One of the cheapest and potentially most lucrative ways to get into collecting is to buy cult children’s toys when they are new. Pick wisely, wait long enough and you can turn a tidy profit. That’s the theory anyway, suggested by the spectacular returns you could have had from toys such as the original Star Wars figurines. “Such is the fondness for the Star Wars franchise… that unused vintage toys originally bought for as little as £1 are now changing hands for many thousands”, says Chris Newlands in the Financial Times.
Last summer, a mint-condition figurine of the bounty hunter Boba Fett, from the original 1977 film, fetched £26,000 at auction. The latest sequels from the franchise only serve to drive the prices higher. In the days running up to the 2015 release of The Force Awakens, says Newlands, more than 600 Star Wars toys and collectables were sold for $500,000 in an online sale organised by Sotheby’s and eBay.
Toys spun off from hit films was one of the main trends at the annual New York Toy Fair last month. “We are calling [it] moviemania,” Adrienne Appell of American’s Toy Industry Association tells Andy Robertson in Forbes. “The US toy industry makes $26bn in direct sales, and we estimate about 30% is due to licensed products.” An avalanche of blockbusters will hit cinemas this year, with Transformers: The Last Knight, The Lego Ninjago Movie, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi all scheduled for release. All have licensed toys in tow, so there will be plenty of opportunities for collectors to stash away a few boxes of merchandise for the future.
Yet “the biggest trend of the year” has to be tiny toys specifically designed for collecting by children, says Trae Bodge on Yahoo Finance, such as the Madballs Oculus Orbus from Just Play. “These smaller toys – often sold for just a few dollars near the register – have been a strong performer for the industry,” says John Kell in Fortune. Sales of these toys in the US jumped by a third last year to $1.8bn, with “blind packs” – toys sold in “secretive packaging” – proving especially popular.
Toymakers believe that “the trend will remain relevant for years to come”, says Kell. Hence the proliferation of new ranges, from Bbuddieez by Jupiter Creations – which roll like marbles but also “bite” onto things – to Shopkins – small beings in the form of cupcakes and strawberries with wide eyes and long lashes – made by Moose Toys of Australia. Not to be outdone, Lego has combined the “moviemania” trend with the collectables craze in its new range of Brickheadz – collectable Lego figures of popular film characters.
Stash away your text message
Collectables are no longer just things you can pick up in an antique shop. Quidd, a start-up company based in Brooklyn, New York, trades in “digital collectables” based on cult television shows such as Arrested Development, Star Trek, Rick & Morty, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Family Guy, says Jordan Crook on TechCrunch. The firm teams up with licence holders and manufacturers to sell official virtual products, including virtual trading cards, stickers and toys, to fans of the shows, using Quidd’s in-house virtual currency. The laws of supply and demand still dictate the items’ values, as with real-world collectables, since certain digital collectables can sell out, depending on how rare they are.
Proud owners of digital collectables can’t display their trophies in their homes, of course. But they can post them through iMessage – Apple’s instant messaging service – in the way online users post images used to express emotions on social media and elsewhere online. The advantage over physical collectables such as trading cards is that since the digital versions stay on your smartphone, “you can’t ruin them with your horrible, grubby fingers”, says Joe Matar of the Den Of Geek website.
Quidd says that it has sold more than 100 million items since it launched in 2015. Nearly three-quarters of its customers have not bought physical cards, stickers and toys before making their first purchase on Quidd – suggesting that the market in digital collectables has a wider reach than the market for physical collectables, the company claims. Quidd recently raised $6.75m in funding from angel investors.
Last year, Two Hacks (above), a painting of two horses and a groom, catalogued as a copy “after [George] Stubbs”, the 18th-century painter of horses, went up for auction at Christie’s in New York with an estimate of up to $5,000. Archie Parker, of London’s Parker Gallery, was convinced it was a genuine Stubbs and bought it for $215,000 (the price suggests he wasn’t the only one to have that hunch). The painting went up for sale at the British Antique Dealers’ Association fair, which opened in Chelsea this week, priced at £750,000.
Bauerngarten (Blumengarten), a 1907 painting by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, became the third most expensive painting sold in Europe when it fetched £47,971,250 at Sotheby’s in London this month. The floral garden scene painted near Lake Attersee in Austria had been bought by London-based Canadian collector David Graham for £3.7m in 1994.