Time was, you could go to any jumble sale, car boot sale or church fete and find boxes and boxes of cool toys. Especially the eighties super-fads like Transformers, GI Joe, Care Bears and so on. There was always someone with a toy chest or shoebox overflowing with forgotten or unloved relics. They were always cheap, too. You’d grab a handful, ask how much, and the man or woman would say “For you? A quid, love”. Even relatively modern toys like Power Rangers could be had for a pittance.
This is how I acquired much of my toy collection in the early nineties. I’d even prowl the classified ads in the paper…. and then get my mum to call because I was scared of using the phone, and Tim Bernard Matthews hadn’t invented email yet.
But now, thanks to the heralded return of a lot of 80s toylines, eBay and just plain human greed, every piece of junk is a treasure. People hoard toys like they were Faberge eggs, and it’s doing my head in. I just recently went to a toy fair out at the Westpoint Arena. You know the kind; they charge you £3.50 for the privilege of walking in circles around some pasting tables on a cold concrete floor while Botulism Bill parks his trailer outside and charges a tenner for chips and a can of Coke.
Anyway, while I was there I stumbled across a few people selling Transformers. I was pretty excited; you just don’t see them out in the wild anymore. But I quickly realised two things. Firstly, the toys were all broken. And I mean in an obvious, throw-it-in-the-bin way. Arms, legs and heads missing; plastic mouldy and discoloured; sharp jagged edges where wings or wheels used to be, and so on.
The second thing I noticed was that they wanted a fortune for these things. Ten pounds, thirty pounds. Whenever I questioned the price, I was snorted at in a “what do you know” kind of way. The people were rude and dismissive, and I was glad to not give them my business.
Somewhere along the line, everyone got this idea that toys – all toys – are priceless relics to be traded for vast sums of money. I have news for you: toys are for kids. They are produced in their millions to be sold to children, or at least to parents buying them on behalf of children, and depending on the time of year, Father Christmas. They cost virtually nothing to buy, and a great deal less to produce.
I’m not a toy collector, I just really like toys. But I do recognise that certain toys, in great condition, with accessories and boxes that so often don’t survive the passage of time, are worth money to the right people. It’s common sense. But if you take them out of the box, break them, and let them rot in a garage for thirty years, they’re still just cheap tat designed to be sold to kids and played with. Whatever they were worth decades ago, they’re worth a whole fucking lot less now.
But these toy dealers have got it in their heads that they can sell anything to anyone and make a killing. The Transformers, for example, were broken and timeworn. But for the right price, I would’ve taken them home to fill out the ranks. However, the dealers wanted ten times what a sensible person would pay, and so the toys return to their plastic bags and shoeboxes, to gather dust for another six months until Westpoint opens its doors again. It blows my mind, and I can only put it down to greed and laziness.
Maybe seven or eight years ago, I was at the same toy fair at Westpoint, and I met a man selling Transformers. They were in good nick, he’d done his homework and wanted sensible money for them. He was friendly and polite, and we had a chuckle. I think he wanted about £18 for the Autobot Blurr. I’d had (and subsequently lost) Blurr as a kid and dearly missed him, so I gladly paid up for the specimen.
A few minutes later, I counted my change and discovered that the man had given me too much. I owed him about £4. So I went back, and seeing me approach, he smiled. I started to speak: “I was just counting my change, and you made a mistake…” His face fell, the poor guy. But then I continued, “You gave me too much! I figure I owe you this.” I popped the coins in his hand and he looked at me with an expression I will never forget. Sort of disbelieving pride mixed with relief. He laughed, shook my hand tightly, and thanked me profusely. It was my pleasure, I said.
What happened to people like that, eh? Sometimes I think toy collectors or dealers forget why they do what they do. That is, if they even had a reason in the first place. For me, it’s about having fun. The toys that I find and buy get played with, looked after and cleaned up. In some ways I do it to recapture my youth, for all those times I looked into the window of the shop and had to walk away empty handed, or to feel again the excitement of having a new toy in my hands when Christmas or birthdays finally rolled around.
Anyway, to finish on a lighter note, I shall tell ye a tale of my brother’s Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles watch. He bought it from someone selling MISB Turtles toys at the fair. He paid a ludicrous £14 for it, then ripped it out of the sealed packaging on the assumption that it still worked after all this time. Unfortunately, a couple decades does take its toll on digital watches, and the mechanism was blackened and rotted by a leaky battery.
Any normal person would’ve sighed, cursed a little and put the watch away. But Luke decided that, damn it, he was going to wear a purple flip-top Donatello watch, and it had better tell the sodding time. So, on my advice, we went to Sainsbury’s and looked at kid’s digital watches. Having a deeper knowledge than most on the workings of cheap timepieces, I assured him that we would find a compatible donor in the “Doctor McStuffins” girls’ watch. He dutifully obeyed and purchased it. Sure enough, the workings were identical even down to the button placement and he’d soon disassembled both watches and transplanted their guts. It works great, and now Luke is always pleased to be asked the time.
“Grab a handful”