My Journey and Tips on Collecting Vintage Toys From the '80s
Warning: Collecting Vintage Toys From Your Past Is Addictive!
My childhood took place in the 1980s. That meant it was neon, strange, and awesome. That pretty much sums up my early years, the 80's, and all the toys I ever had when I was a kid, and not to mention all the toys I ever wanted when I was a kid. Eventually, I grew up and moved on to more important things like shoes and boys and cars and shoes. I really did believe that my toy-loving years were over, and they were until one awesome summer day. That day was the beginning of my amazing 80s toy collection.
I remember it clearly: I was at a garage sale. It was really hot out, and there was a definite weird smell coming from the clothing racks. It was like a mixture of body odor and Altoids (gag). In the back of the garage, there was a long table that was filled with kids stuff. I usually passed those tables by quickly, even when the sale didn't smell like an unbathed Grandpa, as I was an adult that didn't currently have any kids in her life. Just as I was about to leave and go somewhere that hopefully would smell better, I saw it. The toy that started it all—Papa Snugglebumm.
Yes, that's right. Snugglebums were these crazy toys in the 80s that kinda looked like moldy jelly beans and that lit up when you squeezed them. I never had one as kid, but all my friends had them, and I had wanted one so badly. Before I knew what was happening, I was paying $2 for "Papa" and went running to my car, screaming "I got him! I got him!" I'd like to say that everyone in the car understood where my borderline manic-happiness came from, but I don't think they totally got it. That was fine by me.
A hobby was born that day. Over the next 7 years, I bought and sold hundreds of vintage toys that I had wanted all of my childhood life. I made a fair chunk of cash from selling the toys that I didn't want in my collection anymore or that didn't fit into our super tiny apartment. I got to have almost all of the toys I coveted when I was a kid, and I have a ton that I will be able to pass on to nieces and nephews and future little me's. This was all thanks to collecting vintage 1980s toys and a random garage sale.
How to Start Your Old Toy Collection Today!
Collecting toys that you loved when your were a kid is a ton of fun, and I fully support your new obsession.
The first step to vintage toy collecting is to just get out there. Go to garage sales, thrift stores, and your parents basement. While your milling around places like these for a new pair of jeans or a great magazine rack, stop by the children's section. It won't take long for you to find the first piece of your collection. Maybe it's an old Strawberry Shortcake doll, or a My Little Pony that you always wished you had, or maybe Papa Snugglebumm himself. That is the dream isn't it?
Always check toy labels to ensure that you're getting a vintage toy and not a modern remake!
I Found My Old Glo Worm! Now I Need More!
Once you have one or two pieces that you love and that make you happy, you can start thinking about where you want to go with your collection. I personally did the "I want every toy I ever wanted as a kid, and a few that I never knew of but would have wanted if I had known about them!" strategy. I don't necessarily recommend doing that. I ran out of room almost immediately and was soon storing my vintage toys all over my friends and family's homes. And while that was a valid approach, what I do recommend is taking those favorite pieces you've found and start building on those specific vintage brands. You don't need to own every toy ever made in the 80 s to have a great vintage toy collection. You may just want to focus on My Little Ponies, Glo Worms and Garbage Pail Kids.
Another lesson that took me a long time to learn was that a toy collection doesn't need to have every toy ever released under a specific brand either, to be a wonderful collection. For instance, you may decide that while you love the vintage Strawberry Shortcake 4" dolls the larger "rag dolls" hold no interest for you. Or you might love the vintage smurf figurines, but will pass on the coloring books and tray puzzles. The point is that you should love each and every piece of your stash. Don't feel obligated to keep toys around that don't fit into the groove you've got going.
What Do I Do After Starting My Toy Collection?
To me, the best part of collecting vintage toys starts now. You have the barest bones of your collection found, and now you need to fill them out and find those elusive toys that are out there waiting for you. In other words, the hunt begins.
- Do some research online or buy a book that tells you exactly what type of Muppet memorabilia is out there to buy. Now that you know what you want, you can start looking at places like eBay and other online auction sites to fill out your stash. Learn what is rare and what's common, and then stalk the auction sites for those great deals.
- Put out ads in your local Craigslist or Facebook Market pages. Let people know that you love Alvin and the Chipmunks and aren't ashamed of it! You'll be surprised how many people will come out of the woodwork that have just what you are looking for, and are happy to sell it to you cheap in the name of freeing up some room in their basement. When I was building up my collection, I found collector sites that would have members buying and selling and even trading their toys and memorabilia. I had a blast trading my rare My Little Pony outfits that I had found at a garage sale for one of the ponies on my wishlist.
- The key to refining your collection is knowledge. You can't search for great deals on the toys, if you don't know what they are worth. You won't be able to recognize rare Strawberry Shortcake accessories at your local thrift store if you haven't done the geeky research that helps you to know what they look like. So hone up on your toy knowledge and go out there and buy, buy, buy!
Vintage Barbie Collectors Love Shopping on eBay
Watch Your Wallet: Tips for Not Overspending
Another benefit to doing research is that it's going to help you save money. As with any collecting hobby, it can be really easy to drop a bunch of dough on just a few impulse buys. But if you know what a toy is worth, how common it is, and if it has all of it's accessories, than you'll know what a reasonable purchase price is. Better yet, you'll know what a great deal is and you'll be able to scoop up those deals.
- An additional way to save those precious pennies is to search the auction sites for misspellings or alternate spellings. For example, try searching for "Wuzzle" in addition to the more common "Wuzzles". When I did this I found 39 items I normally would have missed! And often those little known spellings are going to get far fewer hits and bids than their more commonly spelled counterpart, making them much more affordable!
- Also, with many search engines, including the one eBay uses, you can do boolean searches. An example of this would be searching for the term "Barbie" , which will find you everything that starts with the word "Barbie". This will get you pluralized forms and some other crazy spellings. You can also enter a search like this: My Little Pon* -mib. The asterisk again tells the search engine to find all listings that start with whatever comes before the star, but the hyphen tells the engine to not show any listings that include the word mib. This is handy for doing searches that will encompass large amounts of listings. By taking out words such as new, mib (mint in bag), nip (new in package) your search will be more refined and you'll be able to cover more space more quickly, and most importantly find those great deals!
Have Fun With It!
The most important thing to remember is to have fun with it. Great collections take years to obtain and refine. This isn't a one day project. Instead it's something you'll enjoy doing over a long period of time. I collected vintage 80s toys for over 9 years before I decided to move on. I still have a blast checking out garage sales and thrift shops for treasures from my past, except now I buy them for friends and family. Soon I'll be publishing an article on how to sell your toys for big bucks to earn cash for...more toys!