Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Collecting the Golden Arches
QUESTION: My kids have all grown up. Recently, as I was going through some boxes in my attic, I noticed one filled with little toys that my children received in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Are these of any value as collectibles?
ANSWER: The answer is yes, but...and there’s always a “but.” To be of any value to a collector, Happy Meal toys need to still be encased in their packaging and not used. There are some rare pieces that have value even if out of their packages, but generally, as with other toy collectibles, mint in package is the rule.
McDonald's collectors aren’t simply food groupies picking up recent Happy Meal toys. Collecting McDonald's memorabilia can be a complicated affair. Categories are numerous and subcategories extensive. Items can be instantly available or hard to find. Prices range from a couple of dollars to thousands. As with any collectible, the law of supply and demand rules.
McDonald's memorabilia encompasses a vast amount of local, regional, national, international material-ephemera, advertising and print items, cross-collector character items, McDonaldland character items, restaurant pieces, books and comics, sports and non-sports cards, glassware , and plates, watches and jewelry, garments, vehicles, dolls, toys, and more. The list is almost endless.
The McDonald brothers started their fast food drive-in restaurant in 1948, so an item from the early 1950's could carry a hefty price tag.
A novice McDonald's collector could amass hundreds of Happy Meal toys in a very short time.. For example, nearly 90 different toys had been in Happy Meals in 1996 alone, and millions of each toy had been issued. You can easily find toys from recent years selling for one to two dollars. A manufacturing variation or recall may create a toy of a little higher value, but even these are available in quantity.
Happy Meal toys and related display memorabilia remain are the most popular items to collect. Each Happy Meal has a specific and variable number of toys, including a special U3 toy which meets special standards for children under three years age, some bags or boxes, a stand up display and possibly counter displays, as well as banners, posters, and signs.
McDonald's collectors are as fussy about cleanliness, condition and completeness as any other collectible collector. Since McDonald’s had many of the items produced in the millions, prices for most packaged items remain low, and the package must be perfect. Loose Happy Meal toys have little value, especially once they’ve been tossed in a box, as the paint rubs off and are lost. Paper items need to be pristine and unmarked to bring top dollar.
Figurine Happy Meals toys are the most popular, especially those which feature well-known characters. Special packaging can also increase the desirability. The April 1996 Walt Disney Masterpiece Home Video Collection Happy Meal is a McDonald’s collector’s Holy Grail—eight nicely made classic figures, each in a fitted half-size videotape box, with well designed color cover artwork and McDonald’s logos. Dumbo is the U3 toy in the set. A single Happy Meal bag completes the set.
Happy Meals which feature books, buckets, or. little-known characters are usually of lessor interest to collectors, but there are exceptions. The four small soft cover Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit books from a 1998 Happy Meal, in mint condition, complete with the Happy Meal box are worth about $80 as a set. The Peter Rabbit Happy Meal was a "regional" which had limited geographic distribution. Any books that have been in children's hands are hard to find unblemished. Usually, this happens moments after opening the package as little ones’ hands are often sticky from eating fries and the like.
Elusive, scarce items can bring big dollars. The growing interest in fast food collecting has helped many wonderful older items to surface. However, many may or may not be valuable. Experienced McDonald's collectors look for complete older items in excellent condition and newer items that might be unusual or limited.
Most non-Happy Meal McDonald's collectibles feature the company name, one of the corporate logos, the trademark “M,” or recognizable characters. Remember that a copyright date is only the year of first issue—a seemingly early piece may still be in circulation.
Early and scarce are the key words in McDonald’s collecting, although they may not occur simultaneously. Look for design features and characters no longer in use, such as Archy McDonald, the early character Speedee, items with the golden arch logo with a slash mark, and items related to the old style "red and white” restaurants. A 1966 Ronald McDonald costume with slash-arch logos, complete with makeup and wig, surfaced at an unclaimed storage locker auction. Needless to say, a collector paid several thousand for that hot item.
Most people think the same toys appear in all McDonald’s Happy Meals. In fact, they vary from region to region and country to country. This brings the total issued into the millions. And the more produced of any collectible, the less value it eventually has.