I have been thinking lately about the difference between collectors of antique toys and collectors of vintage toys. For my train of thought antique toys are pre 1970 and vintage toys are post 1970 but specifically the 1980’s and 90’s. Let me first say that collecting is collecting no matter what the focus is. My brother was very serious about his collection of plastic drink swords, granted he was five. I also realize at some point you have to acknowledge that you are getting older because the toys you played with are now collectible. But what I am turning over in my thoughts is the difference in the action of collecting.
The main reason that I started to collect Keystone toys is that I found a toy ship that I thought was incredibly cool and started to keep my eye out for another one. Now I came across the ship at an antique store so I couldn’t just go to the toy store and buy another one. This toy was produced at least twenty-five years before I was born and at a time when the only purpose of a toy was to be played with. So a hunt began and I didn’t find another ship for almost ten years. This is how my focus on Keystone toys began.
Now I grew up in the seventies and the eighties and there was already many people who had the idea of buying a toy to “collect it”. Welcome to hanging out at the local comic book store in the early eighties. I did buy a few new toys and got them home with the intent that they were not to be touched. My assumption is that I was never fully hooked because I already knew what an antique was and knew the thrill of the hunt. Fast forward thirty years and there are plenty of wonderful, well fleshed out, mint to near mint collections and some have developed value. But did those collectors have the same amount of fun and frustration that I have had in building my collection? When you collect from new you know what you are looking for, what the series is and when the next one is coming out. If you were serious about your interest you would find out what day the new deliveries arrived and be there when the truck arrived. The mystery of “is the toy common or rare” is gone and condition is no longer much of an issue. A wealth of information is available about the toy and the company that produced it. It seems to me that the thrill of the hunt has been removed and that is one of the most exciting parts of collecting toys.
If we look at collecting antique toys there are a host of different factors that come into play. When a truly old toy is found condition and rarity are the first issues that must be taken into consideration. In my case with Keystone wooden toys condition is always an issue. These toys were played with as they were meant to be. What level of paint loss or missing parts is acceptable for me to want it and is the price acceptable for the condition? Once I have thought about this and start to lean toward a decision I then need to think about rarity. I cannot turn to a guide that tells me how many were produced and for how long. So is the toy rare or have I just never come across one before? Is the variation between the one I already own and the one in front of me significant enough to make it a different toy or a Friday afternoon production error? Lets not forget the thrill of looking in the case and seeing a toy that peaks my interest and the box sitting behind it. All of this is gone when you go to a booth at a toy show and there is the Star Wars figure you have been looking for in mint condition, on the card, with five others in the same condition. The only thought at that point is do you want to spend the money on it.
Another thing that gets lost is finding a toy that helps fill an information gap about the company or in those rare occasions no one knew existed. Again turning to my collection interest there is very little information written about Keystone wooden toys and what is out there is often incorrect or contradictory. Keystone has been out of business for over fifty years so there really isn’t anyone to talk to with first hand knowledge of the company. So each toy that I find is a puzzle piece, some more important than others, to retelling Keystone’s story. Some toys are purchased knowing that they are Keystone but wait years to be correctly identified by model number and production years. I have some ships that I purchased more than fifteen years ago that are still unidentified. With the collecting of newer toys I see this as a part of the collecting thrill that is completely removed.
The last thing that I think about is the size of collections and the cost of building a collection. I do know that there are toys from the eighties and nineties that has a hefty price tag and plenty of toys that are fifty plus years old that are nearly worthless. This is the issue that I think about the most. I have seen collections over the years that have impressed me in their size and scope. But compared to many of the newer toy collections they are not even worth mentioning. My collection of toys and ephemera is in the ballpark of about 500 pieces, which has taken me years to build. I am pleased with what I have put together and it is a good-sized collection that takes up a small spare bedroom. I watch Toy Hunter and enjoy it even though the toy focus is much later than my interests. Most of the collectors that Jordan visits have toys numbering in the thousands and take up rooms, garages, basements and even entire houses. I am fascinated but how can my collection be compared to one of these? Mine has taken decades to get to where it is because of the time involved in locating the toys I have. Very rarely does the chance to buy a group of toys come along. I think the largest single purchase I have made was four Keystone ships in a lot. The opportunity to go to a booth at a toy show and see dozens of what I collect sitting on a table doesn’t happen and I never had the chance to buy the toys new from the toy store. Yes, there is a little jealousy in that statement. The cost of adding to a collection is also different. The average toy that I buy is equivalent to the value of six action figures from the eighties and for that money the condition of the figures is going to be better than my purchase. If I find a toy in the condition of those same figures the ratio goes to about twelve to one. My collection will never gain ground with that kind ratio. If you look at other antique toys that sell in the thousands per toy the prospect is even more grim.
I am not making any assumptions about either type of collecting, the collectors or looking down on those who are collecting newer toys. There is a thrill to both but I don’t think it is quite the same. I do understand both, I went through the Teck Deck craze with my kids and it was fun but died as quickly as the craze and I was an avid comic collector in the eighties. Like most things comparing size and quality is the benchmark of an accomplished collector. This still holds true for both antique and vintage toy collectors but I don’t know if this standard can be used between the two. So is this just a generational thing or is it a shift in collecting? I’m on the fence because I’m of the generation that collects the action figures and toys of the seventies and eighties but have always had an interest in toys from previous generations.