David Firth was 9 years old when he got an American Flyer train set complete with an engine, cars, track and a transformer. He loved that toy so much that 57 years later the Fresno man still has the train in its original, albeit slightly battered and ripped, box.
“I kept the box because I would store it under my bed,” Firth says.
It’s been awhile since he played with the toy, so Firth decided to find out its worth. He was one of a steady stream of locals who started showing up early Monday, Feb. 1, at the Hampton Inn & Suites to meet with Joel Magee, the man known as America’s Toy Scout.
Magee spends 100 days a year on the road dealing in “Star Wars” action figures, Transformers, Hot Wheels, Barbie dolls, 1960s comic book collections, movie memorabilia, Disney collectibles and assorted other items. The West Palm Beach, Fla., resident sells the items at collectibles shows or on the Internet if he doesn’t keep them for himself.
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“You cannot fathom the toys and games people have saved for decades,” Magee says. “What I find is that when most people hit 40, they become very nostalgic for the the toys they played with as children.”
After talking with Firth about the toy – pointing out that it’s made of less expensive plastic instead of metal – the pair settle on a price of $70.
Magee, a Sioux City, Iowa, native didn’t grow up with any special interest in toys except for the Major Matt Mason space playset he had as a child. Through his 20s and 30s, he was more interested in food, starting both a cookie shop and hamburger restaurant and then opening a water slide park in his hometown.
Magee, 54, found his passion for toys in his late 30s. He was at a flea market when he spotted a G.I. Joe lunchbox that was like one he had when he was in elementary school. A flood of memories took him back to his school days and he bought the lunchbox for $30.
“That set me on a mission I have been on ever since. My mission has been to acquire all of the toys I had as a child AND all of the toys my friends or cousins had that I never had,” Magee says.
His quest set him on a toy dealing path that has become almost his full-time job. When he’s not busy with toys, Magee flips houses. During his trip west, Magee is also shooting the pilot for a TV show that could air on a cable channel.
Magee likes to share his knowledge of toys. Madera’s Steve Hill brought a stack of comics that his father owned. Magee explains the bulk of the comics aren’t worth a lot because they are too new. The comics that generally fetch the higher prices are those with a cover price of 10 or 12 cents.
Tyler Roberts of Clovis has two comic books that fall safely into the collectible zone – Detective Comics No. 72 from 1943 and Action Comics No. 90 from 1945. He’s looking to sell his comics to put toward a truck he wants to purchase.
Magee closely inspects the books, pointing out one has been glued where the lone staple holds the book together. Any tiny flaw can chip away at the value. The Detective Comic is valued in the neighborhood of $385; the Action about $325. He buys them both for $450.
Not everyone goes away happy.
He breaks the bad news to a woman with a box full of Barbie dolls that they are not as old as she thinks. The dolls have a date of 1963 and 1965 on them but Magee points out that all of the real Barbie dolls from the 1960s have the date as a Roman numeral. Mattel just puts the numerical date on all their dolls to mark the copyright.
Magee has found some of the best toys in California. Right now, the hottest toys are Hot Wheels, “Star Wars” and Barbie, plus comic books.
There are also toys that have not held up, such as Beanie Babies and Tickle Me Elmo. Magee stresses that any toys purchased to be collected has less potential of growing in value.
“In our business, we hate the word collectible because that means that people are buying stuff and putting them away. They stay in pristine condition for many years if not forever,” Magee says. “We are looking for toys that are made for kids to play with.”
The stream of those with items to sell continues. Magee looks at a collection of stamps, a Japanese sword from World War II, boxes of baseball cards, large collections of comics and a mannequin doll with a toy washing machine.
There’s one item Magee would love to find.
“I collect toys from ’60s TV shows and movies. I have always wanted a ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Undersea Gun.’ Here’s how much I want it. I would pay $1,000 for it right now,” Magee says.
Fresno Vintage Toy Buying Show
- 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, through Thursday, Feb. 4.
- Hampton Inn & Suites, 327 E. Fir Ave., Fresno
- Admission and parking are free.
- For toy or doll questions or for more information about the show, go to www.americastoyscout.com.