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Group Seeks Old Toys for the Young at Heart

October 01, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

It doesn't matter if your favorite old doll has lost its head. The International Toy Collectors Assn. probably wants it.

Has your vintage Easter Bunny Pez dispenser lost its spring, or your 1950s American Flyer toy caboose seen better days?

"We're interested," said George McCurley, vice president and senior buyer for the Illinois-based group, which stopped in Colton on Tuesday as part of its nationwide Toy Roadshow, which pays on the spot for childhood favorites made before 1970.

The association represents 5,400 members, die-hard collectors who, in some cases, will pay thousands of dollars for a treasure and fly down to ensure it remains in pristine condition, McCurley said.

"We've got money to spend," he said, noting that the group paid about $50,000 to people with old toys during last week's show in San Bernardino. "There are some serious collectors out there."

Since the show began in 1996, one child-at-heart shelled out $300,000 for an 1880s cast-iron bank depicting the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe nursery rhyme. Other collectors paid $65,000 for a collection of 1930s tin windup toys, $24,000 for a 17th century violin, $20,000 for a set of Shirley Temple dolls.

Those are jackpot items.

More likely, McCurley said people with old toys in their attics or closets fetch anywhere from $5 for a bald Ken doll missing a foot to $500 for a rare Hot Wheel to $5,000 for a Howdy Doody tin windup toy, which was bought by a Hollywood producer to display in his studio office.

Mark Bolasky, 35, of Moreno Valley pocketed $335 Tuesday for his cardboard box full of 1950s trucks, tractors, trailers, taxis, buses, Rolls-Royces and fire engines.

"When did you first develop this problem?" McCurley asked, as he arranged Bolasky's vehicle collection on a table.

McCurley examined a die-cast fire engine. "Anything to do with firemen are hot right now," he said. "It's probably because of 9/11."

The toy fleet was varied and vast, but only in so-so condition, with most vehicles suffering from paint scratches and dings.

"That's OK, though," McCurley said. "There are a lot of retired auto body shop guys who can no longer do the heavy lifting. They have toy junkyards and might strip these for parts."

In fact, McCurley warned toy owners not to clean up their toys, because they may reduce the item's worth.

After he assessed Bolasky's loot, McCurley got on his cell phone to check the association's database of collectors interested in toy cars.

McCurley offered Bolasky $335.

"I wasn't expecting this much money," Bolasky said. "This box has just been sitting in closets for the past 25 years. I offered them to my kids to play with, but they're only interested in video games."

Charles Hazelton, 62, of Colton collected $290 for an old chemistry set in its original box and a set of American Flyer trains he bought in Arkansas for $25.

"My wife and I have a house full of antiques," Hazelton said. "We collect everything. We need to sell some stuff because we're moving to Oregon." He sighed. "This will help," he said, "but I did like the trains."

Old trains are especially popular now, McCurley said.

Bill Bowman, 74, of Corona brought in an American Flyer train set from the 1960s. But because it was common, McCurley said he could offer only $30.

"I'd rather keep it," Bowman said. "I like playing with trains."

The Toy Roadshow continues through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Days Inn in Colton, near the 215 freeway.

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