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The Almighty Buck Toys

Investing In Lego Bricks For Fun But Mostly Profit 98

Posted by timothy
from the step-2-is-buy-lego dept.
First time accepted submitter theideabulb writes "Just as stock investors have portfolios of all different sorts of stocks, Lego investors hold massive collections of Lego sets and can make annual profits that beat stocks. This article is a looking into the world of the little plastic brick that makes money for LEGO fans and a website that helps track peoples' collections to help them track their profits."
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Investing In Lego Bricks For Fun But Mostly Profit

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  • by Tim Ward (514198) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:25AM (#42425889) Homepage

    ... but these people haven't made a "profit" until they have SOLD their holdings.

    Who to? Other investors? What if they all sell at once?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by FatdogHaiku (978357)

      ... but these people haven't made a "profit" until they have SOLD their holdings.

      Who to? Other investors? What if they all sell at once?

      Also, if I start trading in Legos do I have to send a bag of bricks to the IRS every quarter? If so can I just go by weight? Do I have to give a fair mix including some of the more desirable blocks or can I just send a bunch of the 4x4 plantar penetrators that no sane person wants near their floor?

    • As long as liquidity keeps up, that shouldn't be a problem.
    • by bluescrn (2120492)
      As a bit of a Lego fan myself, some discontinued sets, such as some of the older large Technic sets, are very desirable, and *appear* to fetch a high price when sold as a new/sealed set. (Example: http://www.amazon.co.uk/LEGO-Technic-8421-Mobile-Crane/dp/B00097E4JW/ [amazon.co.uk] - 4 sellers wanting over £1000 for what will have been maybe £150 originally)

      Not sure how many people are actually paying that price, though, when there's the option of buying used sets for a fraction of the price, or buying modern
      • by bluescrn (2120492)
        Although after posting that, I spotted that the 8421 set was available used for around £150 and new for around £300 via www.bricklink.com - so there's some Amazon-related pricing shenanigans pushing those other prices to excessive levels...
    • I could see this working as a short term investment, rather than a long term holding. For example, there was an "ultimate collector series" millenium falcon they made (which was huge, much bigger than the set my son plays with) that sold for about $500. If I'd thought about it, I'd have realized it would sell out and that only a couple of years later, it would be worth $1800-2000, for about a 200% to 300% profit. It's not major income, but a small, short term thing that could have generated some hobby fu
    • ... but these people haven't made a "profit" until they have SOLD their holdings.

      Who to? Other investors? What if they all sell at once?

      I think you should read some of the blog articles at the main website about this topic http://www.brickpicker.com./ [www.brickpicker.com] I think that will answer most of your questions. If you have good sets and sell all at once, i am sure you will make a nice profit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:27AM (#42425893)

    Are you listening?

    Plastics

    There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

    • by cvtan (752695)
      I want to say TWO words to you. Beanie Babies. Think about that.
      • by todrules (882424)
        I want to say THREE words to you. Cabbage Patch Kids. Think about that.
        • I want to say FOUR words to you. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Think about that.

          • by PCM2 (4486)

            I want to say FIVE words to you. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pogs. Think about that.

    • by pr0nbot (313417)
      I get the reference, but what I came to say is... Of all the companies that I can think of, I would say Lego is most vulnerable to a 3D printing boom. It may start with printing replacement pieces. It'd be a long slow decline though, a la CD, as I can't see 3D printers becoming ubiquitous that soon, nor can I see them being capable of producing all the pieces (transparent plastics, etc).
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I get the reference, but what I came to say is...

        Of all the companies that I can think of, I would say Lego is most vulnerable to a 3D printing boom. It may start with printing replacement pieces. It'd be a long slow decline though, a la CD, as I can't see 3D printers becoming ubiquitous that soon, nor can I see them being capable of producing all the pieces (transparent plastics, etc).

        Actually Lego is pretty damn safe from 3D printing. IIRC Lego molds are broken and replaced every 1000 bricks to conform to the rigid Lego standards.

        This is a huge reason why all of my 30yo Lego bricks still fit together with the satiating Lego "snap".

