This story was first published in 2015. We tried to update it but the Rand was fluctuating too much and it hurt my head.
With the rand/dollar exchange bungee-jumping, you may not be able to tick off all the toys on your child’s wish list this – or next – year. We were curious to see what toys cost in America, and how that converts into rand… now, and back in the day when they first launched.
What you’ll see isn’t only the result of our limp rand and a seriously compromised dollar, but also of US inflation through the years, and toys upgrading with smart new technology.
We of course couldn't find the 1930s or 1960s South African prices for all these toys, so decided to go with the dollar price at the time and now, converted to SA currency. I meticulously did the calculations using a currency converter and the prevailing exchange rate for that year. And yes, of course you may be able to find a better prices currently – for consistency we stuck to Amazon.com’s dollar prices and the exchange rate on November 2015. But we're no economists, so bear with us, okay?
On 30 March 2017, US$1 = R12,88. (Scrap that, on 31 March 2017 at 10am, US$1 = R13,46.)
If you can remember how much you paid for toys as a child, please send your comments to email@example.com and we may publish them!
Lizzie Magie Phillips, concerned about property ending up in the hands of a select few, created The Landlord’s Game in 1903 to show the world how bad monopolisation and greed were. Ironically someone stole her idea and sold it to the Parker Brothers, who started selling the game, Monopoly, in 1935 for $2. In South Africa, which was using the British Pound until 1961, that was 8 shillings.
Today the no-frills Classic edition of world’s most popular board game will set you back $25, which converts to R322. And if you want the special Monopoly 1935 First Deluxe Edition with original wooden houses, you’ll pay $65 (R837). Judging by the state of affairs today, one has to wonder whether Lizzie’s game served as cautionary tale or inspiration?
In 1935, $1 cost £0.20.
When stylish Barbie launched in 1959, she made quite a splash in a market where only baby and toddler dolls were available. Ponytail Barbie launched at $3 (which would’ve been £1.05 in South Africa). Today, Barbie Fashionista dolls go for anything from $12 to $16 (R183 to R246), depending on the model and accessories, of which there are legion.
In 1950, $1 cost £0.35.
Mr Potato Head
In the 1940s, no-one was interested in George Lerner’s idea of creating plastic limbs that kids could pin onto real potatoes. Finally a cereal company agreed to distribute the now-iconic ears and arms and lips in cereal boxes. Hasbro saw it, bought it, and Mr Potato Head Funny-Face Kit went on sale in 1952 at $1 (or 7 shillings over here). But parents weren’t impressed with the rotting potatoes stashed away in their kids’ rooms, so Hasbro added in the plastic potato body.
In 1975 you could pick up a Mr or Mrs Potato Head for $1.99 (R1.45), and today you’ll pay $12.99 (R198.59) for the Toy Story 3 edition of Classic Mr Potato Head.
In the 1950s, $1 cost £0.35. In 1975: 73c.
Play-Doh started life in the 1930s as a cleaning putty to remove coal soot from wallpapers. In the 1950s the company added colour and started advertising it on kiddies TV shows. Play-Doh took off and the range soon expanded to include accessories like the Plastic Molding Machine set, which sold for $2.97 (£1 in SA).
Since then, more than 2 million cans of Play-Doh have been sold and it has been included in the Toy Wall of Fame. For a similar set, look for the 2015 Magic Dough Processing Machines Playset ($34.99 or R534.92).
In the 1950s, $1 cost £0.35.
These lovable uglies were created by a Danish woodcutter and fishermen who couldn’t afford a Christmas gift for his daughter in 1959. Thomas Dam’s troll was so popular with his daughter’s friends that he started created them in plastic and soon the Good Luck Trolls became a toy sensation, not just in Denmark and Europe, but in the US too.
The original trolls had sheep’s wool hair and glass eyes, but cheaper imitations soon followed. Still, grandma would’ve had to cough up $1.44 for a bride, groom, nurse or Indian chief troll back in 1963. That was R1 in South Africa, which sounds very little but was in fact enough to buy a book, or a movie ticket and a packet of fish and chips. Trolls are still not cheap today, setting you back $18.95 (R290) for one.
In 1963, $1 cost 71c.
Ah, this fabulous piece of wizardry that allows you to make intricate swirling patterns with different coloured pens and a steady hand. It was originally a kind of mathematical calculator (I won’t go into details) and by the early 1900s it became a popular toy. By 1965 one Denys Fisher, a British engineer, developed the toy as we know it today. Back then, when it was Toy of the Year, you would have paid $2.87 for a set, or R2. (I got one from Santa in 1984, but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.) Fifty years later in 2014, it was again a finalist for Toy of the Year and today the classic Spirograph Set costs $19.99 (R305.60) on Amazon.com.
