Toy company catalogs can be an excellent resource. Whether you are trying to identify or date a particular toy, see unproduced samples or prototypes that may have never made it to production, find out what toys may have been available in a particular series, or on occasion even get a glimpse at an early version or mock-up of a toy, toy catalogs can be invaluable for these and other reasons.
Collecting toy catalogs can be challenging, yet fun, as most were only intended for people in the toy industry, whether a wholesaler, retailer, and some were released to members of the press. For the most part, the majority of toy company catalogs were never intended to be seen by the general public, and they were also produced in somewhat limited numbers; therefor they are generally difficult to find today. Also, it is not uncommon to find catalogs with missing pages or clipped images and text. The reasoning for this lies with the owner of those catalogs... toy inventors tend to want to save excerpts of their creations; some retailers might clip images to reproduce for their advertising campaigns; some companies may even alter their own catalogs if certain items are cut from production or other reasons. Toy catalogs with missing parts are certainly reduced in value, yet if the catalog is a scarcer one, and if the missing portions are minor (and not of particular interest to the collector) the value may be only minimally reduced. For example, we have a few catalogs in the archives that seem to be the only surviving examples, but thankfully they are intact. If they were not, they would still be desirable based on their rarity.
What should I pay for a particular toy catalog? That's not an easy question to answer, as for most catalogs there is not regular trading going on to establish a standard value. One of the main things that help determine a toy catalog's value would be the content. Rarity and age can also influence values, but if the content is not very interesting (infant toys is a good example) then there is little or no demand overall. You need to consider all factors as one issue may negate another. If a catalog has excellent content, desirable by many collectors, yet is readily available and relatively common, the catalog may be worth very little. On the other hand, if a catalog is the rarest of the rare, yet contains only generally non-interesting material to most collectors (generic beach balls, for example) then it would also be worth very little. You can find catalogs that no one ever seems to want priced at a dollar or two, and then there are examples that can fetch over a thousand dollars (which is admittedly uncommon). Generally most catalogs would fall in the $5.00-$20.00 range. The value in the end, really all depends on the buyer; how interesting and/or important it is to you.
We have thousands of toy catalogs in the archives, and are always adding more (none for sale, and we do not make copies due to copyright issues). For me, they are a priceless snapshot of the past... an invaluable reference... and they are really quite fun to sit down with and reminisce! And, as anything to do with toys, it all comes down to fun, right?
Shown below are a few toy catalogs from the archives, which are in no particular order. You can clearly see the variety is as infinite as the subject matter, with your imagination as the limit! Our catalogs go from the 1930's to the present, and sadly many of those older classic companies are long gone. But pick up one of their catalogs, and they spring to life with that year's offerings, almost as if they never left us!