20th Century Toy Collector

Illusion is the Ultimate Weapon!

My Toy Collection Database (update)

Whenever you’re serious about collecting something (anything) and you stick to it, chances are that one day you’ll end up with a sizeable collection, which can create several challenges. One of these is that you can have so much stuff that it’s hard to keep track of everything. Another is that your collection becomes an investment. It represents an investment of time and money and if you collect vintage stuff the monetary value of your collection can easily become something you cannot ignore. Vintage toy collections can easily represent values of thousands and even tens of thousands of euros/dollars (and beyond!)

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Expensive… :-)

When you reach that point it is probably wise that you start thinking about taking out an insurance on your collection. What if your house burns down one day? Your regular contents insurance is probably not going to cover the complete value of your collection, especially if it’s worth more than a couple of thousand euros. Yeah, it’s not something you’d like to think about and most of us would rather keep our collections instead of getting the monetary equivalent in case of a disaster, but if it does happen, at least you’ll have that.

“Peace of Mind”

In most countries you’ll be able to insure your vintage toy collection. You will probably have to contact your insurance company to work something out, because most of them do not offer specific vintage toy collection insurance products (although some might, depending on where you live, google around!). One thing that will definitely help you out when trying to insure your collection is to have a comprehensive record of all your acquisitions. By that I mean records of the payments that you made for all your items (e.g. PayPal records), where you got the items from, photographs of the items etc. This will act as proof and will help immensely in allowing the insurance company to determine an accurate value of your collection.

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You can keep those records in any way you want as long as they are easily accessible. A spreadsheet application like Excel on Windows or Numbers on Mac OS X is a very good tool, but you could even use something like Notepad. It doesn’t really matter. As long as you have some records that can be traced back to your acquisitions.

“Keeping Track”

I’ve been keeping records meticulously for several years now. I’ve kept all the emails that have anything to do with my acquisitions and the price I paid for these (eBay emails, PayPal emails, communications with sellers) and I have been registering all this info in a spreadsheet on my computer. As you may be well aware I have also made numerous photographs of most items in my collection, which can be found throughout this website. Incurance companies love that stuff. The more evidence you have that you own something and what you paid for it, the more forthcoming they will be in selling you an insurance for your collection. It saves them the hassle of trying to determine the value of your collection (which is often not their field of expertise) and works in your favour, because you’ll be able to insure your collection at precise value and will give you peace of mind.

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“Caveats”

Here’s some extra important information you should be aware of, which was kindly supplied by readers of this post in the comments section. First of all, make sure that you know how much your insurance company is going to pay you if and when disaster should strike. A lot of insurance policies assume you have objects in your house that depreciate in value, i.e. they become worth less and less as time goes by. That goes for a lot of things like your TV, your computer, your furniture, you name it. Most items that you buy will depreciate in value over time and insurance companies will often pay you either the original price you paid, or, if the item has depreciated to below a certain threshold of its original price (like e,g, 40%) they will only pay you the current value and not the price originally paid!

Vintage toy collections can put everything upside down. Vintage toys will sometimes not depreciate, but appreciate in value as time goes by! There are numerous objects in my collection which are now worth waaaay more than what they were when they were on sale originally and some even more than what I paid for just a few years ago. So make sure you know what you’re insured against. The price you paid, the original price (which can sometimes be hard to determine) or the current market value. Some insurance policies will pay out the price you paid or the market value if that can be determined, but you will either need proof of payment or an expert appraisal. As far as proof of payment is concerned, make sure you agree as what constitutes as proof of payment. Do you need an official invoice, is a printout of the eBay auction and an accompanying PayPal statement or credit card statement enough? The devil is in the details, and oftentimes the fine print will be ambiguous. Also, if you do try and get an appraisal, evaluation/taxation for your collection, make sure your insurance company recognizes the person or company doing the valuation as qualified to do so.

