Nothing instills nostalgia and evokes happy memories quite like a beloved toy from childhood. Since toys are synonymous with Christmas – and since we are naturally advocates of giving antiques and collectibles as gifts – we think an antique or vintage toy can be a great present for kids and those who are kids at heart to find under the tree.
Whether your gift recipient is a child you want to share your favorite toy with, someone who already collects toys or someone you want to give a warm memory to by giving them their own favorite toy from childhood, these are some of our favorite choices.
One of the quintessential Christmas gifts is a doll, and the most quintessential doll is Barbie. With her turning 60 this year (and not looking one day of it), “America’s Toy Scout,” Joel Magee, who is a recurring guest on “Pawn Stars,” said Barbie is particularly popular right now and he’s been seeing her everywhere.
“From the girl’s category, Barbie is the queen of all dolls. There’s no doll that beats Barbie,” he said. An original 1959 doll is worth $4,000, according to Magee, but there are many other versions of Barbie to choose from, as well as different outfits and other accessories.
There are also plenty of other dolls besides Barbie. Rag, cloth and wood-jointed dolls, and dolls with wax or bisque heads wearing everything from simple dresses to evening gowns have long been wished-for presents. And dolls’ accessories include everything miniature from clothes to houses.
For a new friend for life and something special that can be passed down, you can’t go wrong with a cuddly teddy bear, especially a collectible Steiff bear, or some other Steiff stuffed animals like a cat, rabbit, money, tiger, dog, elephant or fawn.
Pull toys are one of the most enduring categories of antique toys. Pull toys, or wheeled toys powered by the user, have been popular since the time of the ancient Egyptians, whose tombs included miniature animals on wheels. Steiff also made highly collectible and valuable pull toys that they advertised as “high class riding animals” and that are like plush stuffed animals on wheels. Or you could go for an early carved and painted wooden animal pull toy made by Fisher-Price or LEGO.
Trains and vehicles
Toy trains, Hubley diecast vehicles and Hot Wheels are perennial favorites. Many people collect Hess toy trucks as well. It was back in the 1960s when Leon Hess, the founder of the Hess Corporation, decided to create a quality, affordable holiday toy. In 1964, the original Hess Toy Truck sold for $1.29, including batteries, and was a hit. Today some vintage ones, including a 1975 USA truck in mint condition, can go for thousands, according to the Hess collectibles group on Facebook.
Tin toys are always good fun any time of year. They take us back in time and these little objects not only look great sitting on your shelf or desk, but they will be well-loved under the tree as well. Tin has been a popular toy material since the end of the 19th century and is durable, lightweight and a welcome addition to a collection. Choose a classic wind-up design for great fun at Christmas and beyond.
With the 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 launch, Magee said he is also seeing more space-themed toys this year, but space toys and miniature robots have been popular for decades, starting in the 1950s with America’s obsession with futurism and technology. Vintage robots made in Japan are especially loved by collectors. A lithographed-tin Masudaya Machine Man robot sold at Morphy Auctions this summer for $86,100, but there are lots of more affordable robots and other space toys available.
Star Wars memorabilia
Magee said Star Wars toys and other merchandise remains popular as ever because it is a franchise that older and younger generations can enjoy together. The new Star Wars movie releasing on Dec. 20, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, will generate new interest in the franchise. Original action figures and other toys from the ‘80s are the hottest and also the most expensive, especially if mint. A prototype rocket-firing Boba Fett action figure from 1979 recently set a world-record price for the third time at Hakes when it sold for $185,000. But if you think your gift recipient would just enjoy an action figure of heroic Luke Skywalker to keep on their desk to protect them from the forces of the dark side or would want to actually join the dark side by donning a Darth Vader mask to talk like him, there are tons of choices for under $100.