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Long before Charles Foster Kane ever uttered the word “Rosebud,” people were spending huge amounts of time, effort, and, of course, money trying to track down beloved items from their childhood. There’s something almost indescribably warm about old toys and possessions long gone. We infuse these things with memories of a time when life seemed dreamlike and full of potential—far removed from the soul-crushing responsibilities of adulthood that drain the spark of wonder from our eyes as we slog meaninglessly toward oblivion.
But hey, cheer up because whatever “that thing” from your own past that you’ve convinced yourself is the missing link between you and happiness is merely a click away. One of the good things about adulthood? Some folks are fortunate enough to have in their possession those two oh-so-magical words: disposable income. If you count yourself among their number, boy, are you in for a treat!
Existential joking aside, we all have the near instantaneous ability to reclaim our own nostalgic talisman thanks to the wonder of the Internet and, especially, eBay. With that in mind, here are some holy grails for the toy collectors and retronauts out there.
Marvel World Adventure Playset
($5,000 – $9,000)
Nearly 50 years after its initial release, the Marvel World Adventure Playset from obscure (and long gone) Milton Bradley subsidiary Amsco remains the most jaw-droppingly cool collectible based on properties from the House of Ideas. What makes this set so incredible is how it deftly recreates the Marvel Universe—at least the New York City parts of it, anyway. The Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle, Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Santorum, etc., are all represented here via double-sided printed pieces of cardboard. The set pieces are cool, but the mini figures (also cardboard) feature a diverse array of characters from the comics, ranging from The Fantastic Four to Aunt May.
Due to the multiple pieces included in the set, along with the fragility of half-century cardboard, finding a Marvel World Adventure Playset in decent condition will cost you big time. But can one really put a price on having all things Marvel literally at their fingertips?
As for Amsco, they also produced similar playsets for Planet of the Apes and The Waltons (!), which go for far less on the secondary market than this one but are no less of a toyetic and engineering marvel, if you will.
Buy the Marvel World Adventure Playset here
Star Trek Mission to Gamma VI Playset
Okay, this one is super weird. Released in the mid-1970s by then-action figure juggernaut Mego, the Star Trek Mission to Gamma VI playset attempted to recreate the sci-fi adventure of the television show. Make no mistake, it did so in excellent fashion…just a bit oddly. Everything about this playset feels casually strange—from the gigantic creature with glowing eyes whose main feature is that it can eat the Enterprise crew with its moveable jaws to an attached glove that doubles as an alien who can grab Spock and company for whatever dark fate awaits.
In terms of both nostalgia and casual strangeness, the Mission to Gamma VI set helped bridge those wilderness years between Trek’s initial cancellation and cinematic relaunch. Combine that with some unique play figures (why do the non-descript aliens included here look like they are dancing?), and you’ve got one for the ages.
Buy the Star Trek Mission to Gamma VI Playset here
G.I. Joe’s U.S.S. Flagg
With a price tag of roughly $110 and the fact that when assembled, it took up nearly eight feet of floor space, the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg was never going to be much more than a niche item. Simply too expensive for most parents and overly large to be stocked heavily at retail, it remains the most fascinating toy of the 1980s—certainly the most hubristic.
Not that the lucky few who actually got this military monster cared. For them, this is nothing short of THE ULTIMATE G.I. Joe collectible. And it still is.
Buy the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg here
Barbie Dream House
One of the many noteworthy takeaways from Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is how cool the iconic doll’s home is. As of writing this, you can purchase a replica of the 2023 Dream House as featured in the blockbuster, but it is worth mentioning that Mattel has been issuing luxurious residences for Barbie since 1962. (We’re still waiting on a Mojo Dojo Casa House playset, unfortunately.)
Of the various models over the decades, our personal favorite is the late 1970s model which features a rustic color scheme and plenty of space for Barbie and friends to be their spectacular selves. In a genius bit of marketing, the house came unfurnished. By allowing children to personalize the home through picking and choosing from additional accessories that were available, Mattel offered up a play experience that was unique for everyone–making Barbie’s dream home a truly unique toy that still draws fans today.
Buy the Barbie Dream House here
Clash of the Titans Kraken
Release the Kraken! Mattel did just that in their 1981 toy line for the Harry Hamlin sword and sorcery epic Clash of the Titans. Highlighted by special effects from none other than Ray Harryhausen, the movie offered up throwback visual thrills that were (tragically) becoming passé in the wake of blockbusters like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Mattel blundered their release of the film’s toys, straight up not offering action figures of the majority of the Titans who were clashing and also making the line’s centerpiece monster—this Kraken—nigh impossible to find at retail. It eventually turned up in closeout stores, though, but by then, Kraken mania had died down by all except the creature’s most hardcore fans.
Buy the Clash of the Titans Kraken here
Star Wars Death Star Playset
The tales of how there were no Star Wars figures available the Christmas of 1977 (leading to Kenner selling a literal empty package promising toys to come) is the stuff of pop culture legend. The 1978 holiday season had no such problems. Case in point: The Death Star Playset. This gargantuan toy may not have aesthetically looked like the Death Star, but who cares, given how much absolute play value was packed onto every level. Our favorite bit? The inclusion of the Dianoga trash monster in the garbage room of the detention level.
Buy the Star Wars Death Star Playset here
Super Powers Hall of Justice
“Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice….” Those words are like catnip to a generation of comic fans who grew up with the various permutations of the Super Friends TV show. Beginning 50 years ago and running through 1985, these cartoons were a superhero-filled oasis on Saturday morning television that brought an array of DC characters to animation. And we couldn’t get enough of it.
To correspond with the show’s Super Powers relaunch and their toy line of the same name, Kenner released the Hall of Justice playset. For reasons best left to future historians, the toy version of the Hall was given a strange yellow, blue and red paint scheme. As for the toy itself? Well, basically, it was a place where our heroes could rest. Yep. That’s about it. There was a computer screen that featured a “Trouble Alert” notice to let Superman and company know that the time to stop playing Space Uno had come and to do some actual heroics.
This is one weird-ass toy.
However, nostalgia being what it is and the Super Powers line being frankly awesome as a whole, this set is a much-demanded one. So come on in and sit a spell. Deal with the world’s evil later.
Buy the Super Powers Hall of Justice here