ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #2005/Bonus
Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and A Closet (2005)
I finished the shopping for my annual “Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and A Closet” column before the season’s first snowfall. In fact, summer-like weather extended through October and well into November. I did not turn the heat on until the Monday after Thanksgiving. Having grown up in the northern climes, cold weather and snow are prerequisites for me to get into the “Ho, Ho, Ho” holiday spirit.
Alas, the calendar cares little about unseasonable temperatures. By mid-November, the pressure to complete my annual toy shopping had reached the point of no return. Either do it or forget it.
Fortunately, Anna Kahn, Linda’s and my honorary niece and nine-year old daughter of Jane and Robert Sarasohn-Kahn, was available and more than willing to offer her consulting services. In anticipation of shopping with “Uncle Harry,” Ms. Anna conducted a toy play and want survey of her classmates and friends. Anna’s advice is reflected in many of the toys I purchased.
The closet in which this year’s toy purchases and those from the past eighteen years are stored is a room in the basement of the former Vera Cruz (Pennsylvania) Elementary School, which serves as Linda’s and my home and headquarters for Rinker Enterprises. After nineteen years of buying toys to put aside for the future study, even Fibber Magee’s closet would not be capable of holding everything I acquired.
Many of my younger readers will have absolutely no idea what I am talking about in mentioning Fibber Magee’s closet. Give yourself an early Christmas present. Take a moment, do an Internet search, and learn about Fibber Magee’s closet. Fibber and Molly Magee lived at 79 Wistful Vista Lane. “Magee” is an inspiration to all collectors.
For those unfamiliar with my annual toy shopping spree, a brief history is required. In 1987, I embarked on a thirty-year project. Each year I would buy a group of toys and put them in storage for thirty years. As the thirtieth anniversary for each toy group arrives, I plan to revisit my purchases to see how well I anticipated their future collectibility and to determine 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. Yes, I do plan to live that long!
Initially, I limited the amount I spent to two hundred dollars. In 1992, I increased the amount to two hundred and fifty dollars. Although I should have increased the amount to three hundred many years ago, if for no other reason than to keep pace with inflation, the thrifty Pennsylvania-German side of my nature challenged me to stretch my budget through shrewd discount buying. Last year, I bought toys priced at $529.40 for $223.20, thus saving $306.20.
Optimistically, we want to believe that the good times can last forever. Alas, they do not. Toy buying changed dramatically in 2005. Although I still stretched my money somewhat, buying $376.13 worth of toys for $243.17, thus saving $132.96, I faced a greatly reduced toy selection and much smaller discount percentages. There is no question that next year’s buying budget has to be increased.
I began this year’s annual toy shopping spree as I did every year with a visit to K*B Toys. I loved K*B Toys because it always featured a large selection of heavily discounted toys from past seasons. Traditionally, I spent more than half my budget at K*B Toys.
I entered K*B Toys at Allentown’s Whitehall Mall ready to shop. I left having spent absolutely nothing, gar nichts, zero, zilch! There was no deeply discounted merchandise from toy seasons past. All toys were at list or discounted prices that matched those of Toys R Us or Walmart. K*B had become just another toy store. I almost cried.
In late September, I had visited a K*B store in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to acquire a birthday gift for Izaak Weaver-Herrera, Linda’s and my step-grandson. Izaak and I share the same birthday, October 1. At the time, I was surprised by the small amount of deeply discounted back stock I saw. No problem, at least so I thought! It will appear in November when the store gears up for its holiday sales.
Immediately following my K*B experience, I went to the Toys R Us store to check if the trend I encountered at the K*B store was typical or atypical. Alas, it was typical. After walking the entire store, I found less than six shelves of “Clearance” merchandise. I felt panicked.
I did make several discounted purchases, although questioning whether I did so just to take advantage of the discounts. The ability to justify any purchase is a skill possessed by most serious collectors.
