ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #2004/Bonus
Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and A Closet (2004)
Cold weather and snow are the two ingredients required to get me in the Christmas spirit. Fortunately, I encountered both during a November 20th visit to the home of Anja and Elmar Chylka, located in Ziegenhain in Germany’s Westerwald. The rolling hills of the Westerwald were covered with two plus inches of snow. In fact, a light snow was falling as Linda, I, and two colleagues from Kutztown University left the autobahn north of Neuwied and headed inland toward Ziegenhain. The scene would have inspired the Brothers Grimm.
Meanwhile, back in Vera Cruz, Pennsylvania, the weather continues to be relatively mild for this time of the year. Chances of a white Christmas appear slim. Nonetheless, I remain in a good mood because Linda and I are heading back to Germany on December 9 for a quick visit to the Christkindl markets in Annaberg-Buchholz, Nürnberg, and München (Munich). I am certain the weather will be cold and the ground covered with snow.
The fact that I finished my shopping for this season’s “Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and A Closet” column also is responsible for my somewhat festive mood. This is the eighteenth column of the thirty that I plan to write. As I noted last year, I am racing down the backstretch and well past the halfway pole.
Before proceeding, allow me to provide some background for those unfamiliar with my closet project. In 1987 I decided to buy new toys, put them in storage for thirty years, and then revisit my annual purchases to see how well I did predicting what toys would be collectible in the future and whether the value of my toys increased at a greater rate than if I had placed the same amount of money in a bank or other financial investment.
A large storage room in the basement of the former Vera Cruz (Pennsylvania) elementary school, my home and office, serves as my closet. Each year my toy stash grows larger. Last year I realized that in 2017, when I revisit the toys I bought in 1987, my closet will be a treasure trove of three decades of children’s toys mint-in-the-box—a monument to the toys that children grew up with in the late 1980s, 1990s, and first two decades of the 21st Century. While true, it is not yet time to worry about what will happen to all these toys in the future. I have twelve more years of toy buying ahead. Life is great!
Between 1987 and 1991, I limited my annual spending to two hundred dollars each year. In 1992, I increased the amount to two hundred and fifty dollars. I should have increased it several years ago to three hundred dollars, but decided instead to focus on discounted toys as a way of stretching my budget. This year, just like last year, the discounted total exceeded the cost for the greater bulk of the toys I purchased. I bought toys priced at $529.40 for $223.20, thus saving $306.20. Actually, many of the list prices had been discounted previously. Hence, I did even better.
I am a kid at heart, which is why I love toys. Further, I am a strong advocate of the principle that the only acceptable Christmas gift for a child is a toy. Children need clothing and other utilitarian things when they need them, not as gifts under the Christmas tree. Santa knows better than to deliver ties, underwear, shirts, cosmetics, appliances, etc., to my house at Christmas. No milk and cookies for him if he does not listen.
I bought the first items for this year’s closet on October 11 at a K*B Toys store. I went to a Radio Shack at a local mall to acquire a television cable hook-up cord when I looked across the hall and saw a big 50% off sale sign at K*B. I left carrying two bags filled with toys to my car.
Once again, I enlisted the aid of Anna Kahn, the eight-year-old daughter of Robert and Jane Sarasohn-Kahn and to whom I am “Uncle Harry,” to help in my toy selection. Anna is a toy guru, extremely conscious of what toys do and do not appeal to her contemporaries. Anna’s Type-A personality is perfect, albeit she did become a little frustrated when I did not take all the advice she offered. Next year, I hope to enlist the services of Isaac Weaver, a step-grandson Linda and I acquired as a result of the marriage between Jason (Linda’s son) and Marzela Herrera on December 5. I need a male-female balanced approach.
The 2004 Christmas season marks another year when the toy industry lacks a blockbuster toy. If this goes on much longer, toy scalpers on the Internet and at flea markets are going to become nothing more than distant memories.
The 2004 Christmas season is also one of Toy Wars, a discount battle between K*B Toys and Toys R Us, both of which face serious financial problems, and Wal-Mart. No one will be a winner when the dust settles. The toy industry is concerned and has taken a “let’s do everything we can to help K*B Toys and Toys R Us survive.” approach.
