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    Brickpicker blog articles on LEGO investing, news, reviews, evaluations, discounts and more...
    • timinchicago
      [box type="shadow"]Editor's Note: This is the first article written by one of our members, Tim Mahoney(timinchicago). What a great contribution to the site. Hopefully this is the first of many great articles by Tim and hopefully more get submitted by the rest of our members. Tim received 500 BrickPoints for having this article published on the site. -Jeff[/box]
      “Dark Age”: the period of time between when a person loses interest in LEGO and when they rediscover it as an adult.
      It is not much of a surprise to say that the LEGO collecting, investing and reselling market is almost exclusively the domain of the adult fan of LEGO (AFOL). Without this key demographic, LEGO price guide and investment information websites like Brickpicker.com would not exist. Therefore, the forces that drive people in and out of the LEGO community are worth exploring and understanding as the size of the AFOL market will largely determine the value and worth of all past and future LEGO sets. With that in mind, I sometimes find myself trying to figure out the reasons that contributed to my LEGO Dark Ages in the 1990’s and then thankfully to a personal LEGO Renaissance in the 2000’s. As my experience is probably not unique, I began to think that the LEGO Dark Age phenomenon is not simply a case of shifting adult priorities or responsibilities. That is too simple an explanation. Generally speaking, I believe that there are three universal reasons that contributed to my Dark Ages and ultimate Renaissance that may also apply to many AFOL’s who entered their Dark Ages in the 1990’s only to find their Renaissance in the 2000’s.
      The first Dark Age factor is a decline in quality, both materially and artistically. During the 1990’s LEGO quality seemed to decline quite a bit. Memorable sets were few and far between and most sets did not have any real adult appeal. Builds were overwhelmingly simple and uninspired. There was very little to attract the attention or entice anyone out of their LEGO Dark Age. You could count on one hand the number of sets that exceeded 1,000 pieces and even those sets lacked the intricate detail prized and craved by the AFOL of today. This artistic decline only consistently began to change after 2000. Set piece size count, playability, and intricate details greatly increased and allowed the creative aspect of LEGO quality to flourish, much like, well, a Renaissance. The Ultimate Collector's Series was born in 2000 with the release of the 7181 Tie Interceptor and 7191 X-Wing Fighter.
      The iconic 3450 Statue of Liberty was also released in 2000, making it the largest LEGO set that was released up to that point.
      One need only compare the Cloud City set (10123), that was released in 2003 with the Death Star (10188), released five years later, to get an idea of the strides that have been made in playability, even within a well-established hit theme such as Star Wars.  
      The advent of the “modular buildings” is a great example of the Renaissance in LEGO quality that began in the mid-2000’s and is still in full swing in 2012. This material and artistic revival has resulted in a remarkable jump in value for many of these quality vanguard sets like Café Corner (10182), Green Grocer (10185), Grand Carousel (10196), Eiffel Tower (10181), and Town Plan (10184) to name a few.  
      Just check out the current values below if you have any doubt:  
      Set # Set Name Year Released Pieces MSRP (US$) Current Price (US$) % Increase from MSRP 10182 Cafe Corner 2007 2056 139.99 1099 685% 10185 Green Grocer 2008 2352 149.99 548 265% 10196 Grand Carousel 2009 3263 249.99 667 167% 10181 Eiffel Tower 2007 3428 199.99 890 345% 10184 Town Plan 2008 1981 149.99 438 192% The second Dark Age factor is stagnation and lack of variety. There just were not that many themes or sets available for most of the 1990’s and what was available, lacked variety and gave the impression that LEGO was stagnating and offering nothing really innovative or dynamic. During much of the 1990’s the number of sets released each year hovered around the 200 mark, bottoming out with barely only 100 sets released in 1992! Again, there just was not a lot sets released to drag an AFOL out of their Dark Age. Of those sets from 1990, most were in the Pirates, Space, Town (City) and Castle themes, which were primarily geared towards younger children. It was not until 2002 that a year had more than 400 sets released. Starting in 2006 LEGO routinely released more than 400 sets a year, with some years having significantly more. Last year(2011) for example, saw nearly 600 sets released, including multiple licensed themes such as STAR WARS, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean and extremely popular non-licensed themes such as Ninjago and City/Town. This new found diversity and variety directly contributes to LEGO Renaissances for many AFOL’s and, more importantly, keeps them firmly committed to the LEGO hobby.
      The final Dark Age factor is the general LEGO group lack of focus and direction. Beginning in the 1990’s LEGO seemed to be moving in many different directions at once and not particularly focused on their core expertise of making unsurpassed brick building toys. Considerable energy was diverted from this core value to establish the Legoland parks and to compete against the likes of Disney and Six Flags. The entrance into the video game market was yet another ancillary branch that took LEGO further from its core strength and diluted the core LEGO building toy concept. This is not to say that some of the video games were not good—some certainly were—but honestly, there are many, many more companies far superior to LEGO when it comes to video game publishing, and NONE that are superior to LEGO when it comes to creating brick building toys! Finally, there were countless ill-conceived LEGO lifestyle products that simply added nothing to the core LEGO strength and only served to blur the lines of the LEGO brand. LEGO is best when it does LEGO and that means brick building toys. There is room for other LEGO concepts just not to the extent that they take away from the basic LEGO core strength. After all, it is this core strength that ultimately allows the other concepts to exist. Stray too far from this universal truth and you risk losing LEGO fans to the Dark Ages.
      The above reasons are by no means exhaustive on the subject and are really only an attempt to stimulate others to explore the forces that led them out and back into the LEGO collecting world. There is a fine line between a Dark Age and a Renaissance and no two AFOL’s journey is exactly the same. Many AFOL’s never had a dreaded Dark Ages, and for that they should consider themselves fortunate. However, now that LEGO is on strong creative footing, with seemingly endless themes to delight all ages and remains laser focused on the LEGO building experience, one can only imagine that there will be far fewer Dark Ages in the futures and many more Renaissances. Who knows, maybe the Dark Ages are on their way to extinction?

