Millennial parents doing their Christmas shopping can expect to experience a sharp sense of déjà vu this year, as they’re likely to spot toys from their childhood that have stood the test of time.
In 2023, shelves are still stacked with Barbies, Star Wars figures, video games, and trading cards.
In the early 00s, it was much the same – a simple pack of the original “base set” Pokémon cards sold for £2.40 each, compared to £3.35 for a pack in 2023.
Little did millennials know, however, that excitedly tearing into those packages might have been their first costly mistake – an unopened pack of Pokémon cards from that era now sells for more than £300.
Indeed, though merchandise-fuelled franchises like Star Wars and Pokémon sold untold numbers of figures, trading cards, and video games all those years ago, few have survived in perfect condition.
That these franchises have endured over the years would suggest the equivalent toys on sale today could be collector’s items in the decades to come – but which ones should parents eye up if they’re looking to cash in once their child flies the nest?
Telegraph Money asked the experts.
Mattel’s eternally youthful Barbie has been around since the 60s – 1959, if we’re being specific – so collectors are in no short supply of eras to choose from when hunting for valuable figures. For toy expert Gary Pope, of Kids Industries, however, the real money is in the accessories.
The “Loving You” Barbie from 1983, he explains, “came with a bunch of stuff as a kind of gift set”, and “would have been no more than £10” on release.
Naturally, children who gleefully made use of – and lost – such accessories would have inadvertently devalued the toy. Mr Pope estimates a mint “Loving You” Barbie, with all of its accessories intact, would sell for £500 today.
This year, Barbie enjoyed an unexpected renaissance thanks to Greta Gerwig’s summer blockbuster. Of the toys tied to the film, however, it is not Margot Robbie’s “Stereotypical Barbie”, or even Ryan Gosling’s “Ken”, that will command hundreds in the years to come.
Instead, Mr Pope expects Kate McKinnon’s “Weird Barbie” (£49) to set future auctions alight.
He explains that the “inherent contradiction” of the toy already being visibly distressed, a representation of open play, will make it a collector’s item – and the high price tag on launch will mean supply dwindles faster than cheaper alternatives.
Like Barbie, Star Wars has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the steady release of new films and series, following its acquisition by Disney.
In its heyday in the 70s and 80s, Star Wars sold millions of action figures. But for Mr Pope, the most valuable of them all was not Yoda, or Darth Vader, but Boba Fett.
A prototype “Rocket Launcher” figure, which came with a spring-loaded weapon, sold for more than $200,000 (£150,000) last year at an auction in the US.
“The way the community has embraced the Mandalorian culture is massively at play here,” says Mr Pope. “But Boba was always the coolest – it’s just no one knew when the original movie launched.”
Mr Pope admits there are “slim pickings” among today’s offerings, but he says Lego sets are consistently high-value.
“Other than that, there’s Animatronic Grogu (AKA Baby Yoda),” he adds. “He’s not got a future past the Mandalorian, but it is an exceptionally well-made, reasonably priced toy – and it’s a lot of fun to play with.”
Though less popular, the other juggernaut of the trading card world – Yu-Gi-Oh! – has seen similar success for those who kept their cards in pristine condition.
The original starter deck (£6 in 2002), can now sell for more than £1,500 if it is still in its original packaging. First edition copies of the iconic “Dark Magician” card, which came included with the deck, trade for as much as £50,000 in mint condition on their own.
Parents watching their child tear into packs on Christmas Day would therefore do well to keep an eye on whether anything valuable emerges.
Roy Raftery, managing director of Baldwins’ entertainment department, says: “Pokémon cards have something called ‘full art’, ‘Character Rares’ and ‘Rainbow Rares’. The artwork on these cards is big and flashy and very shiny, with a texture across the card – they’re very easy to notice.
“For Yu-Gi-Oh! you want to look out for Ultra Rare and Secret Rare cards – Ultra Rares are shiny with gold writing, while Secret Rares have a wavy effect on the art and silver writing.”
As a hobby, gaming is far more widespread now than it was in the 90s and 00s when the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation were in circulation, and the production of consoles, cartridges and CDs has ramped up to match it.
This means today’s offerings are unlikely to dwindle in supply quite as fast as their forbearers, which have soared in value.
The market for older consoles and games boomed during the pandemic, explains Mr Raftery. “But the real allure of sealed games is this notion that the game has never been touched or used – it’s simply in perfect condition,” he adds.
“Iconic characters or mascots such as Mario, Sonic and Crash Bandicoot always command a high price because they have the perfect blend of nostalgia and playability, the games were fun back then and continue to be played to this very day.”
Physical games may still end up holding value as gamers turn towards downloading them instead. But wannabe collectors looking to eke some value out of a console should look towards limited edition units.
A standard Nintendo Switch costs £250 on Amazon today, but will likely dwindle in value rather than accrue it, as there are an estimated 128 million of them in circulation.
The model released as a tie-in to the recent Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, however, costs £50 more, but stands a better chance in the long-run as supply will be limited.
An estimated 20,358 Lego sets have been released since the brand’s launch in the 30s, according to online database Brickset, so collectors are spoiled for choice.
Though sets have always been expensive, their limited production ensures they retain value, says Clay Cary, an analyst at CouponFollow, a comparison site.
Sets from the 90s that proved to be wise investments for those who left them unopened included sets tied to early films, like the Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon, which now sells for £2,500-£3,000 sealed, Mr Cary explains.
“The common thread is inherent scarcity due to production numbers or significance in capturing specific cultural moments in an iconic Lego way,” he says.
“There are affordable £50-150 sets today that in 20 years could be trading for ten times or more [than] their retail prices.”
Parents looking to cash in later would do well to hone in on licenced sets for popular entertainment tie-ins, such as Star Wars, Avatar, and Stranger Things, or major Lego milestones that push design envelopes, “like the 7,000+ piece Titanic set which could be highly collectable”.
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