In 1966, $1 cost 71c.
The View-Master had been around for decades, mostly offering scenic landscape slides, before it got the rights to Disney characters in the 1950s. Suddenly, every kid wanted one. The 1966 View-Master 3D Stereo Viewer cost $3.50 (R2.48). The cool Talking View-Master of 1980 allowed you to watch images and hear the voices of your favourite cartoon characters at $13.87 (R10.67).
Today View-Master is a frontrunner in the virtual reality race. The Virtual Reality starter pack will set you back $29.99 (R459), which isn’t all too bad, considering. Although you can still get the more basic version, like the Despicable Me2 in 3D View-Master for $7.29 (R111.60).
In 1966, $1 cost 71c. In 1980, it was 77c.
Confounding many and dumbfounding the rest, Hungarian professor Ernõ Rubik’s Magic Cube made its US appearance in 1980 at $1.99 (R1.53). Today the world’s best-selling puzzle game offers many different models, including a touch-screen model, TouchCube, and one with coloured plastic blocks so you can’t just pull off and rearrange the stickers. But a kind of classic Cube costs $13.99 or R214.
In 1980, $1 cost 77c.
Officially the world’s most powerful brand in 2015 (surpassing Ferrari, says Brand Finance), Lego had modest beginnings in a small town in Denmark in the 1930s, when carpenter Ole Kirk created these interlocking blocks. “Lego” is a play of words on “leg godt”, or play well. 80 years later and the world has Lego theme parks, movies, board and video games to entertain.
In the 1960s, the 151-piece Lego System Construction Set cost $2.99 (R2.15). Today, the similar Lego Classic Medium Creative Brick Box (221 pieces) costs $16.99 (R258.70).
And in 1986 you could get a fancy Lego Airport for $39.99 (R91.57), while you’d have to fork out $174.99 (R2 685) today for the Lego City 60022 Cargo Terminal Toy Building Set. Or you could opt for the cheaper Lego Friends Heartlake Airport at $123.47 (R1 894.46).
In the 1960s, $1 cost 71c. In 1986, R2.29.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
This perennial game with Happy, Henry, Homer and Harry Hippo was launched in 1978, when it was sold for $7.44 (R6.39). In 2015, the year of the first World Championship (kid you not), a set of Hungry Hungry Hippos costs $27.90 (R428.42). A movie is also said to be on its way.
In 1978, $1 cost 86c.
The exciting world of arcade games and computers entered our homes in the 1970s. Atari’s Video Computer System (later called the Atari 2600), a console with joystick, enabled gamers to play Atari’s popular arcade games at home. In 1979 they launched their early home computer, the Atari 800 and the smaller 400, which included a keyboard. The 400 flew off the shelves despite its hefty price tag of $594.95 (R499.75).
Atari released another video game console, the 5200 in 1980 which sold for $199.99 (R153.99) but this was never as popular as the 2600. You can still get your hands on a new, updated Atari 2600 Joystick TV Plug And Play Home Video Game System for $79.99 (R1 228).
In 1979, $1 cost 84c. In 1980, 77c.
My Little Pony
Following the success of My Pretty Pony, the first series of My Little Ponies was released in 1982. A year later they went for $4.99 (R5,53) each. It started with Earth Ponies, then Pegasus Ponies, Unicorn Ponies, Flutter Ponies, Twinkle-Eyed Ponies, Twice-As-Fancy Ponies, glow-in-the-dark ponies… The craze has spawned numerous TV series and movies and still it continues: the Equestria Girls IV movie will be released in 2016 and My Little Pony, the movie, was announced for 2017. And nearly a million fans like My Little Pony on Facebook. Pick up a My Little Pony for around $9.99 (R153).
In 1983, $1 cost R1.11.
In 1985 Nintendo released their Family Computer, or Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), in the US at $200 (R446). Six years later, in 1991 the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super Nintendo) launched in the US at $200 (R515.87).
Meanwhile, the Game Boy made its appearance and in the 90s sold for $89.99 (R325 in 1995). Today you can pick up the New Nintendo 3DS XL Black for – you guessed it – $200 (R3 068).
In 1985, $1 cost R2.23. In 1990, it was R2.58. In 1991, R2.76. And in 1995, R3.63.
Who remembers Tamagotchis pets? Hatching in 1996 at $9.99 (R42.95 in SA) they amused us, educated us (kind of) and heaped us with guilt when they died from neclect. They’re still around, and Tamagotchi Digital Friends go for $34.99 (R536.87).
In 1996, $1 cost R4.30c.
Sources: Most history prices from www.ThePeopleHistory.com.
Which classic toys would you like to know the history of? Do you remember buying any of these toys back in the day, and how much did you pay? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.