Exclusives, toys sold only in a specific chain, have become commonplace. One newspaper article I read said that twenty-five percent of the toys in Toys R Us are exclusives. I do not like exclusives because the concept limits toy exposure. Collecting is memory-driven. Any approach that reduces the potential memory count is a negative in respect to long-term collectibility. I decided not to buy exclusives, albeit I bought one without realizing it because I was enamored with the price and did not look closely.
I began my shopping at Wal-Mart, having read over and over that it was now the Number One seller of toys in the United States. I left the store frustrated, not having purchased one item. Wal-Mart tags do not provide the suggested manufacturer’s list price on any of its tags. As a result, it is difficult to determine if an item is discounted or not discounted. There were items marked as “On Sale,” but there was no way to determine the savings without comparison shopping. I made note of the prices of several toys in which I had an interest and headed for K*B Toys and Toys R Us, stores I knew provided the list and discounted price on the same label, had clearly marked “Clearance” sections, and offered volume discount purchase options.
Movies replaced television as the toy-licensing king in the early 1990s. My first purchase was Jakks Pacific’s Van Helsing Gross Dissection Lab featuring a pigmy bat, tweezers, and scalpel for $9.99 (list $19.99). Several months ago I researched the secondary market for 1950s to 1970s classic Mattel toys. I was shocked at the high values I found for Vac-U-Forms and Thingmakers. Children obviously love and remember the grotesque. Continuing with this theme, I bought Hasbro’s Queasy Bake Cookerator that “creates gross-looking, great tasting snacks with a magical surprise” for $7.49 (list $14.98).
I bought several Hulk items in the past. Joining them in my closet is a Disguise Hulk Costume, size 4-6, at $4.99 (list at $9.98, down from $19.99) and Toy Biz’s Hulk Electronic Rage Cage with Sounds and Breakout Action for $6.49 (List $12.98).
While I remain ambivalent about the long-term collectibility of Harry Potter toys, I found several bargains that I simply could not resist. Five new Harry Potter items are now in my closet: (1) Mattel’s action figure, Extreme Jugador de Quidditch Harry at $3.99 (list $7.98); (2) Mattel’s action figure, Magical Talking Hermione at $1.82 (list $12.99); (3) Mattel’s Magical Powers Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at $1.82 (list $12.99); (4) Mattel’s Harry Potter Web of Aragog spider and web playset at $1.68 (list $5.99, down from $9.99), and (5) a 2005 Harry Potter Calendar featuring paintings by Mary GrandPré for $6.00.
I cannot resist Star Wars material, especially when it is discounted. My closet is filled to overflowing with Star Wars items, but I always seem able to find space for a few more. I bought Hasbro’s 12in action figure of Mace Windu with his lightsaber from Attack of the Clones for $9.99 (list $19.99), Habros’ Gamorrean Guard action figure from Return of the Jedi for $8.43 (list $29.99), Lego’s Technic Star Wars Episode 1 Pit Droid for $6.49 (list $12.99), and Lego’s Star Wars R2-D2 for $6.49 (list $12.99, down from $24.99).
I added two more Star Trek Enterprise items to my closet, more to cover my bases than for any other reason. I lost interest in the Star Trek adventures with the arrival of Star Trek Enterprises. I am not the only one. Licensed toys from the series are scarce. My closet now contains Art Asylum’s Enterprise NX-01 Bridge Base, Captain’s Chair, Broken Bow Deluxe, Captain Jonathan Archer for $2.10 (list $14.99, reduced from $24.99) and Enterprise NX-01 Bridge Base, Tactical Systems Base, Broken Bow Deluxe, Lieutenant Malcom Reed for $2.10 (list $14.99, reduced from $24.99). This is it for Star Trek Enterprise material. It is time to move to a different universe.
I have never been a fan of Scooby-Doo!, but I understand those who are. Mattel’s Skipper Velma for $4.49 (list $7.99, reduced from $16.99) was a bargain I could not pass up.
Toys R Us offered a special deal for a Shrek 2 plush toy at $4.99, discounted from $29.99, if your toy purchases equaled $75.00 or more. I gave Linda a cart and divided my purchases. The result is the addition of a Hasbro plush Jumbo Shrek at $4.99 and a plush Jumbo Donkey at $4.99 to my closet.
