Internet is a great place to locate items that bring back
memories of your youth. That's what Nigel at Vintage Toys and
Games discovered and very quickly his collecting hobby turned
into a business - one that now makes him a living and provides
him with an enjoyable reason to get up in the morning.
Here Nigel talks to Digger about Vintage Toys & Games.
Merit Roulette - exactly like Digger owned as a kid!
morning Nigel. Can you tell us about your background and the background to Vintage Toys and Games?
Nigel: Yes David. I stumbled into it by
accident. I was selling out of interest, really, and I’d always enjoyed toys and games like most kids. You move away from it
as you grow up and, in the early days of The Internet, I just stumbled on a site where somebody had listed out loads of these old toys and games.
Digger: What were you doing at the time?
I started in vehicle leasing so nothing to do with it at all. I saw all these old things that I
either had or had lusted after when I was young and thought “I’d
completely forgotten about that.”
Digger: Are you a child of the sixties?
Late fifties. It was the early days of The Internet and websites were popping up and I’d been looking for
something to do as a part-time hobby/business. I thought “I’m sure there’s a market for this stuff.”
Was there much on The Net at the time?
Not really in terms of board games. And that’s where I started.
Spears and Waddington's are names that spring to mind, but they’re probably part of some huge American toy giants
Hasbro own Waddington's and Mattel own Spears so you’re spot on with that. In terms of selling I just thought “I’d buy these things so I’m sure there must be other people that would.” So I started a little website initially
just selling old board games which was just a little part-time thing. And it really snowballed from there and I then found out there was a massive
European market for new board games. Most people in this country have never heard of this and board games in this country are viewed totally different to the way the Europeans see them.
In what way?
The simplest way of explaining it is, over here, it’s largely a children’s item that sometimes adults play.
At Christmas when they’ve an excuse to be child-like?
Magic Roundabout board game
Exactly, whereas in Europe it doesn’t have that geekiness attached to it that serious board games have over here. There’s lots of
European cities where you’ll often see people in cafes playing a board game.
They go round to people’s houses and have dinner and a bottle of wine and then play a board game.
Whereas we’d watch telly.
Yes. And if you go into Toys R Us in France or Germany they’ll have all the Trivial Pursuits
and Monopoly but then they’ll also have all these strategy games that most people over here have never
heard of. So I started selling those as well and the site grew and grew until it reached the point where I couldn’t sustain both my leasing business, where I was
working for myself doing that, and the toys and games website. So I
decided that toys were much more interesting than the car
leasing and I went over to doing that full-time in about 2004, I think.
From there the website grew. And at this stage it was predominantly
making its turnover from the new games. We were selling some traditional games – chess, backgammon and that sort of thing. We also had a section for the vintage games and cards and old gaming sets. It
complemented it very nicely and they ran alongside each other. At that stage the website was known as The Board Game Company and that ran
until 2008, when I sold all of the new side of that business to a
company down in Surrey who took it all over. I decided that I would
take the money and run and just concentrate on the bit that that I really enjoy.
Which was the old stuff. And by then we’d branched out and were
doing model cars, Annuals, all the sort of sixties…
Paraphernalia for want of a better word?
Yes. That’s when it became Vintage Toys and Games and it’s really gone on from there. I suppose predominantly our stuff is
fifties and sixties but we do everything from antique chess sets from the eighteenth century to rare limited edition
toys and games that came out at the end of the eighties – we have some Dan Dare hardback
eighties reprints. Normally we wouldn't do something so ‘recent’ but they’re out of print now and quite sought
after and Dan Dare did start way back.
I was saying to someone yesterday retro is creeping forward all the time as we creep forward.
That’s right. There is, obviously quite a big market now for stuff from the
seventies and even early eighties but that's not really my scene to be
honest. But if there’s something interesting like the Dan Dare books...
And because they relate back to the fifties and we do old Eagle annuals so it ties in with
Do you do Stylophones?
Yes, I’ve got a Stylophone in stock at the moment. The beauty of doing it is that you can almost
please yourself. If it strikes me as interesting or it appeals to me
personally or I think there’s a particularly good market for it, then I will do it. But I
don't stock much if it doesn’t interest me personally. I don’t think you can do the research and
everything else involved just to make money.
Is it entirely stock from where you are or are you also fulfilling
No, no. Everything we sell we stock.
What are the bestsellers and what has been the most valuable item
Funnily enough, I was thinking about that the other day and the most valuable item we sold wasn’t a toy or game at all. We sell some vintage posters and prints, these are originals, generally film posters like Carry On and so on.
Oh yes? I was at Peacocks auctions last weekend and there were loads of
Carry On posters and other British movie posters from the sixties and seventies. Many TV spin-offs and most
with saucy artwork.
That’s right. We do stuff like that and we sell from old playing
cards from the fifties – pinup playing cards with hand drawn…
… Yes, the type that used to be in Esquire and we came across an original print by Vargas, who is the main man when it comes to pinup art. And that went for £5,000 – an original watercolour print
- and it was virtually a sketch before he did the real thing.
