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Toys or Treasures?

Some toys get more valuable as they get older. Does this mean your old stuffed animals are worth thousands of dollars?

By Tod Olson
From the May / June 2018 Issue
Lexile: 800L-900L, 600L-700L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50

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UP CLOSE: Synthesizing

As you read this article and its pairing, think about what makes an object valuable.

Toys or Treasures? 

The Luke Skywalker action figure started its life like most other toys. It sat in a toy store wrapped in plastic and cardboard. In 1978, a Star Wars fan bought it for $2.49. For almost 40 years, no one played with the Luke toy. In fact, no one even opened the package. Then in 2015, someone bought it—for $25,000.

That’s right. A 37-year-old plastic toy became more valuable than a big diamond ring. Welcome to the wacky world of toy collecting.

The Luke Skywalker action figure started its life like most other toys. It sat in a toy store wrapped in plastic and cardboard. In 1978, a Star Wars fan bought it for $2.49. For almost 40 years, no one played with the toy. No one even opened the package. Then, in 2015, someone bought it—for $25,000.

That’s right. A 37-year-old plastic toy sold for more money than a big diamond ring. Welcome to the wacky world of toy collecting.

Treasure Hunt

iStockPhoto/Getty Images

Most people buy toys to play with them. They buy Nerf guns for backyard wars. They buy Barbies to dress them up. They buy LEGO® sets for hours of building.

But toy collectors don’t buy toys for fun. They buy them and set them safely on a shelf, still wrapped tightly in their original boxes or packages. They hope the toys will be worth more money one day. Action figures, LEGO sets, and even stuffed animals are some of the toys that can become more costly as time goes by.

Most people buy toys to play with them. They buy Nerf guns for backyard wars. They buy Barbies to dress them up. They buy LEGO® sets for hours of building.

But toy collectors don’t buy toys for fun. They buy them and set them safely on a shelf, still in their original packages. They hope the toys will be worth more money one day. Action figures, LEGO sets, and stuffed animals are some of the toys that can become more costly as time goes by.

Now and Then

Today many toys are made just to be collected. Big-headed Funko Pop dolls spend their lives sitting on shelves. And there are collector’s editions of LEGO sets that sell for as much as $799. Toys like these are known as collectibles. In 2016, Americans spent nearly $2 billion on them.

But the real fun of toy collecting is buying regular toys with the hope that their worth will increase over time.

So what’s the secret? How can you know whether a train set or a teddy bear will make you a fortune one day?

Sorry, but you can’t. It’s hard to predict just which toys might make you rich . . . and which ones you’ll be giving away to your cousins. Interestingly, the toys that gain value are often the ones nobody wanted when they were brand-new.

Remember that Luke Skywalker toy that sold for $25,000? It came with a lightsaber—a sword—that broke easily. The company stopped making the toy, so not many of them exist. Today they’re very rare, which is why people will pay so much money to own one.

Then there’s the Roller Beach Bomb. In 1969, the toy company Mattel created this Hot Wheels van. But there was one problem: The van kept tipping over and falling off of the Hot Wheels racetrack.

Most people who bought these toys returned them—or threw them out. Hot Wheels quickly stopped making them. If you’re lucky enough to have one still in its packaging, you might be able to sell it to a collector for $150,000. That’s enough to buy five real cars!

Why would anyone spend $150,000 on an old toy car? We could ask the same question about a person who paid $500,000 for a letter signed by George Washington, or who bought a painting by a famous artist for $5 million.

People collect for many different reasons— because they hope an object will become more valuable, because they want to feel connected to history, or because they are inspired by a work of art. Some love the hunt for a rare toy, the thrill of finding a hidden treasure.

But there’s another reason to collect old toys: because they remind a person of happy moments from their childhood. Maybe your old LEGO bricks will never be worth a fortune. But years from now, they might remind you of your best friend. And that’s worth something, isn’t it?

Today many toys are made just to be collected. Big-headed Funko Pop dolls spend their lives sitting on shelves. And there are collector’s editions of LEGO sets that sell for as much as $799. Toys like this are known as collectibles. In 2016, Americans spent nearly $2 billion on them.

But the real fun of toy collecting is buying regular toys with the hope that their worth will grow over time.

So what’s the secret? How can you know whether a train set or a teddy bear will make you a fortune?

Sorry, but you can’t. It’s hard to tell which toys might make you rich. Often, the toys that gain value are the ones no one wanted when they were new.

Remember that Luke Skywalker toy that sold for $25,000? It came with a lightsaber—a sword—that broke easily. The company stopped making the toy, so not many of them exist. Today they’re rare. That’s why people will pay so much money to own one.