    • Ed Mack
      When I write an investment piece for the Evaluation Corner or Investor's Spotlight, I usually try to keep my "investment" LEGO set suggestions to new or recently retired sets.  My thought process on this is to give the LEGO investor/collector the ability to invest in a LEGO set that is still currently being sold on the primary market, basically at MSRP, or in some cases, slightly less than MSRP.  Even recently retired sets are usually very close to MSRP.  I mean, I could recommend an $1800.00 10179 UCS Millennium Falcon to potential LEGO investors every day of the week, but who could afford it and what fun would that be?  I want the average LEGO investor/collector to be able to afford the LEGO sets that I suggest in my articles.  But is that the right and only way to make money in LEGO investing?
      The answer to the last question is...NO.  Investing in new or recently retired sets and flipping them a couple of years later is only one way to make money in the world of LEGO investment.  There are over 9000+ LEGO sets in existence, and many of the older, retired sets are available on sites like eBay.com, Chowrentoys.com and ThePlasticBrick.com.  Some of these sets must be worth investing in...right?  Yes, many older and retired sets are worth investing in.  The trick is figuring out which retired LEGO set still has room to increase in value.  Most new LEGO sets increase in value shortly after they are discontinued.  Even the undesirable and forgettable sets usually show some value increase in the secondary LEGO market after being retired, albeit a tiny increase.  All new sets that are flipped a couple of years after EOL(End of Line) might not make huge sums of money for the LEGO investor, but some do.    The real question for the LEGO investor is, "How and where do you want to invest your hard earned money?  Into a safe and reliable 'new' LEGO set that could bring back a small profit(...with a possible larger payoff on some sets)?  Or do you want to take a risk on an older and retired set, that has a track record of positive growth and has appreciated a substantial amount for the current seller, but still might appreciate to the stratosphere”?  Sometimes in the investment world, you have to take a chance on the more expensive investment option to reap larger rewards.  In the case of LEGO sets, the retired sets that are large in size and price are the expensive investment options.  But which retired LEGO set should I risk my investment dollar on and why?  With that question in mind, let me suggest the 10184 Town Plan...
      Here is the LEGO.com description of the 10184 Town Plan:
      Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the modern LEGO brick with this special-edition update of the classic Town Plan set! Completely redesigned with the best of modern bricks, details and design, the all-new Town Plan features a 1950s-style gas station with pumps, car wash and garage, a town hall with a newly-married couple, a movie theater with ticket booth, seats and posters, 2 automobiles, 8 minifigures, rare LEGO colors and elements, and more. Includes a letter from company owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, who appeared as a kid on the original Town Plan box and returns on this one! Includes 3 gold bricks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick! 
      Let's take a quick look at the 10184 Town Plan and what makes it so special.  First off, it has almost 2000 pieces(1981 to be exact).  Included in those pieces are three GOLD METALLIC BRICKS that are not found in any other set, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick.  The eight minifigures found in the set are exclusive to the 10184 Town Plan, which is another nice feature.  Rumor has it that the 10184 Town Plan was a limited release LEGO set, but only LEGO itself only truly knows the actual production numbers.  In addition to the special bricks and minifigures, also included in the set is a letter from company owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen commemorating the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick.  Besides the 10179 Millennium Falcon, this is the only set I know of that has any sort of special letter or document inside from LEGO or its owner.  These are some very unique qualities that no other sets possess.  The 10184 Town Plan is one of the most highly rated sets by AFOLs and offers a quality design and building experience.  LEGO fans love the Town theme, and this set does not disappoint on any level.  All this is great, but is it worth the current market average price of $438.00+++ for a MISB and what kind of increase, if any, can we expect to see from this set in the future?
      Well, in my opinion, the answer is yes...the 10184 Town Plan is still a good buy, even at $438.00+++.  Why?  Take a look at the chart below:
      SET NUMBERSET NAMEYEAR RELEASEDMSRP (US $)CURRENT AVERAGE PRICE(US) 'MISB'% CHANGE FROM MSRP% CHANGE LAST YEAR10179UCS Millennium Falcon2007 $499.99 $1,833.00267%44%10143UCS Death Star II2005 $269.99 $747.00150%43%10181Eiffel Tower2007 $199.99 $890.00345%40%10030UCS Star Destroyer2002 $269.99 $1,157.00287%48%3450Statue of Liberty2000 $199.99 $1,340.00573%-13%5526Skyline2005 $129.99 $343.00164%32%10182Cafe Corner2007 $139.99 $1,098.00685%75%8421Mobile Crane2005 $149.99 $428.00186%66%8285Tow Truck2006 $119.99 $465.00288%16%10018UCS Darth Maul2001 $149.99 $528.00252%45%    Average320%40%The chart above is of the ten LEGO sets that are similar in size to the 10184 Town Plan and are considered some of the largest sets in the LEGO world, basically anything over 1800 pieces or so falls into this class(Call them the XL sets...LOL).   These ten comparable sets were also released before 2008, the year the 10184 Town Plan was released.  These pre-2008 sets were used because I wanted to see if LEGO sets older than the 10184 Town Plan were still appreciating well, especially over the past year.  The ten comparable sets are varied in themes and minifigures, with the 10182 Cafe Corner being the closest in piece size, theme type and minifigure count.  As you can see, these sets as a group appreciated approximately 320% from MSRP, with the 10182 Cafe Corner and 3450 Statue of Liberty being the top gainers with gains of 685% and 573% respectively.  There are two things that interest me with that data.  Number one, the 10182 Cafe Corner had astronomical gains since 2007.  Number two, the 3450 Statue of Liberty might be nearing its maximum value in the secondary market.  Why?  Because it was the only set of those ten that showed negative % change last year and that it is the oldest of the sets.  Maybe there is a ceiling for older and retired LEGO sets, but is the 10184 Town Plan at that ceiling?
