Where Should You be Looking for Antique Toys?

A toy collection often begins with the purchase of a charming antique toy discovered unexpectedly in a shop or flea market. When the enchantment with individual items turns to active pursuit of certain kinds of toys, you have become a toy collector in earnest -- that'll mean you actually have to do some work. Good things (collectible toys) do not come to those who wait; you have to search. 


Independent Shops, Shows, and Auctions

The most accessible sources for antique toys are dealers. Although the general antiques dealer usually has only a few toys, these are occasionally sold for less than the going rate because the dealer does not know their market value. However, dealers who are unfamiliar with the field may also unknowingly sell reproductions, incomplete toys, and other problem pieces. The toy dealer, on the other hand, offers few bargains but specializes in well-researched examples and is usually willing to offer advice on building a collection. 


Antiques shows, which are held throughout the country several times a year, invariably include a few dealers with groups of toys. However, collectible toy or doll shows are an even better place to find examples. At these shows, dozens of knowledgeable toy dealers offer collectors an array of items far greater than they are likely to see in years of visits to shops and ordinary antiques shows. Moreover, since sophisticated dealers and collectors are gathered together, the newbie (rookie) has an opportunity to talk to people who have been collecting for many years. No matter what your specialty, you will usually find something of interest at an old toy show. 

Many auctions of antiques and even household items have a few lots of antique toys among the offerings. Auction hunting is highly competitive and requires sound knowledge not only of antiques and toys but of bidding techniques. During auction bidding, buyers have only an instant to make up their minds, so it is essential to examine the goods beforehand. The prices are determined by the people present that day. If the audience is uninterested, prices may quite low, but if two eager collectors start bidding against each other a toy can sell for several times the price it would cost in a shop. 

Track Down Toys in Out-of-the-way Places

Because they were usually treasured and then packed away after children outgrew them, toys frequently appear at yard and house sales, flea markets, church sales, and thrift shops. Sellers in these places seldom recognize the toys' value, and a knowledgeable collector can often find bargains. Perhaps the best source of all for good antique toys is other collectors. Toy collectors often sell their duplicates or buy toys with the intention of trading them. Unlike collectors in most other fields, toy collectors frequently advertise in local newspapers for the toys they want to buy. If you place an ad, be sure to describe the toy as specifically as possible. 


People who wish to sell an item from their collections also advertise, usually in specialized journals. If an ad interests you, reply by telephone, not mail. If you write, someone else may be quicker and get the piece. Always ask specific questions about the advertised object. How large is it? What is its condition? Does it have a manufacturer's mark? Is it dated? If you are interested, ask the seller to hold the toy for you and to send a photograph; offer to pay the photography cost if you decide not to buy. Make these arrangements only if the seller gives you the right of first refusal, which means that if another prospective buyer offers a higher price while you are making up your mind, the seller will inform you and allow you to increase your offer. 

Toy Collectors' Organizations

Throughout the country, there are specialized toy collector clubs that hold regular meetings during the year or annual conferences. At gatherings, both beginning and advanced collectors exchange information, swap or sell toys, hear lectures on their field, or even plan field trips to famous toy museums or collections. Clubs sometimes have closed auctions for members only and may publish newsletters. Check the list of Organizations for Collectors to see whether a club exists in your toy specialization.

Driving Country Roads

If you are a traveler and find yourself taking scenic routes across the U.S., watch for the really out of the way small thrift shops that spatter many country routes. For the most part the sellers are not very up on the value of old toys, but many times have some really great items. You would be surprised and how many of these shops receive good condition antique toys from the local country attics.