Then there’s the Roller Beach Bomb. In 1969, the toy company Mattel created this Hot Wheels van. But there was a problem: The van kept falling off of the Hot Wheels racetrack.

Most people who bought these toys returned them or threw them out. Hot Wheels quickly stopped making them. If you have one still in its packaging, you might be able to sell it for $150,000. That’s enough to buy five real cars!

Why would anyone spend $150,000 on an old toy car? We could ask the same question about a person who paid $500,000 for a letter signed by George Washington. Or $5 million for a painting by a famous artist.

People collect for many different reasons. Sometimes they hope an object will gain value. In some cases, they want to feel connected to history. Some people are inspired by a work of art. Some love the thrill of finding a rare toy.

But there’s another reason to collect old toys. They can remind you of happy moments in your life. Your old LEGO bricks might never be worth a fortune. But years from now, they might remind you of your best friend. And that’s worth something, isn’t it? 

Courtesy of LEGO (MilleNnium Falcon); HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images (Barbie); Andrew Schwartz/Splash News/Newscom (Hot Wheels); Om Yos/Shutterstock.com (price tags)

What’s it worth?
From left to right: A collector’s edition LEGO set, the Hot Wheels Roller Beach Bomb, and the original Barbie doll

My Priceless Treasure 

When I was 12, my grandmother Jennie—my bright-smiling, hug-giving, chocolate-cake baking, tsunami-of-love nana—gave me a present. It was a gold heart necklace.

It was very valuable, I was sure—solid gold. I wore it only on special occasions.  Otherwise I kept it hidden in my sock drawer with my other treasures, like the rattlesnake rattle my uncle gave me.

As I got older, I wore the necklace more and more, and always when I visited my grandmother or when she came to stay with me.

“Oh!” she’d exclaim. “It looks beautiful on you!”

When I was 12, my grandmother Jennie—my loving, bright-smiling, hug-giving, cake-baking nana—gave me a present. It was a gold heart necklace.

It was very valuable, I was sure—solid gold. I wore it only on special occasions.  Otherwise I kept it hidden in my sock drawer with my other treasures, like the rattlesnake rattle my uncle gave me.

As I got older, I wore the necklace more and more. I always wore it when I was with my grandmother.

“Oh!” she’d exclaim. “It looks beautiful on you!”

Shocking News

Courtesy of David Dreyfuss

Decades passed, and my collection of jewelry grew. But that necklace remained my prized possession.

Five years ago, my grandmother died peacefully at the age of 92. I wore the gold heart to her funeral. And then, a few months later, the chain broke.

I brought the heart to the jewelry store to buy a new chain.

“You sure you want a real gold chain for this heart?” the man asked, after studying it closely.

“Of course,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well . . .” the man said. And then he told me the shocking news: that my precious heart was a mix of brass and copper—fake gold. If I were to buy one like it today, it might cost $10, $20 tops.

The family treasure was pretty much worthless.

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

I bought a new chain—a real gold one. I wear the heart on very special occasions. Because to me, the value of the heart is not in the gold. It’s in the memories that flood back when I wear it: my grandmother’s huge smile, how her eyes would light up when she saw me, how she always made me feel like I was the most special person in the world.

That locket might not be worth much money.

But to me, it’s priceless.

Years went by, and my collection of jewelry grew. But that necklace remained my prized possession.

Five years ago, my grandmother died at the age of 92. I wore the gold heart to her funeral. And then, a few months later, the chain broke.

I brought the heart to the jewelry store to buy a new chain.

“You sure you want a real gold chain for this heart?” the man asked me.

“Of course,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well . . .” the man said. Then he told me the shocking news: that my precious heart was a mix of brass and copper—fake gold. If I were to buy one like it today, it might cost $10, or $20 tops.

The family treasure was pretty much worthless.

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

I bought a new chain, a real gold one. I wear the heart on special occasions. To me, its value is not in the gold. It’s in the memories that flood back when I wear it: my grandmother’s huge smile, how her eyes would light up when she saw me, how she made me feel like I was the most special person in the world.

That heart might not be worth much money.

But to me, it’s priceless. 

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More About the Story

Skills

synthesizing, vocabulary, compare and contrast, text evidence, cause and effect, evaluating arguments, key details, inference, drawing conclusions, narrative writing

Complexity Factors

Purpose

The feature explores what makes an object valuable. The first text looks at how toys can gain monetary value over time; the second text is about the sentimental value of a grandmother’s gift.

Structure

The first article is informational with compare-and-contrast and cause-and-effect passages. The second is a first-person personal essay.