      That question leads me to the previous year gain/loss data.  As I stated earlier, the 3450 Statue of Liberty was the only set among the ten comparable sets that showed a negative return last year(-13%).  The other nine sets showed gains from 16%(8285) to a whopping 75%(10182) for an average increase of 40% for the entire lot.  That is an incredible one-year increase for these large, retired sets.  Granted, these are some of the most popular and iconic LEGO sets in existence, yet they have been retired for years and they are still appreciating very, very well.  This bodes well for the future appreciation on the 10184 Town Plan.  Now you say, “The 3450 Statue of Liberty didn't increase in value last year!”  Very true.  Nine out of ten comparable sets had positive returns in the past year, except for the 3450 Statue of Liberty.  Why?  Maybe the set has hit its ceiling like I mentioned earlier.  The set is selling for close to $1400 and has been around since the year 2000.  It has appreciated close to 600% since it debuted and maybe it's finished appreciating or maybe there was a scarcity of MISB sets that were sold.  The 3450 Statue of Liberty is sold as a used set, most of the time, due to the lack of quality MISB 3450 sets in existence, and their astronomical high price($4000.00+ in some cases).  There is a limit to which LEGO sets will appreciate and maybe that's it for the 3450 Statue of Liberty, but taking into consideration the fact that used sets are the majority of sales and most sold listings that were considered 'new' are actually 'used,' maybe the 'used' figures are more accurate for this set(10% gain for the last year...which still shows moderate growth).  Regardless of the new/used misclassification of the 3450, if you compare the 10184 Town Plan to the 3450 Statue of Liberty in age and current price in the secondary market, The 10184 Town Plan is much newer and affordable set, and still might have a long way to go to maximize its investment potential in my opinion.
      A better comparison for the future value potential of the 10184 Town Plan is the 10182 Cafe Corner.  Both sets are from the Town theme.  Both sets are approximately 2000 pieces.  Both sets have minifigures.  Both sets are similar in scale, playability and building techniques.  Both sets are creative and innovative in their brick types and colors.  Some might even say both sets are "ostentatious."
      Whether or not you think these two sets are rather flashy, there is no denying the "grandiose" returns of the 10182 Cafe Corner...685% increase from MSRP and a 75% increase in value in the last year!!!  That is some serious appreciation.  Now, I'm not telling you that the 10184 Town Plan will increase 75% in the upcoming year like the 10182 Cafe Corner did in its fifth year since its launch(The 10184 was released a year later than the 10182), but even if the 10184 Town Plan appreciates in a similar manner(40% average yearly increase) to the other nine comparable sets being discussed, you can see a $175.00 increase if you buy the 10184 Town Plan for the current average EBAY price of $438.00.  Take a look at the chart below:
      SET NUMBERSET NAMEYEAR RELEASEDMSRP (US $)CURRENT AVERAGE PRICE(US) 'MISB'% CHANGE FROM MSRP% CHANGE LAST YEAREstimated Value in One Year (40% increase)Profit (US$)10184Town Plan2008$149.99$438.0019257$613.00$175.00That is still nothing to scoff at.  Because of the special nature of this 50th Anniversary LEGO set, you might stand to see an even better return, maybe similar to the 57% increase that the 10184 Town Plan appreciated last year.  This would bring the potential value to $687.00, a possible $249.00 increase in one year.  Nice.  Now all this data and talk of potential value increases are just prognostications, or in layman's terms, guesses.  But they are “educated” guesses, with some historical data to back them up.  I originally asked whether or not it was wise to invest in older, retired sets and from the data presented, I would have to say the answer is a resounding...YES!  These older sets are still appreciating very, very well and even with the higher current prices of retired LEGO sets, one has to seriously consider investing in a "known" commodity, over a newer LEGO set that is a total crap-shoot.  Also, LEGO collectors and investors sometimes go into a buying “frenzy” when they sense certain sets are becoming too rare and too expensive to buy.  They fear not being able to obtain a discontinued LEGO set at a reasonable price and start snapping up the remaining retired sets at a very rapid pace...and higher and higher price.  This might happen to the 10184 Town Plan as it did with the 10182 Cafe Corner...might.  ;-)  Take a chance on the 10184 Town Plan.  With all of its special features and possible limited production quantities, you might be pleasantly surprised in a year...
      For what it's worth...I encountered a similar situation/question two years ago when I bought my 10182 Cafe Corner.  A MISB 10182 at the time was selling for $600.00 on EBAY and I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to buy one.  Well, I did and I am very happy today, because the set is selling for around $1100.00...consistently on eBay and Bricklink, for a 83% return on investment($500.00).  Just my last 2 cents...LOL

    • Ed Mack
      What makes a LEGO set a good choice for 'investment' purposes?  There are as many answers to that question as there are LEGO bricks in a 10179 Millennium Falcon, but several key factors can be found in common with the top appreciating LEGO sets:
      Themed/Licensed sets Large set(brick count) Exclusive pieces and/or mini figures Sure, there are plenty of small sets with no mini figures that appreciate nicely over time(STAR WARS mini building sets come to mind) and non-themed sets made with regular, non-special bricks(Sculpture/Large Scale Models come to mind) that kick investment butt, but when a LEGO investor/collector can find a set with all three of those attributes, you usually find a set that skyrockets in value after it is discontinued.  One such set is 10217, Diagon Alley.  Let's take a look at LEGO.com's official description:
      Expand your very own wizarding world of Harry Potter™!
      No need to pass through the Leaky Cauldron. Now even Muggles can shop in Diagon Alley™ by building this fantastically magical set that includes 3 extensively detailed buildings and 11 minifigures! Join Harry Potter™, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger as they shop for their Hogwarts™ school supplies. Visit Ollivander's, Borgin and Burke's, and Gringott's Bank. Each Diagon Alley building is realistically detailed. Ollivander's offers an extensive selection of wands, storage shelves and a step ladder that allows Ollivander to gather wands from the top floor. The front desk has an "exploding" function for those inconvenient times when a spell goes awry. Borgin and Burke's includes a scary skeleton, glow-in-the-dark elements, a fireplace attached to the Floo Network and a Vanishing Cabinet that Dark wizards might use to sneak in. Gringott's Bank is an impressive two-story building with double doors, and can be opened completely into a large building or closed to create a smaller building. The bank's interior features a removable vault, along with the Philosopher's Stone, a clerk's desk, a chandelier and 'wonky' support pillars. Includes 11 minifigures: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, each with magic wand; Rubeus Hagrid, equipped with his umbrella; Fred and George Weasley; 2 Gringott's goblins; Mr. Ollivander; Lucius Malfoy (in Death Eater disguise); Fenrir Greyback; and 4 new, decorated owls.