  • by RobinH (124750) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:43AM (#42425949) Homepage
    I'm sure it worked well when there were only a few people doing it, buying the collector's edition sets and selling them when they're no longer available, but once this kind of information about an imbalance in the market hits the news (as it just has) then you'll see a whole bunch of people pile into the market. They're all speculators. The price goes up. It's a bubble. The first people out "win" and the rest lose money. It's such a scam for them to talk about it in terms of annualized returns. That makes it sound like you can do this over and over every year. This is just market prices changing, and they tend to correct quickly. If you're thinking of getting into this market, I caution you it's a very bad idea.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      That would only be a problem if there were many who RTFA.

    • Exactly correct. Legos are just like any other collectable. When the supply exceeds the demand, prices will plummet. That day will come soon. As the baby boomers dump their collections, either to pay for their retirement, because they are moving into smaller living quarters and don't have space or because they died and their heirs aren't interested, there will be a glut on the market of much of this stuff.
      • by RobinH (124750)
        I don't think it will take that long. Speculators will increase demand for *new sets* but it's not a precious commodity. If Lego sees more demand for a new set, they'll make sure they make more of them. It's just plastic. That will mean lots of speculators will be sitting on sets they don't really want, and there'll be a glut of them on E-Bay. That will transfer wads of cash from speculators to Lego. Possibly lots of cash from late speculators to early speculators, but that's it. People who actually
        • I don't think it will take that long. Speculators will increase demand for *new sets* but it's not a precious commodity. If Lego sees more demand for a new set, they'll make sure they make more of them. It's just plastic. That will mean lots of speculators will be sitting on sets they don't really want, and there'll be a glut of them on E-Bay. That will transfer wads of cash from speculators to Lego. Possibly lots of cash from late speculators to early speculators, but that's it. People who actually want Lego to play with might be able to pick up newer sets for cheaper than retail price on E-Bay too, which would be OK.

          Here's my maths: Number of sets sold = Number of sets purchased and built + number of sets purchased as unwanted presents + number of sets purchased by speculators. By creating new sets all the time and releasing them for a short time, the company can sell lots of expensive sets to speculators. They could even have employees put sets on eBay and then buy them off each other for five times original price to keep up the appearance of speculative gains.

    • by skine (1524819) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:15AM (#42426061)

      I'm sure that it will work incredibly well for Lego for quite a while yet. They've found a way to increase sales.

      The only question is as to whether Lego will go the way of the Beanie Babies.

      Thankfully, for the rest of us, all we have to sit back and laugh until the bubble bursts, and we're able to buy mint sets cheaply in a few years time.

      • by RobinH (124750)
        Yes, Lego is definitely winning in this. Now it's true that they likely won't make another Millennium Falcon (but who really knows?) so those prices might stay high, now you're going to have collectors running in and buying all the new collector's edition Lego sets, and Lego will just make sure to make more of those sets to meet the demands of the collectors who are in it for the money (not the people who actually want to buy a set because it's cool/nostalgic/whatever). That means all future models will l
      • Why are you comparing them to Beanie Babies? The majority of Lego sets are purchased to play with, and unlike Beanie Babies there will always be interest in buying a set even for just it's play value, so there is a floor on the price. I do agree though that if there is a mania over this that many will be burned....
    • by nabsltd (1313397)

      I'm sure it worked well when there were only a few people doing it, buying the collector's edition sets and selling them when they're no longer available, but once this kind of information about an imbalance in the market hits the news (as it just has) then you'll see a whole bunch of people pile into the market.

      Then, too, if the copyrighted Lego bricks are not made in the US, soon it might not be possible to re-sell them [techdirt.com], and thus they will be worthless as an investment.

    • Not to mention we are at the dawn of the age of 3D printer. If you want to make money you should "short" the bricks. Maybe you can hedge that with an option.

      • by Urkki (668283)

        Not to mention we are at the dawn of the age of 3D printer. If you want to make money you should "short" the bricks. Maybe you can hedge that with an option.

        Considering current speed of 3D printers, combined with the tolerances of Lego, we're quite a long way (I say a decade minimum) from having reasonably priced 3D printers which can produce real Lego-quality bricks, let alone counterfeits which could pass as the real thing (colors etc), never mind the unit cost of single brick.

