Musings By Joschik Posts

How to Best Sell a Collection

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and his musings share some of his collecting experience. Over the last 30 years, he has bought and sold more than 50 collections, owned a physical auction house and operated Europe’s largest eBay store. As part of his work with the hobbyDB Advisory Board Christian has also seen many of the largest collections of the world.

What does Collecting have in common with getting married?

Most collectors collect for collecting’s sake and this will only make sense to a collector. For me, preserving history and relaxation are part and parcel of this same collecting rationale. Collectors rarely (if ever) think about what happens when the love cools and how they will then have to sell everything.

Motormax Ford Mustang Newly-Weds

Consider that your collection might not be with you forever

 

While there are ways to make this sell-off significantly easier, it is like prenuptial agreements – something most don’t want to touch. This blog post tackles why collectors sell, how to go about it and how to best prepare for an eventual sale.

Like the 40-50% of spouses who eventually head for the divorce court, the vast majority of collectors eventually fall out of love with their collections. How long it takes that to happen depends on the type of collectible. For example, pocket watch collectors keep collecting longer than collectors of newer things like Funko Pop Vinyls. On average, the latter will collect for around four years, while collectors of more vintage subjects like Decoys collect for 18 years.

Funko and Vintage Decoy Owls

Until becoming a vintage item himself, Bubo will live in five times as many households as his unhappy neighbor!

 

Why do collectors stop collecting?

There are five main reasons why folks stop collecting and then want to liquidate and recoup the value of their collection:

  1. Lose interest in the subject (this is often followed by a segue into collecting something else)
  2. Need money (and if so, they usually need it fast – which makes being prepared to sell even more important)
  3. Down-sizing
  4. Other-half is strongly opposed to collecting and wins the battle
  5. The ultimate show-stopper – death

Realizing full value for a collection requires both expertise, motivation and time. The reason for selling can have a major influence on how a collection can be sold. For example death often takes the necessary expertise with it.

How to know the value of a collection?

Collectors of vintage items will know a lot about the value of their individual items as they can only buy them in the secondary market (no retailers stock vintage uniform patches ;-). That said, a vast majority of these collectors have no clue how many items are in their collection and significantly underestimate the quantity of item they have bought over time. Often, they need to do an inventory or at least take a count or make an estimate of the number of items they own.

Collectors of more modern type of collectibles such as NASCAR racing cars often over-estimate the value of their collections as they bought at retail and modern collectibles (say everything sold in retail post 1990) generally loses 50% or more of its value as soon as you buy it.

Bandai Tinplate versus Jeff Gordon NASCAR model

A Bandai Tinplate car will beat a NASCAR model in value appreciation every time!

 

A lot of these collectors get a rude awakening when it comes to selling, as they relied on labels such as Limited Edition or Special Collector Edition, erroneously thinking that these automatically ensure the items retain value. While there might be only 500 models of a particular Jeff Gordon model there are hundreds of other Jeff Gordon models and as long as they continue to sell, more will be produced, making it very hard for any of them to ever appreciate in value. Also, as these items were produced for the collector market, most will be carefully stored in glass cabinets so there is very little rate of attrition.

When assessing a collection, there are five different types of value:

  1. Catalog Value. Where price guides exist, you can add the value of each item and come up with an aggregate value. The accuracy of that value depends on how the catalog authors calculated the values it gives and how long ago it was compiled. Catalog Value also do not take into account costs of selling (market place fees, fees for a stand at a fair, time, fuel etc). It is not unusual for collectors to use a catalog value, adding or subtracting a percentage to compensate for these factors.
    Stanley Gibbons Price Guide

    It is not unusual to value stamps by using a catalog price and then apply a discount such as “Stanley Gibbons minus 30%”

     

  2. Insurance Value. This is the replacement value and varies between the Catalog Value and the Wholesale Value, in particular if a whole collection has been lost, for example through fire.
    Broken Doll

    Insurance value should cover replacement costs or, if that is not possible, repair plus the value loss that results from being repaired

     

  3. Wholesale Value. This is the value of a collection if sold to a dealer for resale. The dealer needs to make a profit, so will obviously pay less than retail value. Wholesale value value is often quite close to having the collection sold through an auction house as the net proceeds of an auction sale exclude Sellers Fees, Insurance Premium, Picture Fees, Buyer’s Premiums etc.
    Auction Houses often have to sell large parts of collections as lots, here Star Wars toys.