Two more great tips: Instead of just making photos of the individual items in your collection, also be sure to make photos of your collection as a whole, so that you have actual proof you actualy own all that stuff and that it’s in your house. Even better, whip out your iPhone or Android smartphone and make a video! Film the inside of your house, walk into the room where you keep your collection and film every item. Lots of people have smartphones or tablets these days and you can be done in a couple of minutes, so there’s really no excuse. Whether disaster strikes or not, you will also have a nice video keep sake of your collection that you can hopefully look back at in the distant future.

The second tip is regarding your records. Make sure you have a copy/backup of your records off site somewhere. If a Boeing 747 lands on your house, chances are your computer and all the records you spent hours and hours compiling will be destroyed as well! Not good. There are various easy ways to keep an offsite copy. An easy way is to have some sort of cloud storage like e.g. Dropbox that keeps a synchronized copy of your data in the cloud. If you have a database, chances are it’s hosted somewhere. Don’t assume your hosting provider has a perfect backup in place and make regular dumps/exports of your database and preferrably, find some way to automate that procedure.

Thanks to argus and Zenith for these tips!

“New Year’s Resolutions”

Now it’s time to come clean. Our current insurance policy only covers a fraction of  the amount I have invested in my collection. Also, despite the fact that I have been keeping records in a spreadsheet, I have not been keeping them in a structured or organized manner. That’s my bad. I can probably calculate the total value from my spreadsheet, but the information is not recorded in such a fashion that allows me to easily calculate the total value. Also, I have been seriously slacking off when it came to recording my acquisitions in the past twelve months. Yeah… Not so meticulous as I had lead you to believe. Not even that, but I also still have not taken out an insurance specifically for my vintage toy collection. If my house burns down, if there’s water damage, if it gets stolen I will probably only end up with just a fraction of its current worth from my insurance company. I’m sure some of you reading this are in the same boat as I am….

At the beginning of this year I made a promise to myself to make 2012 the year where I straighten this shit out. I set myself to the task to of re-recording each and every item that I have in my collection, make new photos, record the prices paid, proof of payments etc. This time, though, I would not use a spreadsheet application, but record everything in a database. If you’re not technically inclined, a database is more or less a spreadsheet on steroids. It’s probably the best way to keep records of information of any kind (although you can do a lot with spreadsheets as well if you’re a power user). I’m an IT techie, so I was fortunate enough to be able to create a database scheme and populate it with all my collection records without anyone’s help. I’m currently about half way photographing all the items in my collection and importing them into the database, adding all the necessary info like item name, year of release, price paid, etc. etc.

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So what’s this to you? Well first of all, if you’re a collector to whom all this stuff applies as well I hope to have a least inspired you to undertake similiar steps in getting your collection organized and insured. The second reason is that while I was spending countless of man hours recording information about my collection I thought it would be a great idea to share at least parts of the info I have recorded about my collection on my website. I know I love browsing through people’s vintage toy collections online and I would love it if someone got that same kick from browsing through my collection. Although some of the info in my database I like to keep private (price paid, name of the seller etc) there’s still a lot of info in there that would be nice to share like the photographs of the items themselves, year of release, production/catalog numbers, names of distributors etc. That’s why I have decided to unlock parts of my database to the visitors of this website.

“Programming, Programming, Programming…”

Besides the countless hours I have invested in photographing and recording my collection items I have also spent way too much of my spare time in programming a public front end to my collection database. For the techies among you, the database is a mySQL instance with a PHP interface that I programmed to serve the data in HTML form. I plan to release the data in three phases. The first phase will go live as of today and will allow me to link to specific items in my collection database. Basically this means that whenever I do a blog post on a certain item in my collection I will add a link to the corresponding database entry in the form of a button that you can click on. Here’s an example:

Marshal Bravestarr (1987)

If you click on the button above you will be taken to the actual database record of the Marshal Bravestarr action figure in my collection. Cool, huh? :-) The second phase of this project will involve an update of the “Spotlight” widget on my site. As regular visitors will know there’s a widget at the top of every page on my site that shows a random item from my collection each time you visit a page on my site. Currently this just links to a photo of the item being shown. The second phase will go into effect as soon as I have 50 items in my database which are properly tagged with meta data. From that moment on the Spotlight widget will link to the actual database entry of the item being shown. This means that whenever you click on a Spotlight item you will be taken directly to the database record of said item.

