Demand grows for classic toys
Bene Raia / WGBH
Vintage toys like this Madame Alexander Cissy doll or Louis Marx trains and Parachute Jump Erector sets sold in the $15 range originally, but now can command $75 to 100 depending on condition.
Retro toys like Tinkertoys have seen a resurgence and are now made of high density plastic.
Bene Raia / WGBH
Toy collectible expert and picker featured on PBS's "Market Warriors," Bene Raia, says the Star Wars Lego toys, like this Death Star, are highly collectible and will continue to be so.
But at the recent Toy Fair 2013 here, buyers gathered like kids on a playground around the booths stocked with the classics -- wooden play sets and ride-on toys, craft materials, table games and building sets.
"Retro-style toys for the under-tween crowd are on the upswing," said Adrienne Appell of the Toy Industry Association.
Kids may see the unwired stuff as novel; parents appreciate having some balance in the toy basket.
Here's a look at some of the new offerings, and also which toys are worth hanging onto after kids outgrow them.
Building sets -- including Legos -- are hotter than ever, according to consumer market research firm NPD Group. The category grew nearly 20 percent in 2012, the group said.
The Lego booth at the February fair included new entries in the Lego City and Lego Friends categories, the new Galaxy Squad space fantasy sets, and the DUPLO Read and Build sets, among others.
K'Nex representatives were writing orders for glow-in-the-dark roller coasters, and construction sets based on Angry Birds, Pac-Man and Super Mario. The manufacturer's Robo Battlers allow kids to make smaller figures and stick them together to make a more elaborate creation.
And Tinkertoys are turning 100 this year, now rendered in durable high-density plastic. The colorful components include perennial favorites like rods, spools and washers, as well as some new bendable pieces.
British-based Le Toy Van offered high-end, high-quality, creative-play toys: sustainably produced rubberwood and engineered-wood dollhouses, pirate ships and accessories, with accompanying characters. The company's faux food array included petit fours, fine chocolates and croissants.
Some toymakers were touting franchises beloved by today's kids' parents: board games and figures based on Cabbage Patch Dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Fraggle Rock. There were Bozo the Clown outdoor games. And New York-based Yottoy had old-timey books like "Harry the Dog," "The Poky Little Puppy" and "Scuffy the Tugboat" paired with plush toys.
In arts and crafts, Crayola's booth showed new kits for making custom markers and crayons. Play-Doh demonstrated a new fluffier formula, while at Waba Fun, buyers were elbow-deep in Bubber, a never-dries-out play dough made with hollow ceramic beads and nontoxic polymers; Shape-It sand, which can be formed, baked, sculpted and then warmed back into a pile to start again; and Kinetic Sand, another polymer-filled sand.
Oldies but goodies
When a kid outgrows them or loses interest, which toys are worth hanging onto?
Those with sentimental value, perhaps -- books, dolls or train sets that parents dream might one day be passed on to grandchildren.
And then there are collectibles.
"I think the ones based on popular movies and shows might have value. Couple that with a brand-name toy and you've got a potential collectible," says Bene Raia of Boston, one of the antiques pickers on PBS's "Market Warriors."
Hard-to-find sets of "Star Wars" Legos, for instance, are worth big bucks, she said; an out-of-production Rebel Snowspeeder was recently offered online for more than $1,300.
And pay attention to what's in those fast-food bags.
"One of the biggest surprises in toy collecting is the Happy Meal giveaway," Raia said. Tie-ins to films offer an instant cross-collectible, that is, an item of value in more than one collectors' marketplace. Whole sets command more on the resale market; a "101 Dalmatians" Happy Meal set from McDonald's now sells on eBay for about $100.
Raia says many toys from the baby boom era are valuable now -- Louis Marx toy trains, Madame Alexander Cissy dolls from the 1950s, Parachute Jump erector sets from the '40s -- especially if they have the original boxes and accessories.
That's key: Keep the packaging.
"Some people will buy two boxes of Legos, one to play with and one to keep," Raia says. "It might sound extreme, but for the `Star Wars' series it might be a good idea."
When is it time to get rid of toys?
Raia, a mother of four under age 10, says her rule of thumb is simple. "Anything that hasn't been played with in the past three or four months, we give away."
Incomplete games and sets can be donated or passed along, although with a popular toy she suggests posting it online to help someone else complete their set.
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