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Dave Copple, farmer and farm toy hobbyist from Hanna City at his table in the Dyersville National Farm Toy Show.

Dyersville’s National Farm Toy Show sees vendors and collectors buy and sell antique farm toys, but how do they determine what an old toy’s price should be? Dave Copple, a 71-year old farmer from Hanna City, Ill. and avid farm toy hobbyist, has made it part of his hobby’s mission to educate people on exactly what gives these farm toys their value.

“I’ve learned from going to shows and other vendors, so I’m teaching people about how toys are made,” said Copple. “You need to talk to people, make a conversation, teach, educate. With every toy show I go to, I learn something new for when I head back home.”

Copple started collecting toys in 2002 and possesses six curio cabinets full of International Red tractors. According to Copple, personal family connections to various machine brands and types are a major factor in the value buyers are willing to pay for a toy.

“I like talking toys. I’m a collector first, then I go to toy shows to sell different colors and varieties. Some people want Ford, some want Oliver, whatever their family farmed with, they want to buy a toy that looks like what’s in the machine shed.”

Copple frequently attends toy shows in Effingham, St. Louis, Dyersville, northern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and southern Wisconsin. Location is important for selling, he said, because people are mainly going to buy toys that match the types of farming in the area.

“I go to where they buy toys and have multi-source income,” he said. “In Wisconsin, they have dairy, corn, beans and hay, so they have multi-source income and are willing to buy toys of what they’ve been farming with. If I go down to Effingham, they have a confinement of cattle and dairy, but it’s mostly grain down there. They aren’t willing to pay for balers, rakes or things of that nature. It depends on what area you want to go to.”

A frequent place for Copple to pick up pieces for his hobby is estate auctions where he has a good chance of picking up toys undervalue from people who don’t care about them anymore.

“I’ll buy toys at an estate auction where the family doesn’t have farming anymore and the children don’t care about farm toys anymore, so they sell them at an auction. I tell them, ‘Don’t go selling this at a garage sale for $10 when you have a $200 toy.”

With the money saved from his initial purchases, Copple is left with more room to haggle his own price at events to cover his own expenses.

“I keep a record of what I pay for the toy and have a tag with a number system on the back. I can look up this number system and know how much room I have to negotiate a price from a buyer. If he says, ‘Can you do a better price than this?’ I say, ‘Let me look at the number’, I look at my notepad, see what I paid for it, and then I know to say, ‘I can knock off $50’. He’s happy and I make a sale, it’s all part of salesmanship. When I go to estate auctions, I try to buy toys at 70% retail so I have a 30% markup on my toys to pay for my table rent, hotel, gas and other expenses.”

While personal nostalgic value plays a key part in the buyer’s decision to purchase a toy, Copple said there are two other factors that play a more objective role in determining price, the first one being a rarity.

“If they didn’t make many of them, or they’ve been destroyed somewhere, they’re rare,” he said. “In the 40s and World War II, a lot of metal toys were destroyed because the cast iron was heavy and they needed the metal for weapons and ammunition. Some of these toys were made in the 1900s, so most of those people would be 120 right now and are dying off. Cast iron has gone down in value because most people don’t remember playing with cast iron toys, but now the youngsters are saying, ‘Hey, these are rare antiques’, so the price has now gone up. It all depends on the generation and age of the person buying.”

According to Copple, the closer a toy is to the original state it was manufactured and sold in, the more valuable it is. Original cardboard and paper boxes will double the price of a farm toy, with one model baler jumping from $390 to $950 because it included the box. Additionally, the original paper brochure that went with it added $30.

“For quality, the paint needs to be 90% or better,” he said. “If it’s been sandbox played with and has a terrible paint job, it will have less value than one that’s near-mint...Repainting devalues toys, you want original.”

To keep track of what the current value is for toys of various qualities, Copple frequently consults his price guide, which changes every year as the market shifts.

“You need to learn value. I use a price guide… it has all different companies listed. You find it and see the retail prices for sandbox, near-mint, or new-in-box. They all have different prices. This is my bible to go out and buy these toys.”

Copple also only collects and sells toys from 1880-1980.

“I don’t buy anything newer because they’re made out of plastic, and if you break a plastic toy, you might as well just throw it away because you can’t repaint or reconstruct. In the 50s and 60s, they made better plastics because they were made out of soy oil. Today’s plastic is brittle and breaks. When people say they don’t like plastic, they don’t know about the older plastic.”

As a word of advice for parents of possible future collectors, Copple advises starting them out by buying two copies of new toys, one to play with now and one to keep in pristine condition for the future.

“When you buy toys for 10-year-old Timmy, you should buy two toys so you can put one new-in-box away in the closet or something and let him open up the second toy under the Christmas tree so he can tear up the box and have fun playing with it. That way, when he’s 20 or 30 and starting his collection, he has a new-in-box toy his parents kept for him when he got older.”

If you would like to sell your farm toy collection to Copple, call him at (309) 565-4490 or (309) 338-2252.