    Auction Houses often have to sell large parts of collections as lots, here Star Wars toys.

     

  4. Retail value – this is the value of each item sold individually and at the prevailing market value (for example at a physical location like a collector fair or on a website where collectors of this type of collectible transact.)
    Selling on trade fairs gives you the best value but will take a very long time

    Selling at trade fairs gives you the best value, but will take a very long time

     

  5. Realized Value – this is what you actually have left over after all is sold and all costs are factored in.

For me the only value of interest is the Realized Value (unless you currently have an insurance claim) as its the only meaningful measure. Realized Value is either the Wholesale Value or the Retail Value after deducting all direct and indirect costs. Your calculation should also include a value for your time spent on selling the collection, for example at an estimated time-taken-per-item when you sell items online.

The various routes to Monetization

There are many different ways to sell, but they all fall into this five groups:

  1. Selling the collection in one transaction. This is the easiest way to sell a collection but also the one that gives the lowest Realized Value overall. If you have more than 500 items in your collection you can expect to realize less than 15% of the collection’s Retail Value (we maintain a directory of potential buyers on sellingyourcollection.com).
    Selling everything is sometimes the only option, but it is always very painful!

    That’s how much you can lose. Selling everything is sometimes the only option, but it is always very painful!

     

  2. Contracting a 3rd party to sell the collection for you. This could either be done via (a) an auction house or (b) as consignment sales with a specialist dealer. Auction Houses are great if you have lots of high value items that are difficult to handle and have a world-wide market. Consignment Selling is the best compromise if you want to receive more of the actual value of your collection but are not willing to do the work required. It does, however, require you to be able to wait for your money and trust whoever you give your collection to, as it is almost impossible to draw up contracts that protect the vendor sufficiently.
    Barrett-Jackson is one of th best places to sell a 2006 Ford GT

    Barrett-Jackson is one of the best places to sell a 2006 Ford GT

     

  3. Selling at Events. The right event provides great returns for items sold and the fees are fixed. That being said, you will only sell a fraction of your collection at your first event and then less and less at later events (unless you are willing to significantly discount). Please also take into account costs such as fuel and your time!
    You might want to count food, hotel, fuel etc - or you might say I enjoy the show and would have come anyway!

    You might want to count food, hotel, fuel etc – or you might take the view that you enjoy attending the show and would have come anyway!

     

  4. Selling online. This can be done anytime and you can do it from home! You can sell either via Auction (faster, but potentially risky in terms of how much you receive) or through a fixed price sale (no surprises but it can take a long time to sell your items). If you have the time, the willingness to photograph, write a good description, pack, ship and deal with customer service issues, this is the way to go!
    Sometimes you find a specialist site that is just perfect for what you want to sell

    Sometimes you find a specialist site that is just perfect for what you want to sell

     

  5. Giving it to a museum – this is not only a nice way to give and have the ability to continue enjoying your collection but can also make financial sense as, subject to your tax jurisdiction, this could result in a substantial tax deduction or credit!
    Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 16.45.45

 

Incorporating an eventual selling plan into how you collect

Even if you are not considering selling your collection now, it’s always wise to plan what you can do now and over the coming years to make it easier for either you or your loved ones to eventually realize the value of your collection when it does come time to liquidate. If you are male (and 90% of collectors are), and in a traditional marriage, you might want to consider that your wife will be an average of 3 years younger than you and will live an average 5 years longer than you. As such, it’s an excellent idea to document your collection by making an inventory in Excel, via a video or, of course, here on hobbyDB.

More Information

It is my plan to improve this article over time. That said, here are some articles that cover specific aspects of selling a particular type of collectible:

  1. Books
  2. Classic Cars (opens as a PDF)
  3. Coins
  4. Comics
  5. Lego
  6. Stamps IStamps II

 

Please leave a comment!

