Collecting through the decades - the 1990s

03 August 2022
The final part in our series looking at popular children's toys through the decades.
Collecting through the decades - the 1990s Images

Following the arrival of electronic toys and computer games from the previous decades, the 1990s saw technology progressing; and toy brands and franchises hitting record heights. One incredibly successful toy of the 1990s, that really was the beginnings of an astronomical success story, began with the invention of hand-held electronic games. And one of the very first was the Nintendo Game Boy.

This little console revolutionised video-gaming. It was launched in Japan in 1989 and hit the UK at the start of the 90s. Since then, this handy-sized gaming system has sold over 100 million units. Its catalogue consisted of over 450 games, amongst them: Tetris, Super Mario, Pokemon, Donkey Kong to name but a few. There were battle games, fighting games, sports and puzzles – something for everyone in fact.

The original Game Boy would have cost £67.40; it featured a black and green LCD screen, and slots for players to insert the game cartridge. It could also be adapted for two players. Nintendo brought out Game Boy Light in April 1998 but it lasted just a short while as Game Boy Colour was released in the October of that same year. There was even a smaller Game Boy Pocket series.

These days people are still eager to get their hands on an original Game Boy, and they can fetch around £200 on eBay, and even £600 should you have a Game Boy Light.

Amongst the Game Boy games, Pokémon went on to become a phenomenal success in its own right.  The name Pokémon is short for the original Japanese title of Pocket Monsters. These started as a pair of games for the original Game Boy in 1996, developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo. Its English slogan was 'Gotta catch em all'.

It soon became a media mix franchise, adapted into various different media and became the highest grossing media franchise ever. The original video game series is the second-best video game franchise of all time. Top was Nintendo's Mario franchise.  More than 368 million Pokémon copies have been sold as well as one billion mobile downloads. From this came a hit anime television series, with over 20 series and 1,000 episodes in 169 countries. It also became a top selling trading card game, with over 30.4 billion cards sold. An anime film series, a live action film, books, manga comics, music, and even a theme park. This year sees its 25th anniversary with new games being released to be played on Nintendo Switch.

Pokémon items are certainly worth collecting. In December 2020 Goldin Auctions of New Jersey sold a first edition holographic 1999 Charizard card – ‘Black Diamond Label certified’ and graded ‘Gold Label Pristine 10’ – the most prestigious level. It sold for $369,000.

Meanwhile, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys were really taking off in the 1990s. This fictional superhero foursome of teenage anthropomorphic turtle ninjas were created in 1984 by comic book writer-artist team Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. The adventures of these four ninja turtles, named after Italian Renaissance artists, appeared in comic books published by Mirage Studios. They expanded into animated children’s cartoons, feature films, on merchandise and of course as toys and collectables figures. A large bundle of TMNTs was spotted for sale on eBay recently with an asking price of £868.

Yet another Japanese invention hit our shops in the 1990s. In 1997 we were introduced to the Tamagotchi – which youngsters went wild for. The Tamagotchi creatures originated from an alien species who lay eggs and leaves them with the player. It’s owner then has to care for it and teach it about life on Earth. These little pets would die within half an hour of being unused – or uncared for! They were the brainchild of Akihiro Yokoi and Aki Maita of Japan. Their creation soon became the biggest toy fad of the late 1990s and early 2000s despite the children becoming distressed when their virtual pet Tamagotchi died. Many schools banned the toy because of the distraction it caused. Nevertheless, the latest count up to 2017 is of 82 million Tamagotchis being sold.

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The 90s seemed a golden era for Japanese inspired toys, as yet another craze hit the UK and the world at large, which began in Japan. That was the Power Rangers who blasted their way into kids’ toy boxes from 1994. The Power Rangers were based on the original Japanese Super Sentai series and found their way into our homes through a TV series. Once the toy figures were on the market at £4.99 each, there was such a demand that some parents were delving into the black market for the toy their offspring was desperate for, and they were paying more than four times the retail price.

Collectors are still willing to pay top prices for rare original figures. Sometimes as much as £200 or £300. And the models continue to be released - Power Rangers Dino Fury came out in February 2021, and November of this year will see them launching ThreeZero Power Rangers 1/6 scale figure, 6 pack, for £599.99.

Another tough fighting toy to appear in the 1990s were the Hasbro Wrestlers – WWF (now the WWE). The WWF Hasbro action figure line was all about the superstars of wrestling, produced from 1990 t0 1994. Action figures such as Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and many more, with the company constantly changing their models as wrestlers came and went. These items have gone on to become collector’s items, with some boxed figures in good condition fetching three-figure sums and more. The Furby was another toy fad from the 1990s and far cuter than some of the toys of the decade.

The Furby was an American idea, created by Tiger Electronics, and featured a robot pet, that unlike the Tamagotchi, wasn’t going to die if left unattended. But it did require a lot of attention as the aim was to teach it to speak English. Originally the Furby only knew its own unique language – Furbish, but would learn English over time.

Cute and cuddly with large owl-like eyes, the Furby came out in 1998 and sold 1.8 million units that year, followed by 14 million the following year. Over the 3 years of its original production 40 million Furbies were sold, and its speaking capacity was translated into 24 languages. Furbies, still in their boxes, have been known to fetch up to $800 at auction.

It wasn’t all electronics in the 90s though. For diecast collectors there was plenty going on. However, it was a turbulent time for the miniature vehicle manufacturers just as in real life, take overs and mergers were happening in the motor industry such as BMW taking over Rolls-Royce in 1998. If you happened to be a collector of a specific vehicle such as Rolls-Royce, there was an abundance of toy and model companies allowed to make Rolls-Royce models in the 1990s – 128 in fact. But within a few years the number had gone down drastically to just 27 as Rolls-Royce did not renew licences automatically.

The nineties was also the final decade for Lledo. After being founded in 1982 by Jack Odell who was also a founder of Matchbox. Lledo produced a range of nostalgic looking pre-war styled toy vehicles reminiscent of the Matchbox ‘Models of Yesteryear. These were called, ‘Days Gone.’  In the 90s Lledo created Vanguards, a line of 1/43 models which lasted until 1999 when Lledo went bankrupt. Corgi bought up the naming rights and model range and Vanguards continued being produced by Corgi until 2005.

The 1990s Lledo diecasts were intended for collectors, and as such were looked after and rarely played with. Hence, they have always been readily available for collectors to buy at low prices. Lledo made a range of 75 models – the same as Matchbox but became specialists in offering different livery and logos for any company or club wanting promotional and anniversary models.

As for Corgi, they had been taken over by Mattel in 1992 and production moved to China. But in 1995, Corgi regained its independence as a new company, Corgi Classics Limited, and moved to new premises in Leicester. Their range was exported worldwide and sold in large numbers. Some of the best known and most popular models were of cars made famous in film and television such as the Batmobile, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the most famous of all James Bond's Aston Martin DB5. A model which remains a collector’s favourite throughout the decades.