      Ollivander's measures 8" (20 cm) high x 5" (13 cm) wide! Borgin and Burke's measures 8" (20 cm) high x 7" (18 cm) wide! Gringott's Bank measures 8" (21 cm) high x 4" (10 cm) wide when closed, 8" high x 9" (23 cm) wide when opened wide! Completed model (depending space allocated between parts) measures 24" (60 cm) long x 12" (30 cm) deep x 8" (21 cm) high From the LEGO description and pictures, you can see that 10217 Diagon Alley is a very detailed and accurate set, filled with nooks and crannies of all types of Harry Potter goodies.  But does that make for a valuable set?  Well, for one thing, Diagon Alley is a Harry Potter set, which makes it a themed or licensed set.  Themed sets like Harry Potter and STAR WARS usually appreciate quicker and higher than non-themed LEGO sets.  What is especially intriguing about Harry Potter sets is that they are being discontinued by LEGO shortly.  The value of 10217 Diagon Alley and other Harry Potter sets could really take off in the secondary market, once LEGO sells out.
      Diagon Alley meets the first requirement of a possible investment winner, does it meet the two others?  Well, the set contains 2025 pieces, which classifies it as one of the largest LEGO sets and it is the largest of the Harry Potter sets.  So, yes Diagon Alley meets the second requirement.  As for the third requirement(Exclusive pieces and/or mini figures), the set contains five exclusive mini figures found only in this set.  Fred and George Weasley, two Gringotts goblins and Mr. Ollivander are the exclusive minifigures found only  in Diagon Alley.  The five exclusive mini figures is a great feature, but at  eleven mini figures total, it ranks among the top LEGO sets in total mini figure amounts.  So, Diagon Alley does qualify for the third requirement.
      In conclusion, set 10217, Diagon Alley does meet all the requirements of a possible mover and shaker in the world of LEGO investing.  Diagon Alley is an officially licensed Harry Potter LEGO set.  Diagon Alley is one of the largest LEGO sets sold today and in the past (23rd out of 9000+ LEGO sets).  Diagon Alley has five exclusive mini figures and has eleven total mini figures, making it one of the top LEGO sets for obtaining those “Oh so valuable!” LEGO minifigures.  Also, in this author's opinion, this set is just fun to look at, play with and build, which helps make it even more desirable to people in the future.  I appreciate the dedication to details of this set and the fact that it will be discontinued in the near future, makes it a 'must have' for any serious LEGO fan, investor or collector in my opinion.

    • Ed Mack
      As an avid LEGO collector and investor, I like to read as much as I can about the various LEGO sets in existence, both new and old.  I try to keep informed by reading the multitude of quality LEGO sites, forums and blogs out there.  One such quality site is the Brickset site.  Brickset has a nice review section for a lot of the sets and I was sifting through some of the reviews for the LEGO 10188 Death Star and found a review by a Brickset member(Chills) that mentioned that the reviewer's wife thought the 10188 Death Star was a "STAR WARS Dollhouse."  I thought that was an excellent description and analysis of this wonderful LEGO set from a non AFOL.  But does this LEGO "dollhouse" have what it takes to be a good LEGO "investment"?  Let's take a look at the set itself, starting with the actual LEGO marketing description:
      Battle inside the Death Star™!
      Recreate the action and adventure of the STAR WARS movies with the ultimate Death Star playset! This amazingly detailed battle station features an incredible array of minifigure-scale scenes, moving parts, characters and accessories from Episodes IV and VI on its multiple decks, including the Death Star control room, rotating turbolaser turrets, hangar bay with TIE Advanced starfighter, tractor beam controls, Emperor’s throne room, detention block, firing laser cannon, Imperial conference chamber, droid maintenance facility, and the powerful Death Star superlaser…plus much more! Swing across the chasm with Luke and Leia, face danger in the crushing trash compactor, and duel with Darth Vader for the fate of the galaxy!
      Includes 24 minifigures and droids, plus all-new Dianoga™ trash compactor monster! Includes 6 new and exclusive minifigures and droids only found in this set: Luke Skywalker™ (Stormtrooper™ outfit), Han Solo™ (Stormtrooper outfit), Assassin Droid™, Interrogation Droid, Death Star Droid and 2 Death Star Troopers™! Also includes Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi™, C-3PO™, R2-D2™, Princess Leia™, Chewbacca™, Luke Skywalker (Jedi Knight), Darth Vader™, Grand Moff Tarkin™, Emperor Palpatine™, 2 Stormtroopers, 2 Emperor's Royal Guards™, R2-Q5™, and mouse droid!. Movie-authentic Death Star environments include the Superlaser control room and target monitor, Imperial conference chamber, TIE Advanced hangar bay with moving launch rack, Emperor's throne room, droid maintenance room, detention block, trash compactor, and much more! Rescue Princess Leia from the detention block cell, then escape through the secret hatch to the trash compactor below! Reenact the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Emperor's Throne Room! Death Star measures 16” (41cm) tall and 16½” (42cm) wide! TIE Advanced measures 3½" (9cm) wide! A very impressive description of an equally impressive LEGO set!  Let's go over the "investment" basics of the 10188 Death Star.  The first thing that comes to mind is the size of the set.  It is the fourth largest LEGO set currently in existence at 3803 pieces.  The 10188 also contains 24 collectible STAR WARS mini figures and droids, the most of any STAR WARS themed set or any other non-Chess or community LEGO set.  Along with this large piece and mini figure inventory comes a hefty price tag.......$399.00(US).  Comparing the 10188 to another current large STAR WARS themed set, the 10221 UCS(Ultimate Collector's Series) Super Star Destroyer, the 10188 Death is a bargain.  The 10221 sells for the same $399.99(US), yet only has 3152 pieces and only 5 mini figures.  Big difference and a much better bang for your investment buck.
      I guess even at close to $400(US), the 10188 Death Star is a bargain.  That is one of the reasons why this set is still being produced after 4+ years.  The 10188 was released in 2008 and LEGO is still selling them.   One of the most common topics on LEGO forums is when will the 10188 be discontinued?  Needless to say, most forum posters have been wrong, as the set is still being produced.  The 10188 Death Star is one of the most popular LEGO sets of all time, even at $400 a pop.  The secondary sales market is salivating at the discontinuation or EOL(End of Line) of this set, yet LEGO is making a substantial amount of money from the sales of this set, so why stop?  Eventually, LEGO will stop production of this set and the prices will head northward on auction sites like EBAY.
