The Rise of Toy Collecting Among Adults

Are We Collecting Our Childhoods?

image: Noticias de Olavarria, Argentina

Toy collecting as a hobby is nothing new. Kids who grew up playing He-Man and Star Wars, girls who grew up playing with Barbie and My Little Pony never stopped collecting.

Others, like myself, stop collecting after a certain age and restart after a certain age (usually after 40). What is new now is more adults collecting toys.

Why? Are we collecting back our childhood? Or something else?

More adults are collecting toys now because it is more socially acceptable and toy companies encourage it (it is good business). However, not all collectors collect for the same reasons.

There is an element of nostalgia to it. But there is more than that too. After all, we don’t collect everything we played with as children.

For example, let’s say you got ten presents from Christmas. You might not care for the Lego set or the superhero action figure, but the remote control car spoke to you. Hence, once you become an adult, you collect those.

image: Eduka

Similarly, some people collect one brand or another, which is why some collect Hot Wheels and others collect Matchbox. And yes, they divide their identities based on their preferences.

Fandom can be so tribal like that.

It is how we define ourselves and find enjoyment. Moreover, we find meaning in collecting toys.

Conversely, there are two other factors involved. There are those parents who want to bond with their children by introducing them to what gave them joy at that age. So, if you are into Star Wars or Barbie, you are more likely to want your children to play with those brands.

Furthermore, there is also the element of, “toys are better now than when I was growing up”. So, you collect because you feel you are missing out on being born a few decades ago.

Collecting toys is a harmless hobby, although it can get pricey fast.

Since most of us buy toys around the Christmas season, what better time to discuss toy collecting?

A Collector or an Investor?

image: MCP archives

Before we proceed, we need to make a distinction between collectors and investors.

Yes, not everyone who buys toys buys to play with them, or collect them. Indeed, some go through great pains to not open or damage the package they come in.

Collectors and speculators look at toys as an investment. There is zero emotional attachment to it. They are looking to make money. It is all about the profit.

Meanwhile, toy collectors have an emotional attachment to their hobby. They collect what they like. Of course, they want their stuff in mint condition.

Nonetheless, they see their hobby as an extension of their identity and live for the thrill of finding something rare or ultra-rare.

Simpsons collection image: Eduka

Furthermore, they join communities and clubs of fellow collectors. For collectors, toys are a social thing, not a profit thing.

By the way, these distinctions apply to all other types of collectors, whether it is comics, baseball cards, stamps, coins, model cars, etc. They buy for enjoyment.

Also, studies show that collectors are less stressed than the general population. But I bet that does not apply to speculators. Imagine buying lots of stuff and not finding buyers. Stressful.

Conversely, buying a child a toy and not allowing him or her to play with it “because it is a collectible” is plain cruelty. Just saying.

An Addiction or an Obsession?

GI Joe collection image: Skillset Magazine

From a noncollector’s perspective, buying so much stuff to display might seem like an addiction or even hoarding. And yes, it can get out of hand.

Again, the thrill of the chase. The excitement of finding a rare item no one else has… Sublime.

Although there is a certain mindset to collecting, it is not addicting, not in the traditional way. But it can become an obsession.

I would know about obsession. I can get single-minded when trying to complete a collection, whether it is a sticker album, Magic: The Gathering cards, or Amiibo figures.

By the way, I always joke if I become a millionaire, I would collect G.I. Joe and Hot Wheels.

Why those two? Perhaps because of some unfulfilled dream.

Who would not want to jump on a parachute from an airplane or scuba dive the oceans (yes, Ripcord and Torpedo were my favorites), or drive a fast car? No, I don’t get to do it in real life, but the toys reflect this desire.

Lego sets are always popular. Image: El País

This brings up another point I want to make: we collect because we love a movie, a cartoon, a TV show, or a game and want a souvenir to remind us of it.

Sadly, or realistically, you cannot collect everything. Or display everything. Hence, you need to be a curator. Moreover, you need to think like a storyteller.

The best collectible displays do not look like a bunch of thrown-together pieces.

In effect, they are carefully curated and displayed in a way that tells a story. And I had seen some collectors who carefully choreograph their action figures to recreate a scene or look as if they were going to battle.

And finally, when is the time to quit collecting? When it stops being fun.

To conclude, fandom is a participatory culture and toy collecting is another expression of their fan loyalties as well as a way for us to interact with pop culture.

Reader, do you collect toys? Why? What brand do you collect? Share in the comments.


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January 2023