Mine was a childhood of temptation.
I’ve already written about an uncle with his mysterious, verboten Wall of Ducks.
But if you think that was tempting — and it was — you should have seen my other uncle’s collection.
It was pure torture for a 10-year-old. Because my uncle Henry — today a retired judge — likes to collect toys.
To be fair, my uncle collects so many types of toys — across such a wide range of valuations —there is always something to play with at his house.
He wears a puzzle ring he’ll let you fiddle with to your heart’s content. (I think everyone has solved it except me.)
He’ll build awesome Lego sets you can play with for hours. Or deconstruct — as long as you can put them back together.
He’ll even create racecourses that encourage family members to become part of the action.
But there were a few toys at my uncle’s place you weren’t supposed to play with. For very good reason.
These toys tend to be at least a century old. They might be up on high shelves or nestled behind plexiglass.
And each one could be worth $1,000 — or more. With the price often rising rapidly.
I’m talking about tin windup toys.
You might not realize that tin toys are a major collectible category. Especially those from Nuremberg, Germany — once the tin toy capital of the world.
The finest examples can go for six figures. And passionate collectors — like my uncle — think of tin toys not as playthings but as beautiful, mechanical works of art.
But tin toys are a serious — if fun — business. Sotheby’s and Christie’s will occasionally have auctions devoted entirely to tin toys. The niche is even large enough that there are a few auction houses that specialize in nothing but these whirring, whizzing wonders.
Plenty of collectors get into tin toys through the mechanical side. That’s what attracted my uncle — the clockwork-like guts of these pieces. (It should come as no surprise that Uncle Henry collects clocks and watches as well.)
In his younger days — with two growing kids to support and a career still to nurture — Uncle Henry collected plastic puzzles.
They’re a good bit cheaper than tin toys — with the best examples usually costing a few hundred, tops — but scratch a similar itch.
Once he could afford windup tin toys, my uncle moved up to his first love.
Some people think of it as an extravagant hobby. After all, each piece costs a pretty penny. And while they usually still work, these aren’t the sort of toys you bring out when the grandkids visit.
Or when your nephew swings by — no matter how much he begs.
But there’s a better way to think of windup tin toys. And that’s as a wise investment.
It can take a while for the investment to pay off. Usually, you’re looking at a minimum of five years — sometimes 10 — before you’ll realize a good return.
Especially when you factor in auction house fees.
But these toys can appreciate quickly. One of my uncle’s favorites has jumped nearly 50% in the past year.
And with the demand for these specialty items rising quickly — helped along by the increase in wealth around the world, as this is an international collecting sensation — the trendline is definitely pointing up.
I will readily admit I’m no expert in this field.
Which is why I sat down with my uncle for a few hours and picked his brain about his tin toy collection — and this collecting space in general.
Tomorrow, I’ll bring you a transcript of that conversation. By the end of it, you’ll know all you need to get started in this field — or one a lot like it — if you so desire.
Like all collections, I only recommend you get involved if it speaks to your underlying passions.
But if you like toys, bright colors, mechanical intricacies or historical artifacts, it’s hard to find a better, more profitable niche than windup tin toys.
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Can’t wait to start exploring this niche? Visit JustCollecting’s forums — which cover all manner of collectibles. Including tin toys, just like those my uncle collects.
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...