If you:-

  • have queries about selling your collection, including questions on good consignment sellers,
  • want to discuss any aspect of selling a collection,
  • have tips to share, or
  • know of other good resources that I should link to

Please leave a comment below. If your question is about your own collection, please include a quick description of what you collect, approximately how many objects there are in your collection, roughly where the collection is located and how much time and expertise you have. This would allow me to give you more specific answers.

Cataloging is difficult and needs lots of TLC

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and his musings share some of his collecting experience.

I am still relatively new to Colorado and when I saw a book called “Weird Colorado” I needed to have it.  When looking for it on Amazon I found that a search for the title produced five results that were all the same!

Catalog Problems at Amazon
And I am not the only one who found this problem, googling the phrase “Amazon Catalog Duplicates” shows more than 700,000 results.  This makes purchasing difficult as Weird Colorado was offered from $3.35 to $20.87 (a 623% difference) despite the fact that all of these books were in the same condition degree!

On hobbyDB we have (so far) only one catalog entry for Weird Colorado:

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.20.29

 

And even if the book was also available as a Softcover it would indicate that there are two variants and then show the differences prominently on the search and catalog pages:

– Mockup only as there is no softcover –

Catalog problems are just part and parcel of a crowd-sourced approach.  To minimize these problems we are working so hard to build a community of Curators.  There are now 214 of these hobbyDB heroes, here some examples and here some more info on curating.  One of them would have merged any duplicated entries if we had them.

Please reach out if you’d like to become part of the Curation Nation!

Take a Trip to America’s Largest Comics Store, Mile High Comics

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and his musings share some of his collecting experience.

The other day I spoke to Chuck Rozanksi, the owner of Mile High Comics about meeting up.  He suggested that I should come to the Mile High warehouse, America’s Largest Comics Store- and am I glad I did!

warehouse-space-10pkg-transf6er

It might not look much from the outside but it is just enormous inside and every nook and cranny is filled up with cool stuff.

IMG_0122

IMG_0127

And there are tons of things to see, like what is probably the largest Lego Minifig ever:

IMG_0123

The best thing is that it’s open to the public with more than a million comics to chose from…

IMG_0126

…as well as lots of other things such as posters, action figures, Lego Minifigs etc. – if it is comics related you can probably find it here!

IMG_0128

I had a fantastic time and Chuck is our kind of guy, not only is he nuts for comics; he also has an awesome collection of Native American pottery (we look forward to document those!).  I have the feeling Chuck just doesn’t do small, there are shelves and shelves full of them – and he knows the story behind every one of them!

IMG_0131

Take an afternoon off and venture down there!  You will find the address on milehighcomics.com.

Hot Wheels vs Johnny Lightning: Toys and Motorsports

Sports Illustrated 12-7-1970

In 1970, Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy article regarding Hot Wheels vs Johnny Lightning … not just about toy cars, but the two companies’ involvement in sponsoring real motorsports teams. This article appeared in the Dec. 7, 1970 issue.

HOT PACE IN A BIG MINI-RACE

Never mind Indy, the real drive is for a $150 million market in tiny cars, with a whole world of kids hanging on every high speed turn.

by Robert H. Boyle

It is a rivalry like no other. It has elements of GM against Ford, Army vs. Navy, Hertz vs. Avis, Macy’s against Gimbels, yin against yang, aspirin vs. Bufferin. The Great Toy Auto Race is on! In this lane, revving up with Hot Wheels and Sizzlers, is Mattel, Inc., the biggest toy company in the world, with an annual gross of more than $300 million. In the other lane, at the ready with Johnny Lightnings, is Topper Corporation. The prize at stake is a $150-mil­lion-a-year market composed mostly of kids from 4 to 14 reaching up to the toy counters at discount houses or Pop’s stationery store, dollar bills clutched in hand, saying, “Gimme that Hot Wheel” or “I want that Johnny Lightning.” On such decisions fortunes turn and companies retool.

Parnelli Jones and Johnny Unser play with Johnny Lightning

It’s Parnelli Jones and Johnny Lightning, previously known as Al Unser.

