Treasured Toys and Early Technology: Worth More Than Memories?
By Rachel Sadon
What if you hadn’t thrown away the old and clunky–but beloved–technology that littered your youth? Would your first cell phone, computer, or early Pong system be worth anything today?
How about the pile of video games that you saved until your mother sent them to Goodwill because she didn’t want to end up on an episode of Hoarders?
Do you own a hidden gem and not even know it? In the world of collectible technology, the answer typically depends on the rarity of the item and the condition it is in. If you still have the box, the item is more desirable and commands a greater price, usually by a significant amount.
If you were that oddball kid who bought a new toy and stared lovingly at the box without opening it … well, let’s just say that you might be able to take a vacation if you’re finally willing to part with it.
Tracking Down the Past
Just how hard is it to find old gadgets, ancient video games, and early computers? A friend of mine recently commented offhandedly that he would stab someone to play Jeopardy on a 5.25-inch floppy disk. A quick Google search suggested that he could reunite with his cherished game for a couple of dollars and a bit of effort–and also stay out of prison. But old technology and vintage games aren’t always quite so easy to locate, and they often cost significantly more than they did back in the day.
Read on to learn about some of the hits that you might have owned, loved, and lost … and to find out what they are worth today. You might want to make a trip to the attic to see if some of them are still around.
Atari Pong C-100 (1976)
Original cost: $55
Many people remember Pong as the first home video game. It came in various iterations, as many manufacturers copied the Atari original.
If you are still lucky enough to have the original Atari Pong C-100 system for home use, it could be worth $100 to $150 if it is complete in box with the inner packing and in working order, according to Pong-Story.com.
Atari Video Computer System (1977)
Original cost: $199
In October 1977, Atari released the video game console that would change the face of home entertainment and become an icon (it was #7 in PCWorld’s “The Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years“). The Video Computer System (VCS), later dubbed the Atari 2600, ranks right up there with other ’80s favorites like padded shoulders, Hammer pants, and spandex. Because of the 2600’s widespread popularity, though, many working systems are still around, and can be purchased for under $75.
Models from the first year of production are more valuable. Unofficially known as “heavy sixers,” these units were produced in Sunnyvale, California (later models were manufactured in Hong Kong). Though some owners may not even recognize the variations, they have a few key design differences that make them more valuable to collectors, including rounded corners and a thicker casing.
Depending on the condition of the console and accessories, these systems can fetch up to several hundred dollars. Currently, prices for heavy sixers range from under $100 for the console alone to $1000 for a complete system with a low serial number.
It is fairly unlikely that you happen to have an Apple I sitting around in the attic and aren’t aware of its value (between $15,000 and $50,000)–but if you kept your Commodore PET 2001, you may be surprised to learn that it has become a collector’s item, too.
Though Commodore made four versions and sold thousands of these machines, acquiring a working model today can take some effort. Prices vary according to demand and availability at the time of purchase: Recently, an auction of a 2001-32 N model went for $285. For more computer relics, check out PCWorld’s “The Most Collectible PCs of All Time.”
Nintendo Game Boy (1989)
Original cost: $90
A member of the National Toy Hall of Fame, the Nintendo Game Boy has sold in the millions. The handheld’s relative newness and enormous popularity have ensured that you can still find many units floating around. You can grab one on the market today for around $20 (though that number fluctuates depending on the cosmetic wear, the included games, and whether the box is included).
Collectors, however, are beginning to prize mint-condition devices and unopened boxes: A seller recently auctioned an unused Game Boy, complete in the box, for $200 on eBay.
At a recent eBay auction, a working TPS-L2 (in moderate condition) went for $40; a model in better condition can currently be found at Vintage Personal Stereos for $184.
Stadium Events (1987)
Original cost: $30
One of the hottest stories to rock the video game collecting community this year was the $41,300 sale of a sealed copy of Stadium Events, a Nintendo Entertainment System game. The seller found this gem among a pile of old video games that he was going to donate to Goodwill.
That news came just a few weeks after a woman put up an old Nintendo system on eBay with a few games. Much to her surprise, the auction closed at $13,105 because one of those games happened to be Stadium Events in the original cardboard box. According to the guide Video Game PriceCharts.com (which also gives tips on how to tell the versions apart), the U.S. version is valued between $1000 and $13,000, and the less-rare European release commands between $100 and $1000.
NBA 2 Ball (1998)
Original cost: Free
Video games are among the most valuable tech items you may unknowingly have stored away in the attic. Collectors prize special versions, limited editions, and prototypes–and if you somehow stumbled across one of them in your past, it may very well mean a small financial windfall.
Consider NBA 2 Ball. Copies of the PlayStation game were distributed at the 1998 NBA All Star Game. When a friend who attended the event brought one to school, Mike Muchnik bought it from him for a mere $5. After hanging on to the game for 12 years, he decided to sell it for some extra cash.
Muchnik did some research and learned from gaming experts “that approximately 500 copies were made to be distributed as a way of advertising 2 Ball, which was a new addition to the NBA All Star game.” However, the game was never sold on the market–and, including his, only four copies are known to exist.
He says, “I was told it could be worth one figure or as high as five figures, and I would only know when I auctioned it. I started the bidding at $300 because I was told that someone would be willing to pay me $300 for it.” After he made a video to prove its authenticity, 25 bids drove the price up to $710.
Nintendo Cereal Box (1988)
Original cost: Unknown
Other gaming treasures can command a decent price simply because they don’t exist anymore, and nostalgia isn’t always satiated by hilarious ’80s commercials on YouTube. In this case, Nintendo had its name on a “cereal system,” otherwise known as cereal.
Fast-forward 22 years later, and a remaining Nintendo cereal box (with contents still inside) sold for $207.50.
Motorola DynaTAC 800x (1983)
Original cost: $3995
If you happened to be one of the first adopters of mobile technology and you still keep your brick phone around, you may want to stop using it as a paperweight. Cell phone collecting is still in its infancy, but as early models start to disappear, they are becoming increasingly valuable.
Revered as the world’s first mobile phone, the DynaTAC 800x weighed nearly 2 pounds, and its battery lasted about 30 minutes. At the time, though, it inspired the kind of demand and waiting lists that would make Steve Jobs green with envy (not to mention its starring role on Saved by the Bell). Currently, Retrobrick and Vintage Mobile Phones offer these handsets for anywhere from $73 to $123.
Mattel Intellivision (1979)
Original cost: $299
Remember the Intellivision? Though Atari has become synonymous with ’80s gaming, the Intellivision was its first major competitor, selling approximately 3 million units during its life span. First manufactured and marketed nationally by Mattel in 1979, the Intellivision was off the market by 1990. (Mattel sold it to a liquidation company in 1984.)
Though it lost the system wars, the classic console lives on at the appropriately named Intellivision Lives (where a group of former Intellivision game programmers known as the Blue Sky Rangers continue the magic with trivia, history, and news). Nonetheless, it remains a fond memory for many–and the games have been revived in modern computer and video game formats, too. If you saved your old console or are looking to repurchase this piece of retro gaming history, they typically sell for between $50 and $100.