Tag Archive for: vintage toys

G.I. Joe sired generations of action figures

NEW YORK – The legacy of action figures today owes much to the G.I. Joe figures that Hasbro first released in 1964. These vintage toys had it all, from the original series of 12-inch-tall figures to the now-standard 3¾-inch tall figures Most were articulated and they came with weapons, foot lockers, myriad accessories and vehicles, of course.

Pull GI Joe’s dog tags and hear him talk. In excellent condition with the original box, this 1967 Action Pilot sold for $1,700 + buyer’s premium in 2012. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

For decades, G.I. Joe has had a firm foothold in pop culture. Besides toys, G.I. Joe figures were also pictured in comic books, games, puzzles and lunch boxes. They also spawned an animated series and several movies (1987 and 2002). Vintage G.I. Joe toys and figures remain highly popular.

Two Hasbro G.I. Joe 12-inch-tall ‘Adventurer’ figures from 1969 made $4,000 + buyer’s premium in August 2019 at Tom Harris Auctions. Photo courtesy of Tom Harris Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Vintage is generational. G.I. Joe was the first action figure made for boys. So if you’re in your 50s to 60s, the 1964-1969 12-inch G.I. Joe is what you remember – ‘America’s Movable Fighting Man,’” said Todd Sheffer, production manager at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pa. “That line evolved into the ’70s and when war toys were unpopular because of Vietnam, he became a member of  ‘Adventure Team,’ 1970-1976. Hasbro made accessory sets that were more like exploration or hunting, things not military. There was a brief stint that they did ‘Super Joe’ 1977-1978 and he shrunk to an 8-inch size. These weren’t too popular.”

Action figures need gadgets and vehicles and G.I. Joe has a rich history with all manner of vehicles. “One year after the debut of the 12-inch G.I. Joe, Hasbro presented a ‘5 Star’ Jeep for him to ride in 1965,” according to the Yo Joe website, adding that vehicles have been part of the G.I. Joe line ever since.

An early 1980s G.I. Joe Cobra Missile Command Headquarters set realized $3,872 + buyer’s premium in March 2018 at Hake’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The 3¾-inch figures debuted in 1982 and ran consecutively for 12 years until 1994. “Sized to compete with Star Wars figures but this time backed by a TV cartoon and comic book series by Marvel, this is the G.I. Joe of the 30s to 40s age group generation,” Sheffer said, calling this an extremely diverse collection of elaborate vehicles and tons of different characters. “It would be a monumental undertaking to collect them all. This line was resurrected in different forms from 2000 until 2016.”

Sheffer also noted there was also a foreign line in England licensed under “Palitoy,” called Action Man in the 12-inch size and Action Force for 3¾ inches. The smaller figures had less articulation than their U.S. counterparts.

This painted hard resin cast G.I. Joe prototype ‘Snow Serpent’ nonarticulated figure, 7½ inches tall, 1991, went out at $2,794 + buyer’s premium in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Unlike some other action figures, what set G.I. Joe figures apart (whether the foot high or the small size) is their articulation, making them highly posable. There were four original 12-inch 1964 G.I. Joes: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine and the 3¾-inch line had about 163 different figures, all with code names, he said.

The bigger the accessory, the more desirable. “The footlocker was a big deal in the ’60s. It was actual wood with a plastic tray to hold loose accessories (guns, grenades, boots) and even a figure could fit in the bottom,” Sheffer said.
Even for the small figures, big accessories tend to bring big money. “The one thing 3¾-inch G.I. Joe had going for it was the vehicles. First is the Defiant Space Shuttle Complex, which is just what it sounds like: a huge scaled Space Shuttle with launching gantry crawler,” Sheffer said. Next is the Cobra Terror Drome — a huge battle fortress playset. “The holy grail for most collectors with a lot of space and a big wallet is the USS Flagg: a 7-foot-long aircraft carrier. “Obviously at a big price point when offered, not too many kids that weren’t Richie Rich got this under the tree. Actually, it wouldn’t fit under a tree,” he said. “This now can bring well over $1,000 loose with graded examples bringing thousands of dollars.” Another large vehicle was the hovercraft called the Killer Whale. “There were about 250 different vehicles in the whole line from palm size to as long as a kid’s bed,” he said.

