NEW YORK — The 1990s was a heady decade: the Internet became available to the public, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced and several nations joined forces to wage war in the Persian Gulf. In the realm of pop culture, Nirvana conquered the music charts with their anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit, Friends debuted on TV, and the first Harry Potter book was published. Like every decade, the 1990s had its share of now-iconic toys, which ’90s kids — now adults — want to buy back. And that’s why 1990s toys are hot now.
“Currently the kids who were playing with toys in the ’90s are of the age where they now have the disposable income and nostalgia for what they played with and also received at Christmas,” said Todd Sheffer, production manager at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pennsylvania, adding, “Video game systems and games such as PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Gameboy. Pokemon cards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, WWF Action Figures, Furby, Tamagotchi and Power Rangers are starting to command some stellar prices for early and rare issues.”
Several different categories of 1990s playthings are selling for impressive prices at auction. They include:
While Topps might be the king of sporting cards, the 90s introduced several non-sporting game cards that became huge franchises. Starting it all off was Magic: The Gathering. In 1993, Wizards of the Coast released its alpha edition of this fantasy-inspired game in a limited edition run with 295 cards.
By comparison, the game card market was well established by 1999 when the company launched Pokemon cards. The first edition base set of 102 cards was issued in a much larger production run than the first set of Magic: The Gathering cards. Interest was high, though, especially for the holographic Charizard card, and most of these base sets sold out practically overnight.
“Magic is still really hot and really strong and that is because Magic: The Gathering is much rarer than Pokemon,” said Travis Landry, specialist and auctioneer at Bruneau & Co Auctioneers in Cranston, Rhode Island. “When Pokemon came out in 1999, it was marketed as you have to collect them all, and they printed millions of cards. When Magic came out in 1993, that was the very first trading card game so the first two sets of Alpha and Beta prints are really limited. Some cards that are around today in high grade are only in the single digits or low double digits for how many exist in that condition.” Single cards that are rare will bring top dollar. A 1993 Magic: The Gathering Beta Black Lotus card with a grade of 9 sold for $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022 at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers.
Decades later, collectors still covet these cards. They pay big bucks not only for a desired card but also for factory-sealed sets in the hopes that a certain card might be included. Uncut proof sheets can bring six-figure prices: a 1999 Pokemon shadowless holographic uncut proof sheet containing seven Charizard cards achieved $234,171 including the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Hake’s Auctions.
Television shows have long had tie-ins to collectibles. The Power Rangers TV show also spawned three movies. Naturally, toys were part of the marketing strategy, and circa 1995-96 Power Rangers toys are sought after today. A Megazord Dragonzord gift set from Bandai sold for $500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2017 at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise started as a 1980s comic book, but its popularity saw it expand to television and video games in the decade that followed. Limited editions and exclusive product launches always stoke market fervor.
A well-preserved copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist for the Sega Genesis console made $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Heritage Auctions. “Not only is this the first game released in the Turtles franchise on the Sega Genesis, it was a Genesis exclusive,” Heritage Auctions stated in its catalog description.
Action figures were nothing new by the 1990s; toy makers Mego and Kenner dominated the 1970s and 1980s with action figures in several leading franchises, Star Wars being the most prominent. Action figures for nearly every pop culture brand were released, from Batman and other superheroes in the DC Comics universe to TV show characters.
The World Wrestling Federation (now known as the WWE) sprung up in the 1980s but landed a knockout in 1993 when it launched its cable TV show, Monday Night Raw. WWF toys and action figures became insanely popular with its young fan base. A pair of World Wrestling Federation (WWF) action figures of Hulk Hogan and Iron Sheik, still in their blister packs, brought $190 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Ivy Auctions, Inc.
Miniature toys were a huge 1990s trend (pun intended) and chief among them was the Japanese digital toy Tamagotchi, a digital space alien that its owner had to feed and take care of daily, or else the pixelated creature would die. Polly Pocket dolls and playsets, another toy designed to capitalize on the era’s passion for the petite, began flying off store shelves in 1990, and collectors still covet these tiny dolls and their accessories.
Creator Chris Wiggs made the prototype Polly Pocket toy for his daughter from an empty makeup compact case, and early sets from the mid-90s are desirable. A group of 16 Polly Pocket sets, all new in box, went for $375 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2018 at Cordier Auctions & Appraisals.
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