Buy toys, store toys, sell toys, make money.
Easy, right? It sure sounds like it, and if you love buying toys anyway, it's a tempting formula. But if it were that easy, everyone would be getting rich off their childhood memories.
Sad to say, all too many of yesterday's collectibles just didn't turn out to be the investments we hoped. For every first-edition Superman comic (worth a cool $2.2 million today), there's a veritable avalanche of once-collectible knickknacks that have brutally dropped in value. So if you still have an attic, basement, or garage packed with boxes of any of these, we cautiously suggest it might be time to rethink.
Sitting on a hoard of these iconic 1990s plushies? Then you're a lot more comfortable than you are wealthy.
Beanie Babies are the poster-child for disastrous toy investments. Their apparent value was catapulted during the late 90s by some fiendishly clever marketing by creator H. Ty Warner, who managed to turn them into must-have holidays items. Unfortunately, the empire collapsed faster than a deflated dot-com, as oversupply, counterfeiting, and consumer weariness took their respective tolls on the market. They made Warner a billionaire, but they're not going to do the same for you. For example, a royal blue Peanut the Elephant sold for $3,005 in 2000. Now it goes for about $50 - $200 on eBay.
There's a general rule of thumb in the toy-collecting world: anything with "Collector's Edition" plastered across the front generally...ain't.
So it is with these Barbie dolls. Mattel made scads of them, and just about everybody kept them in new-in-box condition in the hope they'd one day be valuable enough to retire on. Genuine rarities -- vintage dolls from the 50s and 60s, for example -- are indeed worth bank. More modern examples? Keep them if they make you happy, get what you can out of them if they don't.
Video game collector's editions
High-priced collector's editions versions of popular video games have been known to ship with everything from cloth maps to flashy action figures to genuine night-vision goggles. And yes, it's true that a few rare collectors editions do fetch high prices, if complete and in good shape.
But many don't, especially since they tend to get opened and played. That 2-disc version of Halo 3 you've opened, played through seven times, spilt coffee on, and scratched to heck and back? Not so much. Trade it in while the value's still worth bothering with, but don't expect to get much more from it than you would from a standard, non-collector's copy.
Cabbage Patch Kids
Remember these? Though it's hard to believe, the Cabbage Patch Kids were probably the first toy to experience the holiday-season undersupply madness that recently plagued hot gifts like Tickle-Me-Elmo. When you can't walk into a store and buy one off the shelf, their value shoots up.
But now that they're everywhere, and with few genuine collectors to keep the market humming, it's rare indeed that you'll get more out of a Cabbage Patch Kids doll than you put into it. We suggest you take their name at face value and install them in your vegetable garden to scare the birds.
Once upon a time, rare baseball cards were hard to find. Now, they're not. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms -- rare, but easy to find -- then consider the giant panda. Sure, it's rare, but if you want to see one, just head for the zoo.
Baseball cards work the same way, except the zoo is eBay. When you can find hundreds of copies of any rare baseball card you want with a quick search, where's the appeal? More to the point, where's the value? In freefall since the 90s, that's where. With the exception of a few standout cards, and esoterica like misprints and signed examples, they don't fetch much these days. A 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, for example, which fetched about $150 in 2000, is now worth only about $10-$15.
Happy Meal toys
With just a hamburger, a few fries, a soda, and a cheap plastic toy, McDonald's hit upon the recipe for a fast-food revolution by introducing Happy Meals in the late 70s. What thirty-something doesn't have fond memories of tearing open those little plastic bags and desperately trying to assemble complete collections of the toys before their inevitable replacement? You'd think that would be a recipe for gold-in-the-attic fortunes, but you'd be wrong.
While a handful of Happy Meal toys from the promotion's opening years have values around $100, they're the exception rather than the rule. After all, billions upon billions of Happy Meals have gone home with smiling kids over the 35 years they've been on the market. They're just not all that rare. If you're bored with your stash, or your kids have outgrown them, take them to Goodwill.