A 1985 Hasbro G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier, factory sealed, brought $2,500 + buyer’s premium at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers in March 2016. Photo courtesy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Among the myriad characters in the G.I. universe, Snake-Eyes remains the most popular and valuable of the 3¾-inch figures. “He was a Ninja all in black so kids loved that. Next would be Cobra Commander, Scarlett, Duke and all of these were in the first rounds of figures. Larry Hama, the artist for the comic book, was responsible for creating most of the characters that then became toys,” he said.

The original figures were stamped with a date on the butt, indicating what year the figure was made. To deter copying, the company also added other copyright configurations over the years such as a thumbnail on the inside of a thumb or a scar on the cheek.

A rare Hasbro 1967 G.I. Joe Action Marine rifle-rack set (right), circa 1967, made $2,250 + buyer’s premium at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers in October 2017. Photo courtesy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Collectors often seek out carded and boxed items as these usually have the most value but people collect what they can afford or what they like, usually based on nostalgia. Based on when you were born, the 1960s or the 1980 series may be of higher interest, but there is no denying that G.I. Joes have a storied place in toy history.

From the Heartland: Buddy L Toys

As any number of parents can attest, children have good memories, and keeping promises made to them is usually a good rule of thumb. Little did Fred Lundahl know that by fulfilling a commitment made to his son nicknamed Buddy, he would become part of the industrious and innovative spirit of early 20th-century America – and that the result of his ingenuity would become toy vehicles that are popular with collectors nearly a century later.

Buddy L tanker truck with original paint, decals and features, circa 1928, measuring 26 in. long x 9 1/2 in. wide x 12 in. high. Estimate: $1,800-$2,000. Jasper52 image

Although Lundahl’s original business had nothing to do with toys, it did provide valuable inspiration. In 1920, a decade after founding the Moline Pressed Steel Co., in East Moline, Illinois, which manufactured parts for farm implements as well as fenders for cars and trucks, Lundahl used his skill and some scrap metal from his business to fashion a toy vehicle for his son. According to a variety of sources, the decision to create a miniature version of a dump truck came after seeing the lackluster craftsmanship of his son’s store-bought toys. Lundahl’s promise to his son, Arthur, aka Buddy, resulted in the toy becoming a neighborhood sensation, and ultimately the development of the Buddy L toy line.

Although Buddy L was not the first brand of toy vehicles to come to market, it may have been the most prolific, according to Michael Yolles, founder of the virtual Pressed Steel Metal Toys Museum, and a longtime member of the Antique Toy Collectors of America, Inc.

“Buddy L not only produced a large selection of pressed steel toys, but also they were very well-made,” explains Yolles, whose collecting efforts focus on various models of toys, including Buddy L toy vehicles manufactured prior to 1932. “One of the things you’ll find with Buddy L toys is the paint job lasted. They dipped their toys in paint, instead of using other methods.

“If you put Buddy L’s up against other toys manufactured in the same era I believe you’ll see their color and condition held up the best.”

Buddy L Wrigley’s Spearmint delivery truck, circa 1940s-50s, with minor wear, measuring 7 1/2 in. high x 14 1/2 in. long, sold for $300 in November 2015. Rich Penn Auctions image

The quality paint job on Buddy L toys, while impressive, isn’t the only thing that sets these toy vehicles apart, as Rich Penn of Rich Penn Auctions explains.

“First, they were bigger than almost any other toys in the market. Second, they were built better and were more durable. A child could actually ride many of them. Third, most kids never had a Buddy L. They cost more than most of the other pressed steel toys.

“So, they were only available to the upper middle-class kids. When the rest of us grew up and had a little money … we bought those toys we never had when we were kids.”

Buddy L Fact: In the 1920s when Buddy L toy vehicles were first made available to the pubic, many cost between $2.50 and $4.50. That is the equivalent to a cost range of $34 to $61 in today’s economy.

The attraction of these nearly larger-than-life toy vehicles, then and now, is also based on Buddy L’s measuring up to their design. With many of the vehicles able to sustain a rider weighing upward of 200 pounds, not only could a child enjoy a ride, but adults could as well. This coupled with movable parts and many accessories, such as doors that opened and closed, and functioning operations, Buddy L vehicles were as much experience as toy.