        And even if 3D printing drives Lego to bankruptcy, what do you think will happen to the prices of real Lego packets? Or even to prices of real used Lego bricks in a big bin? Are they go

  • by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:57AM (#42425997)
    I think if Beanie Babies have taught me anything, it is that toy collecting is extremely volatile, and if people think they can buy something for collecting or investing, chances are, it will never increase significantly in value.

    As for this article, being that it came long after many "investors" have bought their stocks, it smells oddly like just a run-of-the-mill pump-and-dump scam. Except that instead of posting it on obscure investment "advice" sites, they used the Lego brand nerd attraction to post this BS somewhere mainstream.
    • by 605dave (722736)
      I can see why people are drawing this comparison, but I don't think it applies. Beanie Babies were a fad that came and went, and Legos have been around for 40 or more years. I think Lego has proven they are not a fad. That's not to say that there isn't a danger in this strategy, only that I think there is a little more permanence to Legos than posters are giving them credit for.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So were comic books and trading cards. Both existed a long time before they had their collector bubbles, and now the collector markets for both are almost dead. Even though both comics and cards continue to exist, they are worth almost nothing as short term collectables. As long term (like 50-100 years) they may increase in value.

        • by cob666 (656740)
          I believe the collector market is dead for comics simply BECAUSE there was a collector's market. Once Marvel (and others) started releasing Limited Collector Editions it was the beginning of the end.
      • Five centuries ago people collected tulip bulbs. They became an investment and a bust followed. A century or two ago people commonly collected birds eggs. They've been around a lot longer than Legos too, but a bird egg collection today is not worth much. The postage stamp collection market is not what it once was because it is a lot cheaper to print stamps then it is to buy them. I'd not bet on Legos enduring because they've existed for 40 years.
        • The collectors market will certainly disappear, but Lego won't (unless they're foolish and bank on the collectors market.)

          Parents will always buy their kids Lego, because it's a fun and creative toy with universal appeal. Your average parent doesn't give a damn about the collectability of Lego, just that it will keep their kid occupied with something constructive.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Legos have been around for 40 or more years. I think Lego has proven they are not a fad.

        I was brought up on generic sets some time ago. "This month's disney movie tie in" and "video game of the year" are much more faddish markets. Don't get me wrong, its a fun fad... but its still "just" a fad.

        From memory I was brought up on the "city builder" sets which were approx 1 sq foot city blocks, sorta (like a fire house, etc), and I remember a very generic yet cool space ship series, and something like "expert builder" like a car with moving pistons, a working 2-speed transmission, and working rack

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          All that stuff still exists, and you can still order assorted base plates to build your own creations on. The "Expert" sets have long been called "Technics" and includes robotics sold as "Mindstorms", and have only gotten fancier. I have two of the snazziest sets that I got back when I had more disposable income, a big red car with a 5-speed transmission with reverse and the tow truck which is one of the nicer pneumatic sets (there's also a really great crane truck...) and if I'd kept the tow truck in the b

      • I can see why people are drawing this comparison, but I don't think it applies. Beanie Babies were a fad that came and went, and Legos have been around for 40 or more years. I think Lego has proven they are not a fad. That's not to say that there isn't a danger in this strategy, only that I think there is a little more permanence to Legos than posters are giving them credit for.

        Lego is not a fad. However, buying Lego sets and selling them for a profit is a fad. As an example, the 6000 parts Taj Mahal was for sale around £200 I believe and now people try to sell it for £1000. It's obviously not worth that as a toy, because you get equally challenging sets for £200 - why would you pay five times as much? The only ones paying that money are idiots who think it is an investment. And once you run out of idiots, the prices will drop.

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          Lego is not a fad. However, buying Lego sets and selling them for a profit is a fad. As an example, the 6000 parts Taj Mahal was for sale around £200 I believe and now people try to sell it for £1000. It's obviously not worth that as a toy, because you get equally challenging sets for £200 - why would you pay five times as much? The only ones paying that money are idiots who think it is an investment. And once you run out of idiots, the prices will drop.

