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RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #2008/Bonus 
Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2008 

 

Three Hundred Dollars and A Closet  (2008)
 

In November 1987, I began buying toys and putting them away in a closet.  My plan is simple: repeat the buying process for thirty years.  It was not as daunting a task in 1987.  It is twenty-two years later.  In the thirty-first year, I will take the first year’s toys out of the closet and compare their initial cost with their current value in the collectibles market, repeating the process for twenty-nine years until the project concludes in 2046, at which point, assuming I am alive, I will be one hundred and five years old.

The closet project’s goals are: (1) to see how well I am able to predict what future generations would collect: (2) to learn if I would have been better off financially putting my funds into a financial instrument rather than tangible goods; and, (3) to force me to interact with a future collecting generation at least once a year.  The Closet Project began with an annual budget of $200.00, which I increased to $250.00 in 1992 and $300.00 in 2006.

When asked how long I plan to continue working in the antiques and collectibles field, my stock answer is “until it is no longer fun.”  I still am having fun at least as far as the field is concerned.  However, I am growing increasingly concerned the fun has vanished from the Closet Project.  Pride is the reason I did the column this year, and I suspect it will be until I finish the twenty-fifth column in 2011.  After that, I offer no guarantees.

Before writing this column, I re-read the columns from the last three years.  The 2006 column began: “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.”  The 2007 column started: “The months leading up to the Christmas toy buying season have not been very happy and bright for the toy industry….It is as though Scrooge and the Grinch have teamed up for a good laugh.”  I do not know who is laughing this year, but it is not me.  Merchants are fearful that Christmas sales will decline for the first time in many years.  The media’s negativism is incestuous.  There are ten bad news stories for every positive one.  As I write this column, the stock market experienced four days of consecutive growth.  How did the world react?  The dollar fell against the Euro because the world is convinced the American economy is far worse than anyone is admitting, and I read an article arguing that the Euro will replace the dollar as the world’s financial benchmark in ten years.  What happened to faith that Americans can unite and solve crisis?  Is there no hope?  Although I am an optimist, the global economic crisis has me in a funk.  I no longer enjoy reading the morning newspaper, do not listen to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and try my best to ignore the stories on AOL’s home page.  While Linda and I remain financially secure and should continue to do so, we know far too many individuals who are not.  Like many Americans, I am saving more and spending less—no increase in this year’s toy closet budget.  The good news is that I did not cut it back.

I try to stretch my shopping dollars by buying discounted toys from the previous holiday season.  Until three or four years ago, Toys R Us and KB Toys warehoused unsold inventory from the previous holiday season and began reoffering it at discount prices in late September or early October.  Today, they sell surplus merchandise at deep discount within two months or less to individuals and small businesses who reoffer it for sale on Internet sites ranging from eBay to Overstock.  The only toy bargains at Toys R Us, KB Toys, and big box stores such as Target or Walmart result from buying during sales, assuming, of course, that the store has the item in stock by the time you get to the shelves.  Exclusives, i.e., toys made specifically for one store, also have lost their appeal.  I used to be able to identify them.  Now I am not certain.  A glutton for punishment, I visited several Toys R Us, KB, and Target stores to reaffirm past impressions.  I did.

The price of toys is rising.  In the past, one-third or more of the toys I added to the closet were priced well below ten dollars.  Each year the count shrinks.  Five years ago, $35.00 was a high price for a toy.  Today, prices of $100.00 or more are common.  In checking amazon.com, I found a discount listing for Tomy I-SOBOT Robot for $109.99, reduced from $179.99.  You will not find Tomy in my closet.

Last year I discovered Tuesday Morning, a storefront version of Overstock.com.  While the shelves are loaded with discounted toys, the choice is limited and many toys are generic, i.e., not brand name or brand licensed.  In 2007 I spent two-thirds of my money at a Tuesday Morning store and the rest on amazon.com.  After several frustrating attempts to find discounted items on amazon.com and other Internet sites and toy and Big Box stores, I went to Tuesday Morning in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.  I was less than happy with the selection, but could procrastinate no longer.  I was shocked when the register total with sale tax was over $300.00.