For the past several months, I have watched children’s cartoon television programs whenever Linda and I visit with Izaak. I wish I could tell you I understand them. I do not. The characters and storylines mean nothing to me. I sense that I am becoming increasingly alienated from the current elementary school generation. I have my work cut out for me.
Today’s toys often are cross-supported by television shows, video games, and trading card games. Yu-Gi-Oh! is one example. I added a Mattel Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon toy for $14.99 ($29.99 list) and a Mattel Duel Disk, a toy that a child wears on his arm and which hold Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, for $14.99 ($29.99 list) to my closet. The Duel Disk contains a life point counter, card holder, card “graveyard,” field card slot, attach position, defend position, and magic card slot. The Duel Disk box also has very strong graphics.
The “Clearance Shelf” at Toys R Us also contained the Mattel Hot Wheels Battle Area for $14.99 ($29.99 list), the Velocitor / The General and Mad Dog / Slamurai battle car kits at $9.99 each ($19.99 list each). Unfortunately, no additional weapons packages—blade weapons, extender weapons, missile weapons, or grinder weapons, were available at discount. I admit these are not your typical Hot Wheel toys. They obviously were an attempt to capitalize on the BattleBots TV craze of a few years ago.
My closet contains only a limited number of stuffed toys. I consider stuffed toys infant rather then juvenile toys. However, Toys R Us had a special whereby if you spent $50.00 you could purchase a Fisher-Price 80th anniversary Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear for $4.99 ($29.99). There was no way I was going to say no to a deal like this.
Before proceeding further, I need to address the absence of deeply discounted toys in the toy stores. This past June I attended eBay Live! in San Jose and attended several lectures featuring eBay Power Sellers who specialized in selling obsolete merchandise. Clearly back toy stock from manufacturers and retailers is finding its way to the Internet. It makes sense. Manufacturers and retailers reduce their warehousing costs and enhance their cash flow.
This will be the last year that I purchase the toys for my closet at the traditional toy store. Starting next year, I plan to utilize the Internet. Further, a quick comparison of Internet toy sites revealed that Internet sites have a far wider range of merchandise and availability of merchandise than found in the traditional toy stores. Izaak’s Christmas wish list contained several Harry Potter items. I found none of them at K*B, Toys R Us, or Walmart. I found all of them in less than an hour on the Internet.
In past years, I occasionally took advantage of the advertising inserts that accompany my local newspaper. This year I paid far closer attention. I am not one of those individuals who turns up his nose at a $5.00 discount. Five dollars is five dollars from where I come.
Ms. Anna, Linda, and I began our shopping adventure at Walmart. I am not a big Walmart fan. Walmart almost never reveals the initial list cost of a toy. You are never quite certain if you are buying at list or discount and, if at discount, what amount you are receiving. However, I carried the newspaper inserts from Toys R Us and other toy stores with me so I could compare prices. It proved quite helpful.
Ms. Anna convinced me to buy Mattel’s Brietta the Pegasus (horse) toy for $18.44 ($26.88 list) from the Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. Ms. Anna assured me it was high on the list of her classmates’ desired toys. The horse looked to me like a My Little Pony knockoff, but there comes a time when it pays to shut up, listen, and do what you are told.
I could not resist the 26” poseable action figure of the Fantastic Four The Thing. It was a bargain at $15.00 ($29.88 list). The toy is big and showy.
I remain a strong fan of action figure toys. I added two more to the closet, both in Jakks Pacific’s “Plug it in and Play TV Games” series—Fantastic Four with The Thing game controller and Spiderman with a Spiderman game controller. Each cost $9.50 (with the Fantastic Four The Thing with an $18.77 list price and the Spiderman with a $14.88 list price).
Ms. Anna informed me that Lego’s Bionicle toys remain a hot commodity. Izaak confirmed this. Although my closet already contained several Bionicle toys, I had no problem adding four more at $5.97 each ($7.88 list each)—Visdrak’s Boggarak (Kanoka Club Code B02+), Keelerak (Kanoka Club Code KE5+), Ropodak (Kanoha Club Code R03+), and Suukorak (Kanoka Club Code SU4+). In attempt to find out more about Bionicle, I visited www.bionicle.com. Alas, I still lack high-speed Internet access. It took a while to download the site and programs. I decided after a brief look that is a future multi-day project.
