Toys & Games

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A red base Guinea marble, with electric yellow spots

Rare red base Guinea marble, with electric yellow spots

I think one of the reasons we all love summer is that summer days offer some sort of permanent portal to the summer days of our childhood.  Want to feel young again?  Roll down the windows and crank the pop music of your generation.  Grab a towel and a magazine and go lounge by the pool.  Head down to a street festival, pick up a funnel cake, and sit around in the twilight enjoying that simple, yet contradictory, summer feeling of being simultaneously itchy, a bit too warm, and content.  For instance, this coming weekend, many folks looking to revisit childhood will be heading to Wildwood, New Jersey for the festivities surrounding the National Marbles Tournament.

The folks at the National Marbles Tournament take their marbles seriously and so do collectors.  It’s thought that marbles originated in Pakistan, with the earliest examples being, of course, stone, although very early clay and glass marbles have also been found.  A variety of games can be played with marbles and their popularity really began to explode in the last half of the 19th century when mass production of marbles became possible.  For quite a time, Akron, Ohio was the marble capital of the world with more than a dozen companies in the area producing them.  (In fact, Akron’s home to the the American Toy Marble Museum.)  There are dozens of slang terms for marbles, terms that still carry the flavor of 19th-century mibster slang (a mibster is one who plays marbles) – mibs, milkies, aggies, clayeys, commies.  Most of them describe either the material or the internal appearance, and don’t be fooled by their size, because little marbles can bring big bucks at auction!  (Check out the one pictured above….)  As with anything, collectors care about condition – playing is hard on glass and ceramic marbles – but the size, color and design can all affect value.  Definitely worth spending one of your nostalgic summer days poking around in your folks’ basement!

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

To search the Prices4Antiques antiques reference database for valuation information on hundreds of thousands of antiques and fine art visit our homepage

J.T. Houghton Excelsior Illustrated Alphabet Cube Blocks

J.T. Houghton Excelsior Illustrated Alphabet Cube Blocks

When did toys become so complex?  Until about eight, my life was complete with a Raggedy Ann doll, my trusty rumbling Big Wheel, a checkerboard, a mismatched set of Legos, a tub of crayon stubs and a heap of recycled scrap paper.  And access to the garage….  Honestly, when I think of the amount of trouble I was able to get into with a limited supply list, I realize that my brother and I were sort of the MacGyvers of childhood mischief.  And yet today, I’m facing down an industry that wants me to believe that from birth, a child requires a constant battery-fed diet of bouncing, flashing, chiming, beeping and buzzing!

Cast iron Royal Esther toy stove by the Mt. Penn Stove Works

Cast iron Royal Esther toy stove by the Mt. Penn Stove Works

Clearly, there are collectors who agree with me, choosing to treasure the nostalgic relics of their childhood.  Toys that were popular years ago are still popular with collectors today.  Simple toys like miniature stoves (without lights and working knobs), wood blocks (like the ones pictured above, without interlocking tabs designed by MIT engineers), and barnyards full of animals (that do not make noises and are not fully-articulated) often bring great prices at auction.  As is the case with many items, rarity contributes to value, and most children’s toys and board games are rare simply because they don’t survive being “loved” for years, meaning that moms tend to toss them when cleaning out closets.  It’s important to keep in mind that because rarity affects prices, some of the most common toys and games like Monopoly actually don’t always bring large sums.  Unusual games that few people have heard of, like Going to the Klondike and The Stanley Africa Game, tend to bring stronger prices, especially if they’re from the early days of board and parlor games in the late 1800s.  All of this leads to a second value factor buyers should keep in mind: condition, as game pieces end up missing, boxes cave in and paint wears off over time.  We often hear about toys in original boxes bringing great money, and that’s probably in part just because retaining the box is a convenient shorthand way of conveying that the toy has been well-cared for over the years.

With vintage toys commanding strong prices, it pays to double-check when you’re cleaning out closets or sorting through a picnic table full of things at a yard sale.  Just make sure you count all the pieces to guarantee that you’re not “Sorry!” about your purchase!

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

Click here to browse all toys in the p4A database.

Ives cast iron walking horse drawn "Victory" cart, circa 1890

Ives cast iron walking horse drawn "Victory" cart, circa 1890, sold for $1,237 at Davies Auctions

Davies Auctions held a multi-owner sale on Feb. 27, 2010 at Judi’s Catering Banquet Hall in Lafayette, Indiana. The merchandise consisted of cast-iron and tin windup toys from two collections (including the longtime collection of John Lippman), a variety of vintage Christmas collectibles, and a selection of antiques, primarily country and Americana smalls. Only a few pieces of furniture were offered.

Snow and freezing drizzle in Indiana the night before the sale made the roads slick, but the weather didn’t appear to keep away bidders. A standing-room-only crowd was supplemented by a fair number of phone and absentee bids. Ninety-two lots of toys were cataloged. There were numerous uncataloged lots. The auction was promoted on Davies’ Web site, as well as AuctionZip, but there was no Internet bidding.

“I thought it did just fine,” auctioneer Doug Davies said of the sale. “There were probably a few soft spots.” In specific, he said prices for holiday items were down a little, and that the Baird advertising clock might have done better. However, the toys did well, with bids from as far away as Pennsylvania and Florida, while one floor bidder was from Kansas. The Alfred Montgomery painting also saw strong interest and did well for its size.

Successful bidders paid a 10 percent buyer’s premium.

-Don Johnson, Editor,

Early child's sled with foliate and bands decoration

Early child's sled with foliate and bands decoration

In this modern era, sledding may be losing steam.  Before long, you’ll probably be able to stay inside and go for a sleigh ride with your Wii without even having to put on your snow boots!  But, at one point, sledding was a huge part of childhood, and there are so many references to it in childhood classics.  Those of us who grew up sledding know why – the cold, thrilling, all-too-short rush downhill was worth spending hours in the freezing winter air, trudging uphill over and over for another go.

While my brother’s frequent crashes cracked up our plastic sleds with startling regularity, early sleds like the one pictured here were built – and decorated – to last, and those same factors have made them popular with modern collectors.  Sleds or sleighs that retain most of their painted decoration have become folk art, as have the unique home-crafted creations made out of odd bits of metal or carved wood.  The better the decoration and the better the preservation, the better the price!  From early experimental sleds and small pony-drawn sleighs to later storebought Mickey Mouse models, there are buyers for them all.

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

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