complete it, I can do so on eBay.
While a little hesitant at first to jump on line to acquire relatively “new” toys, I started buying action figures on eBay a few years ago to complete some of the partial sets in my closet. I was pleased to learn that I could acquire many of the figures below initial retail cost. With over 760,000 toys on eBay daily, I was able to acquire most of the toys I sought at a price I was willing to pay within a week to a month of my initial search.
Five Galidor action figures are in my closet--#8313 Deluxe Nick (Nicholas Bluetooth) and #8314 Deluxe Gorm, priced at $2.98 each (discounted from $15.99 each) and #8310 Nick, #8311 Gorm, and #8317 Allegra, priced at $1.98 each (discounted from $11.99 each).
When I find toys at deep discounts, I often will take a risk. I like Japanese science fiction. I am not alone. Japanese science fiction characters are unique. To my delight, I found a large selection of 1/72 scale Zoids heavily discounted at K*B Toys. Hasbro’s Pteramander Action Figure Model Kit featured a figure with motorized flapping wings, walking action, moving battle tail, and jaw-chomping action, a steal at $9.99 (discounted from $29.99). Hasbro’s #003 Barigator, #018 Sicurtis, and #061 Killerdome were easy buys at $1.99 each (discounted from $9.99 each). Further, if you bought four toys, you received a fifth one free. I selected Mosasledge from the Z-Builders set. There are four toys in this series which become the Matrix dragon. I did not buy the other three. On second thought, perhaps I should have.
When you travel as much as I do, you see a great many in-flight movies. On one of my trips abroad, I watched Spy Kids II. While I was not impressed, I am smart enough to know that kids really love the Spy Kids movies. At Anna Kahn’s suggestion, I added several Spy Kids II items to my closet. Play Along’s Spy Kids OSS, NRX Super Guppy with real working lights, fully operational top hatch, swivel seats and control panels, sounds and phrases from the movie, retractable front window screen, pull-back motor, and a Carmen Cortez figure cost $7.98 (reduced from $15.99). I also purchased five Play Along Spy Kids OSS, Level 1 action figures—Carmen Cortez and Magna Man, Juni Cortez and Gerti Giggles, Gregorio Cortez and Donnagon, Carmen Cortez and Gary Giggles, and Juni Cortez and Thumb Thumb—for $2.98 each (reduced from $7.99 each), a total of $14.90. Ann reminded me to “get the Carmen figures. She is the most important kid in the second movie.”
I like to add several comic, movie, or television toys to the closet each year. This year there are three new additions: (1) Hasbro’s Disney, Lilo & Stitch Experiment 626 at $7.99 (reduced from $24.99); (2) Pressman’s Cartoon Network Scooby-Doo! Where Are You!? Electronic Game at $4.99 (reduced from $14.99); and, (3) Wildstrom action figure, Series 1, Gen13, Fairchild with a limited edition chromium comic book inside at $9.99 (reduced from $29.99). I debated about the Stitch figure, but bought it when I read that it “says alien phrases and gross out sounds, oozes Stitch’s alien slop.” Who could resist? Fairchild joins my closet collection of overly-endowed female action figures. Little wonder that little boys like playing with them.
This was a good year for bargain toys. I bought Milton Bradley’s GI Joe Commando Attack 3-D Gameboard for $9.99 (reduced from $19.99) largely because of the three-dimensional playing field. However, my best bargains occurred in the traditional toy sector. Jane came running over to me with a Barbie, a toy that takes up a large portion of my closet and one to which I added reluctantly. “Here’s Mattel’s Coca-Cola Barbie reduced from $59.99 to $19.97,” Jane exclaimed. Given the crossover market for Coca-Cola collections, I was not going to argue. Several years ago, I touted the Barbie digital camera as a great way to buy a digital camera cheaply. I found a better way. For $9.90 (reduced from $69.99), I bought Everyone’s World Wrestling Federation Slam Cam Digital Camera and CD-Rom Software. Do not ever tell me that going digital is expensive.
Technically, my bargain shopping ends here. However, I am going to credit my closet account with $9.89 and not the $19.98 I spent on Starpoint’s Hulk Ultimate Mega Set with a theme book, sharpener, ruler box, pencil pouch, two molded stampers, eight glow-in-the-dark erasers, tape dispenser, three sticker sheets, memo pad, three #2 pencils, and dangle chain. I took it off a sale shelf that said $9.89. However, when I returned home from Toys R Us, I noticed on the slip that I was charged $19.98. I was so excited with my purchases, I did not pay attention at the checkout counter. I know that I could have taken it back and received credit, but I decided I had better things to do with my time. Live and learn!
Now to the toys I bought at full price, or I thought were full priced. The ability to comparison shop is one of the wonderful opportunities afforded by eBay. During my toy store visits, I made note of the “full” price toys but did not buy them. When I returned home, I went on eBay. First, I had no trouble finding equivalent prices for all the toys from numerous sellers on eBay. Second, I found that the toy prices were actually discount prices without being stated as such. For example, two Hulk toys I eventually bought for $17.99 each actually initially retailed at over $30.00. My thanks to eBay for making me feel so good about what I bought.
With approximately fifty dollars left, I limited myself to four additional items. I bought two more games, Milton Bradley’s Finding Nemo Game for $9.99 and Lizzie McGuire’s Game for $14.99. Having seen Finding Nemo, I am convinced it will become a Disney classic, not something one can say for some of Disney’s recent cartoon features. I am concerned about the Lizzie McGuire game, but acquired it because it was personality related. I would have preferred to find a Lizzie McGuire doll.
Each year I try to buy one or two toys that have low parent tolerance, i.e, the parents are likely to store or discard them within twenty-four hours after their children start to play with them. This year I added Toy Biz’s Hulk Voice Changing Mask for $17.99 and Toy Biz’s Hulk Hands for $17.99. The Hulk movie was a flop. I am counting on the comic book and cult television collectors to drive future interest in anything Hulk.
The grand total of my purchases was $262.33. I thought about taking out a $10.00 to $12.00 toy to bring the total closer to $250.00. My problem was simple. After reviewing the list, I could not decide what to delete. So, like any true collector, I opted for keeping them all.
I want to end this year’s “$250 And A Closet” column by talking about a few toys I did not buy. I stood for over fifteen minutes in front of the Bratz doll section at both K*B Toys and Toys R Us debating whether or not to buy one or two of the dolls. I talked with half a dozen mothers who were eagerly buying the dolls for their children. Finally, I decided that I wanted to see more longevity for the doll before adding one to my closet.
Several old toy favorites are making a comeback this holiday season. I was and still am a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have plenty of their toys in my closet. In fact, I have enough. I have never been a fan of My Little Pony. I am certain it has a great deal to do with my being male. I seriously looked at the new product line. I am afraid my prejudices remain. However, in fairness, it is worth noting that there is an active secondary market for the earlier My Little Pony material.
The column is written. But, Christmas is still close to three months away. How am I going to resist taking advantage of discount toy offerings between now and December 25? The truth is that I am not. The shopping for my 2004 “$250 And A Closet” begins November 28, 2003, Black Friday.
POSTSCRIPT: As this column approaches its twentieth-year, I am asked more and more frequently: “Why wait to tell us how you are doing?” The answer is that I simply did not have time to do the research. Well, thanks again to eBay, the research is not time consuming. Hence, I am adding a new feature this year. Listed below are five toys currently housed in my closet. As in life, there are winners and losers. Here is how things stand at the moment.
I am not giving up on the Barbie and Ken Star Trek Gift set. Only seven years have passed. There are another twenty-three to go before I have to report officially on the set’s secondary market price.