While visiting Wal-Mart, I took note of Hasbro Shrek 2 action figures priced around $8.50 each. I liked them, but felt I could do better elsewhere. As it turned out, I could not. The best price I saw was $10.00 at K*B Toys. I returned to Wal-Mart and to my delight discovered the price had been reduced to $7.32 per figure. I bought three: Puss in Boots with firing hairball, scented gingerbread man and the three blind mice figures, Princess Fiona with spin kick action and a scented Prince Charming punching bag, and Donkey with double-hooved kick action, scented waffle, and a magical pixie figure.
In addition to the Star Trek Enterprise material, I bought one other television item. I remain a strong fan of Saturday morning cartoons. Hasbro’s Transformers Energon, Unicron with Dead End Mini-Con figure for $24.99 (list $49.99) joins several other Transformer items in my closet.
In the comic book superhero category, I added Mattel’s Batmobile featuring light and sound plus firing missiles at $14.99 (list $19.99). I debated long and hard over this purchase. I already have several Batman items in my closet. Further, I am concerned about his continuing appeal to a new generation of comic book readers. As with Star Trek Enterprise toys, I have decided that this is the last Batman toy going into the closet.
At this point, you might question if I am creating a closet of boys’ toys rather than one that appeals to both sexes. I am concerned about this as well, albeit men far outnumber women in the toy collecting category.
For years, I have wanted to add more dolls to the closet. Barbie already is well represented. However, I did buy a Mattel Barbie Rapunzel Enchanted Tower Playset for $3.65 (list $12.99, reduced from $19.99). The price was right, but I was not happy when I brought it home and discovered it was a K*B Toys exclusive.
I do not like Bratz dolls. Neither does Anna. However, there staying power is evident. I bought a Lil’ Bratz Fashion Mall featuring make-up shop, movie theater, chill-out café, music store, and mall hall for $34.99 (list $69.99) and a Modern Publishing Lil’ Bratz Funky Fashion Paper Dolls book for $3.99. I am keeping my eyes open for a deep discount store promotion immediately after the holidays. If it happens, I plan to buy a few of the larger Bratz dolls for next year’s closet.
Other dolls now living in the closet include Mattel’s My Scene, Masquerade Madness Rocker Girl Nolee for $16.95 (list $18.95), Muses’ Zodiac Girlz Libra (Sept. 22-Oct.22) for $4.99 (list 9.99), and three Mattel Flãvas dolls—Liam (street gear), P. Bo (sweat suit, gym gear), and Liam (sweat suit, gym gear)—at $3.99 each (list $7.99, reduced from $14.99).
I confess I know nothing about the Vinylizers other than the fact that their toys were cheap, cheap, cheap—so cheap I simply could not resist. Dsi Electronics’ Vinylizer DJ Mixing Station was $1.99 (list $3.98 and obviously greatly reduced from earlier price). Dsi Electronics’ DJ Skribble’s Spinheads Phat Ride toys, featuring an audio amplifier with pulsating lights, were $1.49 (list $2.98). I bought three—Pogo, Daze, and DJ Skribble.
My final purchases were to additions to my well-endowed female action figure collection: (1) Milo’s Workshop’s EverQuest Vahlai Ka’lzal for $4.99 (list $9.99) and (2) McFarlane Toys’ Ultima Online, Captain Dasha for $2.99 (list $5.99).
Add it all up, and I spent $245.56, not including sales tax. I had money left over. I feel good. Maybe I will make up the difference next year, or the year after, or the year after that. I still have twelve years to go.
As always, I need to talk about the toys I did not buy. I did not buy any Incredibles toys, first because they were not discounted and second because of the quick demise of the movie, I questioned their long-term collectibility. I also avoided the revival toys—Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, and Cabbage Patch Kids. One Christmas season is not ample proof they are back. Finally, I like Mattel’s promotion of its Princess Barbie concept, but how much Barbie do I really need in the closet.
The newspapers are filled this holiday season with stories about how the toy industry is in a state of flux. What is a toy in the twenty-first century? Are children done playing with toys by the time they reach the age of ten?Should I consider ending my closet column at the end of twenty years rather than thirty? Do not bet a nickel. I am having entirely too much fun. Keep watching for next year’s installment.