Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Looking for a Good Used Car?

We recently came across a new line of toy cars by Jada that, if nothing else, is good for a laugh, especially if the whole concept of treasured collectible toy cars strikes you as slightly absurd. Just the thing for your Trailer Trash Barbie! Which is probably not destined to be collectible, but who knows? They were discontinued after Mattel won the lawsuit. But that's another blog...

But many collectors take their toy cars very seriously. Daryl Lambert posted on his blog about "a toy VW Bus that sold for over $18,000," and added, "I looked on eBay and found a toy car that sold for $7,200, as well as many others that brought in over $4,000."

At a website called Old Classic Car an article devoted to toy cars describes what collectors seek:
Most collectors search for unrestored toy cars, as a car that still wears its original paint, tyres and so on, really has a feel of a proper old toy, something that no restored example can hope to achieve.

A few honest scars, scuffs, dings and signs of wear are signs that a toy has been played with and appreciated, or as the antique trade would call it, 'patina'.
Then there are those who prize the mint-condition, still-in-the-box examples...indeed, the presence of a mint-condition box can double a toy's value. But beware! There's even an industry involved in making reproduction toy packaging, to go with restored toys that will then be offered as "mint." Dinky and Corgi toy cars, in particular, are showing up with reproduction boxes.

There's a viable market, however, for the honestly restored toy car. I remember visiting a restoration shop in the basement of Petaluma Collective a decade ago, where funky old toy roadsters were being rehabilitated into gleaming like-new condition. These were no longer toys. They deserved a place of honor on a car enthusiast's shelf or a CEO's desk. (The restorer was using vile toxic paints and solvents, and he had developed serious respiratory problems. Quite a sacrifice for his passion.)

The website eHow suggests if you're starting a toy car collection you might hit garage sales, search eBay (which I'd be leery of doing) and studying price guides. Toymart, an online price guide, is an example.

Another article about diecast metal cars on a blog called Linked in to Cars included this great photo of a Corgi toy ambulance, with box.

A car collection can range from a pocketful of Matchbox cars to a pristinely displayed wall-full of very pricey little vehicles, each protected by its own plastic dome. Remember when Corgi came out with the Batmobile in the sixties? If you'd invested in one, put it away with its box and saved it until now, you could get $800 for it.

Chevron is apparently betting that their anthromorphized toy cars like Rudy Ragtop here, starring in their own commercials, touted at gas stations and boosted with their own website, might someday be considered valuable. Maybe not in our lifetime... Just in case, if you buy one, keep the box. Another gas company, Hess, sells toy trucks every year at Thanksgiving (obviously aimed at the Christmas market) and they're gone in a few days according to a collector whose first purchase was a Hess truck.

The earliest toy cars came from Germany and were made of the same tinplate used in making oilcans. Next came cast iron, and briefly in the 1930s, rubber, followed by plastic and metal alloy ("the white metal composed of zinc and aluminum") in the sixties. Here's an article that explains how to date a toy car, IF you still have that all-important box it came in.
If your collectible toy car just happens to still be in a box you can use ZIP Codes to determine the date it was made. 5 digit ZIP codes were first implemented by the US Post Office in 1963. In 1983 the Post Office implemented ZIP + 4. So if your collectible toy cars have a ZIP code of 5 digits, it dates between 1963 and 1983. If it has a 5 digit code followed by a 4 digit code, it dates from 1983 or later. New abbreviations for states also became prominent around 1963. Between 1943 and 1963, the largest U.S. cities used "postal zones." If your collectible toy cars have a postal zone number following the state in the address, it dates between 1943 and 1963.
Did you know that:
• Made in 1901, the first toy automobile was a sheet-steel copy of an Oldsmobile.
• A line of toy cars with working headlights was produced in the 1930s, and these are highly valued collectibles.

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