08 April 2020
Yo-yos have something for everyone, from competitive professionals to those with just a passing interest
The yo-yo was regarded as a curious Asian oddity as recently as the turn of the 20th century. Nowadays there’s probably not a person in the world who wouldn’t be able to recognise one.
The technical description of a yo-yo is thus: a toy consisting of two discs connected by an axle, around which a string is looped. You can buy them for pennies, you can get them in Christmas crackers, you can find them on every High Street. But behind the ubiquity lies a very devoted fanbase and a number of companies producing incredibly high-end examples of the toy.
A Duncan Freehand Mg Yo-yo, for instance, is made of computer- controlled machined magnesium and costs in the region of $499 new. A little further down the scale you find the $250 Duncan Cold Fusion, which is made of aluminium and previously held the world record for the longest spinning time. The title of world’s most expensive production yo-yo, however, is easily claimed by the Nostalgia. Custom made by acclaimed designer Shinobu Konmoto, it costs a whopping £3,000 – and takes six months to make after an order is placed.
Vintage yo-yos can be equally as pricey. An original from the American Flores factories in the 1920s – which were the first commercially mass-produced examples of the toy – can sell for over $2,000. At the top of the scale, the single most expensive yo-yo ever sold was the one American country music singer Roy Acuff used to teach President Nixon on-stage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1974. That sold for an incredible $16,000.
Despite these high numbers, however, the yo-yo collecting scene is a relatively small one. As a result, the vast majority of yo-yos remain entirely affordable, even in the vintage market.
“With yo-yoing being quite a niche hobby, the collector market is nicher still. That being said, there is still a small community of avid collectors and a few items that demand a premium,” Luke Roberts, the owner of UK retailer yoyovillage.co.uk, tells Collectors Gazette.
Roberts says he still sees a lot of demand for the Russell Coca-Cola yo-yos that were popularised in the 1980s. A wide assortment were available with an array of fizzy drink branding. The desirable Gold Coca-Cola yo-yo can sell for nearly £100, although pre-owned examples are easy to come across on eBay and at car boot sales. Modern out of production yo-yos can sometimes accumulate value, too. There is anecdotal evidence of original CLYW Peaks, which were released in 2006, selling for as much as $1,000 – and other enthusiasts have confirmed offers for theirs well in excess of that.
Typically, though, you’ll find that most yo-yo collectors start out from a love of the hobby itself, with the collecting following later.
“Some players will find a brand that they like and will aim to get every yo-yo from that brand, sometimes in every colour,” Roberts adds. “These may not necessarily command much more than what the player has paid for them, and don't really retain any value, but players collect them simply for the love of the brand, or the particular yo-yo.
“I myself have collected hundreds of yo-yos since I started playing, many of which have depreciated in value (due to them not being widely collectable, and yo-yo technology having moved on) but I'd never part with them.”
One of the joys of yo-yo collecting is that they beg to be played with. While some examples are beautiful objects in their own right, they come alive through use, and can be enjoyed by virtually anyone. Why not try picking one up for a few quid and seeing where it takes you?
· Yo-yos have been found depicted in ancient Greek art dating back as far as 500BC.
· The first patent for the modern yo-yo was filed in 1866 – it was referred to then as a ‘whirligig’ or a ‘bandalore’.
· The first commercial use of the term ‘yo-yo’ emerged in 1928 when Filipino immigrant Pedro Flores became the first person to open a yo-yo factory.
· The term ‘yo-yo’ was patented in 1932 by Canadian Sam Dubliner.
· In the same year, the first ever World Yo-yo Contest was held in London.
· In 1965 a judge ruled that the term ‘yo-yo’ had become so common it could no longer be patented and anyone was free to use it.
· Yo-yos were traditionally made from wood until production shifted to plastic in the 1960s.
· Japan has dominated the annual World Yo-Yo Contest, winning 75+ world titles – 13 of those were claimed by Shinji Saito.
· In 1985 Nasa took a yo-yo into space in the Space Shuttle Discovery mission and found that without the force of gravity a yo-yo could not be made to ‘sleep’ on the end of the string and would always return to a user’s hand.
Yo-yo pros are flashy gits, and the vast majority of their often-unbelievable skillset is based on four basic techniques:
· SLEEPING: This involves keeping a yo-yo spinning while it remains at the end of its string. This is vital for starter tricks such as ‘Walk the Dog’ and ‘Around the World’. It is achieved by throwing the yo-yo with a strong flick so that when it reaches the end of the string it spins in place rather than rolling back up.
· LOOPING: This is the opposite of sleeping, with players ensuring that the yo-yo is in constant motion. A looping trick will normally see the yo-yo returning to both the inside and outside of a user’s hand.
· OFF-STRING: This technique involves yo-yos that are not tied to their strings. Tricks typically involve them being flung in the air before being caught again and rolled back in.
· FREEHAND: These tricks see the string not tied to a user’s hand, with the end instead attached to a counter-weight that itself can be flung about in unison with the yo-yo itself.