Ms. Anna loves Star Wars. When she saw the Star Wars Ultimate Lightsaber build your own lightsaber kit with its Bonus DVD, she insisted I needed it in my closet. It did not require genius to understand she wanted it under her Christmas tree as well. Walmart had it listed at $32.34, but I had a Toys R Us advertisement that listed it at $29.99. What better time to test the “I will match their price” claim. I did. Walmart sold the Lightsaber toy to me for $29.99. In the end, my decision to buy it when I had it in hand turned out to be an extremely wise one. An attempt to find the same toy at Toys R Us at the advertised discount price of $29.99 met with failure. Toys R Us did not have the toy in stock, a far too common problem when buying heavily advertised discounted toys during the holiday season.
I love Barbie. I always will. However, it is time to face reality when it comes to long-term collecting. Barbie will be forty-five next year, and she is showing her age. No matter my personal opinion of them, Bratz is the hot doll of the moment.
I went shopping this year knowing that the time had come to add several Bratz doll items to my closet. In doing so, I wanted to find Bratz product with strong displayability and trendy fashion concepts. Rock Angelz Funky Fashion Makeover Sasha for $24.99 ($29.99 list) was my first purchase. Sasha, Yasmin, or Cloe—it makes no difference to me. I also resolved that I would not buy individual Bratz dolls unless some discount was involved. I bought Bratz Midnight Dance Fianna with collectible mask and cape for $9.99 ($14.99 list) because of the Gothic tone of the costuming and Bratz Step Out!Yasmin for $9.99 ($14.99) because of the jeans outfit and free poster. A roll of Bratz Campfire girl theme gift wrap for $3.99 completed my Bratz purchases.
I cannot resist commenting on Mattel’s blatant attempt to copy the Bratz doll with its My Scene doll line. I have long respected Mattel as a leader in toy innovation and licensing. Is it time for me to change my opinion? I certainly hope not. Hopefully, Mattel’s CEO will put the company back on track.
Izaak is in second grade. He loves SpongeBob. Since he is not alone, I decided I needed a few additional SpongeBob items in my closet. The SpongeBob Deluxe Ice Cream Server and Sno-Cone Maker for $9.99 was my major purchase. This toy has great box graphics and displays well. In the miscellaneous category, I added a roll of SpongeBob gift wrap for $3.99, a jumbo shopping bag with Christmas SpongeBob graphics for $1.99, a SpongeBob holiday candy container for $1.99, and a SpongeBob boat (candy) dispenser for $2.99.
At this point, I spent a total of $243.17. Deciding that my two hundred and fifty dollars was simply an arbitrary figure, I spent $19.98 (list $24.99) for a Parker Brothers’ Trivial Pursuit DVD The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition game. Given my performances of past years, I felt I had earned the right to spend a little over budget.
One has to be blind to miss the increasing cross-connection between toys-games and electronic devices such as CD, DVD, TV, and game units. Will 2005 be the last year of traditional toys as we known them? The answer is no. However, the transition has begun. The 2010 toy will be very different from the 2000 toy.
After finishing my shopping and prior to writing my closet column, Linda and I went to Monterrey, Mexico, to participate in the baptism of our new granddaughter, Sofia Monserrat Goldberg-Herrera. While in Monterrey, Linda and I visited a large shopping mall that contained a Liverpool department store. While Linda and Marzela, Sofia’s mother, headed for the baby department, I headed for the toy departments.
I found several of the toys that I purchased for my closet. What did astonish me was their cost. The Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Disk that I purchased for $14.99 was priced at approximately $62.50. The Bratz Rocks Angelz Funky Fashion Makeover set that cost me $24.99 was listed at $52.50. Toy prices in Mexico are double those in the United States. Keep this in mind when you wonder whether or not you have something to be thankful for this Christmas.