Lau Teck Kheng of Past Time Collectable
SINGAPORE — For Singapore-based Lau Teck Kheng, his love of toys has now spawned into a thriving business.
Lau started selling vintage figurines with his friends on Sundays in 2005 while working a full-time job as a technician.
“For many of us born in the 1970s, we are not so rich to buy a lot of toys, but now, we are around the 40s mark, and have a bit of cash and so we try to buy back the memories,” he told CNBC.
“When the selling started to gain traction with customers, I decided why not, I will try to do this full-time.”
Since opening his brick-and-mortar shop in downtown Singapore 15 years ago, revenue grew slowly but steadily.
His store, Past Time Collectable, sells collectables from hit franchises such as Ultraman, Macross, Robotech, M.A.S.K and Power Rangers and prices range from as little as $4 to as much as $3,800.
While traditional investments such as stocks and real estate are more common, some people view vintage toys as a unique, fun, and potentially profitable asset class.
Toy investment for many is often, first and foremost a hobby and a passion.
Figurine collector Dennis Pek has collected more than 2,000 toys in the past two decades.
He has scoured flea markets, online website and auctions, and shops around the world for beloved collectables from his favorite shows.
Figurine collector Dennis Pek
He told CNBC he only resells to reorganize and update his collection.
“I have probably invested about $80,000 on my collection, but I do it mostly because I love it,” he told CNBC.
“But I guess, the value of these items together, they are worth a lot and they are sort of an asset for the future.”
He believes the value of second-hand toys comes from how well the figurines are preserved, how unique the pieces are — especially sets which had been originally produced in very small quantities.
Collectors often seek items still in their original packaging, with some finding joy in merely owning the box.
“Some people buy the toys, and they don’t even open it up,” explains Lau. “They say they just feel happy to just see the box and have the things inside.”
Founder and CEO of MINT Museum of Toys, Chang Yang Fa, privately owns more than 50,000 pieces of collectibles, with about 10% of them on display at his museum in central Singapore.
Chang told CNBC about the generational shifts in collecting preferences he has observed. “Different periods collect different things but generally speaking, most of the popular toys are character toys,” he said.
He added that vintage toy collecting first began taking off at the beginning of the 20th century and loyal fans continue to seek out toys from big franchises such as Marvel or Naruto, as well as more “niche” films and shows.
Chang Yang Fa of MINT Museum of Toys
“Like Star Wars or Barbie, people are wanting to buy back memories and that creates demand in the reseller market,” Chang said.
“Also, the [Covid-19] pandemic, where more people worked from home. I believe many wanted to make their working spaces a bit more conducive and so would decorate and buy things like figurines and so on, creating a bit of a trend of kidults buying more toys for themselves.”
Adults, or “kidults,” are a driving force behind the sales growth of new toys.
Data from advisory firm Circana, formerly NPD, found people aged 18 and above accounted for 14% of U.S. toy sales for the 12 months to September 2022 — that metric saw a 19% increase compared to 2021.
“There is a synergy between vintage toys and modern re-launches such as GI Joe, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake and so on,” said James Zahn, editor-in-chief of “The Toy Book” and senior editor of “The Toy Insider.”
Zahn said that Mattel’s Masters of the Universe Eternia Playset, which sold for around $100 new in the 1980s, now commands an average of $5,000 in its original box. The product is so sought after that Mattel mounted a crowdfunding campaign last year to produce a new version of it that will ship in 2024.
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Lau Teck Kheng’s name.
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