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International Toy Show Report:
The Toy Show versus The World Wide Web

Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. And likewise, its effect on the toy industry. One of the major areas impacted upon is the traditional trading heartland of the collectable toy industry, the toy show. Our Toyzine reporter, John Graham, shares his observations from three major international events that he attended last year...

* Chicago Toy Show, Kane County, Illinois, USA
* Wonderland, Yokohama Japan
* Mega Toy Swap Meet, Adelaide Australia

Chicago Toy Show, Kane County, Illinois, USA:

Date: 21 April, 2001
Time: Saturday - early birds only 12pm - 5pm; Sunday - general public 10am - 5pm
Frequency: 3 times a year
International Status: Possibly the most well known US toy show, best described as a relaxed and casual Atlantique City, and attended by traders and collectors from across the globe.

The Buzz: As always, Kane County was a blast. Despite trader and customer numbers being down on the same time the previous year (some say by as much as one third), lots of great buying and selling was done. I arrived late on the set-up morning, and missed most of the early deals. As is Kane County tradition, these were done from the trunks of traders' cars while they were waiting to enter the fairgrounds and set up. And in spite of screamingly cold winter winds, the dealing occurred with gusto. The best was a 50s Directional Robot (C-6 toy, but C-9.5+++ box) ...the dealer went from his original reasonable asking price of $600 to an unbelievably reasonable $360 ...the cold can do strange things to people! Of course, fab deals were done inside the fairgrounds too. On the Saturday preview day, one young local Chicago trader was both joyous and bemused to see two rabid Simpsons nuts methodically ransacking his childhood collection. "Man, I'm just happy to get rid of the stuff!" he said, as the two dealers congenially shared the Springfield spoils. When they had finished, his three-table booth was nearly empty. My own piece of luck was of the Super Nintendo sort... those in the know will appreciate that an MIB Chrono-Trigger role playing game cartridge is a hard get. Combine that with 14 other decent MIB games including Final Fantasy 2 and 3, add the words "five bucks each", and you've got one happy amateur journalist. These buying stories aside, a disturbing observation was shared with me, courtesy of one of Kane County's veteran personalities ...it was this fair's distinct lack of 'sleepers' (super rare toys, unrecognised by their owners, and thus sold at garage sale prices). "There were no REAL FINDS this year" he said emphatically, after collating the weekend's stories.

Internet Gossip: Despite the public having a grand old time, the word of the fair amongst traders was "quiet". Some blamed a weather scare (forecast had been severe thunderstorms all weekend... which came at 5am on Saturday, set off 6 car alarms in my hotel's car park and vanished before sunrise), but most cursed the Internet. For instance, witness this conversation overheard between two veteran traders:

Jake: "I tell ya, man, the webs destroyin' us...that's why there's nobody here"

Flake: "Yeah, you got it. My customers say 'Why should I get in my car an' drive for three an' a half hours to a show when I can buy the same stuff on ebay?' I mean...It's finished, just finished" (pause)

Jake: "Hey, did you see my Chrysler go up? Did much better than I thought...guy in Belgium bought it"

Flake: "Yeah, I seen it...but that's nuthin'...I got fifteen years of inventory just waitin' for me to list it!"

Do you see any pattern here, dear readers? More on this duality later...

Most Way-Out Toy Sighting: A life-sized Remco Lost in Space robot. Being proudly escorted around the show by its maker, this almost 6-foot tall toy mock up had been cleverly made from numerous store bought and household items. The robot was authentic right down to its huge Lost in Space stickers and tacky color scheme in homage to the Remco toy. One dealer, who instantly fell in love with him, was debating on how he could possibly get him back to New York City...

The Final Word: Kane County is an incredibly fun show to attend...a Mecca of the best known personalities in the US toy trade, with an awe-inspiring amount of toys of all types to choose from. And in spite of complaints from some traders ("The old grey mare" syndrome), I'd wager they'll all be back for April 2002.

Lev of Toy Tokyo fame, Yours truly [John Graham] at Kane County... are we having fun yet?


A fantastically rare 60s Japanese Lost in Space frame-tray jigsaw puzzle, unearthed at Yokohama Wonderland.


Next time I go swimming, I want the Tracy boys as lifeguards too! Inflatable Thunderbirds wading pool, circa 60s, another Wonderland find.


Astro Boy flew proudly for the Olympic movement as Tokyo's mascot in '64, as this banner sighted at Yokohama Wonderland testifies.


It was bustle-bustle-bustle at Wonderland fair... "Hey, outta my way! I saw it first!"


If only all action figures were life size! The author and friend 'Guillotina', Yokohama Wonderland.


An original Nomura Robby Space Patrol, MIB. Yours for USD $6800, at the Mega Toy Swap Meet, Adelaide, Australia.


Wonderland, Yokohama Japan:

Date: 28 April, 2001
Time: 10am early birds, 12pm - 5pm public
Frequency: 4 times a year International
International Status: One of Japan's most popular and longest established toy shows, attracting many international traders.

