Websites are brimming with an endless supply of cast-iron trucks and cap guns.
Don't lug that old box of toys outside for the next yard sale. In the spirit of the Antiques Roadshow, members of the International Toy Collectors Association (ITCA) are touring the country and doling out checks on behalf of those well-to-do baby boomers yearning for G.I. Joe, Robbie the Robot and Buck Rodgers.
"Anything made before 1965 is now collectible," says ITCA President Jeff Parsons. "I don't care what it is. There is somebody collecting it." The only catch is the toys must predate 1970 and be in demand. The better the condition, the greater the value. If the toy comes in the original box, the price could quadruple.
"We encourage people to bring the whole carload in," says Billy McCurley, who has spent the last four years with the ITCA Toy Roadshow turning attic finds into cash. "That item you leave at home may be the most valuable."
Antique-toy collecting is surging as middle-aged professionals -- lawyers, doctors, Hollywood producers -- seek links to their childhoods. There is an American Train Collectors Association, an American Game Collectors Association and the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America. Toys have become one of the top five collectible categories in the United States, according to the Website antiquetoys.com.
One collector, by way of the Toy Roadshow, paid $2,100 two years ago for a tiny G.I. Joe phone that fits in the hand of the action figure. Another recently bought a set of mechanical banks from a Cumberland, Md., woman for $42,000. "It's worth what someone's willing to pay for it," explains Frank Ross, media coordinator for the roadshow.
Most sales aren't as glamorous but are satisfying nonetheless for the seller. "I'm ready to clean out," says Anthony Lakis, 49, of Annapolis, Md. "I'm at a point in my life when I'd really like to simplify and downsize." She recently exchanged two Barbie dolls, some clothing and a case for $200, plus some of her son's Batmans and Matchbox cars from the eighties for $150.
Robots and space toys from the height of the Cold War are hot. Disney characters, superheroes and Shirley Temple are, too. There is a market for train sets made by Lionel, Ives and American Flyer, especially those still in the box.
Some collectors use their collections as conversation pieces, while others view the toys as investments. Many are out for bragging rights. "A lot do it because they never had that toy as a kid," says buyer Travis Baptist.
The roadshow visits about 150 communities a year, buying between 1,000 and 2,000 toys a day for its clients -- toy collectors worldwide who register with the ITCA. Buyers such as McCurley and Baptist do not appraise toys -- an appraisal suggests a certificate for insurance purposes. Instead, they give owners "free-market evaluations" and often make an offer to purchase the toys. Checks are handed out on the spot, and the toys end up in the collectors' hands. If an item is extremely rare, the buyers sometimes get collectors on the phone to bid.
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COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group