Pinup playing cards
Digger: You could do with a few of those.
Yes, they’re quite hard to come by. It might be worth considerably more now. So I got into those through the playing cards.
I have a set of four plates from the fifties with glamour images on them and two of the images are identical to those on two of the playing cards on your website. They must have been popular images. So what is your most popular
The stuff we still sell most of is probably board games and model cars.
The Dinky and Corgi toys?
Goldfinger James Bond Aston Martin
Nigel: Yes. Of Toys and Games, I think the most valuable we sold was a
Thunderbirds Lady Penelope car, a Dinky one, which was an original one from the sixties which was
signed by Gerry Anderson. It had a photo of him signing it, and that went for nearly £2,000. But
the car and the box were absolutely mint condition. Somebody had obviously had it in mint condition and went to an event where Gerry Anderson was in the eighties, I think, and got him to sign it. The thing was just like new.
Amazing, because with so many of them we obviously were keen to get them open and the box would go straight in the bin.
The thing is, I have this conversation with customers all the time, we used to play with them, we didn’t buy them to keep. And most of us then chucked them away.
I had a big plastic FAB1 in the sixties so they obviously made different sizes.
And that one had nice detail in it, I remember.
All of that stuff is very collectable now.
Do modern children appreciate the relative simplicity of the Vintage Toys and Games?
Yes, obviously with things like the cars and diecast models of cars and planes, the modern ones are leaps and bounds ahead of the nostalgic ones – the Corgi and Dinky cars that we played with. The detail on them, the quality of them is far superior – the model is a much better model but what creates the value is the pure nostalgia. Lots of people, I’m sure it was different for you just like for me compared to our children – I was fanatical about model cars, but I didn’t have hundreds and hundreds – I had maybe thirty or forty at the most and you played with them and played with them and played with them until they wore out.
We would be playing with them out in the street and rolling them down the pavement and crashing them into
walls and other people's cars.
Exactly. Because we played with these things so much they put a big imprint in our subconscious so that the pull of the nostalgia is very strong. Kids today - the Corgi James Bond car doesn’t mean anything,
understandably, so I think for those type of toys it doesn’t have a particular pull for those kids
today. But with things like the board games, it’s quite surprising because when you actually get them to sit down and play them,
which is actually a task in itself – to get them to concentrate for long enough to absorb the rules – they generally really enjoy it. The
same with some of the old toys, things like Meccano. The problem is, their attention span,
because of computer games and the way TV is and everything
else. Their attention span is so short that they just find it really difficult to sit down and
concentrate on something for long enough to learn how to do it. They’re so used to just pushing a button on the computer and ‘Wham’, this whole world opens up in front of them.
I’ve also noticed that with research as well. People don’t seem to do proper research anymore. They’ll type
something in on Google, look at the dreaded Wikipedia page that comes up and all the errors and misconceptions…
Yes, they’re multiplied. I experience that all the time with people who are
selling the sort of stuff we sell on eBay – they’ll just quote something they’ve read somewhere on The Internet and then you’ll see the next week somebody selling the same sort of thing and
the same totally wrong description is on there.
I’ve often seen Gerry Anderson being wrongly quoted as the American producer of Thunderbirds.
Thunderbirds board game
Nigel: Really? As you say, it comes with the territory with The
What are the most difficult items to source Nigel?
I think these days it’s getting harder and harder for a dealer to source really good quality almost anything. Because of the
explosion of eBay, every man and his dog are now sifting frantically through their attic and
obviously that’s created a market of itself. But the vast majority of
stuff just isn’t that good and you get people describing things as mint and near mint and in actual fact they’re nothing like it. I don’t think there’s one thing particularly – I think it sounds obvious to say but the older things are the harder they are to get.
Certainly in mint condition.
We try to sell stuff that’s at least in very good condition. And that really does cut down what you can sell because the vast
majority of stuff just isn’t good enough. But I can’t really think of one area that’s hard to come by – posters, model cars all of these things are getting harder to get good quality stuff.
Because, of course, the market’s exploded. Over the last fifteen years a lot of the people who are buying or who have
bought are buying it to keep. They’re not buying it to sell again, they’re buying it to put on their walls or in their cabinet. So the pool of available stock is dwindling all of the time. I’m sure there are some things that will, in the way that model cars have exploded in price, there are others that will do the same thing.
iPods or something?
Nigel: Yes, if we had a crystal ball the chances are that whatever
is worth a small fortune in thirty years’ time is probably something that not one of us has thought of.
What are the best things about what you do?
Well, it’s obviously something that interests me and there’s an awful lot of people that have to do a job that doesn’t interest them at all. We get to deal with generally nice people, they’re buying something
that they want to buy and that is going to bring back some nice
memories so it’s a pleasurable experience for them, apart from parting with the money. They’re not having to buy a tin of
baked beans or pay a bill.
