Is that beautiful die-cast toy car original, or has someone restored it? And does it make a difference?
In terms of value and saleability, it can make a huge difference. A mint original can be worth twenty times a repainted toy. I've been collecting for over thirty years and am pretty good at spotting repaints, but even I am still fooled sometimes. Most eBay sellers are honest about this, but some aren't, and sometimes honest sellers don't realize their toy is not original. Here are the things I look for:
- A non-original color. This is an easy one if you know what colors the particular model was offered in. Do your research: buy guides for the brand you are interested in, and see what color or colors the factory painted that model.
- Masking lines or overspray on windows, wheels, baseplates, etc. These toys would always have been painted before being assembled. If you see evidence it was painted when fully assembled, it's been repainted or at least touched up. The one exception to this of which I'm aware is some older Tootsietoy, Midgetoy, and similar very basic and inexpensive-when-new diecast toys. Some will have been painted after assembly and will have paint on the axles and sometimes overspray on the wheels.
- Evidence of hand-painting with a brush. These toys will always have been spray painted. An exception is the silver trim on some toys from the 1950's or before. Matchbox toys, and I believe Corgi and Dinky toys, had the trim hand-painted until the late 1950's. This is another area where doing your research and reading the guides will help.
- The rivets which attach the base to the body appear tampered with. Look for signs that they have been drilled out, or squeezed with pliers to allow the base to be removed. It is possible to buy replacement rivets that look very convincingly original. These will look too perfect, with no signs of the deformation that an original rivet would have received in the factory.
- Incorrect method of fastening wheels to axles. Before the mid-1950's or so, the most common way to secure the end of an axle was to flatten it in a crimping tool. The axle will have one rounded end and a sharpish flattened protrusion on the other end. After that time, tooling was developed to round this end off as well, so the axles appear rounded on both ends. This later method is much harder to mimic in a home workshop, however, so many toys which have been dismantled and repainted will be reassembled by crimping off one end of the axle. A die-cast toy made within the last 50 years or so should not have any crimped axles; if it does, that's a sign that it's been tampered with.
- Inconsistent wear. It's very unlikely that a toy would have been played with in such a way that the wheels are worn, the baseplate is heavily scratched, and the windows are scuffed, but the paint on the body is completely flawless.
- Paradoxically, sometimes a too-perfect paint job is suspicious. Remember that these were mass-produced toys. A two-tone paint job would have had a slightly fuzzy line where the colors met; the sprayed silver trim would be ever so slightly off-center; the interior surfaces of the casting would have been unpainted or only partially sprayed. This is a difficult one to quantify, and one just develops a gut feel over time for things that don't feel quite right.
In my decades of collecting, and my years of eBay experiences, I have run across some types of toys which do command a significant price premium when well-restored (though still less than a mint original). Collectors of pre-WWII Tootsietoys, which were much higher quality than later ones and are pretty scarce in good original condition, will pay well for a good restoration. I've seen restored Spot-On models from Northern Ireland fetch pretty good money. Restoration of Buddy L stamped-steel toys from the 1920's and 1930's is a well-accepted part of the hobby. The common thread running through these collecting areas seems to be that mint originals command astronomical prices, and particularly for the pre-war stuff they can be very, very rare. In general, this is not so much the case with toys like Dinky, Corgi, Matchbox, Hot Wheels, etc. Mint originals are pretty well available, at a price, so the demand for restored toys is small. These are my personal, non-scientific observations, so feel free to disagree with them!
There is nothing inherently wrong with restored toys. I've repainted many a scruffy old model car just for fun. But their monetary value is usually little more than the beat-up original. And there is definitely something wrong with misrepresenting a restored toy as a mint original. I hope this guide will help both buyers and sellers recognize the difference.
If you find this guide helpful, or think others will, please flag it accordingly! I welcome feedback and corrections as well. Please let me know if you see anything inaccurate or needing clarification. Thanks!