Game changers: Why prices have risen for classic board games, jigsaw puzzles and Subbuteo during lockdown
- Credit: Archant
If this typical August bank holiday weather has you reaching for the board games and jigsaw puzzles, you might be surprised at what they’re worth. Nick Richards asks the experts
Five months of lockdown has done strange things to the world of games and puzzles.
Time spent indoors in isolation has had Brits rummaging around in their lofts and sheds resulting in a resurgence in popularity in games that may have been gathering dust for years.
Not only are we playing with long-lost classic games again, but the search for items from times gone by when the world seemed a little safer has helped push the prices up, especially online.
With no car boot sales, charity shops, antiques fairs or auctions for a couple of months, sites like eBay have been the battleground for buyers and sellers keen to reconnect with items they may have once owned or to cash in on those they no longer want.
Norfolk-based Mark Fraser, who specialises in probate valuations, says nostalgia is the single biggest driver behind the price people are prepared to pay for items.
He said: “Games and puzzles are a strange old thing when it comes to the collector’s market. They’re by no means all valuable but they do all hold great fascination for somebody or other, usually for nostalgic reasons!
“If we use myself as an example, I still get dewy-eyed when I think of traditional board games that could be found in our house back in the mid-Sixties with names that spring to mind including Scoop, Careers and Millionaire, all of which can be purchased today in good, complete order for no more than £15-£20. If I then move on a decade, surely every child desperately hoped to find Mousetrap or even the fantastic Battling Tops beneath the Christmas tree. In 2020 though, an original late 60s/early 70s example of either of these classics…again in top condition…will set you back £40+.
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“Every house of course once had or still has one version or another of Monopoly and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that an original 1930s set with the flat ‘transport’ playing pieces is today worth £50 or so, but did you know that the rather tacky ‘Collectors Edition’ produced for the Franklin Mint in 1991 can fetch £300 or more, or indeed that the Charles Fazzino 3D Pop Art World Edition has been known to go for even more?”
Tim Blyth of Keys Fine Art Auctioneers agrees with the nostalgia factor and suggests anyone who thinks they have something of value contacts an auctioneer for a free valuation.
He said: “There’s a good market out there for games – especially for those that are rare or that have survived in a state that others might not have done. Like most things, people now want to buy things from their childhood in mint condition that they may have had and played with and they probably have the disposable income to do so - for example at a recent auction we had Action Man figures from the 1970s that sold for £3,000 and we’ve had a Star Wars Imperial Assault sell for £800 in mint condition.
“The market changes from year to year – we’ve had electronic games from the early 80s on sale. In terms of board games, the record is for a 1933 copy of Monopoly that sold for £90,000. As always, it’s all about the condition and if you think you may have something rare or unusual, we’d always suggest consulting an auctioneer. There’s no obligation and we offer free valuations (currently by appointment) which is much better for the customer than putting it on eBay and realising they’d sold if for far less than its true value.
Here are a guide to some things to look out for in the world of games and puzzles:
OTHER CARDS AND GAMES
Norfolk Antiques dealer Mike Hicks said: “Many things come to mind when thinking about games of yesteryear. We only have to think of playing cards; these are very collectable today, especially packs that are pre-1850.
“Many of them were hand-coloured at that time, as we had no method of printing in colour. Coming more up to date, early Pokeman cards also are very much collected and likewise, very early computer games.
“Other games which are not quite so easy to pack-away was the Shove-Halfpenny Board; this was a one with a wooden board with markers across; you had to use your skill of pushing the halfpenny quite firmly up the board and landing in the appropriate slot.
“Another thing was a Bagatelle, where a ball bearing was shot forward on a flat board to land in the most valuable receptacle on the board, or if you missed, if came back, giving you zero.
“I think you have to be a little bit careful when collecting games, because some go out of date very quickly. In recent years, there has been lots of games, board games and quiz games linked to television shows, well, probably now, the shows themselves have gone, and many of the questions are now terribly outdated. Some of these can be bought quite cheaply, probably for less than £5, but old favourites like Monopoly, providing all the money is there, can still make a few pounds if you can pick one up at a charity shop or car boot.
“Many card games, board games and items never go out of fashion and they will remain there for generations to come.”
Peter Day of the Benevolent Confraternity of Dissectologists, a club of around 250 puzzle enthusiasts said: “There is a healthy market for jigsaw puzzles among collectors with a big rise in popularity over the last 10 to 20 years. I wouldn’t say there has been a a particular rise in prices over the last year, but with charity shops being shut for a few months I suppose people can’t get out and pick them at low prices, so that would push online prices up.