American youngsters, who may be the champion consumers of all time, have an extraordinarily wide choice of toy cars. Cars have supplanted the electric train sets that tootled around the Christmas trees of yesteryear. Like their adult counterparts, the kids want cars, cars and more cars. There are Aurora’s Model Motoring, Ideal’s Mini-Motorific, Kenner’s SSP, Strombecker’s and other so-called slot-car racing sets, but the big bonanza is in miniature die-cast cars with low friction wheels, such as Matters Hot Wheels and Topper’s Johnny Lightnings. Mattel has the biggest share of the market, with Topper a distant second but coming on fast in recent months.

The Great Toy Auto Race between Mattel and Topper is being fought on all sorts of fronts, involving the television screen, cereal boxes, buttons, patches, coloring books and other hoopla galore. Mattel spends more on advertising than such industrial giants as Standard Oil, Royal Crown Cola, Sun Oil, Delta Air Lines, Armstrong Cork or Ling-Temco-Vought, and Topper is not far behind. In fact, Topper goes in for the hard sell with such a vengeance that almost a quarter of its gross is poured back into advertising. In the field of auto sports Mattel and Topper are having a wicked go at each other. Both companies have discovered that kids like to identify with real-life race drivers. Mattel is big in hot rods. It is backing Tom (Mongoose) McEwen, five-time holder of the national-speed and elapsed-time drag records, and Don (Snake) Prudhomme, 1969’s hot rod driver of the year. It has tied in with Grand Prix models and the National Hot Rod Association and has sponsored the Hot Wheels Supernationals drag strip championships. Scratching and scrambling to stay in the race, the rival Topper Corporation is sponsoring the Parnelli Jones racing team and last May pulled off a fantastic coup by winning at Indianapolis with the Johnny Lightning 500 Special, driven by Al Unser. As a result, Unser has come to be regarded by kids as Johnny Lightning himself, and whenever he shows up at a store to plug the Johnny Lightning toy cars he is surrounded by a horde of boys. “East Paterson, New Jersey, two thousand kids!” exults Bob Perilla, Topper’s public relations man. “Two thousand!”

Sports Illustrated Johnny Lightning

Rated on scale, toy Johnny Lightnings race faster than the real car (No. 2) did at Indy.

All this causes some people at Mattel to groan quietly in a corner. Mattel had the first chance to get Al Unser for Hot Wheels, but turned him down.

Mattel has had promotional victories of its own, however. Last February the Chamber of Commerce and the Junior Chamber in Saginaw, Mich. sponsored a Hot Wheels Derby in a local shopping mall. There were more than 1,700 entries, and a crowd of 6,000 showed up to watch the finals in which Hot Wheels cars raced down 250 feet of track from an eight-foot-high starting tower. In May a Hot Wheels Derby in Niles, Ohio attracted 850 entries and a crowd of 10,000. As a result of all this, the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce, with happy cooperation from Mattel, is sponsoring a National Hot Wheels Derby championship for 1971. After local and statewide derbies are run off in shopping centers all across the country the finals will be held in Saginaw, with plenty of prizes. Never one to lag behind, Topper is involved in Johnny Lightning racing competition with the YMCA, which ordinarily eschews any activity smacking of commercialism. Boys’ interest in toy cars is so intense, however, that more than 900 Y’s have signed up, and each of them has been presented with two free Johnny Lightning New 500 Le Mans Raceway sets by Topper. There will be branch, citywide, regional and national finals, with the grand prizewinner and his family getting an all-expenses-paid trip to the 1971 Indy 500 as Al Unser’s personal guests.

This human touch, the signing of real hero drivers to promote toy cars, finally got to the Aurora people, who are anxious to join the race with their own Model Motoring setups. A few weeks ago, in a bold promotional stunt, they staged a mock race on the Ed Sullivan television show. Did any real kids get to play cars? No. There at the miniature trackside were racing greats Dan Gurney, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, outfitted in newly bought Dunhill blazers and not the least embarrassed. Score one for Aurora, even though there was a tense moment when Gurney first agreed to appear but asked, innocently, “May I wear my Mattel jacket?”

