Childhood Treasures Gain Little Value

Seems like everyone had them, or at least wanted them – Beanie Babies, Happy Meal toys, Hess trucks, comic books, model train sets, children’s books, Cabbage Patch Kids, Hot Wheels and Barbie dolls.When first acquired they likely became favorite playthings. But as the years past folks began to think they had ever-growing cash value.

But if they are in less than pristine – never or barely used – condition, odds are that with few exceptions they are worth little more than what was paid for them. So much for the attic or basement storage over all the years.

The treasure of these items will be found in your heart and memory, not in your pocket.

Beanie Babies became a mania in the 1990s. Introduced by Ty in 1993, the plush toys – nine in the original collection – were suddenly must-haves. If they weren’t played with and had their paper tags still attached, some could indeed command tidy sums. But last year on eBay, a collection of 2001 Happy Birthday Bears – the complete set of 12 – sought a starting bid of just $15 and had no takers. The website Ty Collector laments, “The buying frenzy decreased significantly after 1998 when Ty produced so many Beanie Babies for the worldwide market that retailers had difficulty selling them all.”

Happy Meal toys have been available with Happyt Meals at McDonald’s since the late 1970s, and many of the tiny toys included with the food have indeed become collectibles worth several hundred dollars for a complete set. But most people probably haven’t collected all 101 of those “101 Dalmatians.” And like many other youth collectibles, Happy Meal toys are worth big bucks only in mint condition with their original packaging – which includes the Happy Meal box. Alas, these giveaways are most often ripped open and played with moments after purchase.

Comic books – Unless you’ve dug into a stash of comics and uncovered ultra-rare issues from the earliest days of Superman, Batman or the classic Marvel heroes, you’re likely holding onto a pile of childhood memories, and nothing more. As baby boomers age, they are paring down and trying to cash in, and the market for comics is glutted. Condition, as with so many collectibles, is key too. A random check of price guides and online marketplaces might prove eye-opening, to say the least.

Model train sets may not have seen the underside of a Christmas tree in years, but many were made by Lionel, which has been producing model trains for more than a century, so it’s tempting to think it’s valuable. “Many of the trains made in the early years right up through the present have kept their value, and some are highly valued by collectors,” the Lionel Collectors Club of America says. But also: “More common ones, while worthy of running, may not have a high collector value.” As usual, condition, rarity and an original box are key. If the train is in beaten-up boxes jammed with twisted wires, bent tracks and a bit of rust, forget it.

Children’s books – Some parents will pay anything to share a favorite childhood book with their own children. There are also collectors who collect books for their covers or to frame pages for decorative purposes. Last year, two first-edition copies of the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham” from 1960 were selling for $4,750 and $3,500 on – but those featured quite specific qualities that most likely matter to just the rarest collectors. After all, the charm of most children’s books is they’ve been loved: They often carry children’s names (printed perhaps for the first time by them), bent pages, random crayon marks or even little stains — and those are not exactly selling points, especially when so many classics get frequent printings.

Cabbage Patch Kids – Remember when parents would literally rip Cabbage Patch Kids from each other’s hands in stores? When the soft-sculpture dolls went national in the early ’80s, people couldn’t “adopt” enough of these for around $30. As with many youth-oriented collectibles, condition is everything, so unless your “kid” hasn’t been out of its box, expect to perhaps break even.

Hot Wheels, the miniature die-cast cars from Mattel introduced in the late ’60s kept children excited for playtime for years, and collectors happy. Unfortunately, the sheer quantity of the models produced and the fact that most were played with roughly make for poor prices. There have been record sales, but more than a few 1960s models can be scored for a couple of bucks.

Barbie dolls – There are always going to be Barbie dolls that command top dollar, because there are always going to be deep-pocketed collectors who will pay anything. But the Barbies most people own, especially those “previously loved,” won’t make anyone rich. Even a Donna Karan Bloomingdale’s Limited Edition doll recently could be had for $22 online.

Hess Trucks – As with so many toys, kids loved and played with their annual Hess Truck gift, rarely leaving them untouched in the box. If you have the first one from 1964, when it sold for $1.39, and it’s in pristine condition, the Antiques Almanac says you may be sitting on nearly $2,500. A quick check on prices in mid-July, though, shows that since dozens of models, especially those from the 1970s, sell for well under $40. There are plenty of Hess collectors, but skyrocketing prices are not the norm.