      What kind of returns can a LEGO investor/collector expect when the 10188 is discontinued?  Let's look at some pros and cons of the 10188 Death Star:
      10188 is a STAR WARS set...Need I say more? 4th largest LEGO set in existence with 3803 pieces 24 mini figures and droids...Most of any STAR WARS set or non-Chess/Community set Fantastic playability...A “dollhouse” for AFOLs. Is well built and displays well.  A very detailed and accurate LEGO set. A very popular set...4+year production run! CONS:
      Expensive...$400(US)...But not bad when comparing to the 10221 Super Star Destroyer, which is the same price. A non-UCS(Ultimate Collector's Series) STAR WARS set.  UCS sets sell for more money and appreciate quicker.  Some AFOLs might argue that it is indeed a UCS set, but I say, without the UCS plaque that comes with each UCS set, it is not a UCS set. The 10188 is not rare.  4+ year production run means there are plenty out  there to possibly reduce prices and interest in the secondary market. Besides a couple minor modifications to a few of the mini figures, there are really no unique LEGO bricks to a set of 3800+ pieces.  This is not a major issue, but some other LEGO sets increase in value off of their rare pieces.  One such example is the UCS 10026, Naboo Starfighter.  The set contains 187 pieces, yet sells for $300(US)+ because it is a UCS set and has special “chrome” bricks. All in all, I love this set.  UCS set or not, it is a must have for the LEGO investors and collectors out there, especially if you are STAR WARS fan.  There is tremendous value in this set with the amount of pieces and mini figures.  There are some people on EBAY currently that are taking new sets, removing the mini figures and reselling the mini figures and Death Star separately for more than $400.  Although there will be a ton of these sets available after they are discontinued, I still look for this set to appreciate very well after it is discontinued.  It might not be on par to the 10179, Millennium Falcon, but this set's value in the secondary market should keep pace with the other UCS sets...and that's good enough for me.

    • Ed Mack
      As I was sitting on my couch one day watching Robert Zemeckis's, The Polar Express, with my two-and-a-half-year-old son, I got to thinking about trains.  The Polar Express is my son's favorite movie and he knew how to say “choo-choo” before he could say “Daddy.”  What is it about trains that cause children(and some adults...LOL) to run around the house and yell, “choo-choo, choo-choo” before they can say their own name?  And does this same passion for trains cross over into other hobbies and worlds, say LEGO train sets and accessories?  I decided to take a look and see how much interest there was in LEGO train sets and accessories and if there was any investment value in them.  
      Lego train sets go back as far as 1966, with sets like the Small Train Set(114) and Motorized Train Set(113).  While these sets were early examples of Lego train sets, the newer versions(and the versions we will be discussing in this article) are quite a bit more complex a   nd definitely more accurate in appearance to actual full-sized trains.  The subtheme of LEGO trains that most resemble full-sized trains are the '9V' variety, which stands for 9 'volts.'  They can either be standalone models of  train engines and cars, or used together with multiple train models and tracks to make complete and operational train sets.  These 9V LEGO trains have been in existence since 1991 and some run off of 9-volt track setups that have a speed regulator, train motor and electrified track(K4548-Train Accessory Collection) to make them “mobile” if so desired.  Other LEGO 9V train sets can be made mobile through the use of LEGO Power Functions motors.  
      I find that the Lego 9V trains are very accurate in appearance and are some of the best designed Lego sets.  Sometimes, I have a hard time telling if the sets are models made from LEGO bricks or are they actually Lionel Trains?  There is also a huge variety of 'custom' train instructions and models on EBAY that can enable the train fan to use their own LEGO collections to build complete working train sets with multiple engines and cars.  Like real toy trains, complete worlds can be created with LEGO bricks, with towns, bridges, people, modular homes, landscaping, etc... making up fantastic displays...  
      One of the best features of LEGO trains in my opinion is their appreciation potential.  Here are some LEGO 9V trains that are appreciating nicely from their original MSRP...  
      IMAGE SET YEAR MSRP CURRENT VALUE % INCREASE 10194: EMERALD NIGHT 2009 $100.00 $161.00 66% 10183: HOBBY TRAINS 2007 $100.00 $167.00 67% 10173: HOLIDAY TRAIN 2006 $90.00 $338.00 276% 10170: TTX INTERMODAL DOUBLE STACK CAR 2005 $40.00 $125.00 213% 10133: BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTE FE LOCOMOTIVE 2004 $40.00 $212.00 432% 10025: SANTA FE CARS-SET I 2002 $35.00 $189.00 441% 10022: SANTA FE CARS-SET II 2002 $35.00 $247.00 606% 10020: SANTA FE SUPER CHIEF 2002 $40.00 $223.00 458%
      So, as the reader can see, the LEGO 9V trains are not only interesting and accurate in appearance, they are 'on track' with their appreciation as well.  Several of these sets sold for as little as $35 less than ten years ago, are bringing back hundreds of dollars consistently on auction sites.  Newer sets like the 10194 Emerald Night are increasing in value nicely, even after just a year or two of being discontinued.  Look for similar new LEGO 9V trains, such as the 10219 Maersk Train, to continue the trend of accurate and appreciating LEGO sets.

    • Ed Mack
      There comes a time, in some LEGO collector's lives, that their hobby of collecting LEGO sets and bricks becomes something a little more than a hobby. The AFOL(Adult Fan of LEGOs), with the so-called 'hobby' of collecting little plastic bricks, has ended up spending years and thousands of dollars on these 'toys.' The last thing anybody wants to happen is to lose the entire collection to fire, flood or theft.
      LEGO sets and bricks, like coins, stamps, and rare art can be worth a pretty penny and should anything horrible happen to the collection, a person needs to make sure that, although these things may be seem irreplaceable, the LEGO collector needn’t lose everything that they invested in them. With the proper insurance, a person can enjoy their collection and sleep soundly at night.
