When children rip through their packages of new toys on Christmas Day, parents should think twice before discarding the box that held that doll, truck or action figure.

The original packaging can be the difference between a "collectible" and "just an old toy."A lot of other factors influence which of today's toys will be tomorrow's treasures, say antique dealers and collectors who have seen Barbies and G.I. Joes of 20 and 30 years ago rise to astounding prices.

Some toys on today's store shelves have the quality and appeal to become highly collectible, but many are so mass produced, foreign made and of such poor quality that their fate is probably oblivion. Nostalgia plays a big role in what catches the eye of col-lec-tors.

"It's whatever men and women played with when they were children," said collector-dealer Ron Bacon, citing the collecting popularity of Hot Wheels among adults who were children in the 1960s. His own weakness is toy soldiers, especially those of World War I vintage.

As a boy, his grandfather gifted him with a shoe box of the "dime-store soldiers" on just about every occasion. But as a teenager, he gave many away to his buddies' little brothers. His interest in small-scale military rekindled when he hit his mid-20s and later when he and his wife started dealing in antiques.

He recently attended a national toy soldier show in Chicago where 277 dealers sold and displayed their wares.

"Toys are really going up in price. It's getting tougher and tougher (to buy). People here in the West think that toys are rather expensive, but the East Coast is twice as much," he said. But more are available in Eastern states because major manufacturers were there.

Joyce Brants at Wiggett Antique Mall said toys now are probably the third biggest collectible.

"It just makes me sick when I think of the things my kids had in the `70s," she said, citing G.I. Joe, Barbie, Star Trek and Star Wars items.

Carolyn Friesen of Sherman Arms Antiques said metal Tonka toys and wooden-wheel Fisher-Price toys have taken their place among collectibles. Some Fisher-Price playthings that cost $6 new 25 or 30 years ago book at $220 today depending on condition.

Older items, such as cast iron toys of the early 1900s, straw-stuffed teddy bears, banks, metal airplanes and models from the early 1940s continue to rise in value.

Many tin and cast iron items are being duplicated well enough to fool many dealers. Friesen said assembly with Phillips screws is one indication of a reproduction.

Bacon said price guides are a good reference to trace a toy's history, but he cautions against using them to determine true market value because they often list inflated prices. He said price guides detract from collecting and emphasize speculation.

"I think a person should be more interested in a toy as a collectible to enjoy and have fun with more than how much money they're going to make off it," he said.

Bacon said scale models of 1950-era cars are one new, reasonably priced item with quality and collectibility.

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Collecting often varies by area. He said model tractors and farm implements are popular in Idaho and neighboring states. Californians go for cast-iron toys, comic toys and robots.

Some collectibles come around with a new twist. The milk bottle-top games of decades ago gave birth to pogs, those little disks that are the rage with youngsters.

If you are buying your child a toy with future value in mind, consider buying two - one for the child to play with and one for you to stash. But don't be tempted to play with yours.

Brants summed it up. "Anytime you're buying today's toys for tomorrow's market, they need to be kept mint, in the box."

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