          We're running out of idiots? Surprise surprise surprise.

          • by Stickerboy (61554)

            Lego is not a fad. However, buying Lego sets and selling them for a profit is a fad. As an example, the 6000 parts Taj Mahal was for sale around £200 I believe and now people try to sell it for £1000. It's obviously not worth that as a toy, because you get equally challenging sets for £200 - why would you pay five times as much? The only ones paying that money are idiots who think it is an investment. And once you run out of idiots, the prices will drop.

            We're running out of idiots? Surprise surprise surprise.

            Well, everything, and I do mean everything, exists in a finite supply. What's more limiting than simply the number of idiots is 1) the amount of ready-to-spend cash held by idiots and 2) the attention span of idiots before they jump at the next make-money-with-no-effort scheme.

          • by Urkki (668283)

            We're running out of idiots? Surprise surprise surprise.

            Yes. Even though idiots are a naturally renewing resource, one scammer can easily harvest money from hundreds of idiots. We may very well run out of idiots before we run out of scammers...

        • Lego is not a fad. However, buying Lego sets and selling them for a profit is a fad. As an example, the 6000 parts Taj Mahal was for sale around £200 I believe and now people try to sell it for £1000. It's obviously not worth that as a toy, because you get equally challenging sets for £200 - why would you pay five times as much? The only ones paying that money are idiots who think it is an investment. And once you run out of idiots, the prices will drop.

          You are just another person who "thinks" you understand what's going on. You can't buy the Taj Mahal anymore. Right there makes it a collectible. Now you have people who are older and have jobs that can help them buy it. If you are a LEGO fan that always wanted this set, you will be the one willing to pay the price in order to have it. Its not really investors selling to to investors. Its investors selling to fans that can financially support it or other collectors.

          • You are just another person who "thinks" you understand what's going on. You can't buy the Taj Mahal anymore. Right there makes it a collectible. Now you have people who are older and have jobs that can help them buy it. If you are a LEGO fan that always wanted this set, you will be the one willing to pay the price in order to have it. Its not really investors selling to to investors. Its investors selling to fans that can financially support it or other collectors.

            If you are a Lego fan who always wanted the set, you bought it when it was released. Why on earth would you want to "collect" these? That's like when the iMacs were released in five colours and there was actually an Apple advert saying "collect them all" - I hope everyone got that it was a joke.

            Scarcity doesn't make it a collectible, since Lego can make a new run any time they want. The "people who are older and have jobs" had jobs last year as well when Lego was selling the set. It's not investors selli

            • by CycleMan (638982)

              If you are a LEGO fan that always wanted this set, you will be the one willing to pay the price in order to have it. Its not really investors selling to to investors. Its investors selling to fans that can financially support it or other collectors.

              If you are a Lego fan who always wanted the set, you bought it when it was released.

              Perhaps he didn't know about that set when it was released. Or perhaps she was a poor starving grad student at the time. Or perhaps ... there are a bunch of reasons why someone wants to buy things now and wasn't buying it then. There was one kid who wanted the Emerald Night Train and his parents told him to save his allowance to buy it; by the time he had saved enough, LEGO was no longer making it.

              If I were to buy LEGO nowadays, I'd want more of the classic kits -- the City stuff, the Knights stuff -- an

    • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:59AM (#42426245)

      I think if Beanie Babies have taught me anything, it is that toy collecting is extremely volatile, and if people think they can buy something for collecting or investing, chances are, it will never increase significantly in value. As for this article, being that it came long after many "investors" have bought their stocks, it smells oddly like just a run-of-the-mill pump-and-dump scam. Except that instead of posting it on obscure investment "advice" sites, they used the Lego brand nerd attraction to post this BS somewhere mainstream.

      The real problem with the strategy is not someone trying to run a pump and dump but that there is no liquidity in the LEGO market. Just because a set went for $400 on Amazon doesn't mean your set is worth that; you still have to find a willing buyer at that price. There is simply too little volume to accurately assess value. Add to that the limited size of the collector's market and it's not a real scalable solution - just because LEGO sells xx sets at $100 and a year later a few are sold at $200 doesn't mean the rest could be sold at $200.