Sports Illustrated Hot Wheels

Leading the Field, Hot Wheels perform like people-size racers, even to the parachutes.

At Mattel, Topper is considered a pestiferous copycat company, a Johnny-­come-lately, if you will, that happened to be struck by promotional lightning at Indianapolis. Mattel executives take pride not only in being on top of the toy industry, but in their company’s innovations as well. Mattel’s Research and Development department employs more than 400 people, ranging from physicists to hair stylists. Secrecy is the word. Mattel is already hard at work on its 1972 line—the 1971 line was decided months ago–and the company does not want any competitors, particularly Topper, to get an inkling of what’s new. Toy projects are given code names (“Zip” was the code for the Sizzler cars) and R&D prototypes are literally kept from prying eyes under wraps of purple cloth. It is impossible to enter Mattel’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. without signing in with a guard and receiving a badge and an escort. Every employee wears a badge of one color or another, the color of the badge depending upon the security clearance of the wearer.

By contrast, no one at Topper wears a security badge. Research and Development at Topper is behind the design chief’s office door, which opens after a knock. “Why would Topper need any security?” asks Bernie Loomis, the Mattel vice-president in charge of Hot Wheels. When discussing Topper, Loomis and other Mattel execs are fond of waspishly quoting Kipling:

And they asked me how I did it, and I gave ’em the Scripture text,

“You keep your light so shining a lit­tle in front o’ the next.”

They copied all they could follow, but they couldn’t copy my mind,

And I left ’em sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.

Mattel began 25 years ago when Elliot and Ruth Handler, childhood sweet­hearts in Denver, began making picture frames in a converted garage in Los Angeles. After filling one large order the Handlers found themselves with leftover scrap plastic and wood. An industrial designer by profession, Handler converted the scraps into dollhouse furniture and, with Ruth doing the selling, they did $100,000 worth of business, $30,000 of it net profit. Since then Mattel has been one success story after another. In 1947 the company introduced the Uke-a­-Doodle, a small plastic ukulele, in 1948 a plastic piano with raised keys that was difficult for competitors to copy and in 1949 a revolutionary music box. By 1955 Mattel was doing $5 million a year gross. This was the year the Handlers gambled $500,000 to advertise their Burp Gun on a new television show called the Mickey Mouse Club. The response was staggering. Reaching the kiddies directly with TV had far-reaching implications, explains Handler. “Previously most toys were purchased by adults who would ask the retailer: ‘What do you have for a 5-year-old?’ Three or four products were offered as possibilities and the selection made. Neither the toy nor the manufacturer was identified in the mind of the adult or the child. With television both brand name and the product could be sold directly to the consumer. It was the beginning of a marketing revolution.”

The marketing revolution continued with Mattel’s introduction in 1959 of Barbie, a chesty doll named after the Handlers’ daughter, and later Ken, Bar­bie’s boyfriend, named after their son. (Topper now has Dawn, a Barbielike doll that sells for half the Barbie price and which, or who, zoomed recently to No. 1 spot on the toy hit parade. “Dawn’s just a gorgeous little broad, she really is,” says David Downs, Topper’s executive vice-president for corporate development, giving her a pat on the head in the showroom.) Mattel followed with other successes: Baby First Step (“The first doll to walk by herself”), Baby Tender Love (Topper has Baby Luv ‘N Care), Creepy Crawlers, Fright Factory and Incredible Edibles (all made from Plastigoop and Gobble­DeGoop; half the fun at Mattel is making up names), See ‘N Say educational toys and—roll of drums, blare of trumpets, unfurl all shopping-center flags—Hot Wheels!

