In Pixar’s “Toy Story 2,” much of the movie’s plot was driven by the fact that the Stinky Pete action figure was priceless because he was mint in the package, as well as being rare to begin with. On the other hand, Mr. Pete (or is that Mr. Stinky?), led a bitter existence of resentment from being unplayed with, as well as for being the least desirable figure (hence his low production numbers and maybe why he never made it out of the box). So if he was going to live out the rest of his life like that on a museum shelf, he might as well make some other toys miserable as well.
Toy packaging has become a huge variable in the value of many collectibles. Some collectors don’t care all that much, but for many, the difference between “MIP” and “loose” is so big that opened toys may as well not exist. There’s even an industry catering to collectors who want to protect their packaging from the kinds of horrors the packaging was designed to protect the toy from.
So why did toy packaging become such a big deal to collectors? Here are some thoughts:
Packaging protects the contents, obviously.
That’s kind of the point of packaging, right? Even the nicest loose Topper Johnny Lightning car is likely to have a few minor imperfections from handling and environment compared to one that has sat in a blister card untouched for almost 50 years. And yet, sometimes the ravages of time manage to reach inside that cocoon and cause paint to fade, chrome to rub off, and parts to come loose.
Ironically, in some cases, that perfectly preserved toy is hidden in a smoky, discolored blister with shelf worn cardboard, making collectors scratch their heads regarding the value of the packaging. The box or blister did its job, and now you want to criticize it for being less than perfect?
Packaging can be proof of authenticity.
The Jawa with the vinyl cape is the classic example: Kenner’s earliest “Star Wars” action figures included a Jawa sand creature with a stiff, ugly vinyl cape. They decided to replace it with a cloth cape that was better in every way, making the early ones rarer. But today, they’re only really valuable in the package, because the vinyl cape is so easy to fake on a loose figure. Same thing with stickers for early Hot Wheels cars, which are easily reproduced. Find one sealed in its blister, and you know it’s the real McCoy.
Packaging can be as cool as the actual toy sometimes.
Just look at the early history of Hot Wheels, and that’s all you need to know. As if the cars weren’t awesome enough, the imagery on those cards made them stand out from all the competitors. For something that was just a by-product of buying a toy, some companies really went all out in their package designs.
Packaging can provide extra rarity via variations or mistakes.
Errors are fun to collect for many people, and often the only mistake is the wrong toy on the wrong card. Rip that open, and it’s worth no more or less than any identical model. As for variations, it’s neat to find multilingual packaging, or later/earlier versions of a toy that might include different information such as expanded checklists or different small print on the back. Another variation might be for legal reasons, such as Johnny Lightning having to modify “Beats Them All” to “Beat Them All.” Only one letter changed, but the early ones with the bold claim are much rarer.
Packaging can be incredibly rare for older, classic toys.
There was a time when not every single thing in the world was preordained as “limited edition,” “collectible,” or “exculsive offering.” Toys were just toys. If you were a kid in 1968, you couldn’t wait to rip open that new Hot Wheels car and send it down the track and into the sandbox. Which is why they are so beloved. And the blister card was a disposable afterthought.
Sure, the words “Collector’s Button” was on the package, hinting at the future of such toys, but very few kids probably made a conscious decision to collect every car to keep mint on the card.
So where did these pristine examples of that era come from? Maybe someone got a duplicate for their birthday and decided to hang onto it for later. Perhaps they bought it but misplaced it before they could open it. Maybe there was some lost store inventory that sold years later when the value was becoming apparent.
Flash forward to the era of Beanie Babies, which were explicitly marketed as things to collect and preserve (but not to play with). Never mind that before those came along, most toys were designed to bring joy accrued during playtime. In fact, it’s almost rarer to find certain Beanies that have been played with. The point of these older toys was that they were fun, and finding one in the package today is an unexpected treat.
Ironically, the Toy Story franchise has given birth to many classic toys, including characters designed for the movie, as well as new life for some of the old classics that show up onscreen. The power of imagination in the movies made them fun for kids to play with. And yet, in many cases, collectors would buy them all, including the less popular characters, and preserve them in their original boxes, bags, and blisters, never to be played with.
Did we not learn anything from Stinky Pete?