“Most of the construction vehicles were able to do what they were built to do, which was really exciting,” said Yolles.

Whether these toy vehicles inspired youngsters to go on and become adults who earned a living operating the full-size vehicles replicated in Buddy L miniatures, it’s hard to say. However, as Penn explains, the line of toy vehicles likely brought more than a few youthful dreams to life.

“As a kid, you would certainly be able to better imagine yourself as a truck driver, engineer or fireman, if you were driving a Buddy L.”

Buddy L fire pumper, circa 1920s, with original paint and accessories, measuring 23 1/2 inches long, sold for $3,900 in June 2017. Bertoia Auctions image

Alas, the pioneer of the Buddy L line, which ultimately expanded to include multiple variations of trucks, cars, tugboats, trains and construction vehicles, only experienced the early years of the company named after his only child. Fred Lundahl died in 1930 due to complications following surgery, according to the Quad City Times. The company persevered, changing hands more than a few times; and like many similar manufacturers in the U.S., faced the steel shortage of World War II. At that time, the company turned to manufacturing toy vehicles made of wood, but the successes of Buddy L’s early pressed-steel toys would not be repeated.

Buddy L Fact: Durability is the name of the game when it comes to this classic line of pressed-steel toys. Touted as vehicles that could hold a rider of up to 200 pounds, the toys themselves often weigh between 8 to 20 pounds.

Yet, if the number of inquiries about variations, parts and condition of vehicles fielded by Yolles, and the response to Buddy L vehicles at auction is any indication, these large-scale pressed-steel toys remain an appealing presence in the secondary market. In early June of 2017, Bertoia Auctions presented a 1920s Buddy L pressed-steel fire pumper. The vehicle, with original paint and parts, nearly doubled its low estimate of $2,000, finishing at $3,900.

A review of upcoming on LiveAuctioneers reveals more than 30 lots featuring Buddy L vehicles coming up for bid through the end of August.

It’s clear, the legacy of a man skilled in metalwork, who simply set out to fulfill a promise to his young son and ultimately elevated the performance of pressed-steel toys, lives on in the appeal of this heartland favorite.

Dip into a Seasoned Collector’s Toy Box

There are few collector categories that can rival the global appeal of antique and vintage toys. Ask any toy enthusiast and they’ll tell you the “toy bug” plays no favorites. No matter where you grew up or what your age may be, you’re sure to recall with fondness your own favorite childhood toys, and that’s often what leads to an exploration and appreciation of toys of an even earlier era. Many in the know say the smart way to start a collection is via the auction route. Nothing can beat buying from a collection that has already been upgraded and refined, like the one offered in this week’s Vintage Toy sale.

A gem of a collection, the 79-lot assemblage features early European tin wind-ups, including automotive; comic character toys, Japanese vehicles with colorful original boxes, banks, clowns, and German toys by Lehmann, Gunthermann, and other manufacturers.

There are some surprising rarities in the sale, like this 1901 Fernand Martin “Le Pianiste” (Piano Player). When wound up, the cloth-dressed musician appears to play the piano, his hands moving across the keys as he sways back and forth. The market for French-made Martin toys has never been stronger. This particular toy is expected to make $3,250-$4,000.

Vintage Fernand Martin French Mechanical Automaton, Estimate: $3,250-$4,000. Jasper52 image


Any serious European toy enthusiast would want at least a couple of Gunthermann toys in their collection. This auction offers several possibilities. A hand-painted 1910 Man Playing Cello has been professionally restored and is cataloged with a $1,000-$1,500 estimate.

Vintage Restored 1910 Guentherman Musical Cello Player, estimate: $1,100-$1,500. Jasper52 image


Other Gunthermann productions include a Little Boy Twirling Two Celluloid Balls, estimate $650-$800, and a Galloping Horse with Rider, $400-$500.

Vintage Wind-up Gunthermann Little Boy Twirling 2 Balls, Estimate $650-$800. Jasper52 image


When it comes to antique and vintage German cars, demand is always greater than the available supply. Lot 32, a handsome Lehmann ivory with red, lithographed tin LUXUS limousine with driver is in perfect working order and complete condition, even retaining its original battery-operated headlight bulbs. This 13-inch beauty is not often seen in the marketplace. The example offered here is estimated at $7,150-$8,800.

Prewar Germany Wind-up LEHMANN EPL 785 ‘Luxus’ Limo, Estimate: $7,150-$8,800. Jasper52 image


Lot 30, a vintage Fischer tinplate wind-up 4-door sedan finished in green and black is expected to make $500-$600.

Vintage FISCHER Tinplate Windup 4-Door Sedan Car, Estimate: $500-$600. Jasper52 image


Boxed construction toys include a 1950s Tru-Mix cement mixer truck, a postwar (ATC) Japanese tin Ford F-800 dump truck; a Momoya tin friction dump truck, and several tractors by desirable Japanese manufacturers.

Vintage ASAHI (ATC) Japan Tin Ford F-800 Dump Truck, Estimate: $300-$400. Jasper52 image


A treasure of the early comic character era, Lot 35 is a 1932 Chein production of wood and tin depicting Ignatz Mouse, the precursor to Mickey Mouse. The playful rodent retains its original King Features Syndicate Chein & Co decal and original leather ears. A bright, colorful charmer, the toy is entered with a $2,860-$3,520 estimate.

It has been well documented that Ernst Paul Lehmann, creator of the ingenious tin toys bearing his name, took his inspiration from things he saw in his own German village or during his travels. The latter seems to have been the case in his design known as Dare Devil, Lot 26. The toy depicts a man seated in a cart pulled by a zebra, something Lehmann is said to have witnessed while visiting Africa. The lithographed tin Dare Devil in this sale is in excellent, all-original condition and carries an $850-$1,040 estimate.

Vintage Lehmann (Germany) Tin Lithographed Windup EPL 752 Dare Devil Man on Zebra Carriage Cart, Estimate: $850-$1,040. Jasper52 image

Click to view the fully illustrated auction catalog for this weekend’s Vintage Toys Auction.

6 Vintage Toys with Lasting Value

In this technological age, the lasting value of vintage toys is not to be underestimated. A century’s worth of toys has been curated into a prized collection that allows bidders to indulge their nostalgia for trains, planes and automobiles. Here are 6 standouts from the auction’s collection:

Technofix Wind-Up Tin Motorcycle

Technofix windup tin motorcycle with original box, 5in x 7 1/2in x 2 3/4in. Estimate: $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

The popularity of mid-20th century toys is reflected in a trio of dramatically different models offered in this auction. Leading the parade is this postwar tin wind-up Technofix motorcycle. The bike is marked “Made in U.S. Zone Germany,” while the hard-to-find illustrated box is marked “Made in Western Germany.” In all-original, as-found working condition, this toy is estimated at $750-$1,000.


Nosco Friction Indian Motorcycle

Nosco friction Indian motorcycle with sidecar, early plastic police cycle, 5 1/2 inches. Estimate: $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

The Nosco Indian police motorcycle with a sidecar has friction drive that produces a siren-like sound. This early plastic toy has a rare color and an adjustable front wheel, which allows the toy to run straight or in a circle.


Globe Cast Iron Indian Motorcycle

Globe cast-iron Indian motorcycle, 1930s, 8 3/4 in long. Estimate: $1,300-$1,700. Jasper52 image

The traditional choice in motorcycle toys is the cast-iron Indian with rider from the 1930s. The all-original bike is nearly 9 inches long and rides on black rubber tires.


Horse Drawn Wooden Wagon Toy

Horse-drawn wooden coal cart, 1920s, made by S.A. Smith Brattleboro Vt., 24in long. Estimate: $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

From the 1920s comes a horse-drawn coal wagon toy, which is stamped with the maker’s name, “S.A. Smith, Brattleboro, VT” on both the base of the horse and the wooden cart. The 24-inch long toy is all original with an old repair to the cart.


Kai Bojesen Toy Dachsund

Kai Bojesen toy dachshund, articulated, mahogany, 12 1/2in long, 1934. Estimate: $800-$1,200. Jasper52 image

Kai Bojesen, an iconic figure in Danish design, earned worldwide acclaim for his collection of wooden toys, notably his monkey and toy soldiers. In 1934 he designed a dachsund made of mahogany. The head, tail and legs of this rare 12 1/2 inch long dog all swivel. In excellent vintage condition, this highly collectible toy is expected to find a new home for $800-$1,200.