Small cars have been a staple in the toy business for years, and collecting miniature cars is an old idea, going back to Dinky toys and beyond, but one day in 1967 Handler wondered if Mattel couldn’t come up with a new twist: speed. “Kids like things that go fast,” Handler says. Why not make miniature cars that would run fast, cars that would create what the Handlers fondly term “a play situation”? R&D at Mattel was unleashed and came up with a prototype gravity-powered car that could run at a scale speed of 300 mph downhill. The secret was low-friction wheels made of styrene hung on torsion bars. Recollections differ at Mattel but, according to the most common version, Handler took one look at this car and exclaimed, “Wow, those are hot wheels!” In 1968 Mattel came out with the first of the Hot Wheels line. Besides the cars, which factory wholesale for 58c apiece and generally retail for 98c, a buyer could purchase strips of plastic track on which the car could roll. Some of the cars were modeled on standard automobiles—Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Corvette, ’36 Ford Coupe, Mercedes-Benz 280 SL, Continental Mark III—but others were way out, Mattel inspirations done in what the company calls California style, such as Splittin’ Image, Sand Crab, Hot Heap, Light-My-Firebird, Hairy Hauler, Power Pad and Nitty Gritty Kitty.

Instant success. Mattel was soon making more toy cars than all the life-size automakers in the world combined. In accordance with company custom Mattel began immediate work on improvements and additions that would enhance the Hot Wheels line, and new products have included a stunt-action set in which Hot Wheels loop the loop; dual racing tracks; the Super-Charger, a battery-operated device with spinning brushes that send Hot Wheels whirring down the track; the Lap Counter; a starter called the Rod Runner; the Tune-Up Tower, a parking garage with an elevator and equipped with a Dyno-Meter to check wheel alignment. Misaligned wheels can be corrected by—right!—the official Hot Wheels wheel wrench. There is the Mongoose & Snake drag racing set, complete with drag chutes. and the exquisitely detailed Gran Toros, built in Italy to a slightly larger scale and featuring such lifelike models as T’rantula, Lotus Europa, Lamborghini Miura, Porsche Carrera and the Ferrari P4.But the blockbuster came this year:  Sizzlers. These have plastic body shells and are powered by a nickel cadmium battery that can be refueled by the Power Pit or the Juice Machine. Kids can, according to the promotion, “race ’em. Charge ’em. Run lap after lap at super speeds. Recharge again and again for instant power. Quick pit work lets cars charge back into action in 24-hour endurance races like Daytona and Le Mans.”

Mattel is not standing still with the success of the Sizzlers, which are factory priced at $2.10 each. This January, to quote Mattel’s tease advertising, “the RRRumblers are coming!” The new RRRumblers are motorbikes built to run on Hot Wheels gravity tracks. That is just for starters; more RRRumblers innovations are in the works, shrouded by purple cloth. To get RRRumblers off the ground, Mattel is coming out with an offer that allows kids to trade in certain Hot Wheels buttons for the new product. The response is expected to be overwhelming. Last December, Mattel started a small campaign announcing the Hot Wheels Club. For $1 a youngster could get a Boss Hoss Hot Wheels and a collector’s edition of the Hot Wheels catalog. In little more than a month more than half a million youngsters wrote in. It took the company six months to dig itself out from under the mail, and if only Topper and Johnny Lightning would go away the world would be pure gravy.

Sports Illustrated Hot Wheels

“Kids like things that go fast,” so Mattel thought, why not make miniature cars that would run fast?

Topper Corporation headquarters in Elizabeth, N.J., composed of old brick buildings capped by smokestacks and surrounded by railroad sidings, is said to be the biggest single toy factory in the world. It looks more like an R.A.F. target in the Ruhr. The presiding genius is a first-rate table-tennis player, chess addict, sometime sculptor and former inmate of a German concentration camp named Henry Orenstein.

In 1969, a year after Mattel introduced Hot Wheels, Orenstein and Topper came out with the first Johnny Lightning metal cars, which could be rolled by gravity or propelled around a track by a catapult device called an actuator. Inasmuch as the actuator is hand operated, Topper says Johnny Lightning races are won by skill. From the very first, Topper made the claim that Johnny Lightnings were faster than any Hot Wheels car. According to Topper, the first Johnny Lightnings could achieve scale speeds of 400 mph. The secret was their wheel construction. The wheels are made of Celcon and hung on straight axles. This year Topper refined the wheels even more and improved the actuator, boosting the scale speed to an asserted 1,500 mph.

