In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the villain Belloq taunts Indiana Jones about how a “worthless” pocket watch can become valuable over time. “If I bury it in the sand for a 1,000 years, it becomes priceless,” Belloq says and then adds ominously, “Men will kill for it.” Though most grown men who grew up in the 1980s probably wouldn’t kill for their childhood toys — buried all these years beneath undersized Little League jerseys — they might shell out a ton of money to replace them. Different versions of a 1982 Belloq action figure from the Indiana Jones toy line are worth anywhere from $145 to $350. That said, the long-term value of that figure is hard to predict; it could certainly go down.
“Take someone who is 45,” says Brian Volk-Weiss, comedian, and creator of the Netflix documentary series The Toys That Made Us. “What were they into at 15? What were they into at 10? I really think the whole nostalgia thing isn’t really about the toy, but who you were, and being reminded of that time.”
Putting a price on reconnecting with one’s childhood is hard, but it doesn’t stop toy dealers from trying. And it doesn’t stop collectors and traders from making real money. That said not all toys appreciate in value. Those who collected — either as a hobby or with the reflexive fervor of a child — in the 1980s might wish to believe that their toys have done nothing but appreciate in value, but that’s not necessarily true. The 1984 Optimus Prime $12,000 is the exception, not the rule. Toys do not, as it turns out, always get more valuable. It’s much more complicated than that.
“It’s easy to have this conversation and talk about Transformers,” laughs Volk-Weiss, alluding to the fact that toys built on prominent IP that has stayed prominent tend to be worth more over time. “Let’s make it a little harder.”
In 1984, toy company LJN manufactured toys based on the David Lynch version of the sci-fi epic Dune. While it’s mind-boggling that products from Dune were even marketed at children, what’s even more interesting is that there were some prototype toys created that were never released to the public. Specifically, LJN made a prototype for the character Gurney, more famously known as, “The Patrick Stewart Character in Dune.”
“I think there are only six that are known to exist,” Volk-Weiss says. “I just got one. I paid a lot of money for it. I’ve wanted one forever. About a week later, I got an e-mail from someone asking me if they could buy it and they offered 50 percent more than what I paid. I said no, and in my head, I’m thinking: if a week after I got it, I could have sold it for 50 percent more, then this thing is going to be worth a fortune in ten years!”
But, when Volk-Weiss mentioned this fact to a fellow vintage toy collector, his logic was instantly dismissed. In fact, Volk-Weiss’s colleague said he didn’t think the figure would hold it’s value. (According to the antique and collectibles site Worthpoint, an unpainted version of the Gurney figure is worth about $700.00- $13,000 dollars.) The vintage toy aftermarket relies on nostalgia, the buyers of the toys have to understand what that nostalgia actually is about. And when it comes to Dune, or perhaps, at some future date, even Transformers, people might not care.
Volk-Weiss says he’s not sure what will happen, but he’s interested to see “how it plays out.” Still, he believes that after about 10 years, his vintage Patrick Stewart Gurney Dune figure will probably start to a drop-off in value. “If people like us die out, how many people have seen Dune? Do you really think twenty years from now anyone who cares about Dune will still be alive and want to pay that amount of money?”
So, for those who have vintage 1980s toys and want to make some money off of childhood nostalgia, right now might be the best time for that particular buyer’s market. As of this moment, we’re in a booming (if not necessarily healthy) economy and many people in their thirties and early forties can afford to splash out on nostalgia if they so choose. Not only are they less likely to choose in ten years (having been exposed to new properties through their kids), they’ll be facing the downward curve of their earning potential and the possibility of social security taking a dirt nap. A Conan the Barbarian action figure might be less appealing in that context.
That’s not to say that 1980s toys definitely won’t appreciate in value — just that in this moment the prices are high and it might be high time for the less risk-averse among us to get out of the market. Could clinging to those Transformers and Indiana Jones villains pay off? Sure could. But current prices might also represent a bubble. If you scoffed at Bitcoin it might be time to put Belloq on the market.
The Toys That Made Us Season 2, created by Brian Volk-Weiss is streaming on Netflix now. Season 3 will debut sometime in 2019.-