Linda’s and my granddaughter, Sofia Monserrat Goldberg-Herrera, is three, still too young to serve as an advisor.  She wants everything she sees.  Oh, to be young again.  Anna Kahn, Linda’s and my honorary niece and daughter of our good friends Jane and Robert Kahn, is now twelve.  Her American Character dolls and furnishings, Batman memorabilia, and Disney collectibles no longer hold center stage.  Anna is into Twilight (I promised never to bite her neck), sharks, and fencing.  She has lost her childhood innocence far too quickly.  Izaak Weaver-Herrera, Linda’s and my step-grandson, turned ten.  His interests are video games, bicycles, and books.  Izaak is proof positive of the one-generation fears of the toys industry, i.e., children who stop playing with toys by age ten.

“Fill in the gaps” is the theme of this year’s closet purchases.  While there are some new licensed products, e.g., Madagascar 2, I left my research trip to Toys R Us with a same old, same old feeling.  While I am loath to admit it, I miss the “hot” Christmas toy craze.  Where is Tickle Me Elmo when you really need him?

Bratz dolls are ugly.  I fail to understand why any little girl would want them. But, they do.  Barbie is no longer queen of the hill.  I waited to add Bratz dolls to my closet until I was convinced of their staying power.  I started two years ago and continued this year.  Three dolls from the Bratz Babyz Storybook Collection – Yasmin’s Rodeo Ball, Yasmin’s Dollie Hospital, and Yasmin’s Holiday Dream, each originally priced at $11.99 but purchased at $5.99 each, are in my toy closet

When you buy at Tuesday Morning, you abandon all hope of obtaining a full series.  I used to spend days trying to assemble full series.  Was it time well spent?  I no longer think so.  I now am content to add an example or two.  I bought the Yasmin doll from the Bratz Fashion Show Swim Wear Collection for $8.99 (list $17.99).  The accessory card containing nail polish, lipstick, sunglasses, rouge compact, and powder compact was the clincher.  I am a sucker for toys with a high part count.

This was a year for “big” purchases, big in this instance meaning size.  The Bratz Sew Stylin’ Sewing Machine packaging was so big, the cashier put it in a separate bag.  Actually, I could have saved myself the trouble and used its tote handle.  It listed for $59.99.  I paid $29.99.

Haste makes waste, and I think I may have wasted $9.99.  I hope not.  I grabbed a Beauty Cuties Rockabelle doll, thinking it was a Bratz hair styling doll.  Mattel made it.  Mattel is a good brand, forget Barbie’s fall from glory, and worth a long-term risk.  I kept it in the closet rather than shopping for a substitute.

The Disney franchise continues to impact on the pre-teen and teen set.  My concern is the short lived nature of some its stars.  Hannah Montana is no Annette Funicello.  Deciding that some coverage is better than no coverage, I bought a Mattel Troy High School Musical 2 doll for $9.99 (list $19.99) and a Play Along the Cheetah Girls Dorinda doll, again for $9.99 (list $19.99).

While DreamWorks still has a long way to go to catch Disney, it has several strong franchises, not the least of which is Shrek.  I still like the first movie better than the sequels, but Shrek remains a box office draw.  Again, unconcerned about acquiring the full series, I bought two of the Shrek Princesses, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, “Royal Elegance with Kung-Fu Action!”  They listed originally for $19.99 each.  I paid $9.99.

Are you beginning to notice a pattern—list $19.99, final sale price $9.99?  It is happening so often that I’m beginning to question how deep my buying discount really is.  I just saw an expos on Linens and Things in which undercover shoppers found that the liquidators actually raised the price on the merchandise to where the discounted going out of business price is more than the price Linens and Things was charging.

The princess craze continues, fueled by Disney and a wide variety of knockoffs.  Normally, I do not buy generic items.  But, princesses are princesses.  Famous Princesses such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White no longer have copyright protection.  Size, great box graphics, and a large number of parts compelled me to buy Polyfect’s Princess Deluxe Tea Cart “with 29 Piece Tea & Serving Set.”  $14.99 was a bit steep, but I paid it.  List was $29.99.

Well, I am waiting.  I know you are thinking it.  What is wrong with Harry?  He spent more than usual on girl toys.  At Tuesday Morning you take what you find.  This year it was girls toys.  However, I did not neglect the boys.

It has been a few years since I added Power Rangers toys to the closet.  At $29.99 (list $69.99), the Power Rangers Operation Overdrive Mega Mission Helmet was a steal.  You can download over twenty missions.  There are several character punching bags in the closet.  None compare to the Power Rangers Mystic Force Power Rangers – Mission Training set including a thirty minute training DVD.  The toy allows you to “learn the coolest Power Ranger moves, stances and kicks.”  The box graphics and design also are outstanding.  This is a toy I know parents are just going to love.  Did you detect the sarcasm?  It lists at $39.99 and sells for $19.99.

