Old Maid and marbles, tin checkers, sock monkeys and Raggedy Ann storybooks ring up intrinsic childhood memories from the past, especially for baby boomers and their parents.
So it should be of little surprise, then, that vintage toys from Tonka trucks and Furby to Rock ’Em Sock ’Em robots and chatter telephones (dial-up, of course) are causing cash registers to ring during this Christmas season as retailers offer increased “retro” toy selections.
It is not a full-fledged trend yet, experts say, but each year shoppers are seeing a few more toy items they remember from their pasts.
“This year we happen to have some hot toys – some really ‘topping everyone’s list toys,’ and I think it’s bringing it more to the forefront,” said Laurie Schacht, toy expert and co-publisher of the Toy Insider, an annual consumer holiday toy guide.
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You’re seeing the return of Furby, the 1990s Hasbro owl/hamster creature, that Schacht says will end the 2012 Christmas holiday shopping season as one of the “hottest” toys out there, along with the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which also is doing well at retail counters, she said.
But so is the decades-old Slinky, (the song is celebrating its 50th anniversary), Cabbage Patch babies and Spirographs, in limited distribution this holiday year, but poised for a bigger release in 2013, Schacht said.
“It’s such a great toy, a craft activity,” she said of the Spirograph. “I was so excited when I saw it.”
It’s a combination of factors that bring a retro toy to the top of current toy lists, Schacht said, including parents who remember when they played with the toy or parents who remember when their kids played with the toy (and now want to purchase it for their grandkids).
In the case of Furby, Schacht said each of her kids had their own when they were little. “Now Furby is back, and back in a big way. You’re seeing Furby all over – that’s another thing that’s clearly moving it to the top of the list. And this Furby is even better than the original one,” Schacht said, featuring more animation and functioning on 21st-century apps.
Schacht admits that her initial concerns that the retro Furby would be too expensive (they cost considerably more than the originals), have proven to be misguided.
While Furby, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cabbage Patch dolls are beloved by Gen Xers, certain retro toys resonate across generations, she said. And several retailers now carry displays of retro toy items, from local second-hand and vintage shops to Target, Toys R Us, Walmart, Mast General and others.
Jimmy Palmer of Gilbert, grandfather of four, found himself in the Mast General Store in Columbia, S.C., last week picking up two Floating Ball game sets for the two of his grandchildren that didn’t have their own. He said he is happy to share toys that he played with as a child with his grandchildren. Each game set will be carved with each child’s initials, he said, to help keep down the fuss.
“Anything that’s non-electronic, that’s not in front of a TV, I’m in favor of,” Palmer said, explaining that he “used simple toys” in his childhood growing up in Cayce.
And though he whipped out a cellphone to quickly call home so as to be precise about the ages of the four grandkids – two of them 6 years old and two of them 8 years old – Palmer was clear that he sees great value in the toys of yesteryear.
“When I was growing up, our imaginations was what we had,” he said. “How many kids know about marbles?” Palmer said. “It’s amazing how many kids are enthralled by these toys when they get them, just like we were.”
At Mast General, all the toys are retro, said Ruth Smyrl, general manager, so customers know what to expect when they come in.
“The most famous retro toy that we carry is our Sock Monkey,” Smyrl said. “That is probably our biggest-selling retro toy.” Harkening back to really hard economic times in the U.S., people made the now highly-recognizable toy with the bright red smiles out of available, often used, scraps of material.
Fisher-Price toys from the 1960s and 1970s also are featured in the Mast General toy lineup, Smyrl said, including the retro camera, the milk truck, xylophones, pianos and radios, and this year, the Tonka truck. And other classics – such as the standard slingshot and old-fashioned cork gun – can be found there.
“Our toys are a direct reflection of the whole Mast store experience,” Smyrl said, which means taking a deep breath, slowing down, and stepping back in time.
“They serve to get people away from the whole screen experience with toys,” she said, meaning nothing that requires a battery.