Central Kentucky closets, garages and basements will be a little less cluttered by the time Bruce Zalkin is done.
The Sarasota, Fla., toy dealer is in Lexington this weekend through Tuesday to buy used — but not too used — toys for resale to collectors.
Among the people who trekked to the Courtyard by Marriott Lexington North on Saturday was Sarah Bugg of Berea. She brought early-1970s Barbies, including a house and motor home, and some of her mother's baby dolls.
"I'm cleaning house," Bugg said. "These were just collecting dust. I don't have any girls I can pass them on to. There are only nephews and boys in the family, and they don't want Barbie dolls.
"Back when I was younger, it was harder for me to part with things," Bugg said. "But as I get older, the less clutter and junk you have, the better. Years ago, I would have never thought of getting rid of any of this stuff. But now, it's to a point where I'm okay with it."
Bugg said she held onto the Barbie clothes sewn by her mother. "Can't get rid of those," she said.
Her visit netted her $75 for some Barbies, a golden-haired puppet named Myrtle, a small doll house and some costume jewelry.
Zalkin, who has bought and sold toys since he was 13, resells them to 20,000 collectors and dealers across the country. He does about 10 to 15 shows a year. He said vintage toys aren't the best indicator of the economy.
"As a matter of fact, for the last three years during this big recession, I've been getting record prices for toys," Zalkin said. "I only tell my collectors 'Buy what you like. Never buy for investment,' because they go up and down. Like Hummel porcelain figurines. In the '80s and '90s, Hummels were $100 apiece, and now they're $15 apiece."
Zalkin said he never knows what will come through the door.
"I bought a French doll from 1860, and I gave the lady $10,000 for it, and I sold it for $12,000," Zalkin said. "I normally don't buy Erector sets. But this one was from the 1920s and weighed 75 pounds. It actually made a truck and a Graf zeppelin and it was almost unused. I ended up paying $5,000 for it and ended up selling it for $6,500."
People hold on to toys for nostalgia, and collectors collect for the same reason, he said.
One Lexington man brought in a collection of mint-condition "redline" Hot Wheels. Redlines, so named because of the red lines on their tiny tires, were the first Hot Wheels released by Mattel between 1968 and 1972. They are highly sought by collectors.
Zalkin inspected a green 1969 Beach Bomb, a Volkswagen van with surfboards on the sides. He valued it at about $40. If the same vehicle had come in Spectraflame pink, it would have been worth $200 to $400, Zalkin said. If it had been a rare prototype model in which the surfboards stuck out of the van's back window, it could have fetched between $5,000 and $40,000, Zalkin said.
Zalkin offered $550 for the entire collection of about 40 cars, then telephoned a collector who was willing to pay as much as $1,200. The Lexington owner, who would not give his name, declined the offer.
Audrey Wallace of Lexington sold some 1930s whistles shaped like boats, metal ratchet noisemakers, and a footless Smurf Pez dispenser for $50. Later she sold some 1930s doll house bathroom fixtures and some metal cars from the 1940s and '50s for $165.
"I'm happy," Wallace said.