For years I have wanted to add a remote controlled vehicle to the closet, but always ran out of money.  They are not cheap, usually $50.00 and up for the better ones.  This year I bought The Ultimate Modern Soldier Radio Control Humvee HMMVV with M1045A2 Tow Missile Carrier.  It is big, 1:6 scale, and requires eight (8) AA batteries.  The vehicle is radio controlled and has digital proportional speed control, digital proportional steering control, forward/reverse action, launch tow missile fire control, working independent suspension, operational head and tail lights, and a 12 volt battery and charger.  I was less than happy with the box.  A Tuesday Morning employee said each story only was allotted one example.  Faced with a buy it when I see or do not buy it at all situation, I bought it for $69.99, initial list price $199.99.

Again, it has been a few years since I have added a Hess truck to the closet.  Their price keeps rising, and collectors continue to hoard them.  But, I fell in love with this year’s toy truck and front loader, perhaps swayed by the television commercial, Hess’s best to date.  The truck’s features include flashing head and tail lights, multiple sounds, and a hydraulic open bed with ramp.  In addition, there is a motorized front loader with lights and mechanical bucket. The price of $22.99 included a set of batteries.

Occasionally I put something in the closet for me.  Mattel’s Bob Mackie’s Cher doll is not a gift you would give a young child, especially a young boy.  It is going right next to my collection of lingerie Barbies.  It says “age 14 and over” on the back of the box, and it means it.  It is in the Mattel Black label series, “sensational dolls designed for the adult collector.”  It listed for $39.99.  I paid $14.99.

I debated hard over Red, White ‘n Warm Barbie with Twist ‘n Turn Waist, a gold label Barbie.  Gold label means a “numbered edition of 25,000 worldwide or less, available at select retailers.”  A label on the box indicated “no more than 11,100 worldwide.”  Mattel has lied about its Barbie production counts in the past.  $14.99 (list $39.99) caused a lot of head scratching, but I thought what the heck and bought it.

In the stocking suffer department, I added two discounted toys from a Toys R Us visit.  Milton Bradley’s That’s So Raven Star of the Show Game, a television collectible, cost $3.98 versus it original list of $14.99.  A Johnny Lightning Coca-Cola Release 5 Coca-Cola logo car was $2.50 down from $4.50.  If all else fails, perhaps a Coca-Cola collector will want it.

I spent a total of $303.31, a bit over budget.  I could have dropped the Johnny Lightning car from the list and made the total closer, but why quibble.  Technically, I saved over $250.00, assuming you believe the “original price” listings on the Tuesday Morning tags.  The first discount price listing, the one preceding the actual sale price, is more likely correct.  Hence, I saved somewhere between $100.00 and $125.00—some money is better than no money.

What’s not in my closet?  I checked out Twilight items, concerned the closet did not have enough teen material in it.  $99.99 for Twilight limited edition official complete Jewelry set of the Cullen Family,  $87.99 for Twilight “Rosalie’s Necklace” replica jewelry, and $49.99 for Twilight Full Cast Junior’s T-Shirt large.  The medium size Full Cast T-Junior’s T-Shirt cost $5.00 less.  Who in their right mind would pay these prices?  Within the year, this stuff will be selling on eBay or some discount website for one-quarter to one-third these prices.

I decided to restrict my closet purchases to licensed merchandise with three or more movies to its credit or television programs with a minimum of a five-year run.  There are plenty of things in the closet that violate this rule, but no longer.

Finally, there are no electronic games in my closet.  While I am not denying their popularity, I see limited long-term collectability.  First, they have no displayability.  Second, when the consoles fail, who will repair them?  Third, they are expensive, albeit cheap on the secondary market.  Fourth, the attention span of their players last only as long as the next version or latest “hot” new game.

Each year I resolve to buy the toys throughout the year, taking advantage of bargains as I find them.  I bought a few this year, but could not find where I put them.  If you saw the school, you would understand.  Like so many New Year’s resolutions, this one always falls by the wayside.  I am renewing my pledge for 2009.  Now all I have to do is find $300.00 that hasn’t been allocated for something else.


ATTENTION EDITORS:  Click Here to view / download images of toys purchased for this column.


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