      If the LEGO collector already has homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, they may feel pretty safe, but most policies cover household goods, such as televisions, stereo equipment and jewelry, but may take a different view towards the collection of plastic bricks, set boxes and instructions. Even with insurance, a person would be wise to check with their insurance provider and discuss a “collectibles floater” which is a separate document allowing you to declare that the things listed on the floater are greater than the value they originally sold for.
      In some cases, such as your collection being worth more than $2,000, your insurance provider may require you to start an additional policy that covers collectibles. Check with your provider to make sure they offer this service. However, keep in mind that this coverage will still probably be limited to the usual coverage enjoyed by your LCD TV, but what happens if a flood in your basement destroys that $2000 MISB(Mint in sealed box) 1st edition Star Wars Millennium Falcon (set# 10179) or a fire wipes out an entire LEGO collection that took years to obtain? For that, you may need a policy with a bit more kick.
      There are insurance agencies that focus only on collectible insurance, such as Collectibles Insurance Services(http://www.collectinsure.com). Their website offers collectors the ability to get a quote, fill out a policy application and answer any questions you may have. According to their website, the LEGO collection will be covered in the event of:
      Mail loss Theft Fire Flooding Natural disasters Breakage The benefit of using the services of a collectible insurer is that the policies are very affordable. They usually cover beyond the usual fire and theft and they will have a better understanding of the fact that the LEGO collector's Market Street (set #10190) is selling for $1000+ on auction sites, something that may take some convincing over at the big box agencies.
      Don’t surprised if the insurance agencies don’t take your word that the LEGO collection is worth thousands of dollars. Although you may find a better understanding from a specialist agency, most insurance companies are not knowledgeable about the climate of the LEGO collectible market. Another problem is that LEGO bricks are a relatively recent addition to the collectible world and therefore it may not be common knowledge that a MISB Statue of Liberty (set #3450) could command the same collectible price of some of the rarest coins or stamps in the world.
      An appraisal from a certified 'antiques appraiser' will go a long way when attempting to insure the LEGO collection for the full amount it’s worth. In fact, many insurance agencies will require an appraisal for specialized coverage such as a “collectible floater.” Check your local directory for nearby antique stores that may offer appraisals, and be wary of online appraisal companies because a rare collectible, with its widely varying degrees of condition, really needs to be seen in person to determine the most accurate value. Also, once you’ve found an appraiser, make sure that they are certified by the ISA(International Society of Appraisers) to insure that they are qualified, properly trained and have the in-depth knowledge the collection requires.
      Although an appraisal from an antiques appraiser might be necessary for some insurance companies, others are a little more lenient in their requirements. Collecting LEGO sets for investment purposes is an idea that has flew under the radar of the public for years, but the popularity of these little plastic bricks has exploded over the last several years. It is this popularity that is making LEGO bricks a viable investment vehicle, thus requiring insurance on the investor's collections. More and more insurance companies are insuring LEGO, Barbie Doll, and Matchbox Car collections and realize that antique appraisers might have zero idea how to value LEGO sets.
      Basically, the more lenient insurance companies are adding an addendum or rider to homeowner or renter's policies for an amount based on the total amount of the collection. They are requiring receipts, photos and a documented list with current market values of all LEGO sets. Receipts and photos are relatively simple to supply, but what to use for current market values? Here is where BrickPicker.com comes in handy. Brickpicker.com offers a tool called My Brickfolio. With the Brickfolio tool, the collector can input their entire LEGO collection and get up to date values for individual sets and the entire collection. Brickpicker.com utilizes market data from the world's largest online auction site, eBAY, which on any given day, might have over 100,000 listings for LEGO products. With this information in hand, the collection can now be insured.
      Once the LEGO collection is appraised and insured, it’s more important than ever to keep the LEGO sets stored properly and maintained. Keep the LEGO sets out of direct sunlight and in a dry location. Use proper shelves and limit stacking of boxes, because it causes shelf wear and collapses the boxes. Maintaining the LEGO collection will insure that the LEGO sets will keep their condition rating and collectible value.
      This seems like a lot of work for a bunch of plastic bricks and cardboard boxes, but insuring a large LEGO collection is a way to give a LEGO investor piece of mind that their years of hard work and their thousands of investment dollars don't go up in smoke or down the drain...

    • Ed Mack
      Back in 2007, LEGO released the first of the 'Town Modular Buildings,' set 10182, Cafe Corner.  Since that time, seven more modular buildings have been released, including the 10197 Fire Brigade in 2009.  Each set can stand alone or be used with the other modular buildings to form an entire block of LEGO buildings, with sidewalks, streetlamps and other structures found on your average city block.  Not only are these modular buildings attractive, creative and accurate in appearance, they have been highly profitable on the secondary LEGO market.  Let's take a closer look at the 10197 Fire Brigade and its 'investment' potential.
      This is what LEGO writes about set 10197, Fire Brigade:
      Build an authentic vintage fire station! Ding ding ding! There’s a fire in town! The fire brigade drives to the scene from this detailed and realistic 1930’s fire station. Designed to fit with other modular buildings like 10211 Grand Emporium and 10185 Green Grocer, the station features rare LEGO® pieces and innovative construction techniques. It includes a ‘30s-style fire truck, 4 minifigures, a fire-dog, an opening station garage door, and a removable building roof for interior access. It also includes 2 fully-furnished floors with fire-fighting tools, racks for the firemen's helmets, fire-pole, ping-pong table, kitchen with fully-stocked fridge, couch, bookshelf and a roof with a water tower and bell. Measures 14" (35cm) high and 10" (25cm) wide.
      Includes a 1930’s-style fire truck, 4 minifigures and a fire-dog! Features lots of realistic details including fire-fighting tools, racks for firemen’s helmets and even a fire-pole! The station house features an opening station garage door and 2 fully-furnished floors including a kitchen with fully-stocked fridge and a ping-pong table! Remove the roof for interior access! The roof is equipped with a water tower and bell! Fire Brigade features rare LEGO elements including bricks and plates in dark tan, 1x1 dark red tiles, a red hot dog and the 3x6x5 Belleville® arch. It also features gold fireman’s helmets, a tan hand bag and a red sliding garage door! Measures 14" (35 cm) high and 10" (25 cm) wide! Add Fire Brigade to your LEGO Town and combine it with other modular buildings like 10211 Grand Emporium and 10185 Green Grocer! Looks like a well done and creative LEGO set, with lots of pieces and neat features.  But what about its potential as an 'investment'?  Number one, it's a 'Town Modular Building.'  That cannot be understated.  Past modulars, such as the 10182 Cafe Corner  and 10190 Market Street  have appreciated very well since the sets were discontinued.  Take a look a some values of earlier modular buildings...