Initially, Johnny Lightning sales lagged far behind Hot Wheels. Then Henry Orenstein pulled off the masterstroke, or what Elliot Handler of Mattel terms “a desperate gamble.” Topper sponsored the Johnny Lightning 500 car that Al Unser drove to victory at Indianapolis last May. The resultant publicity gave credibility to the speed of the toy Johnny Lightnings and, as Ron Aaront, vice-president in charge of product development at Topper, says, “Speed is the name of the game.” Since then Johnny Lightning sales have jumped and figures compiled by Mattel show that for about every three Hot Wheels one Johnny Lightning is sold.

How Orenstein and Topper came to sponsor the Johnny Lightning 500 at Indy is an astonishing tale in the annals of capitalism. Much credit belongs to Jim Cook, a former Firestone flack who was trying to line up 1970 sponsorship of the Parnelli Jones racing team. Cook lives near the Mattel headquarters—in fact there are so many Mattel executives in his neighborhood that it is known as Mattel Hill—but he had no luck in getting Hot Wheels sponsorship. Mattel had a lot of promotions going, the Indy 500 was not on TV, and besides the idea was just too crazy. Undaunted, Cook took his pitch to Topper. Orenstein was intrigued, but was it really possible to pick a driver for the 500 and actually win with him the first time out?

At a memorable meeting in June 1969, 11 months before Indy, Orenstein asked Cook: “If your head were on a chopping block and your life depended on giving the right answer, tell me now, who is going to win the Indianapolis 500 next year?” Without hesitating Cook replied, “Al Unser.” With that show of confidence, Orenstein agreed to make a deal. For a sum believed to be $150,000 Topper was to sponsor five racing cars to be built by Parnelli Jones. They were to be called Johnny Lightning 500 Specials, and they were to be painted blue with gold lightning bolts. There were to be two cars for the Indy race, a starter and backup cars. Al Unser was to be the driver. Two other Johnny Lightnings  were for the dirt-track circuit. Moreover, the other members of the Jones team—Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Joe Leonard, Billy Vukovich, Roger McCluskey and Jones himself—were to do commercials for the toy Johnny Lightnings. Elated, Cook returned to California with the glad news for the team. He was greeted with profound depression. One mechanic muttered, “Now Andy Granatelli will say we have a 98c car.”

Al Unser himself felt let down. “I didn’t think they’d make a good sponsor, being a toy company,” he says now. “I thought we’d be kidded. But seeing what kind of a company Topper is, well, I knew if I won the race they would advertise it. They could capitalize on it. It’s worth money to them and to me. The more advertising I get the easier it is to sell me, and the easier I can make a living. ”

Jones went ahead with construction of the Johnny Lightning cars. They were built, Cook says with a certain righteous satisfaction, “within two miles of Mattel’s home office.” The first sweet taste of possible victory came last March in the Phoenix 150, when Unser, driving the Johnny Lightning, lapped the entire field with the exception of his brother Bobby—also under contract to Johnny Lightning. Before the race at Indianapolis, Orenstein was supremely confident. He gave a prerace party in Jones’ garage and set up toy race sets for kids who were invited. The day before the race Orenstein held a sales meeting in an Indianapolis hotel. The subject was: “What do we do when we win?” When Unser and the Johnny Lightning 500 took the lead early in the race Orenstein sought to head for the pits to celebrate victory. With 35 laps still to go Orenstein could be restrained no longer, and when Unser came in the winner Topper executives immediately slapped a sticker, JOHNNY LIGHTNING, WINNER OF THE INDY 500, on the car. “Where did you get that?” Jones asked. He was told that Orenstein had ordered several million printed before the race. “If we knew that, we would have killed you!” Jones screamed. Orenstein smiled, and Johnny Lightning has been rolling since.