The Buzz: A fabulously atmospheric fair, with a healthy mixture of classic diecast, 60s MIB space tinplate and new action figures, all with a spicy Japanese flavor. Packed into one massive hall, it was standing room only until 2pm, after which the crowd gradually thinned until closing time. Despite a large number of the public being in 'browse-only' mode ("okane nai", as they say in Japan), a few traders claimed to have had their 'best ever Yokohama'... perhaps a bright sign for the future of Japan's depressed economy. Two bargains worthy of note were an original diecast 1969 Corgi Beatles Yellow Submarine MIB, with its rare vac-u-form inner box diorama intact, for 32,000 yen (about USD 250), and a near MIB Easelback robot, with both toy and box marked Yonezawa, a cool buy at 40,000 yen (just over USD 300). With a little hard target searching, it seems, there were a few decent deals to be had.

Internet Gossip: Not much, interestingly enough. Despite the steady inroads the WWW is making into Japanese collector's lives (On-line traders: noticed the sudden increase in buyers from Japan over the last 12 months?), Wonderland remains largely unaffected. The eager crowd were happy to leave their PCs for a few hours and do some real shopping. Very little 'net-bashing' was overheard, with most serious traders blaming any downturn in sales on the nation's current economic woes. One prominent dealer was even forecasting a return to strength in 2002.

Most Way-Out Toy Sighting: An incredible 1950s tinplate chameleon. This freaky skeletal battery toy, authentic right down to the independently moving conical eyes, was a definite first time for me. It measured about a foot long, was made in Japan (of course) and was already sold (of course). Guaranteed to be a mechanical fly's worst nightmare.

The Final Word: A great crowd and pleasant traders, despite mutual financial worries... Wonderland was wonderful!

12 & 13 June 2010
The biggest and best in OZ. This is Australia's best Toy Fair with dealers and collectors from around Australia in one huge Toy Collector show. For more info please email megatoy@adam.com.au

Mega Toy Swap Meet, Adelaide Australia:

Date: 9 - 10 June, 2001
Time: 9am - 5pm both days
Frequency: Once a year
International Status: Little known except Down Under, this show is one of Australia's best kept secrets. Although not on the same scale as Wonderland or Kane County, the Mega Toy Swap Meet is definitely Australia's premier toy show and has a charm all its own.

The Buzz: Established originally as a diecast fair, the Mega Toy Swap Meet (or "Adelaide", as it is affectionately known to its followers) has diversified as it has grown (a record number of tables in 2001, according to fair organizer Andreas Flenche), and now includes a good smattering of tinplate, Barbie and the ever-present action figures. A good buying crowd rushed through the doors on the Saturday, spreading their cash and charge cards liberally amongst the smiling traders. Sunday was more of a slow-starting dealers' social event, but enjoyed nonetheless, with some serious deals made in the final hours... I saw one guy empty no less than three of his friend's wallets to acquire a rare Star Wars figure at an agreed price (a Power of the Force Nikto MOC, to be exact). This collector was indeed lucky, as finding any rare vintage toys MIB this year was certainly not an easy task. Other MIB finds included: 3 British made Avengers TV jigsaw puzzles; a large collection of Dinky cars, none younger than the 50s, and all cheap; and an original 1984 Megatron Transformer by Hasbro.

Internet Gossip: As with Kane County, the paucity of sleeper finds and other reasonably priced quality toys was being blamed on the web. "I only sell my rubbish here", said one self-satisfied trader. "You only ever GET rubbish" was another's wry reply. Surprisingly enough, I was able to buy a few pieces of said trader's 'rubbish' with a view to later selling on... it's a funny old world!

Most Way-Out Toy Sighting: Perhaps not 'way-out', but certainly 'well-respected' ...an original Nomura Robby Space Patrol, MIB (Almost). The toy (a rare sight in Australia) was not mint, but very nice. The box a solid C-8. The price? AUD 13,500 (about USD 6,800), and still available at close of show. A sign of the times? Or the Curse of the 90s Repro?

The Final Word: As shows go, not the biggest in the world, but definitely the most fun to be had Down Under.

The Absolute Final Word: You can't keep a good toy show down. Yes, we have recently seen the distinct lack of sleepers for sale at most shows, since the spread of the web. Yes, numbers of both traders and the buying public have been down, and it's certain that the rise of web-based trading has hurt both of these areas... but the on-line plateau may have been reached. Observations suggest that the novelty of WWW trading is starting to wear off. For example, collectables dealers in many speciality areas say that on-line auction sales are substantially down, and show no sign of returning to the heady times of just a few years ago.

To those who believe web-based trading is the only answer, I say this: the web is not 'the' answer. It is 'an' answer. If I can take you back to Jake and Flake's verbal exchange at Kane County, it echoes of biting the hand that feeds them... in part they hate the web for its ability to affect their performance at shows, and in part they love the web for its ability to affect their cashflow... positively. Its benefits and abilities should not be decried, they should be embraced and integrated with the strong marketing venues you have already worked hard to establish... your shop, your antique mall booth, and of course, your toy shows. When one area is strong, it can supplement the lesser performances of your other markets.

And as for sleepers, a bit of tangential thinking can come in handy... when you find that it's tough to find super bargains at the old venues, like shows, try the newer ones... I know of one toy that was sold on ebay early last year for USD 4000... and sold privately for 20,000 six months later. We all had the chance to buy that 'sleeper'...

Shows are still the greatest places to meet humans face to face (I have done the necessary scientific testing, and it seems conclusive that most toy traders are human...), made new contacts and refresh old ones, and, perhaps most importantly, find stuff that you can sell in you other venues, be they actual or virtual.

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! The Toy Show is here to stay.

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