ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #2006/Bonus
Three Hundred Dollars and A Closet (2006)
When I look at the pile of toys that I am adding to my holiday toy closet this year, I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge. The pile is miserly. It has never been this small, and I have never spent this much money. Forgive me if I am not in a “Ho, Ho, Ho” mood.
For those unfamiliar with my holiday toy closet, a little background is required. I wrote my first “closet” column in 1987. My plan was and still remains simple. Buy toys over a thirty-year period and put them in a closet. At the thirtieth anniversary of each year’s purchase, I would revisit the toys I bought and compare what I paid for them against their worth on the secondary market. Because no one every played with the toys, they would be in excellent to near mint condition.
The “closet” in which this year’s toys and those from past shopping adventures are stored is a room in the basement of the former Vera Cruz (Pennsylvania) Elementary School, Linda’s and my Pennsylvania home and headquarters for Rinker Enterprises, Inc. Admittedly, the room is getting full. I have started stacking boxes of toys on top of one another. The good news is that the ceiling is a high one.
How well did I pick the collectible toys of the future? Did the toys appreciate faster than if I had put my money in the bank or some other financial instrument? This is my twentieth column—only ten more to go, more than half way. I should be please. Instead, I find myself asking if there is any sense continuing.
When this column began, my annual budge was two hundred dollars. In 1992, I increased it to two hundred and fifty dollars and continued at this amount through 2005. I stretched my budget by buying discounted toys. This year I spent three hundred dollars, buying most of my toys at full retail.
What a difference a year makes! Previously, toy stores began selling their back inventory at greatly reduced prices starting in August and extending through late October. I usually begin scouting the toy stores in mid to late September, just as I did this year. What I found this year was the absence of discounted back inventory. The few discounted items I did encounter did not fall within the realm of what I consider long-term collectible toys. Clearly, discount chains and toy stores have found other ways to rid themselves of unsold inventory. My suspicion is that most of it is being purchased by Internet sellers who are auctioning it or offering it at deep discounts on store sites.
Normally, I did the actual shopping for my closet in one to two weekends. Now I found myself forced to read the newspaper inserts from K·B Toys or Toys “R” Us and decide if I wanted to buy toys based simply on the fact that I could save twenty to thirty percent off the list price. This was not fun.
I finished the shopping for my closet the weekend before Thanksgiving. One year I held off doing my shopping until Black Friday. I learned my lesson. I would much rather be in bed at 5:00 AM on a Friday morning than standing in freezing weather with hundreds of other people outside a shopping mall waiting for it to open. Even though my shopping was done, I could not resist pulling out and reading the Toys “R” Us “Super Sale / Friday & Saturday” insert from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving edition of my local paper. I was struck by the fact that I would not have bought ninety plus percent of the items offered. Most simply did not have long-term collectibility.
All of which leads me to another point—the decline of toys with long-term collectibility. I had a hard time deciding what to buy. There were too many infant toys, generic toys, and electronic toys. I am rapidly becoming a believer in the concept of single-digit toy play, i.e., once a child reaches ten, his or her emphasis moves from toys to electronic games. I am fully aware the toy industry classifies electronic games as toys. Those who have to buy them for their children and grandchildren know what they really are—drains on the bank account and challenging payments on credit cards.
Once again Anna Kahn, Linda’s and my honorary niece and ten-year old daughter of Jane and Robert Kahn, accompanied me on my shopping spree. Once again, she did an informal survey of her classmates prior to meeting “Uncle Harry.” Anna’s suggestions were appreciated, albeit I suspect I once again frustrated her somewhat by not taking them all.
An American Girl doll was this year’s major purchase, the primary reason I increased the budget another fifty dollars. Jane Kahn has been after me for the last several years to add one of these dolls. Once I decided to do it, the big question became which one. At prices of $87.00 plus per doll, there was no room in my budget for two. The big decision was whether or not to add an historical doll or one of the generic “Just Like You” dolls. Initially, I was going to add a “Just Like You” doll because I was impressed by the fact that the doll could be individualized, i.e., the child could pick the color of the eyes, hair, and skin. While the individuality was nice, I quickly realized that ownership was too personal. Future collectors want the toy with which they played. I need a doll with a higher play base.
What American Girl character/historical doll should I buy? All have stories and numerous accessories. Most are white, albeit there is the obligatory African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian. After much consideration, I spent $102.00 on Kaya, her book, and accessories. I could have purchased the doll and book for $87.00. For another $15.00 the accessories seemed worth it. Kaya is a Nez Perce (American Indian) girl growing up in 1764.
You either buy an American Girl doll from the company’s website, www.americangirl.com, or at one of the flagship stores. Forget about any discount. I know I should have checked eBay, but felt my selection would be more driven by a potential bargain price than focused on the doll that I wanted.
I was shocked when I walked in the Toys “R” Us store in Danbury, Connecticut, and saw a large display for Bratz dolls in the front section. Poor Barbie was relegated to two shelves at the very end of the doll section. How the mighty have fallen. I remain steadfast in my opinion that the Bratz doll is one of the ugliest dolls every conceived. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of young girls or at least their parents do not agree with me.
I know the time will come when I will probably pay full price for a Bratz item. The good news is that this was not the year. At a Toy “R” Us in Danbury, Connecticut, I purchased an MGA Entertainment Bratz Rock Angelz Band Instrumentz set for $6.98 (19.99) and Bratzbyz sleeping bag for $10.48 ($19.90). At the K·B store in Danbury, I also bought a Bratz Rock Angelz Jade doll for $7.50 ($14.99) and a Bratz Rock Angelz sleeping bag for $7.50 (14.99). I actually used the sleeping bags for some weekend visitors, but rewrapped them carefully. I still am a fan of buying those character licensed products most individuals are likely to use and then discard.