After Joe Leonard won the Milwaukee 150 in the Johnny Lightning 500 he demonstrated the toy cars in a Topper exhibit at the Milwaukee County Fair last August. A youngster came in and offered to race his Mattel Sizzler against a Johnny Lightning. “We had done tests in our factory,” says Ron Aaront of Topper, “so we knew what would happen. We gave him a third of the way head start and beat him easily. Our car can cover a 30-foot section of track in 1.8 seconds. The kid was flabbergasted. We went out and got more Mattel Sizzlers and Juice Machines and put on exhibitions everywhere we went.

Recently Topper came out with a flyer that asks, “Boys, which are faster – the new Johnny Lightning 500s or the Sizzlers?” And Al Unser answers, “The new Johnny Lightning 500s running on their tracks are twice as fast as the Sizzlers on their tracks or any tracks. That’s a fact!” Topper recently ran an ad of this nature in Boys’Life, which prompted Mattel’s ad agency to protest to the magazine. “A Sizzler car is a different product,” says Bernie Loomis, the Hot Wheels veep. “This is like comparing oranges and bananas. It’s like saying a hack dash man can beat Jim Ryun in the 100. But Jim Ryun isn’t out to run the 100, he’s a miler. Our concern is that that kind ad to the kids isn’t going to do the toy business any good.”

Back at Topper, Henry Orenstein says, “Johnny Lightning has the fastest cars by far, and no single company can challenge that statement. In fact the indy 500 has set the speed standards for the entire industry. To say that we are copy-cats is ludicrous. It is common practice to try to improve on existing concepts.” (Then last week, while the two companies were still arguing –  and advertising – the Federal Trade Commission stepped up with formal complaints against them both, citing TV ads that “exaggerate or falsely represent” the toy cars, and asking both to cease and desist.)

Still, the rivalry shows no signs of lessening. Hot Wheels is getting ready to spring the RRRumblers and other surprises. Johnny Lightning is out to really cut the Sizzler down to size with a battery-powered trailer attachment called the Afterburner, which will be about one-third the price of a Sizzler. Will Hot Wheels hold on the lead? Will Johnny Lightning gain ground? Mattel and Topper have different opinions, but that’s what makes a horse race, or at least the Great Toy Auto Race.


Editor’s Note: Sadly, the prediction in the conclusion of this article turned out to be wrong… While Mattel and Hot Wheels continued to thrive, Topper would go out of business in 1971. However, Johnny Lighting would make a first return in 1995 by Playing Mantis, and has come back again in 2016 (read about it here).  So the race is back on! 

Fiddlers Furlets – Last Hello from a Firm that Improved Britains Animals

Young Christian Braun

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project and his musings share some of his collecting experience.

Around 5 years ago I met a gentleman on a car boot sale in Buckinghamshire that had what appeared to be three trade boxes of Britains farm animals and one of Crescent Swoppets – so potentially exciting! When I opened the boxes all of them had animals in them – which while nice were not one of my areas of interests.‚   But then when I looked closer they all had some kind of fur applied!

Britains_Packaging

Lots_of_Fiddlers_Furlets

So I asked the owner what happened to these?‚ He explained that he had been to an auction where they sold the assets of a defunct company and that they had machinery to flock objects and then these boxes that demonstrated finished products.‚ He knew nothing more besides that the company was based in the New Forest and was called Fiddlers Furlets. I had discovered perhaps the only remaining box of Fiddlers Furlets in the world!

Fiddlers_Furlets_Bull_2

 

Fiddlers_Furlets_Bull_1

My interest was piqued but not really satisfied. A search on the web found no information whatsoever.  Does anybody know more about Fiddlers Furlets?  Have they ever sold anything or do I have all the stock ever made?

Fiddlers_Furlets_Calf

Fiddlers_Furlets_Mare

Fiddlers_Furlets_Lamb

Fiddlers_Furlets_Deer

Fiddlers_Furlets_Bambi

The fur on some of these are (still) great and quite realistic!‚ By the way the three Britains boxes are for Donkeys (two boxes) and for the feeding calf. In a later conversation with a Britains collector Barney Brown we found that there were animals by Britains, Crescent, Herald, Timpo Toys and at least one other brand (the big bambi) in the lot. He also told me that he heard that some ‘flocked’ zoo models by Timpo and Charbens were sold in zoo gift shops during the 1950s.