Language

The language is mainly conversational.

Knowledge Demands 

Toys including a Luke Skywalker action figure, LEGO blocks, Funko Pop dolls, and Hot Wheels are mentioned. Understanding the concept of supply and demand will be helpful but is not necessary for comprehension.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Have students look at the headline and pictures on pages 16-17. Ask: Why might these toys be called “treasures”? Then have them examine the photos and caption on page 18; discuss why the toys might cost so much. 
  • Ask students to read the headline and look at the photos on page 19. Invite them to predict what the article will be about. 
  • Distribute the vocabulary activity to introduce challenging words in the text. Highlighted words: original, costly, collectibles, packaging

2. Close Reading

“Toys or Treasures?”

Close-Reading Questions

  • According to the section “Treasure Hunt,” how are toy collectors’ reasons for purchasing toys different from those of other people? (compare and contrast)
    Toy collectors have no intention of playing with the toys they buy. The toys are set aside with the hope that their value will go up. Other people buy toys because they think they will be fun to play with. 
  • What is a collectible? Support your answer with an example from the section “Now and Then.” (text evidence)
    A collectible is a toy that is made especially to be collected. For example, collectors can buy special LEGO® sets that cost up to $799.
  • What might make a regular toy become more valuable over time? (cause and effect)
    A toy might become more valuable if not many of them were made. If a toy is rare, collectors might pay more to own one of the few that exist. 
  • Reread the last two paragraphs of the article. What are some reasons people collect toys (and other items)? Which of those might be reasons you would collect something? (evaluating arguments)
    Reasons for collecting an object include wanting to be connected to history; hoping to eventually make money; feeling inspired by the object; enjoying the “hunt”; or being reminded of a special time. Answers will vary.

My Priceless Treasure”

Close-Reading Questions

  • What are some words and phrases the author, Lauren Tarshis, uses to help you understand what her grandmother Jennie was like? (key details)
    The author starts with a string of adjectives, including “bright-smiling,” “hug-giving,” and “tsunami-of-love,” that show her grandmother was full of warmth and made Lauren feel loved. Near the end of the essay, she describes her grandmother’s “huge smile” and says “her eyes would light up when she saw me.” 
  • How did Lauren feel about the gold necklace when she was growing up? (key details)
    The necklace was very precious to her. She was sure that her solid-gold heart was worth a lot of money, and she wore it on special occasions. 
  • Once Lauren found out that the heart was not worth much money, why did she buy a real gold chain for it? (inference)
    Even though the heart was worth only $10 to $20, it still had great value to Lauren because it reminded her of her beloved grandmother. The necklace hadn’t lost any of its worth to Lauren, so she probably decided it still belonged on a gold chain. Also, it might have been a way to honor her grandmother’s memory.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • In the first article, Tod Olson writes, “The real fun of toy collecting is buying regular toys with the hope that their worth will increase over time.” Why might this be fun? Do you agree with Olson? (drawing conclusions)
    Some people might find this fun because it’s like a guessing or predicting game. People want to find out if their prediction was correct—and they like the possibility that it could make them rich! 
  • Imagine you’re a dictionary writer. (That’s called a lexicographer!) Based on what you read in both articles, write a dictionary entry for valuable. Include at least two definitions. (synthesizing)
    Answers will vary but should be similar to: 1.) worth a lot of money; 2.) having special meaning.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Synthesizing

  • Distribute our synthesizing activity and have students complete it in groups. 
  • Call on a student to read aloud the writing prompt on page 19. As a pre-writing activity, invite students to turn and talk with a partner about the object they will write about.

Create a Virtual Gallery 

  • After students write their narratives about a valuable object, invite them to each create a Chatterpix entry for it. They can upload a photo or drawing of the object, then record a narration about it. Have them share their final products with the class, creating a “gallery” of items that have meaning to your students. 

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Ask students to imagine it’s 2068, and they’ve discovered that one of their old toys is worth thousands of dollars. Have them make an ad for the toy with a drawing and an explanation of why it’s worth so much, based on what they read. 

For Advanced Readers

Have students reread the play The Necklace in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Storyworks. Lead them in a discussion to compare and contrast how learning a necklace had little value affected Matilda in the play and Lauren in the essay.

For ELL Students

These articles include several words that mean “having great value,” either in money or in meaning to the owner. They include costly, valuable, priceless, prized, and precious. Prompt students to look for such words, or preview them together. 

For Reading Partners

Pairs can then discuss what was different and each summarize the article for their partner. In pairs, have one student read the first text and the other read the second. They should what was the same about what they read.

Text-to-Speech