      Finally, returns should not be calculated based on a few sales and the estimated value of the rest of the sets; rather look at the actual cash received less outflows for insurance / storage/ etc. divided by the invested capital. Compare that ROI to other investments and see if the potential is worth the risk.

      Sure, you can make a few bucks off of LEGO, especially for high end limited editions, but it's not a strategy that would work for any sizable portfolio. When you add in the risk of LEGO deciding to reissue a piece or continue to make it so there is no secondary market and the risk/reward ratio may not be so favorable.

  • NOT a commodity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:04AM (#42426023)

    "These things are gold," Jeff says.

    A huge mistake in that comparison.

    Gold is produced by a zillion miners all over the world at a more or less long term stable labor cost

    Gold can be repurposed / recycled / remanufactured pretty much infinitely

    Gold at least fundamentally has a long term "drain" to the market in industrial processes and electronic connectors, etc, and a medium term "drain" as in give a girl a piece of gold jewelry and it "probably" won't be melted down for a lifetime or at least a little while anyway. So the market has both a source and a drain (no gate, so its not a FET (sorry)) and its got both short liquid traders and long term non-liquid owners. Those combined make a stable long term market.

    Lego is the opposite of all of those characteristics of gold. For example, nothing stopping Lego Inc from buying short futures on the price of the classic millennium falcon, and shipping a million $50 made-in-china clones imploding the price, making serious bank off the futures and selling new identical sets to all the suckers.

    He is correct that lego from an inflation standpoint is an adequate stand in for any other generic commodity. It is, fundamentally, a refined petroleum product. Made out of oil, shipped by oil... So on a long term basis should track oil, more or less. The imaginary govt propaganda inflation numbers don't count energy prices in order to keep the figures low... no great surprise that an oil surrogate product is rising in price faster than the propaganda inflation number. For a very small time investor its a pretty good commodity oil surrogate, can anyone think of a better one? Better as in a more "pure" surrogate or higher weight/volume cost density?

    • "These things are gold," Jeff says.

      A huge mistake in that comparison.

      But a fairly reasonable metaphor (as far as Jeff's opinion goes), which is all it is.

      • "These things are gold," Jeff says.

        A huge mistake in that comparison.

        But a fairly reasonable metaphor (as far as Jeff's opinion goes), which is all it is.

        Good point that many people probably just don't get. Its amazing when people take things out of context.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      He is correct that lego from an inflation standpoint is an adequate stand in for any other generic commodity. It is, fundamentally, a refined petroleum product. Made out of oil, shipped by oil... So on a long term basis should track oil, more or less. The imaginary govt propaganda inflation numbers don't count energy prices in order to keep the figures low... no great surprise that an oil surrogate product is rising in price faster than the propaganda inflation number. For a very small time investor its a p

    • Lego don't even need to short the classic sets. If people are willing to pay these extreme prices for the sets it means that they are in demand. It makes sense for a company to produce and sell products which are in demand.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:39AM (#42426131)

    This is the same as other collectibles like Beenie Babies or Magic: The Gathering cards. Yes you can make money at it but it is a tiny market and carries a lot of risk, particularly inventory risk, liquidity risk, and demand risk. It's one thing to buy Legos at wholesale and sell at retail. It is quite a lot more difficult to make money trading on volatility and relative scarcity. Furthermore this only works if there is a relatively small number of people doing it who have knowledge of the market that is not widely known. If it becomes a Beenie Baby craze, people will jump in and turn it into a bubble that will inevitably pop.

  • Toy trains are a much better long term investment. People have been trading them since Lionel started producing them, and today's manufacturers understand that limited editions can sell new for huge margins as long as they keep them truly limited, with documentation to back up how many are made, etc. That's the key. The only way the secondary sales market will survive is if the manufacturers get their piece of the action too. I don't see where Lego is really doing that, except for the crazy-expensive kits t

  • One word: Barbies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tlambert (566799) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:08AM (#42426293)

    Barbies apparently do appreciate in time, but it's because they intentionally manufacture limited runs/editions. Not so Legos: if something is selling well, they make more of them. You can still buy brad new Death Star kits.

