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Nostalgia is part of the appeal of vintage toys, and every generation has their own. The late 1970s introduced us to Star Wars action figures. Transformers began their meteoric rise in the ‘80s. Furby spoke to us in the ‘90s.
Beyond nostalgia, it’s rarity, authenticity, and condition that make for the most expensive vintage toys ever sold. Take a look below at some of the most treasured toys of all time.
Several versions of Barbie featuring precious gems (De Beers Barbie, Diamond Castle Barbie) have sold for five figures, but the record for most expensive Barbie belongs to this one-of-a-kind figure by Moulin Rouge jewelry designer Stefano Canturi.
Much of her value is in the necklace: a rare Argyle one-carat pink diamond nested in a Cubist-style cluster of white baguette and carré cut diamonds, and matching diamond ring.
Non-bedazzled versions of the doll fetch far less but still top expensive toy lists, such as the 1965 Barbie in Midnight Red, going for more than $17K in 2006. A mint-condition original “#1 Ponytail” Barbie, who made her debut in 1959, sold for more than $27K in 2006.
2) G.I. Joe, 1963
$200,000 at Heritage Auctions on December 2, 2003
Introduced in 1964, G.I. Joe might not have been such a game changer had Hasbro executive Donald Levine gone with one of the other names he was considering, including Salty the Sailor.
Levine, a veteran of the Korean War, bought the concept of a "rugged-looking scale doll for boys" from licensing agent and army vet Stanley Weston. Rather than accepting a small royalty, Weston opted for a one-time payout of $100K.
This 12” hand-painted G.I. Joe prototype, in a hand-sewn uniform, went for twice that amount in 2003 and was donated to the Library of Congress in 2018. Noted for its consistency with the finished product, it’s a testament to the vision of veterans who wanted to honor others in military service—in addition to selling dolls to the untapped male market, of course.
3) Star Wars Rocket Firing Boba Fett, 1979
$185,850 at Hake’s on November 7, 2019
Star Wars and its toy licensee Kenner produced more than 100 figures for the first film trilogy, and sold more than 300 million toys by the time the initial craze ebbed in 1985. But so much merch out there means most of it isn’t worth big bucks now.
It’s the production variants, either by design or by factory mistake, that created ultra-rare versions of Boba Fett, Jawa, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader. These outpace the value of other vintage Star Wars action figures. Rocket Firing Boba Fett is the priciest and most infamous because he was recalled before he made it to market, due to safety concerns, and then reissued without his rocket-firing power. The originals live on only as prototypes.
4) Steiff Louis Vuitton Bear, 2000
Price: €213,720K (~$182,550) at Christie’s on October 14, 2000
Steiff’s oldest teddy bears are valued at upwards of $100K. Some are the stuff of legend, such as Teddy Girl, which sold for £110K ($171.6K) in 1994. Gifted to British Army Colonel Bob Henderson at birth in 1905, it remained by his side, even through World War II’s D-Day, until his death in 1990. Another rare bear is the all-black Titanic “Mourning” Bear, created when the infamous ocean liner sunk in 1912. Just 665 were made, with one selling for $135K in 2000.
But in more than a century of adorable creatures, Steiff’s most expensive bears are the collaborations with luxury goods manufacturer Louis Vuitton. According to the Guinness Book, it is a Steiff Louis Vuitton Bear auctioned for charity in Monaco in 2000 for nearly €214K that holds the record as the priciest teddy bear ever sold.
5) Tipp & Co. Mickey Mouse Motorcycle, 1930
Price: $110,000 at Randy Inman Auctions on October 8, 2000
Created by Walt Disney in 1928, Mickey Mouse is a merchandise juggernaut, with billions in product sold annually ($3 billion in 2018). Even though Mickey was an immediate hit, Disney evolved his most beloved character’s appearance for two decades, making him look less rat-like and more anthropomorphic. So, early Mickeys look distinctly different from the post-War mouse.
The record-holder for most expensive Mickey Mouse toy ever sold, a tin wind-up motorcycle sporting both Mickey and Minnie, was manufactured in Germany for the U.K. market. Only around 18 are known to exist, and this particular one was the only known toy in its original box. It sold again in 2009 for $62K, while another showing some wear and tear went for $57.5K in 2008.
