“Why have Marx toys dropped in value?” you ask? Blame Millennials. Well, actually, my generation bears more of the blame for this one. Blame Gen X. The value of vintage toys tends to follow trends, and those trends don’t necessarily pass from generation to generation.
Marx toys just don’t mean as much to Gen X as they did to Baby Boomers. Half of Gen X was born in the 1970s, and Marx was on its last legs then. I remember the red and yellow Big Wheel, but I didn’t know until I was an adult that Marx made it. Well, actually, that Marx made the first ones. By the time I could ride on one, Marx had liquidated and its rights had scattered to the wind. The same goes for Rock’em Sock’em Robots. Fortysomethings like me remember the toys but don’t know or care who made the one we had.
The rarest, best-condition stuff will continue to appreciate, but for common loose Marx toys, peak value is probably in the past now.
What Gen X likes
Today, Generation X likes the stuff that got them excited when they were kids. That means stuff like Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Transformers, video games, and the like. I cross back sometimes to stuff my dad and grandfather would have liked, but I’m a bit unusual. Many Gen Xers are in their mid 40s now, at the peak of their careers and incomes and have some disposable income. Most of us probably had that one spoiled classmate who had the basement full of every one of the newest toy, or who at least had more than we did. So rich Gen Xers may spend some disposable income replicating what they never had.
My spoiled classmate didn’t have any hand-me-down Marx toys. He had 90 percent of the Star Wars and G.I. Joe and Transformers catalogs and dozens, if not hundreds, of Atari and Nintendo cartridges. We might have played with some Marx toys when we were visiting an older relative who still had their kids’ toys in a box somewhere in the house. But we probably didn’t know what they were. Most Gen Xers with disposable income build epic collections of things like Star Wars or G.I. Joe instead. The stuff they remember.
When I found some Marx-branded toys mixed in with my Dad’s Lionel stuff, I asked him about it. He said Marx was another brand, and he didn’t think it was around anymore. And then I forgot about it for 25 years until I found that same box again.
What Millennials will like
Millennials are going to follow the same pattern. They’re going to like the toys of the 90s instead of the toys of the 80s. I guess that means Power Rangers and Furbies and Pokemon. Some 80s holdouts undoubtedly have Millennial appeal too, but not all of them will. Millennials had no idea what Smurfs are until they started making Smurf movies again for Gen Xers to take their kids to see. But I don’t expect Millennials to be as big on Smurfs as Gen X was. The Homeland generation, like my kids, will like Smurfs more than Millennials, but probably not as much as Gen X either. My kids like some of the same stuff Millennials did, but not all. Some Millennial-era toys had more staying power on the market than others.
The name Louis Marx means absolutely nothing to most Millennials. They were less likely to run into Marx toys at an old relative’s house than Gen Xers were.
What should you invest in, then?
Mutual Funds. Real estate maybe. Don’t expect old toys to appreciate forever over time. I don’t expect Baby Boomer-era toys to lose all value, but they are beyond peak value. It’s better to sell them a year early than a year too late.
And I have the same warning for Xers and Millennials. Collecting the toys of your childhood is good for stress, and giving you an anchor, and it may even combat aging, but it’s not a retirement vehicle. Make sure your family knows who your collecting buddies are in case you check out earlier than planned. And as you age, it’s probably better to sell off stuff a year early than a year late. Especially the loose, common stuff.