      SET YEAR RELEASED MSRP(US$) CURRENT $(MISB) % 10182 Cafe Corner 2007 $139.99 $874.00 524%  10190 Market Street 2007 $89.99 $844.00 832%  10185 Green Grocer 2008 $149.99 $485.00 223%  These are the three modulars that were released before 10197 Fire Brigade and look at how they have exploded in value.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this modular will also explode in value once LEGO discontinues the set.  LEGO fans love this theme and it translates into huge increases in the secondary LEGO market.
      Besides the fact that the 10197 Fire Brigade is a modular building, the point that it is one of the larger LEGO sets(2231 pieces) is a huge plus.  Large LEGO sets seem to appeal to the LEGO collector/investor more than the smaller sets.  Maybe the high cost of listing fees on auction sites and the simplicity of selling one set to make 'X' amount of money instead of selling multiple smaller sets(to make similar money), makes a large set more appealing to the reseller.  The set also features rare LEGO elements, including bricks and plates in dark tan, 1x1 dark red tiles, a red hot dog and the 3x6x5 Belleville® arch, gold fireman’s helmets, a tan hand bag and a red sliding garage door, all which make it more valuable to some LEGO collectors.  This particular modular also has a vehicle in it(Fire Engine), which makes it different from the rest of the theme.
      All in all, 10197 Fire Brigade is a winner in my book.  It is a well designed LEGO set that has tons of pieces(some unique to this set) and appeals to the LEGO collector/investor as well as casual LEGO fans.  The set works well with the other modular buildings and is similar enough in most respects to expect similar appreciation results.  Buy one now before they are discontinued and hit the stratosphere in the secondary LEGO market...

    • Ed Mack
      An interesting article was released at the 2012 New York Toy Fair by The LEGO Systems, Inc. Basically, it describes LEGO's year-end highlights and illustrates LEGO's continued growth in the U.S. Toy Market. Let's take a look...  
      The seven basic bullet points of the article also illustrated to me that the 'secondary' LEGO sales market, such as EBAY sales, will remain strong into the future in my opinion. The children builders of today will be the AFOLs of tomorrow and the AFOLs drive the secondary LEGO Market. The LEGO brands continuing investment in movie and comic book themes will keep the sets fresh and creative. The positive and steady growth of the LEGO brand here in the U.S. for the past 7 years and across the world only gives AFOLs more confidence in collecting and investing in LEGO bricks, instead of other investment vehicles.  
      What I thought was most interesting to a LEGO collector and investor like myself was the fact that the some of the best selling sets of the past year were non-themed sets, like the Creator '3 in 1' sets and basic Duplo building sets. The LEGO collector and investor needs to pay attention to these under the radar sets. Obviously, there is quite an interest from buying public in these basic building sets and maybe it's time to start adding a few Creator sets to our collections, instead of collecting every Star Wars set imaginable. So, all in all, with the continued growth and success of LEGO Systems, Inc. and the continued influx of new fans and LEGO consumers, the future of LEGO collecting and investing looks promising.

    • Ed Mack
      Amazing how much money people have! Seriously, this goes to show the amazing appreciation and love for the world of Lego Star Wars. Either the person here has too much money to blow, has no idea what they are looking for on eBay or is just plain crazy. Looking at the numbers the Brickpicker database, we know that the current going rate for a Used #10179 UCS Millennium Falcons is $1125.39 USD, which is way below what this fellow paid. Next month when we run our numbers, I will be very interested to see how much this one listing raises the overall value for the used market for this set. Click Here to view the eBay Listing What do you think, is this buyer crazy? Would you ever spend that much on a used set?

    • Ed Mack
      Over the years, Lego has released hundreds of 'mini' sets to the buying public.  These mini sets usually were packed in small polybags and had approximately 25-75 pieces.  Most major Lego themes usually had a mini set or two that related to their larger sets.  Some sets had mini figures in them, but the majority(and the ones we are discussing here) are miniature versions of other larger Lego sets.  They were and still are priced well below $10(US).  These tiny sets were often used as "stocking stuffers" or were a giveaway from various newspaper and magazine subscriptions, such as Lego's Brickmaster magazine.  Although these sets were often considered freebies or inexpensive, their value to a Lego collector and/or investor should not be overlooked.  
      Of the main Lego themes, one usually stands out when it comes to overall appreciation of the sets,  is the STAR WARS theme.  This idea also holds true when  discussing Lego mini sets as well.  The STAR WARS mini sets are cream of the crop of the Lego mini world that is not mini figure related.  These miniature replicas of larger Lego STAR WARS models are not only highly accurate in appearance, they are damn cool from this AFOL's (Adult Fan of Legos) perspective.  Almost every major vehicle in the Lego STAR WARS theme, from the ARC Fighter to the Millennium Falcon to the X-Wing, has been rebuilt in miniature scale.  Not only are these mini sets accurate and awesome in appearance, they also are great investments.  Each and every Lego STAR WARS miniature building set has increased in value since their release.  Let's take a closer look.  