    My sister used to buy Barbies for my niece, and I came to visit once, and there were these boxes of barbies over her bed. She had never been allowed to take them out and play with them. hat day, I immediately went down to the store, bought several + outfits, and ripped them all open, stuffed them in a cardboard box so nothing remained of the original wrapping, and brought them over to my niece so she could finally play with the damn things. To this day, I am her favorite uncle.

    It's OK to invest in toys for known to be limited runs (i.e. generally not Legos, whose meaning for "Limited Edition" is "sold only at the Lego store and one or two other chains, not everywhere"), but don't torture your kids with the things, that's all I've got to say.

  • You invest in something that can create wealth.
    You speculate in something whose market value might change.

    LEGO sealed off in a tub doesn't produce wealth. Speculating in the LEGO market isn't investing.

    LEGO does have value, because it is fun and educational, but only in the quantities that you are actually using.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me of when Image Comics release all those #1 issues. A $1.95 issue was instantly $10 (or more) for no supply-and-demand reason. And then I walked into Wal-Mart and saw bags of mint condition #1 issues for less than cover price, all over the place. So much for scarcity. Image Comics had sold a lot of their print run to Wal-Mart, who thought a four-issue mini-series would come out in four months, not two years. Suddenly, after the #1 issues had all been grabbed up by speculators, Wal-Mart finally bagg

  • They're saying the "sets" of Lego become valuable.... So, the damned cardboard box? I mean, let's say I have many sets of Legos: I see a new rare "set" I don't have, so I just use the other sets to create the same thing that's in the rare Lego set. Now, if that collection of parts didn't just increase in value to become as valuable as the rare set, then what these folks are investing in isn't Lego it's Lego Packaging.

    Even the newer sets with different shaped pieces for space ship cockpits or different colors or with little magnets they had several different sets all made of the same pieces. A number of not-valuable partial sets could be made into a "rare" set. It seems to me these fools are ignoring what even makes Lego interesting, and are instead valuing the damn boxes like any other toy collectors are wont to do, e.g., with figurines.

    Suddenly, "Investing in Toys with Pristine Packaging" sounds a lot less desirable. Now, if they actually got together hacker-space style and charged entry to a giant evolving Lego city you could build in, THAT might be an interesting way to make money with a huge Lego collection...

    • It's the unique pieces per set, that you're undervaluing even though you kinda mentioned them, combined with availability, that makes the set go up in price. LEGO has done a very good job (from their point of view) of making pieces unique. You can even buy a single pack of a unique LEGO figure for about $3 retail, but which one you get is a mystery (unless you read the bumps on the bottom of the packet which is a PITA) and some are worth more than others. So it's not the box at all, it's about the unique p
  • I bought a Toy Story Lego train set for $50. Two of them actually, when Walmart had them steeply discounted. My daughter has one she can play with. One is still in the box. They're now selling for $83 on Amazon at minimum. I tried selling it once, got to UPS who wanted $30 to ship it, and promptly cancelled the sale. Amazon charged the customer only a few dollars for shipping.

    Sure the price has gone up (or rather, stayed steady since the original price was around $80) but shipping costs make it so tha

  • Lego have re-issued sets before, including large/expensive ones, as a "Legends" line. There's also been adhoc re-issues of sets other than the Legends line. All it takes is Lego to do the same again with the few sets that are being ridiculously hoarded and traded at obscene prices for some people (Those who bought early) being left with no gains and some (those who bought in older sets late) being left hugely out of pocket. The more they push it as an investment idea, the more Lego may realise there's dem
  • I would bet the entire "article" was created for LEGO. They're on an advertising blitz because they have competition now.

    Sure they have franchises. But the Barbie sets are not made by LEGO. Since the patents expired and the lawsuits have been lost, there's lots of competition. Perhaps this will lead to the availability of large boxes of bricks rather that just trademarked sets...
  • BUT, unlike things like Beanie Babies or Barbies, Lego kits can usually be parted out for a reasonable return. There is a value to them beyond just speculation by collectors.

The key elements in human thinking are not numbers but labels of fuzzy sets. -- L. Zadeh

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