A Look Into the Retro with Toy Collecting

SONY DSCBy Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Model railroads, Hot Rod cars, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Barbie and LEGO are all toys everyone has played with in their childhood, but growing up often leaves those playthings far behind. For the adult toy collector, they can finally own the stuff they couldn’t buy as a child, and the new toys coming out are a must because they look cool.

Biagio Woodward, manager of Cherry Bomb Toys in Victoria, BC believes that toys are designed for people of all ages. This shop moves a fair bit of product and the Christmas season is the best time for shoppers to look for that hard to find item for that hard to please nerd in the family. Sometimes, the perfect gift is a recycled one to bring back the nostalgia of what that geek loved when he or she was young, and in what was played with. Woodward believes what the current line of toys are trying to do is to match the quality of old toys, and collectors are willing to pay more money for them, old or new.

“For example, GI Joe toys from the 60’s is the basis of the 12″ toys of today because they are super-poseable,” says Woodward.

With this high level of detail and precision, the products coming from Japan are even more wildly detailed. Speciality dealers and comic book stores have a section dedicated to Japanese toys like Gundam, Dragon Ball and Naruto. Model kits are a-plenty, especially the former, and they even dominate comic book shows as the best-known property outside this country.

While Star Wars took the toy industry by storm in the late 70’s, George Lucas made his millions by allowing Kenner to make action figures. And Japan’s interest in this space opera has led to some high-quality products which are meant for display than something to be played with.

Some people never could leave their favourite toy behind and there is a huge diversity. There is more to toy collecting than just playing with that action figure. “The appeal of LEGO is that you can make anything with it,” says Joseph Williams, a member of the Victoria Lego Users Group. This brick building tool has inspired many to elevate a simple toy product to that of art, and just where it can go next with its incorporating movie and pop culture franchises can only bring on bigger and better products at a price. However, just why one type of toy is popular than another, there is no difference.

“It’s a matter of expressing yourself,” adds Williams.

Ed Sum\'s Studio Ghibli Collection

When collections get out of hand for an older collector, it’s tough to stop. Even over at Otakunoculture, at my home office, I have run out of display space for my Studio Ghibli collection. James Shaw does not have the shelf space to manage the tiny amount he’s collected. In fact, his posters are sitting in my home, in a closet, awaiting frames. Laugh as some may, I have to admit that it’s tough to consider getting rid of anything, however large or small that drawing, action figure or stuffie is. Even Ken Steacy, a professional illustrator and toy collector, admits to letting valued pieces go.

“But I don’t want to get rid of everything but realize you have to let go of some things. I have to distill my collection to its essence,” Steacy muses.

The appeal of toys is an aesthetic of a particular time. “I like the excitement of the stories and the toys. Once your brain is wired that way, it’s really hard to un-wire it,” says Steacy.

And as for what type of toys are always popular, it depends.

“For vintage toys, it depends on the region you are from,” says Harvey Rostorku, a private seller, “Every city is different.”

He thinks their modern appeal is linked to whaSONY DSCt type of town the collector lives in. As some cities are labelled a military town, sea-side town or surfer’s paradise, the type of toys that are popular will depend on what is culturally significant to that township.

In toy shows, many vendors focus on a specific type of toy, like Barbie or Transformers, and what they specialize in only means a ready clientele for the old and new.

While older collectors are looking to buy stuff to rekindle their youth, the younger generation is there to see what kinds of toys their grandparents had. Part of the hobby is still about remembering one’s own childhood but another part of it is having something to share between generations.

“Toy collecting is a social thing too. You get to go out to events like toy shows,” says Bob Twist, a collector of military figures.

Many collectors come out to toy shows which are held in nearly every major city and Victoria is no different.

This city has The Ultimate Hobby and Toy Fair at Pearkes Recreation Centre that Cherry Bomb Toys runs.  There used to be The Victoria Toy Show held at the Mary Winspear Centre in the town of Sidney but that has not operated for some time. When both were running, they were well attended and for the true collector, the morning rush is the craziest.

NOTE: Originally published in Camosun College’s Nexus Newspaper circa 2010. Reprinted with revisions with permission.

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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