“The jigsaw puzzle market boomed around a century ago, puzzles were originally really only done by people with lots of money but the depression changed that and they become popular cheap entertainment. I see jigsaws as providing the three Es - education, entertainment and escapism!
“As a rule old wooden puzzles are worth 10p a piece so a 1,000 piece puzzle would be worth £100. The ones that were popular in the 1920s were the ones that were made popular by brands such as Victory and Chad Valley. They would have sold millions at the time, but finding them now in good condition is hard. They are highly collectable, even with missing pieces, they can be repaired.
“The market here is good, the best place to buy and sell puzzles is probably eBay, but if you can also list your puzzle on the American eBay site you could make more money as the collectors who’ll pay the highest prices are in the US.
“What to look out for are hand-cut wooden puzzles that are push fit and line cut. They don’t interlock like the modern jigsaws, the challenge was in grouping together shapes or colours to do them. That was the appeal.
“Names to look out for that have value are Peacock, Wentworth, Vera, Holtzapffel and the crème de la crème of the jigsaw world is anything by Raphael Tuck & Sons.”
Mark Fraser added: “When it comes to jigsaws perhaps the most collectable of all 20th Century examples are those made by Chad Valley for the Great Western Railway. Produced between 1924 and 1939 these lovely wooden puzzles have a wide range of prices with the more common such as The Vikings At St Ives or Historic Totnes coming in at under £10 and at the other end of the scale Lost In Transit, the rarest of the 46 that were made, on occasion topping £400.”
Mike Hicks said: “Sometimes you might be lucky enough to find a thick wooden jigsaw, and the early ones were probably about a quarter of an inch thick. These often depicted famous liners or famous buildings, which were then cut up for you to solve the puzzle.A good early jigsaw of a ship like the Mauritania or similar, would probably make £40 - £50”.
It would be easy to write the history of table top football game Subbuteo on a piece of paper no larger than the 3cm size of a Subbuteo player. Invented by Peter Adolph in 1946 with limited success, the 1960s saw the arrival of the ‘heavyweight’ hand-painted figure and, almost certainly helped by England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, Subbuteo was incredibly popular then and throughout the 1970s.
In the 1980s a new ‘lightweight’ machine-painted figure was released, but by the early 1990s, the advent of football video games helped kill off an outdated brand. Loved by collectors since, the game has found new popularity in recent years galvanised by a healthy YouTube community.
Essex-based Subbuteo collector Stewart Grant runs a channel called Youbbuteowhich shows off his collection and talks about all things connected to the much-loved table top game.
He said: “Subbuteo prices have increased massively since March. As more people stayed at home and headed into the loft and found old teams and then wanted to get back into it. Stadium pieces doubled in price as people wanted lockdown projects and older teams really increased. You would see a typical average 70s side sell for £10 - £15 each before lockdown, now some of those teams go for £20 - £25. The stadium section I was paying £25 for have gone up to almost £60.
“I’m sure the price will settle down as people go back to work but talking to other collectors in different markets the same has happened there too.
“So the most valuable items people may find find are the League Cup trophy (it can go for upwards of £100), but the real holy grails are The 1970 Munich Set which sells for around £500+ if not more and the World of Sport set which has football, rugby and cricket in it, can go for even more.
Odd international clubs side can also be very desirable. The indoor edition can be very rare too with its blue pitch and the Sport Billy set of 80s is quite rare.
“Investing in any collectable product is always a risk. As people get older and products get forgotten things can suddenly lose value. But if you were to invest in Subbuteo the money is in collecting full and complete ‘heavyweight’ teams.
“A full collection of those in the correct boxes would be worth a pretty penny.”
Mark Fraser said: “The most famous and amongst the oldest board games of all is chess and again the price range for vintage and antique sets is staggeringly wide with a cheap 1930s example available for as little as £5 to a 19th century carved bone ‘Barleycorn’ set at £50-£100 and a tournament size Staunton set in boxwood and macassar ebony by Jaques of London going under the hammer for anywhere between £3,000 and £4,000.
And don’t forget, its only last year that a single carved walrus ivory piece from the medieval Lewis Chessmen set fetched an incredible £735,000 in auction, but I don’t suppose one of those will ever turn up in East Anglia or maybe I’m wrong!”