Anyone born in the seventies or eighties will know that those were the golden years for collectable, mass-produced toys. It started with nouveau Barbies and Micronauts who were quickly joined by Star Wars, Cabbage Patch, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfs, Masters of the Universe, GI Joe and my personal favourite, Centurions. Anyone? No?
These were the toys that launched humble regional toy makers like Mego, Kenner and Playmates into the stratosphere as international toy dynasties.
Today, new toy lines still abound on the shelves at major retailers, however, many of the old-school toy shops are gone from the suburbs and the hype around the next series of toys is not quite there.
Thankfully, the fraternity of classic toy collectors is still going strong. Around the world and particularly in the USA, toy and comic conventions draw millions of dedicated fans every year, most interested in trawling the stalls of vintage toys as much they are in catching a glimpse of their favourite celebrity from yesteryear – stars from television shows like Buck Rogers, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.
While the onset of COVID-19 put a huge dent in the face-to-face classic toy trade, interest in live online toy auctions has hit an all-time high.
Facebook sites like Collectors Toy Shop and Auction House in the US allow private toy auctioneers to host live auctions, offering plastic gold from the sixties, seventies and eighties as well as many limited edition modern lines.
All bids are made in the comment section with some items taking up to 20 minutes to sell as bidders from around the globe log on to compete for rare and not-so-rare items. A 1977 Darth Vader figure can go for US$75 or more, while a more recently released GI Joe figure may only fetch US$10. A complete vehicle from the 1970’s Micronaut line can go for US$200-$300 while an original Masters of the Universe store display from the mid-80’s recently sold on a live Facebook auction for US$5,000.
Much of the attraction in the live online auctions is the comradery that develops and the fondness for the auctioneers themselves. Irving and Vickie Santiago’s Minty Minty Auctions attract buyers as much for the warmth and familiarity exuded toward customers as for the incredible range of toys they put up for auction.
And receiving a live shout out during Eric Baker’s ‘Rebel Toy Auctions’, Juan Sanchez’s ‘Late night fun at the mall’, Flint Frank’s ‘Lunchtime with the Franks’ or Scott Mays’ unnamed late night auctions with classic metal songs blaring in the background is as much fun as winning a lot at a bargain price.
Aussies can get in on the action, too. In fact, most of the auctions are during the day so it makes for a great little brain-break from work (obviously not something to mention to the boss).
Irving and Vickie Santiago in particular have been in the toy game for decades and are the founders of Ultracon South Florida, a major toy and celebrity convention in the US. Over the years they’ve had celebrities like Sam Jones (Flash Gordon/Ted) and Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers) attend their convention to meet with their legion of fans and sign autographs. They also starred in a television documentary entitled Plastic Crac’, exploring the near-addiction that is collecting the toys that formed the bedrock of so many people’s formative years.
And plastic crack is exactly what it is. One auctioneer recently commented on the recent drop in cryptocurrencies, that a better investment for loose cash would be GI Joes from the early ’80s.
Whether or not you’re all that interested in collecting, in the age of COVID-19 the connection with good people from around the world is enough to make the live toy auction market a winner.
Brad Emery is a freelance writer and addicted toy collector.
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