6) Star Wars Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, 1978
Price: $76,700 at Hake’s Auctions on November 16, 2017
A desirable variant in the Star Wars action figure universe is the original double-telescoping lightsaber that slid up into a hollow channel in the arms of early versions of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker. These sabers were “double telescoping” because they contained an additional extra-fine wick extension that could be pulled out to expand the saber itself. However, they were quickly replaced with a single-telescoping weapon (only extending from the arm) that was cheaper to produce and had greater functionality. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s vintage “DT” figure is the hardest to find.
7) Star Wars Darth Vader, 1978
Price: $64,900 at at Hake’s Auctions on March 15, 2018
The very first Star Wars lightsaber duel, featured in the first movie, is an intense, emotional battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi master, and Darth Vader, his former apprentice who has gone to the “dark side.” So it makes sense that these two action figures, part of Kenner’s original toy line, were well-used in their heyday by young fans reenacting the legendary duel, leaving very few “un-played” with. Darth may have slain his mentor in the film, but his double-telescoping doppelganger ranks just behind Obi-Wan’s in terms of value.
8) Star Wars: Droids Vlix, 1988
Price: $45,000 at Hake's Auctions on November 15, 2018
This Star Wars figure is so rare that casual fans may never have heard of him. Vlix, a blue humanoid from the planet Annoo who worked as head of security for the Fromm Gang, appeared in Star Wars: Droids. The 1985 animated ABC TV show was cancelled after just 13 episodes, before Kenner had gotten around to producing any Vlix figures. They had, however, already produced the molds, which they sold to Brazilian toy company Glasslite.
When Droids aired in Brazil in 1988, Glasslite cranked out Vlix figures until Lucasfilm—which hadn’t known that Kenner sold the molds—made them cease and desist. In the original packaging (with a card back), Vlix is two to three times more valuable than the open toy.
As with many TV and movie-based merchandise, popularity of the character doesn’t necessarily amount to the highest price. Luke Skywalker was the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy. But because his double-telescoping lightsaber-wielding action figure was included in Kenner’s very first Star Wars play set (along with Princes Leia, R2D2, and Chewbacca), there are more of him in circulation than the other toys with this unique variant.
10) Transformers Autobot Air Guardian Jetfire, 1985
Price: $25,000 at Hake’s Auctions on February 25, 2021
Optimus Prime, who transforms into a tractor trailer and Autobots “headquarters,” is a perennial fan favorite—courageous, wise, and dedicated to protecting other sentient beings, even humans. Fans lost their minds when he was killed off in the first Transformers film; such a major outcry ensued that he was brought back. His action figure was also brought back after its initial limited run of the G1 Optimus Prime and four variants.
Considering his path to fame, the Optimus Prime 1985 “Pepsi Variant,” with a Pepsi logo on the box and stickers for his trailer, seems meta—an ad within a toy from a TV show created as an ad for the toy. It was popular enough that Hasbro reissued it in 2007. Originally a mail-in offer, available only in the U.S. (with small stickers) and Canada (with large stickers that wrapped the entire trailer), it’s increasingly rare.
Honorable Mention: Hot Wheels Pink VW Beach Bomb, 1969
Estimated Value: $150,000, 2018
Hot Wheels’ 1969 Pink VW Beach Bomb is so rare that it’s impossible to know its exact sale price. Two are known to exist, one prototype and one early production model. Leading Hot Wheels collector Bruce Pascal owns the prototype. He bought it in 2000 and won’t confirm what he paid except to say it was “in the neighborhood” of the asking price of $72K. In 2018, Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary, “NBC Nightly News” reported its value to be $150K.
The 1969 VW Beach Bomb, a Volkswagen Microbus that came with two little surfboards, captures an important facet of Southern California life. What makes this particular car extra rare is its pink paint job; other Beach Bombs were painted purple, green, red, light blue, or gold. Mattel made select cars in pink as an overture to girls. It didn’t take off in the early days, so fewer exist and they’re generally the hardest to find.
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