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That’s all and well, but the most interesting thing will be when I reach the third and last phase, which is when all my collection items have been recorded in the database. At that point I will attempt to program a front end that will allow you direct access to all the items in my collection instead of just random items. I plan to create a portal that will list all the toy lines I have in my collection. When you select a toy line you will be able to browse each and every item I have of said toy line, i.e. my complete collection will be browsable online.

“Beta”

Things are very much in an experimental phase right now, so don’t be surprised if something goes wrong or some data is incorrect. Also, programming for all the different browsers out there is still a pain in the ass (Internet Explorer, I’m looking at you). The collection pages should look fine on browsers like Firefox, Safari, Chrome and on mobile browsers like Safari on iOS. Internet Explorer currently has some issues rendering some of the fonts correctly, which I hope to solve in the near future. I will also continue to polish the program code and add more info as I progress, like comments, catalog photos of items and anything else that I think is interesting to share.

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I will keep you updated with my progress and I will also report my experiences in trying to deal with insurance companies in my quest to insure my collection. I hope that some of this info will come in handy for some of you and that it might help you in your endeavours to get your collection insured. Peace of mind is worth a lot these days. If you have any questions or suggestions just leave them in the comments section or email me directly. Happy collecting!

 

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Site stuff and has Comments (7)

7 Responses to “My Toy Collection Database (update)”

  1. Wow, very impressive. I really like the widget you have created for each toy and the way it presents the data. There is this fuzzy vintage feel to it and I can’t wait for your beta to be over so I can actually click it and access certain toys on your site.

    Like you, I have about 80% of my toys, which is literally thousands, documented on an Excel sheet and unfortunately, that is about as accurate as it can get because I just don’t have time to do it any other way. Insurance for home is also on that basis, so yeah, I know that if something happens, I won’t get back 100% of the value of my toys, just 80% of the value and slightly less than that in fact because I have been a lot less meticulous than you in documenting them (eg some pieces I have not photographed at all).

    Every few years, I move countries and my firm pays for moving my toys too, including insuring them, and that is the scary part – transit risk when they are on some plane! The last time I moved, I had 45 cartons of TFs, which was insured for USD$ 60,000, a gross undervalue, but all that my spreadsheet could prove at the time.

  2. Fighbird says:

    One of my friends from way back has been heckling me for the past 5 years or so to get my collection insured. Like both of you, the loss of a collection to something unforeseen would not only be a personal disaster but also a monetary. Although I try not to let it be the main focus of collecting vintage toys, there is still quite an amount of money tied up in it.

    I have been, let’s say MUCH less meticulate about documenting my collection. I have a list I made in Notepad somewhere that I haven’t updated in about a year, and with no photographic documentation nor value attached. I might try and remedy that this summer, though, pending I find the time and energy for it… :)

    But how does one value ones collection? I mean, one thing is what you paid for the item, another is current market value (which I suspect is what any insurance company may be most interested in)? And what about things that are litteraly invaluable? Unique items which are irreplacable as they are one-of-a-kind items?

    I still don’t know if my insurance company even want to insure a collection like mine (I doubt they will take a toy collection serious; you still meet people like this these days, you know…), but OTOH, it’s something that needs to be done. :)

    /Martin

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      @Heroic_Decepticon: Thx for sharing that info! I moved house 3 years ago and that was just a move 100 kilometers North by land and I already felt very uneasy driving a van full of my stuff down the highway. I can imagine how you might feel thinking about your entire collection being transported by air to a different country!

      @Fighbird: My current home insurance actually mentions toy collections (!) specifically. That was a surprise to me. I’m pretty sure this was not mentioned two years ago. Used to only mention coins and stamps or art and antiques. Looks like toy collecting is gaining some recognition in that respect, at least here in Holland. The insurance I’m talking about is nothing special. It’s your run of the mill house contents insurance from the biggest bank in Holland (ABN AMRO).

