There was a time when the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was especially descriptive of the world of toy collecting. For many people, when the kids outgrew their toys, those little hunks of plastic became nothing but garage sale fodder, or they wound up thrown in the trash with the leftover meatloaf from the fridge. But nowadays, more and more people have come to realize that there’s gold in the toy chest, and instead of dumping them at Goodwill, they put their kid’s Castle Grayskull up on eBay to help make a down payment on a new hot tub.
But not all of us have a factory-sealed, Mint In Box, professionally-graded Optimus Prime sitting in our basement that will sell for $3,750. What if all we have is a toy box full of figures that weren’t the star of the after-school animated cartoon? Don’t worry, there are still plenty of overlooked '80s toys you might actually have that are worth more than you think.
1. Transformers Dinobot Swoop
$90 - $1,400
First released in North America in 1984, Transformers took kids' imaginations by storm, becoming one of the hottest toys and cartoons of the decade. In 1985, Hasbro released a new sub-group of figures, The Dinobots, five transforming dinosaurs, headed up by Grimlock, a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Although all of the Dinobots became popular, the pteranodon, Swoop, soon became a frontrunner due to his cool, chrome-covered wings and his heroic appearance in the second season of the animated series. For serious collectors, Swoop has become something of a Holy Grail because those chrome wings were easily chipped, the transformation process made it fairly common to break off his beak, and he was never released in the U.K., meaning some collectors never even had the chance to own him in the first place.
Therefore, a Swoop in good condition—even one that doesn’t necessarily have all of his accessories—can sell for about $90 on eBay. In comparison, a complete Grimlock with the box, goes for only a couple bucks more. If you’re lucky enough to have a Swoop in a factory-sealed box, though, you could be looking at upwards of $1,400.
2. Savage He-Man
Sometime in the late 1990s, when '80s nostalgia started to become a thing, a strange He-Man figure began showing up on the collector’s market. While the original He-Man figure had blond hair, brown furry loincloth and boots, and a reddish-orange belt, this new He-Man figure had dark brown hair and loincloth, and a black belt and boots. To make matters even more confusing, the figure was sometimes found wearing black and white armor, and sporting a variety of rust-colored weapons and shields.
This odd variation on the original 1982 toy was thought to have been part of a mail-in offer that coincided with Masters of the Universe trading cards found in specially marked packages of Wonder Bread. Others said the figure originated as a mail-in offer from Mattel if kids sent in three proofs of purchase from He-Man toys. However, some conspiracy-minded collectors believed it was part of a line of Conan the Barbarian movie tie-in toys that had to be halted when Mattel saw a preview and grew concerned over the "Sex and Violence ..., decapitation, slashing from groin to throat." But Conan's owners never mentioned a doll that looked like this in the trademark infringement lawsuit, and the possible connection with Conan gave the character the nickname “Savage He-Man” after the Savage Sword of Conan comic book. Some also called him simply “Wonder Bread He-Man.” Unfortunately, no one from Mattel or Wonder Bread has ever been able to confirm just where this mysterious action figure comes from.
Regardless of how he came to be, Savage He-Man is considered one of the rarest toys in the entire Masters of the Universe line, simply because no one knows how many were produced. This has led collectors to pay upwards of $300 for the figure on eBay. However, because of his popularity, counterfeits are a common occurrence, so buyers must beware.
As a winking homage to the mysterious action figure, in 2010, Mattel released "Wun-Dar: The Savage He-Man" as part of their Masters of the Universe Classics line. Along with the Conan-esque color scheme and the self-referential name, there are three circles on the back of his armor that resemble the red, yellow, and blue dots of the classic Wonder Bread logo, plus the figure comes with a plastic loaf of bread in case he works up an appetite fighting evil.
3. Thunder Wings Lion-O
$500 - $2783
After three years on the market, by 1987, ThunderCats had run its course in the toy aisle. Kids had moved on, mostly to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so the manufacturer, LJN Toys, began winding down production. In a last ditch effort to keep the remaining fans happy, they produced a few more new toys, including Thunder Wings Lion-O, an action figure of the ThunderCats’ leader with a pair of detachable, mechanical wings.
Because the toyline was ending, very few Thunder Wings Lion-O figures were produced, meaning there are only so many to go around for ThunderCats collectors today. A loose Thunder Wings in good condition can easily bring $500 on eBay, but if you’re lucky enough to have one “Mint On Card,” you’re looking at quite a bit more—like nearly $2,800.