You must be getting a lot of good feedback as a result?
I do get a lot of repeat customers and we do sell literally over the world. A lot of people do buy as a one-off as a present for somebody but then there are people
that collect these things and we’ve always a got a long list of people that are waiting for things. And when we come in there’s always some orders and enquries from abroad by email.
The Internet – although I don’t particularly like it as a way of doing business – I’d much rather do it face to face, The Internet is very
practical and it enables you to work with very low overheads and to
potentially reach a massive audience. I think the most important, or the best thing, is just doing something that I enjoy.
That must show when talking to people.
Well, hopefully. And you’re always learning about something new. We said earlier, one thing leads onto another and I’m always coming across something that I didn’t know was out there. It’s like these Vargas prints – I was really totally
unaware of these artists until I started selling the playing cards and then you
realise that actually these guys were pretty good.
So it’s another thing to look out for.
That’s right. And you’re always coming across new little avenues and also, despite the fact that it is harder to find stuff, there is still, like the guy with
his old Lady Penelope car and even the old jigsaws and board games from the 1920s. Very occasionally you do get one that’s
absolutely mint and you think “How on earth did that survive?” People didn’t think about it- they just stuck it in a cupboard – we’ve got an old war game from the 1920s that came in a month
ago and it’s just pristine and it’s basically cardboard and a board. The pieces are all cardboard, a little
Box still intact?
It’s superb and not much difference from the day it came out of the shop .
I bought a 1950s item in a box a few years ago and I watched the box disintegrate within a few years.
The cardboard they used for these things wasn’t particularly high grade, certainly around the wartime, so it tends to fall apart of it’s own accord anyway, but it’s
incredible how some of these things survive.
Can I ask you about the future of the business? Ironically for a
company that’s built on the past, where do you see it going?
Still stuck in 1950!
Well, you’re not alone so I wouldn’t worry about it. There’s hundreds of people doing the same sort of thing with various retro businesses.
I don’t have a grand vision for it, to be honest. I just want to continue doing something I enjoy and all the time building up a bigger customer base, which is the key thing to any
I suppose, without putting too fine a point on it, some of them are
dropping off the end.
A lot of people through old age. And we get a lot of people who have got
absolutely no interest in old toys or games at all but their husband has always lusted after a Man From Uncle car that he had when he was
a kid and his wife wants to but it for him for Christmas. That type of thing.
The one where they used to pop out of the window on either side!
You’ll probably never see that customer again, unless the husband thinks “Right, I’m going to
start collecting them.” But they tend to be one-off and people who can remember things from the twenties or thirties aren’t going
to be around for evermore. I don’t have any figures for any of this but I’m sure that the overall market for retro stuff is growing because, although I said
that kids today aren’t interested in a man From Uncle car there’s lots of retro stuff that does have appeal for modern kids or young people.
And when they get into their thirties and forties and have a bit of
disposable income and they are collecting posters or cars or whatever, they’ll find out that these things have got a value so they’ll become collectors of those as
That’s right, and people just find out about these things by chance.
And if, for example, you’ve got a graphic designer guy who is into old posters, he won’t remember them from his
lifetime but will still want to collect them.
So it’s sustainable?
I think it’s a market that isn’t going to go away. It’s still young in some ways and there’s a lot of sorting of wheat from chaff that needs to go on. There’s a lot of people that have sprung up – we try to do this as professionals.
Although it’s something I’m interested in and it’s a hobby too I worked for myself for
twenty years and I know the value of retaining customers and I know,
hopefully , what you need to do to run a successful business.
And you really mustn’t forget that it is a business and that you’ve a) go to make a profit and b) provide a service and sell a quality product.
Those are the three key things. I think a lot of people think “Oh yes, I like
old cars – I’ll start doing that as a business.” And
they've got absolutely no idea about what it takes to conduct
it as a business.
They'll be the people with a mobile phone number and a hotmail
account on their website or the ones that say that all
business is conducted by email.
Yes. Unfortunately it leaves a bitter taste with the person
that dealt with them and that reflects on everyone else who
has got a website. It's a tricky one, but it's just the same
as everything else with The Internet - it's got to sort itself
out sooner or later. In the meantime you have to try and
plough your own furrow and do the most professional job you
can. Hopefully people will appreciate that difference.
Nigel. Thanks very much for that. That's a real insight into
Vintage Toys and Games.
Thank you David.
Welcome to 'Vintage Toys & Games' -
one of the UK's leading specialist retailers of
traditional and vintage toys and games.
We specialise in supplying original vintage and antique
toys and games but we also have a great selection of
brand new traditional toys, board games, card games and
Whether you are looking for a classic 1960's
Waddington's board game, a vintage 1970's Subbuteo set,
an old Dinky toy, or an antique chess set, we can help.
If you can't find the toy or game you are looking for,
just let us know and we will try and locate it for you.
P.O. Box 3675, Newport Pagnell, Bucks, MK16 8UZ
Tel: 01908 611894