Great vintage toys are by far the hottest items in the collectibles world today — and also the absolute hardest for us to find. Collectors who own them prize their toys above all else and rarely ever choose to part with them: The force of nostalgia runs too strong. Family members who inherit treasure chests full of vintage toys tend not to let them go, either.
That’s why we were so shocked years ago when a long-time and highly skilled collector called us to ask if we would be interested in acquiring his antique and vintage toys. He said he had a lot of them.
“How many do you think you might have?” we asked, suspecting that he might possess maybe a dozen toys — a number that most people who call us consider to be “a lot” of toys. For dealers like us, a lot means hundreds or thousands of something.
“I think you should just come and take a look,” he happily suggested. “It will be worth your while.”
Discovering a one-man vintage toys museum
My wife and I raced through the Anne Arundel County countryside as fast as the law allowed, entered his home, and … nearly went blind from the glow of gorgeous old toys beaming at us from every direction. We weren’t looking at a collection: We were entering a vintage toys museum.
Japanese tin toys, American tin toys by makers including my beloved Louis Marx, antique Hubley cast iron cars and trucks, 1950s and 1960s space toys. We saw Black Americana toys and dolls, a wildlife refuge full of stuffed animals and pot metal animal figurines, Superheroes, Star Wars and all kinds of other vintage movie and TV toys. Vintage toy boat motors filled a showcase shelf, lead soldiers another. We spotted more Matchbox cars than we could count. Model cars, airplanes and boats were everywhere. Rockets and blimps hunger from the air on nearly invisible string.
We stood there, mouths agape, admiring the most extraordinary vintage toy collection we had ever seen in person. We felt like we had just become The American Pickers — minus the fame and fortune. I actually got dizzy — “junk drunk” — people call it in our business.
Seller’s priorities change, time to let go of antique toys
More shock waves blew through us when he told us that he was ready to let go of the entire collection in one shot.
“It’s time,” he said, gently.
The seller began collecting vintage toys after tragedy struck his family, killing his daughter. He took up the hobby knowing it would be impossible to fill the void in his life. He hoped to at least occupy some of his time.
His own life was now in jeopardy, too, but he was determined to beat cancer and start a new life somewhere else. He dreamed of using the money from the sale of his antique toy collection to make a down payment on a houseboat.
How to structure a deal involving museum-quality collectibles?
It took several hours for us to figure out how to make the economics work for him and for us. We operate in a variety of ways depending on what sellers’ goals and timelines are. On any given day, we might buy vintage toy collections (and all kinds of other antiques, collectibles, jewelry, art, advertising and more) or work on a consignment basis. There was no way either he or us could come up with a number for what the old toys were worth, so we both opted for consignment. Time was of the essence for him so we told him we would set all other projects aside and concentrate on selling his toys.
Deal struck, we went to to work. It would take several days just to remove the first batch.
We took extraordinary care packing the toys, managing to reunite many of them with their original boxes that he had kept, returned to our HQ, and instantly stuffed our Orion’s Attic eBay store. Meanwhile, we also reached out to some of our long-time buyers about pieces we knew they would like — selling a great The Monkees Monkee Mobile with box before we even finished unloading our truck.
Phase one ended when we loaded up the first of what would prove to be a great many van loads of the man’s treasures and brought them home. We sold some of the best pieces directly to long-time Orion’s Attic buyers like the man who wanted the Monkees. Our eBay store made the cash register ring day and night on the rest. Some toys sold almost the moment we listed them. It was a thrill to produce our monthly sales reports and shake the man’s hand when we went back to Anne Arundel County to pick up the next load.
Seller begins teaching us lessons about collectibles — and about life
The collector gave us master classes each time we visited. One session focused on vintage toy outboard motor engines. Another on the subtle differences between average lead figures and good ones. He also shared some of his life’s story with us, including an artistic life that blessed him with careers first as an ice sculpture artist and then as a wood carver. We happily bought one carving of a seabird to give to a parent and one of a turtle for us to keep. He blushed when we asked him to sign the pieces.
But it wasn’t just the man’s toy collection that made him unforgettable.
Working on big projects often enables us to strike up long conversations with clients. We get to know some very well. The items in their home shed lots of light on people, too. They likewise get to know us, drawing additional clues from what we’re driving and wearing.
Won-ok and I suspect that the seller’s and our first impressions of each other made us both laugh. It was obvious that we were different worlds in many ways. We certainly had polar opposite views on politics, the Civil War, and cigarettes. None of that mattered in the least to him or to us. The sweet man treated us with nothing but extraordinary kindness and trust — starting with allowing us to take the first load of his vintage toys home on a handshake even before we could send him the contract. He was a case study not just in selling vintage toys but in how we as Americans should work harder to understand and respect each other.
End result of selling vintage toys project?
The dear man’s toys long ago found new collectors to love them. We even bought a few to remember him and a beautiful time in our lives. The seller accomplished his two goals of finding people he could trust to handle his vintage toy collection and removing the collection from his home. We generated a large sum of money for him in the consignment process — far more than he would have made by selling the entire collection in bulk.
Time got away from us, though, and we haven’t spoken to him in way too long. We hope he sold his house and made his way to the water. We also hope he knows we will forever remember what he taught us about vintage toys and about life.
Learn more about selling all kinds of collectibles including vintage toys in Sell Us Your Stuff.
Learn more about liquidating entire estates in our Estate Liquidation and Downsizing Guide.
Do you have great collectibles you need to sell?
Call us today to find out about selling your collections of all kinds of things. We’re always looking for more antique toys, coins, jewelry (fine and costume), sports memorabilia, and more. We can also connect you with dealers specializing in everything from rare books to military antiques.
There’s also no such thing as a collection of anything that’s too big for us to handle.
About Orion’s Attic
Orion’s Attic is a full-service estate liquidation, downsizing and home cleanout company based in Silver Spring, Maryland. We also buy antiques and collectibles. We serve Montgomery County and the entire metro Washington D.C. area (D.C., Maryland, Virginia).