4. Star Wars Micro Collection Millennium Falcon
$60 - $300
The Star Wars Micro Collection, introduced in 1982, was a bit of a departure for toymaker Kenner. Instead of the plastic 3.75” action figures that set the toy world on fire, the Micro Collection featured diecast figures not much bigger than 1.25” tall with no articulation at all, more in the mold of classic toy soldiers. The scale of the figures allowed Kenner to make some plastic playsets that would have been too cost prohibitive to make in the regular 3.75” size, but still offered plenty of detail, moving parts, and could be interconnected to create impressive dioramas of iconic scenes from the first two films in the trilogy.
The line wasn’t particularly popular with kids—mainly because the figures didn’t have any articulation, and the diecast paint jobs would chip off too easily—so the series only lasted for one year. In all, nine playsets were released, as well as four vehicles, one of which was a Millennium Falcon that was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Han Solo’s famous ship was only available at Sears when the Micro Collection launched, and the toyline was cancelled before it could be released to more retail outlets, making the Falcon the rarest toy in the series.
Obviously its rarity makes the Falcon worth quite a bit more than the other playsets and vehicles. A loose ship, without any of the figures, can fetch up to $62 on eBay if it’s in good shape. But if you’re lucky enough to have all six figures and the box, you’re looking at anywhere between $250 and $300.
5. Jem and the Holograms Merchandise
$135 - $355
When I searched for Jem and the Holograms on eBay, I expected to find quite a few Mint In Box dolls that would sell for a pretty penny. However, I was surprised to see that they’re generally available for less than $100, which isn’t out of reach for most collectors. The last thing I expected to find was that Jem-branded merchandise was selling for prices that can only be described as truly, truly outrageous (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
For example, to complete your ultimate Jem collection, you have to have the Pop-A-Point pencils from Spindex. To jog your memory of fifth grade, Pop-A-Point pencils were plastic sleeves that contained 11 small pencil lead cartridges inside. When the top lead wore down, you simply popped it out and put it in the other side, pushing a new lead cartridge out so you could finish your geography homework. Kids were obviously so excited to use their new school supplies that they ripped them open without a thought for future resale value, so a rare sealed package of two Jem Pop-A-Point pencils recently sold on eBay for $135. To put that into perspective, two sealed packages of Return of the Jedi Pop-A-Point pencils with 22 extra lead cartridges didn’t even sell for $8.
As if that wasn’t crazy enough, a pair of glittery Jem socks in kid’s size 2-3, still in the package from 1987, garnered an astonishing $355. I guess it just goes to show that accessories really can make the outfit.
6. The Real Ghostbusters Proton Pack
$85 - $500
Everybody loved Ghostbusters in 1984. Seriously—everybody. So when the animated series The Real Ghostbusters debuted in September 1986, it was an instant hit with kids, as were the tie-in action figures and playsets. One of the most popular toys in the Real Ghostbusters line came in 1988, when kids could strap on their own pretend ghost-zapping Proton Pack and bust themselves some phantasmagorical bad guys.
Although the Proton Pack was a big seller, there were a lot of parts to keep track of, including small pieces like a Ghostbusters armband, a ghost-finding PKE meter, and a yellow foam tube that stood in for the stream that shouldn’t be crossed. By the time a kid’s ghostbusting days were over, chances are some of those pieces were long gone. So if you find a complete set on eBay, it’s not unusual to pay anywhere between $85 and $115 to pick it up. Of course if you’re lucky enough to come across a factory-sealed box, expect to shell out over $500 to add it to your collection.
7. Bubble Power She-Ra
$150 - $505
Princess Adora, the twin sister of Prince Adam/He-Man, could also transform into an evil-battling superhero, She-Ra: Princess of Power. First introduced in 1985 as a spin-off of the Masters of the Universe line, She-Ra was billed as a “fashion action figure.” This was a sort of “Barbie meets He-Man” concept, in that there was an emphasis on the mostly-female cast’s hair, makeup, and outfits, but it had some good old fashioned sword and sorcery adventure in the mix, too.
Unfortunately, the line didn’t have the longevity of He-Man, sputtering out by 1987, when only a handful of new toys were released in the final wave of products. The last version of the She-Ra action figure was an odd design known as “Bubble Power She-Ra.”
The figure came with a new pink outfit, a redesigned sword and shield, and a “bubble wand”—a pink gun that had a rotating wheel that dipped into soap solution to blast the bad guys with bubbles. The figure has since become a rarity, not only because production was limited due to the toy line’s drop in popularity, but because a bottle of bubbles came inside the package. Most kids who got the toy would instantly open it and pour some of the bubble mix into the bubble wand, so a sealed package with the bottle intact is a truly unusual find. If you happen to have a Bubble Power She-Ra—complete with the bubbles—expect a bidding war to start, ending somewhere around $500. But even if you don’t have the bubbles anymore, just having the figure and some of the accessories can still bring about $150.