Barbie may be over the hill. She turns fifty in less than three years. But, I am still one of her fans, especially when she is heavily discounted. In one of the few bargains I found shopping in a Target store, I paid $10.00 for Mattel’s Barbie’s Play All Day Kitchen Set and another $10.00 for Barbie’s Play All Day Zoo Doctor and Nursery. The kitchen set has a large number of pieces. Few will survive as complete units unless left unopened in the packaging. I have a number of “career” Barbie dolls, i.e., dolls that represent a professional career. I believe “career” Barbie will eventually become a major collecting subcategory within the general Barbie category. Further, like the kitchen set, the zoo doctor set has plenty of pieces that can be lost during play.
I only bought one comic character item. $10.99 purchased Jay Franco and Sons’ The Amazing Spider-man two-piece (towel and wash cloth) bath set. The towel and wash cloth had great graphics, far better than the graphics for the Superman set which I also considered buying.
Izaak Weaver-Herrera, Linda’s and my step-grandson, watches television cartoons, to excess I believe. I try watching them with him but I have trouble understanding the storylines. Izaak does not. In recognition of the drawing power of Saturday morning cartoons and based on Anna’s advice, I bought several licensed items from Shonen Jump’s Naruto. Two Mattel action figures from the Land of Fire (Country) and Hidden Leaf Village joined the closet at $14.99 each—Naruto Uzumake (technique: Shadow Clone Justu) and Sasuke Uchina (technique: Sharigan Eye). I have absolutely no idea what any of this means. This is the information from the boxes.
Shonen Jump’s Naruto Rapid Attack Gloves at $19.99 is this year’s candidate for the toy parents are most likely to hate and destroy or throw out within the first few days after the holidays. The toy comes with six shuriken stars and three kunai daggers. In addition, there are “wonderful” electronic sound effects. I thought about buying one for Izaak, but I love Marzela, my daughter-in-law, too much.
“Plastic” is the word everyone remembers from the movie The Graduate. “Transformers” is my favorite response when asked what is going to be collectible in the future. Because I love crossover collectibles, I could not resist paying $33.24 (discounted about $5.00 at Target) for a Star Wars Transformers set that housed Han Solo and Chewbacca and which morphed into the Millennium Falcon space ship.
I always have been loath to add generic toys to the closet. They just do not seem to belong. Yet, some generic toys do survive through several generations. Based on this theory, I spent $4.99 each for Jakks Pacific black Moto and pink Skate Fly Wheel launchers. Miss Anna assured me the pink launcher was for girls and that I need more “girl” items in my closet. I also purchased the four wheel Street Competition Gift set for $9.99. I am not comfortable making these purchases, but one occasionally has to take risks.
Another candidate for the risk column is Play Along’s Stinky Doodle Monster at $12.99. There was no way I could resist a toy whose markers had names like Booger Blue and Armpit Green. Once again, I relied on Anna’s advice. She tells me Doodle Monsters are popular with her classmates.
It has been several years since I added any puzzles to my closet. In 2006, puzzles are not cheap either. Obviously, any puzzles I add must have crossover collectibility, i.e., appeal to other collectors beside jigsaw puzzle collectors.
I secured a Mattel Harry Potter, 24-piece, 10in x 13in, jigsaw puzzle with an image of Harry flying on his broomstick in a Quiddich match for $2.99. The jury remains out about the long-term collectibility of Harry Potter items. I decided to have a few in my closet just in case the verdict is positive.
I considered several Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest items and rejected them. I saw the second movie in the series and thought it was disgusting. Do not count on any box office contributions from me for future sequels. Not wishing to risk a curse, I finally did acquire a Buffalo Games Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest jigsaw puzzle for $5.99. The 15in x 21 1/4in, 300-piece, jigsaw puzzle features an image of Jack Sparrrow and Davy Jones. There were other images in the series, but I liked this one the best.
Finally, I bought a Rose Art CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) jigsaw puzzle. I am fully aware that my closet is supposed to be filled with toys for kids. However, I do occasionally include a licensed adult item. The fact that I collect mystery jigsaw puzzles helped seal the purchase. I paid $12.89 for The Missing Piece Puzzle entitled “Double Down.” The 750-piece puzzle measures 18 15/16in x 26 3/4in, and comes with a twelve-page book and ultraviolet flashlight to uncover hidden clues. I selected this puzzle from the series because it had more cast member images than other examples.
You have now read the shortest “closet” column I have written in years. I spent $303.49, not including taxes and shipping.
I already have made a new year’s wish. I am going to start shopping for my 2007 purchases in mid-January. I am going to take the time to search the Internet, both auctions and direct sale sites. I am going to try and visit toy stores in the late winter, spring, and summer to see if I can find bargain toys.
While I may have added an American Girl doll to my closet this year, I will not next year. One is enough. Further, there will never be any electronic games in my closet. As far as I am concerned, these are not toys.
Most importantly, I am going to say a prayer that a miracle will happen and that toy manufacturers will once again flood the market with affordable, licensed, collectible toy product. I hold out little or no hope that the first part of my wish list will come true. However, I firmly resolve that I will not increase the amount I spend next year.Enjoy the upcoming holiday season. Better yet, go out and buy a toy for yourself. Somewhere inside of us there remains a kid.