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Buying vintage toys rather than new

Assuming that you've decided on the type of toy that you'd like to collect, its time to give some thought to what category of old toy you wish to find. There are loads of examples to go for out there, so unless it is something mega-rare that you've found, there shouldn't be any need to dive in and buy the first example of an old toy that you see. The following points are worth bearing in mind, when walking around a toy fair, looking at the ads in the oldclassiccar vintage toy ad section, or perusing an internet auction looking for classic toys.

How to buy old toy cars

Unrestored toy cars
Tin plate racing car toys
Most collectors search for unrestored toy cars, as a car that still wears its original paint, tyres and so on, really has a feel of a proper old toy, something that no restored example can hope to achieve.

A few honest scars, scuffs, dings and signs of wear are signs that a toy has been played with and appreciated, or as the antique trade would call it, 'patina'.

There are wide extremes of unrestored toy however, those as mentioned with a hint of patina to suggest years of survival, and at the other end of the scale, those that cling on to life by the thinnest of threads. The former will be found with specialist dealers most likely, whereas the latter can often be found piled up in cardboard boxes beneath a dealers table at a swapmeet, available for just a few pounds. The photograph here shows two cars, both in original condition, but showing either end of the condition scale. The top one is in very good original order, with just a few tiny marks on it. The clockwork motor still winds up fine. The lower example is significantly rougher, and has been stored in damp conditions judging by the corrosion to it's coachwork. The motor however still works ok. Both are appealing little toys, but will be priced very differently because of their respective condition. Buy the battered toy wisely and you'll end up with a nice little toy that can be kept as-is, or else used as a basis for a restoration job.

Restored toys
Many derelict toys get a second life thanks to the efforts of the keen restorer. Ok, most collectors want the original article, but second best to
Re-painted Austin Somerset
that is the well restored old toy. Plenty of people buy up rough old toys, strip them, and repaint them to as-new condition. If done correctly this can make for a great display piece, and will cost significantly less than a mint original in similar condition.
Finding replacement parts for some toys can be a trial, or a challenge, depending on your viewpoint. Fans of Dinky and Corgi products have a somewhat easier life, as reproduction tyres and decals can be purchased quite cheaply, and will provide the finishing touch to any resurrected toy.

The green car above is a Dinky Toys Austin A40 Somerset, that I found a while back with no original paint left on it. I repainted it with some old enamel paint that I had lying around, the colour therefore is not an original Dinky colour. The base I left untouched. The unscrupulous may try to pass off a restored car as a mint original example. With practice it becomes quite easy to spot the repainted vs original toy. Some toys were produced in great numbers, in a variety of colour schemes. Some of these schemes will be significantly rarer than others, so if you see a rare variant, have a good look and make sure its the real mccoy, and not just a more common version, repainted in the more desirable paintjob. It happens, so keep your eyes open. Thankfully the majority of toy collectors are genuine enthusiasts and will mark up any repainted toy as such, and price accordingly.

Tin plated toys, with their bright lithograph decoration, are notoriously difficult to re-paint and re-furbish successfully, so is not something you'll see as often. But with the hefty values of some tin toys, it pays to have a close look before purchasing a supposedly original example, just in case it has been 'got at'.

Mint in box
Penguin toy racer
At the top of the tree in terms of desirability are those toys in totally original and good condition, that still have their original box. Most children were only interested in the contents of the packaging, so boxes and packaging were the first things to get destroyed when toys were received as gifts. Consequently toys with their original packaging still in place are rare, especially on really early toys and models. The value of a mint original toy can easily double if the original box, in good order, is still extant. Here again its worth noting caution when it comes to looking at toy cars for sale - repro boxes are now widespread, especially for the common Dinky and Corgi toys, so tread carefully. Spotting a repro box can be difficult. Have a look at the dealer's other stock - if all his toys have crisp mint boxes with them, either he has recently cleared out the back room of an old shop (possible), or he's printed up some new boxes to go with his cars (also very possible). Ask the question. A genuine seller, whether a dealer or just a collector thinning out their own collection, will tell you if the box is new or a reproduction. Boxes for more obscure toys are less likely to be reproduced, but a careful look at any packaging being touted as original is always wise.

The toy shown here is a rare Penguin racing car, unusual in that it is powered by an elastic band, wound up by the small 'starting handle' at the front. Above the grille is the word Frog, which is a clue to the origins of this particular toy. Penguin was the brand name used for toy cars produced by the same company that sold the well known Frog range of model aircraft, dating back to the 1920s.

The original box is still with it, and is in good, used condition. It tells us that the toy was made by International Model Aircraft Co. Ltd, Merton, London. The rear of the box gives instructions on how to power up this Maserati single seater. A simple crownwheel and pinion transmits the power from the band to the rear wheels. It isn't unusual for the box artwork of a given toy to be far more attractive to look at than the model it contains, another reason why old boxes and packaging are so sought after.

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