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Hot market for collectibles transforms toys into serious business

The COVID pandemic spurred renewed interest in childhood toys and collectibles, but for how long?

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Aaron ringer, left, and Scott Bacon, right, co-owners of Midwest Vintage Toys, sort a collection of toys they acquired March 21, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — It’s a bird? It’s a plane? No — it’s the sky-high prices for vintage toys and collectibles!

Retailers say they’re still seeing a COVID-fueled interest in vintage toys, comic books, sports cards and collectible card games.

“People had extra time, extra income from the (stimulus) checks and people started using that as disposable income,” said Brad Vigesaa, co-owner of Nerdin Out pop culture and comic book store.

While the spread of the virus has for now eased, most collectibles remain in high demand and, with that demand, carry high prices.

For business partners Scott Bacon and Aaron Ringer, high prices and high demand have led to a high volume in their sales. The two opened Midwest Vintage Toys next door to the Machine Shed video game store and arcade in November.

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“Let’s be real, the pandemic was a grim time,” Bacon said. “You can find comfort in those memories.”

“I think it reignited a passion for people’s childhoods,” Ringer said.

High demand and high prices has led to high volume business for the pair. They sell about 150 toys and action figures per week. Most of them are sold and sent by mail via their eBay store.

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Aaron ringer, left, checks his phone to see what accessories go with a toy Scott Bacon, right, is holding. The two owners of Midwest Vintage Toys were sorting a collection of toys they acquired March 21, 2022 to sell in their store.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

When not pairing the figures and toys with their accessories and bagging them for sale, the two are hunting for childhood collections to buy.

“So many people don’t realize what’s sitting in their attic,” Bacon said.

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"Masters of the Universe" action figures, originally introduced in 1982 by Mattel, sit in a bin to be sorted at Midwest Vintage Toys.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

After the business partners purchased a Bloomington man’s childhood collection of toys, the two had several totes to sort Monday evening. The toys will be sorted by genre, bagged and sold. Bacon pointed to one bin of various toys including smaller Transformers that he says will probably take 40 hours of sorting.

It’s a lot of work, but a fun job, Bacon said. He compared it to going through toys at a neighbor’s or friend’s house.

“You don’t want to take the fun out of it,” Bacon said.

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Bacon and Ringer pair the toys with their accessories and check the condition of each one. Accessories that might get lost or broken, as well as condition, dictate price, they said. The two buy and set aside as many toy accessories as they can to be able to sell complete figures, which means more money.

If the pandemic lockdowns and anxiety gave rise to interest in collectibles, will there be a bubble burst in the prices and demand?

Ringer said most collectibles markets tend to go in 15-year cycles of boom and bust.

The two have seen other collectible markets rise and fall. Bacon’s dad ran a baseball card store and Ringer’s mom was an antiques dealer and his dad collected John Deere toys.

Vigesaa said he’s already seeing a cooling market for sports cards and some collectible card games. Toys might follow that trend too, he said.

“Do I see collectible stores being as crazy as they are three or four years from now? Not really,” Vigesaa said. “Most of the people buying them are adults, you need kids to buy in.”

Higher prices might be hindering younger collectors of sports cards too.

Craig Cotten, who in 2008 took over the Book Review, a comics, cards and game store, said he has seen the cycles of interest in sports cards collecting. Right now, prices of boxes of unopened packs of cards have more than doubled in year-to-year costs, Cotten said. He estimates the number of collectors he works with now has grown three-fold.

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While that has created a new network of collectors and hobbyists, it has made collecting more difficult for younger and casual collectors to enter the hobby, Cotten added.

“The rise in interest in turn has hiked prices making it difficult for kids to enter the hobby,” he said.

Bacon said younger collectors losing interest in toys might not happen as dramatically this cycle. He said interest in collecting tin toys jumped decades ago after adults who played with them had interest in rebuilding their childhood collections. Most adults now never played with those toys and interest in them has waned.

Now, most of the toy lines he remembers as a kid are continuing and generating new interest from younger generations. Bacon’s son, who is 8 years old, is interested in He-Man, which originally came out in the 1980s. Star Wars toys are still in high demand and new movies and television series means the franchise picks up more fans every year.

Vigesaa agreed that might be a factor for certain toys.

“If a kid gets into Transformers now when they’re young, they might go down that rabbit hole and say, ‘Wow, they made this Optimus Prime that’s worth $1,000 now,’” he said.

However, reproductions of older toys and counterfeit accessories made by now near-ubiquitous 3D printers might turn away casual collectors.

Vigesaa says he sees a safer investment in collectibles in vintage comics. The books are fragile, they are few and even if they’re reprinted, it’s clearly marked on the publication.

“Key issues of certain comic lines are getting harder and harder to come by,” he said.

Recently, a customer brought in the first few issues of “The Silver Surfer” which debuted in the late 1960s.

“It’s probably one of the coolest feelings in the world to see that come in the door,” Vigesaa said. “It’s a piece of history.”

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Aaron Ringer, co-owner of Midwest Vintage Toys, 11 Second St. NE, carries a bin of toys he acquired Monday, March 21, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Vintage toys and collectibles are in high demand which means they carry high prices. While not every toy is going to be in great condition or demand high retail price, even incomplete action figures hold some value. These are some high-value gems that could be sitting collection dust in anyone's home.

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John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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