Classic, Vintage and Retro Toys: Why Are They Still Popular?

When I think of classic, vintage and retro toys I think of my brother’s soldier-making kit. The kit included a melting pot for lead, tools for handling the pot, and molds for an army of toy soldiers. Hour after hour, he poured lead into the molds and burnished the lead soldiers. At the time, we did not know about the dangers of lead and thought this was normal.

How times have changed! Some unsafe classic, vintage and retro toys have been pulled from the market, yet hundreds remain and they are selling. Books, specialized magazines, and dozens, if not hundreds, of Internet websites cater to this pursuit. You may be a collector yourself or know people who collect historic toys.

According to an article on the Brainz website, the most popular toys of all time are Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, the Super Soaker, and Etch a Sketch. Other historic toys were just as popular. Why do they last?

Design is one reason. These toys were made to stimulate the imagination and hours of play. Several years ago my husband and I inherited a pinball game from the late 1930s or early 1940s. The wooden game board is in good condition and so is the spring that shoots balls onto the game. Chess, checkers and Chinese checkers have become collectables and some people are displaying the boards like art.

The fun factor is another reason. Ask a friend to name their favorite childhood toys and you hear stories about balsam wood gliders, Slinky, Lincoln logs, sock monkeys and more. Manufacturers are reproducing these designs and adding a new twist. For example, I made Sock Monkeys for my daughters. You can buy the monkeys today, as well as Sock Monkey key rings and bedspreads.

Durability is yet another reason. Many classic, vintage and retro toys were made from wood and rugged metal parts that withstood constant use. Tonka trucks, which were made in Minnesota, were so sturdy they could be passed from one child to the next or one generation to the next. These trucks are very collectable today.

Adaptability is the final reason. Historic games are today’s party warm-ups, something to relax a group before dinner or a potluck supper. Shoppers scour garage sales, Salvation Army stores, and antique stores for the games they played in childhood. “Games have been a constant human preoccupation,” according to “Antique and Vintage Games,” an article published in “Collectors Weekly.”

Before you buy classic, vintage or retro toys check the condition. Does the toy have rough edges or missing parts? Are all of the game pieces there? Is the toy in its original box? Contact relatives, too, because they may still have these toys in their basement or attic.

Some manufacturers are re-making toys of the past. Associated Press business writer Michael Liedtke writes about one manufacturer in his article, “Vintage Toy Maker Wham-O Trying to Regain its Punch,” published in “The Berkeley Daily Planet.” Though Wham-O had come upon hard financial times, Liedtke explains, “the company that gave the world the Frisbee, the Hula Hoop and the Hockey Sack is trying to regain its footing as a toy trendsetter.” The first step towards this goal is remaking the company’s Slip’N Slide toy.

Whether they are classic, vintage, or retro, toys are fun. Historic toys remind you of childhood, a simpler time, and family togetherness. You may wish to buy a historic toy if you come across it. If you have historic toys you no longer need, donate them to a history museum or children’s museum. These well-designed, fun, durable, adaptable toys are worth saving.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson