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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 16:08 GMT
Not just child's play
A model train
Could your old toys be worth thousands of pounds?
By BBC2 Working Lunch's Helen Hutchinson

Toy cars and teddy bears aren't just dear to our children - they can be worth thousands of pounds to grown-ups as well.

A burgeoning collectors market in old toys has made collecting and trading in childhood playthings big business, with potentially lucrative awards.

For example, a teddy bear made by German toy manufacturer Steiff, which would have cost about 80 in the 1980s, now sells for about 250 - a neat 213% profit.

Of course as with all investment there are dos and don'ts to investing in toys.

And before you start planning your retirement on the back of your child's cache of Barbie and G.I. Joe, there are a few things you should know.

Harry Potter or Batman?

Firstly, not all toys are collectable.

Trying to pick the ones that will catch the market's eye in the future is difficult and could see you waiting a long time for little or no reward.

David Barzilay from toy auctioneers Vectis says: "The buyers in the market often aren't people just looking to invest. They're looking to buy a piece of their childhood back."

David Barzilay from toy auctioneers Vectis
David Barzilay: Don't expect your Harry Potter spin-off to make your fortune
On this basis a good tip is to look for relatively rare or first issue television and film spin-off items. A Batmobile bought in the 1980s for 65 is now worth as much as 300.

But don't bother jumping on every bandwagon; many of today's toys will never be valuable collectors items.

Mr Barzilay says: "Don't buy something like a Harry Potter spin-off expecting it to be worth thousands in a few years because you may be disappointed.

"There are simply too many of them on the market."

Scour the markets

A better bet is to get an idea of what sort of toys are already valuable, then scour garage sales and markets looking for them.

If you are an amateur be wary of auctions - the bidding process adds an element of pot luck to valuation and can result in toys being grossly overvalued.

Glenn Chapman, owner of the Unique Collections toyshop in Greenwich, recalls: "I recently saw a toy Aston Martin from the James Bond movies sell for 800 at auction - it was really worth about 300."

If you do find yourself in possession of a valuable toy, or one you are hoping will become valuable, the second rule is to look after it. And not only the toy, but the packaging it came in as well.

Mint

Mint condition is all-important in the toy market as it adds to the rarity of an item.

Remember that when most toys are bought they are just that - toys. Typically they will be damaged in the course of their use.

Even a small scratch or tear can greatly reduce the price you could get for a toy.

And don't forget the box. Far from being a worthless piece of packaging, a good condition box can considerably increase the value of the toy.

Mr Chapman says: "A box can increase the price of a toy by as much as two-thirds."

Get educated

Your chances of making some money from toy collecting increases out of sight with a little bit of research and by being persistent and focused.

Mr Barzilay spent about 20 per month, and a lot of time, building up a collection of wind-up toys.

After seven years he had spent about 7,000 on the toys. He recently sold the collection for 68,000, a profit of 871%.

True, this isn't the norm, but it does show how lucrative those dusty childhood playthings can be.

And if worse comes to worse, and they bomb as investments, you can always give them away as presents. Try doing that with your old dot.com shares.

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