Pause, deep breath … at this time back in 2018 it was only 10 weeks to Christmas! Already the shops were full of Christmas gift ideas, wrapping paper and cards. Well, here at Retro Ronnie, we were not quite that far ahead of ourselves, but we were getting reading for the following weekend’s Toy & Train Fair in Cirencester.

It would be our fourth visit to Bingham Hall in 2018, with only one more to go. “There are some changes this time,” says Tim Pearson. “The fair is bigger … again! … and we’re introducing new and improved parking so that we can accommodate the continued expansion. We’re finding that more and more dealers want to stand at our Bingham Hall fair than ever before, and visitors numbers continue to grow, so we’ve taken the step of adopting another car park. We will still use space at the school on Watermoor Street, but we have also taken on the car park at Cirencester Primary School, off Victoria Road (See our website for a map). It’s close, convenient and a better option for our wheelchair or less able-bodied friends.” Parking is free at all our fairs.

We’d had our last Swindon Toy & Train Fair of the year, and felt it had been a a great debut for our newest venue. “We’ve completed our first year at the County Ground,” says Ronnie, “and we’ve been so pleased with the way it’s gone. The fair has established it’s own character very quickly, with unique dealers to Swindon and great support from the public. It’s going from strength to strength, and we’re already getting fresh interest for next year.”

All our dates for 2019 had been confirmed, and you’ll find a full calendar here on the website.

Empty Stockings?

No, not Christmas again, but a simple question: where has all the new stock gone? Our fairs are still some of the biggest, and the fact they continue to grow proves that the interest is strong, from the trade and public alike, but finding new stock to meet demand is becoming more of a challenge.

“Many people are noticing that, with the continued growth in Internet sales, especially with on-line auctions such as eBay, it’s becoming harder for face-to-face dealers to find fresh items to offer to collectors,” says Tim. “You can search fairs and seek out new contacts via the online forums, and hope for the occasional private sale, but finding real gems at affordable prices is such a challenge. What some buyers and sellers fail to grasp is that, with some auction houses now charging 25% commission or more, there’s a massive sting in the tail when going to auction, even on-line. It’s a myth to think it’s cheaper than visiting a fair, where you can also examine the goods, check them thoroughly, and often strike a real deal that can secure that missing piece for a valued collection.”

On the plus side, while the market is still buoyant, those collectors who’ve been hoarding stuff for years can relax in the knowledge that toys and games are, on the whole, still gaining in value. “Those are the people who may be pleasantly surprised when they discover just how much the trade is willing to pay for a box of gems!” grins Tim. “We’re all collectors at heart, of course, and most will agree that a good item, bought, displayed and cherished, can often be more rewarding than money in the bank. Maybe that’s why everyone is asking where all the stock’s gone!”

Advertising & Promotion

Our fairs aren’t all about toys and trains. We’re finding that other collectibles are also creeping in, as dealers diversify. Our own Ronnie Davies is one whose stock changes frequently “Over the past couple of years here has been a big change in the collecting market,” he suggests.

“One specialism that’s now keenly collected is advertising material. Shop display items, posters, trade packs, brochures and catalogues, as well as window dressing material, all adds to a collection’s appeal. One area that really fascinates me is enamel signs.”

In the past few months a dizzying array of colourful signs have passed through his hands. “The images and the way the items are described harks back to a lost era,” he says. “Some of them are so evocative, bringing back memories of the products we’ve largely forgotten, and household brands which no longer exist.”

This type of advertising covers many different collecting genres, from toys and kitchenwares, to sweets and medicines. “Visitors will usually find at least one dealer selling advertising goods at our fairs,” insists Ronnie, “and I’ll be taking some to Cirencester.”

Plastic Fantastic

Toy collecting continues to be a huge growth area, but like many areas of interest, fashions change, and what was all the rage a few years ago eventually dips out of favour, to be replaced by some new must-have collectible. Some stand the test of time, like Dinky and Star Wars memorabilia, but also gathering pace is interest in the Transformer brand.

“It’s ironic,” suggests Tim, “that we’re all getting worked up about plastic in the environment just as early toys made from plastic are suddenly coming into their own. For years we got used to collectors wanting tinplate and diecast, while plastic was seen as the cheaper, car-boot end of the collecting spectrum. Not any more. Action figures (like Action Man, GI Joe etc) are particularly strong at the moment, but Transformers look set to see the next big surge in values. They’re certainly one of the biggest growth areas at present, and we believe that’s because many of these toys originated from the early 80s. The kids that grew up then are now the grown-ups with the disposable incomes, and they’re the ones who want to invest in their own childhoods – bring back the memories.”

As toys, Transformers first emerged from Christmas stockings in 1984, following a joint venture between American toy-making giant Hasbro and Japanese rival Takara Tomy. The latter had launched the simpler Diaclone morphing model range in 1980, but by 1991 Hasbro had bought out Tomy and Transformers as we know them were firmly established.

“Transformers have been revised and updated at different times since the 80s, and are still big business today, but the serious collectors now yearn for the earlier, Generation 1 or Generation 2 products,” adds Pearson. “Shortened to G1 or G2, early examples were made from a combination of metal and plastic, but all-plastic eventually became the norm. Enhanced definition and greater detail, as well as overall build quality, define the difference between the most desirable early examples and later, high-volume models. Their appeal stems from the varied gameplay they offered to children, who could morph the Transformers from vehicles, like trucks, cars, cranes and planes, into realistic-looking robots. Of course, the Transformers were the good guys (sold in boxes that majored on red or blue and gold) while the Decepticons were their adversaries in a seemingly endless civil war (and were mainly seen in black and purple).

Over the years the Transformers superhero franchise has expanded to encompass video games, comics, TV animation, board games and, of course, blockbuster films.

It’s in the DNA

Rather like micro-breweries, which have popped up like mushrooms all across the country, offering top quality ales to discerning drinkers, the meteoric improvement in 3D scanning and printing technology, combined with CAD refinement, has enabled several new companies to enter the highly competitive market for small-scale production of resin and diecast models.

It isn’t until you see the quality achieved by some of these manufacturers that you appreciate the work and effort that goes into achieving such standards. We all love Dinky, of course, but their level of detail and finishing falls far short of what’s achievable today. Just like Dinky, however, today’s models are the collectibles of the future.

DNA Collectibles is one of these new companies, established by four friends who were made redundant in 2017. Facing an uncertain future, Nicolas, Nabil, Anthony and Benoitt started their company in Switzerland in May this year, but have already established an impressive reputation. They’ve done this not only by focusing on exceptional quality, but also by choosing their model range wisely. You won’t find a Ford Focus or even a Ferrari 458 in their range – too many others already cater for that market – but if you want the rare, the unusual, or the model that nobody else makes, then check out their website.

New models in 1/18 and 1/43 scales are being launched every few weeks, and now include classics like The Bond Bug, the equally quirky Fuldamobil S6, the supremely elegant Saab Aero-X concept car, and Honda’s astonishing Urban EV. If you’re looking for a new range to add to your collection, then seek no further.

With thanks to our good friend Rick Wilson of Diecast Collector for this insight.