      The thirty five or so STAR WARS mini models can be broken down into two categories.  The first category is the sets that were released to the general public through stores and similar venues.  These had a MSRP(Manufacture's Suggested Retail Price) and the original sales price can be easily compared to current market data(Current market data is supplied from www.Brickpicker.com and their Lego Set Guide, which is based on EBAY 'sold' auction $ averages).  The second category of Lego STAR WARS mini models were the Lego Brickmaster mini sets.  Brickmaster sets were obtained thru the Lego magazine Brickmaster subscription.  Although the sets were free to all subscribers, there was a fee for the magazine.  Of the Lego mini building sets, these Brickmaster sets are currently the rarest and the most valuable of the bunch, but the actual appreciation figures can only be estimated.  Let's look at some sales data from the first category, the MSRP STAR WARS mini building models:  
      MSRP Miniature STAR WARS Lego Building Sets
      Model # Year Released Set Name MSRP (USD $) Current Value (Avg MISB) % Increase 30055-1 2011 Droid Fighter 2.99 5.33 78% 30054-1 2011 AT-ST 3.99 6.66 67% 30053-1 2011 Venator Class Republic Cruiser 2.99 9.05 202% 30052-1 2011 AAT 3.99 8.78 120% 30051-1 2010 X-Wing Fighter 3.99 11.76 195% 30050-1 2010 Republic Attack Cruiser 3.99 8.05 102% 8033-1 2009 General Grievous Starfighter 3.99 12.16 205% 8031-1 2008 V-19 Torment 3.99 6.29 58% 8028-1 2008 Mini Tie Fighter 2.99 5.61 88% 6967-1 2005 ARC Fighter 4.99 16.56 232% 6966-1 2005 Jedi Starfigher 4.99 7.07 42% 6965-1 2004 Tie Interceptor 4.99 16.35 228% 6964-1 2004 Boba Fett's Slave I 4.99 24.37 388% 6963-1 2004 X-Wing Fighter 4.99 20.76 316% 4495-1 2004 AT-TE 6.99 24.37 249% 4494-1 2004 Imperial Shuttle 6.99 18.12 159% 4493-1 2004 Sith Infiltrator 6.99 14.77 111% 4492-1 2004 Star Destroyer 6.99 38.76 455% 4491-1 2003 MTT 6.99 16.94 142% 4490-1 2003 Republic Gunship 6.99 23.56 235% 4489-1 2003 AT-AT 6.99 27.41 292% 4488-1 2003 Millennium Falcon 6.99 40.17 475% 4487-1 2003 Jedi Starfighter & Slave I 3.99 34.90 775% 4486-1 2003 AT-ST & Snowspeeder 3.99 17.45 337% 4485-1 2003 Sebulba's & Anakin's Podracers 3.99 15.00 276% 4484-1 2003 X-Wing Fighter & Tie Advanced 3.99 31.46 688% 3219-1 2002 Mini Tie Fighter 2.99 18.92 533% As you can see from the proceeding chart, each and every Lego STAR WARS miniature building set that was released to the buying public from the year 2002 to present has increased in value for MIB/NISB sets, some substantially.  Usually, with any investment, the older the investment, the higher the return.  It is no different in this situation.  The older sets are worth more and their % increases are quite high in comparison to the newer sets.  That being said, some of the newer sets(less than 3 years old), such as set 30051-1(X-Wing Fighter) and set 8033-1 (General Grievous' Starfighter) have increased about 200% from MSRP in less than 3 years.  Not a bad return from this Lego investor's opinion.  Another thing to consider when buying these mini sets are the 'bonus' models that can be built when combining particular sets.  Take a look:  
      *Sets 4491-1, 4490-1, 4489-1 and 4488-1 will each have extra pieces in the four sets to build a mini Y-Wing fighter.
      *Sets 4487-1, 4486-1, 4485-1, and 4484-1 will each have extra pieces in the four sets to build a mini Tie Bomber.  
      So when purchasing these sets, try to buy all four of the series to maximize the appreciation potential.  Potential buyers will want to build that extra model or at the very least 'know' they could build it, even if they never opened the Lego box.  
      The MSRP mini Lego STAR WARS models were available to the general buying public as earlier stated.  But a second type of Lego STAR WARS mini model was released by Lego beginning in 2008, the Brickmaster miniature models.  These particular sets were only available to customers who purchased the Brickmaster magazine subscription through Lego.  Over the course of an annual subscription, the Lego customer would receive six Brickmaster magazines, along with a Brickmaster mini Lego model with each magazine.  The miniature Lego models would cover some of the larger themes of Lego at the time...City, Atlantis, Bionicle and STAR WARS.  In 2011, the program ended, thus making the mini sets that were released this way a little more rare, thus more valuable.  Here's a look at the Brickmaster mini Lego sets that were released from 2008 to 2011:  
      BRICKMASTER Miniature STAR WARS Building Sets
      Set # Year Released Set Name Current Market Value (USD $ MISB) 20021-1 2011 Mini Bounty Hunter Assault Ship 37.79 20019-1 2011 Slave I 27.38 20018-1 2010 AT-AT Walker 22.41 20016-1 2010 Imperial Shuttle 17.37 20010-1 2009 Republic Gunship 28.96 20009-1 2009 AT-TE Walker 13.00 20007-1 2009 Republic Attack Cruiser 39.23 20006-1 2008 Clone Turbo Tank 52.81 As the reader can see, there is no MSRP for these sets to calculate a % return average for the Brickmaster mini sets, but an educated guess can be made as to their impressive appreciation.  All of the Brickmaster mini STAR WARS models were of similar size, piece number and makeup of the MSRP sets, so if they actually had a 'price tag' when new, they would be very similar to the MSRP sets(in the $4-$7 range).  That being said, their current market values are as high, if not higher than the MSRP sets and in a shorter time frame on average.  If for argument's sake, you say the average price of these sets were $6(high side of MSRP mini sets), the  smallest appreciation was over 100%, while several sets appreciated 700-800% in less than 4 years of time.  Nice!  
      In conclusion, there is something to be said for the miniature Lego STAR WARS building sets.  While the larger STAR WARS sets, such as the Millennium Falcon, set #10179-1, are the 'Belles of the Investment Ball,' the miniature version of the Millennium Falcon, set #4488-1, has more than doubled the 10179's appreciation percentage.  Similar appreciation figures can be seen throughout the Lego STAR WARS mini building set world in comparison to their larger counterparts.  Not only are they good investments in this AFOL's opinion, they are affordable and enable a beginner Lego investor/collector to start their collection with limited resources.  The mini sets are creative in Lego brick use and accurate in appearance.  They are also easy to store and take up little space in comparison to the larger, boxed sets.  Also, they can be displayed in a relatively small area, such as on a desk or small bookcase, without some little 2 year old hands destroying hours of work.  All in all, they are a very cool theme in the Lego world, and better yet, these mini Lego building sets give a major investment bang for the buck.  What else could you ask for?

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