Buddy L Tank Truck

Buddy L tank truck, 1926, original condition. 26in long. Estimate: $2,000-$2,800. Jasper52 image

Perhaps saving the best for last, here we have a 1926 Budy L tanker truck in fine original condition. The early Buddy L trucks are considered the Cadillacs of “floor toys,” large in scale and built of heavy gauge steel. Manufactured in Moline, Ill., this 26-inch long model is estimated at $2,000-$2,800.

View the full collection of vintage toys including dolls, stuffed toy animals and tin windup characters.

5 influential American toy companies of the 19th century

In the early 1800s, most American children played with homemade toys. That started to change with the arrival of the industrial revolution and the application of American ingenuity toward playthings.

Names like Marx, Tonka, Mattel and Hasbro, which are familiar to baby boomers and subsequent generations, didn’t emerge until the 20th century. To explore the American toy industry’s beginnings, one has to go back in time to before the Civil War, when pioneering toy manufacturers staked their claim on a still-developing sector.

Here are five companies that were on the ground floor of American toy production:

Francis, Field & Francis Omnibus. Sold for $56,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Francis, Field & Francis Omnibus. Sold for $56,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Francis, Field & Francis

The first toy manufacturer of record was based in Philadelphia. Known as Francis, Field & Francis, a.k.a Philadelphia Tin Toy Manufactory, this business was in operation as early as 1838. Francis, Field & Francis produced the first manufactured American toy, a horse-drawn fire apparatus. The company claimed their japanned (lacquered) tin toys were “superior to any imported.”

George W. Brown & Co.

By the mid-19th century, New England was the hotbed of toy making. George W. Brown of Forestville, Conn., apprenticed as a clock maker before co-founding George W. Brown & Co., to manufacture toys. Brown applied his knowledge of clocks in designing the first American clockwork tin toys, including a train that the company marketed in 1856. His company also produced many animal-drawn conveyances, platform toys, wagons, fire engines, ships and trains.

The District School figurine set made by Crandall's, 1876. Sold for $2,200. Image via LiveAuctioneers.

The District School figurine set made by Crandall’s, 1876. Sold for $2,200. Image via LiveAuctioneers.

Crandall Toys

Charles M. Crandall of Montrose, Pennsylvania, whose father and brothers were also toy makers, had his greatest success manufacturing building block sets. His sets patented in 1867 featured a tongue-and-groove arrangement that held the pieces together. Crandall introduced lithographed paper-on-wood building block sets in the 1870s. It was said that by the end of the 19th century, Crandall’s building block sets were seen in almost every civilized nation.

J. & E. Stevens Co.

J. & E. Stevens Co. of Cromwell, Connecticut, is credited as the first American company to produce cast-iron toys. John & Elisha Stevens started out making hardware but switched to simple toys like sadirons, garden tools and, later, pistols. J. & E. Stevens supplied cast-iron wheels to numerous toy makers. They are best known as prolific manufacturers of cast-iron mechanical banks in the late 1800s.

Ives & Co Cutter Sleigh, 1893. Sold for $190,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Ives & Co Cutter Sleigh, 1893. Sold for $190,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Ives & Co.

Of the many toy makers to emerge after the Civil War, the undisputed leader was Ives & Co. Edward Ives joined his father, Riley, around 1860. They moved their company from New York City to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a clock-making center, to facilitate their transition to manufacturing clockwork toys. The first were No. 1 Boy on Velocipede and No. 2 Single Oarsman, which replicated a man rowing a boat. Within a few years, Ives & Co. was producing about 20 high-quality clockwork tin toys. Ives set the pace with the trend toward cast iron in the 1870s, making the first mechanical bell toys on wheels. By the 1880s, Ives, Blakeslee & Co. was exporting toys to Europe and South America. In 1890, Harry Ives joined his father, Edward, in the business and continued manufacturing popular toys and trains well into the 20th century.

To view and bid on antique American toys, head to Jasper52 to check out this weeks’ curated toy auctions.

Information sourced from The Story of American Toys by Richard O’Brien (Abbeville Press, 1990)