      With regards to valuating your collection. My current insurance asks either for invoices (or something similiar) or a valuation by an expert. If you use invoices as proof they will pay the full value you paid for an item. The expert valuation would of course give you the current market worth, which might sometimes be more favourable. The only problem with that is that A) where do I find a qualified expert? and B) unless you stop acquiring new stuff and do not liquidate parts of your collection, the valuation becomes outdated fast and you will need a new one, which might be a costly exercise. Also, my current insurance will only pay out until a certain amount for stuff like vintage collections. There’s a maximum. If you need to insure a higher value than that you need to contact them (and pay more).

      I guess the best thing is to have an insurance company that will allow me to re-value my collection once every 12 months or so. Sigh… As soon as my collection database is up to date I’m going to shop around for a better insurance and I’ll report my experiences here.

  3. Argus says:

    I think the most commonly used expert in our field is the owner of a certain well know store in 020 with a David Bowie theme ;)

    Any idea on the max value insured by ABN Mijo? Most collection insurances in our local market seem to not really keep the more determined collector in mind.
    The same holds true for audio visual and computer related stuff you may own btw.
    You also need to keep in mind security demands and montly fees if you get near what heroic is hoarding ;)

    Oh, and I’ve never gone for the sheets and all that. Far too much work and as such I’m putting my trust in photographs and the odd movie. It also helps to prove that you actually had all that stuff present in the same place as well ;)

  4. Zenith says:

    At the end of the day, dont forget that insurance companies will reimburse based on current market value… not what you paid. Keeping records of what you paid is great as a historical document, but if you paid £100 for a bumblebee keychain they will still only give you X% of the £3.99 it’s currently worth. At the point of loss you will need to scour the webz to see the current selling prices… a huge job if you have a large collection, but worth the effort. Right I’m off to extinguish all naked flames as it seems that the “house burning don” is everyones greatest worry. On that point… ensure you have an offsite backup of your records… no good if they go up in flames too!

  5. 20th Century Toy Collector says:

    Great tips, guys! Thanks. I have incorporated them into the article!

    @argus, if you have a standard ABN AMRO Inboedelverzekering the maximum value for stuff like collections etc should be stated on your insurance policy paper. Mine is approximately 32,000 euros, which is more than it used to be in the past. (Used to be 5,000 for collectibles). Regardless, 32,000 is probably around the current market value of my collection, so I will need to do something about my insurance either way…

    Problem about the standard ABN AMRO insurance is,that it talks about “nieuwwaarde” and “dagwaarde” (“new” value and current value) in a way that suggests items only depreciate over time, i.e. it’s not primarily meant as an insurance for collectibles.

    I have seen other insurance companies in Holland that offer policies which seem to target valuable collectables specifically, most often as an extension to regular house (contents) insurance, and take into account the “zeldzaamheidswaarde”, which is either the market value or the price paid of an item. Toy collections are mentioned specifically as qualifying for this type of insurance. The OHRA Kostbaarhedenverzekering is one.

    I know there’s still a LOT of small details that I need to sort out. Whenever I have new info, I will try to update this article.

  6. Arkvander says:

    Personally insurance is very important to me as far as my collection goes. From what I have been able to gather from your article companies in Europe work a lot like the ones in the US, as in many insurance companies won’t even cover collections as part of your personal property due to the specific type of risk. There are a few specialty companies over here that provide collectors insurance as well, and it was one of these companies that I went with to insure my collection. It is also a lot easier because you don’t have to worry about replacement cost vs. purchase price; you basically just set a limit for them and pay the premium for that limit. You can also schedule high value items if you wish and if those items are lost it is a lot easier to make a claim for them. In the case of a claim all you need to do is provide a list of everything that was lost and pictures if you have them. Since these companies specialize in collectibles they are able to pool their risk a lot better than a normal insurance company would.

    I know that if I ever lost my collection to a fire or something similar I would be completely devastated. That would be like losing my life’s work, lol!

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