By Raymond McKee (The Southern Gent)
I suppose it's telling that while I have editions one through four on my bookshelf, I have not yet decided to purchase edition number five. This is despite the fact that the book has been out since last fall. For many years now, Michael Strauss has been the "official" face of Hot Wheels collecting, first with his newsletter, then with the national conventions, and now with this guide to Hot Wheels. I remember when the first edition of this book came out. It immediately became "the book", and dealers were quoting prices based on the book. And I saw how quickly the values in the book became outdated, because collecting doesn't stand still, leading to editions two, three, four, and now five.
Also, from the beginning, the book has been the source of heated discussions among collectors, debating what was included, what was excluded, the factual errors, and the validity of Strauss's prices. From the identification of the Classic Bugatti as a Royale, (it's a type 57 Atlantic), to the Value of the VW Race Bus, the book has provided ample grist for nitpickers to find something to complain about. Still the book has always had the reputation of being the most complete catalog of Hot Wheels models assembled, with pictures and values. When I first flipped through the first edition, I was amazed to see pictures of then current vehicles I didn't even know existed. And it is still a thrill to flip through the book and find something I bought for fifty cents at a junk shop listed for eight dollars.
So, how does the new edition compare with previous books? The first disappointment is that many of the Hot Wheels side lines, such as Sizzlers and Farbs, are deleted from the new book. I assume they were trying to hold down size and cost. The Legends and 100% Collectibles are now combined into one section, and I'm curious how the new preferred will be handled in edition six. The other major break-out from the mainline cars is the Hot Wheels Racing line. Also, only 1:64 scale is covered. There is no mention of Collectibles or Racing Models in larger scales.
In the mainline, the book covers up through 2001 and the 2002 models that were out when it went to press. More '02 models were included by using pre-release photos supplied by Mattel. All photos, though on the small side, give a good clear single view of each car.. The data listing the descriptions and values of each variation is posted under the pictures and is easy to follow. Each year's production is introduced by a short description of highlights. While the writing leans toward the spare and mechanical, it does get the central information across. A comparison with past editions shows a steady rise in the values of Redlines and Treasure Hunts. Values overall tend to be a little conservative. Of course, the book went to press before the current economic downturn, and doesn't reflect the current depression in values many have reported experiencing. One jarring note is that Strauss lists everything as being at least two dollars, including many of last year's models that can still be found for eighty cents at Walmart. It is also interesting to note that Strauss does not include the pink rear-loading Beach Bomb in his list of known rear-loaders. He can continue to deny the legitimacy of this singular vehicle, but public opinion has passed him by on this one. And as for the '96 first edition VW Race Bus, for which Strauss once caught considerable flak for listing at twelve dollars at a time when it couldn't be touched for less than seventy, it is now listed at a more believable sixty dollars mint in pack.
For the collector who is not on the internet, the Tomart's Guide is about the most "official" collecting reference on the market, if only because of Strauss's close relationship with Mattel. But while Strauss may have been the face of collecting in the eighties and early nineties, his newsletter has been supplanted by various websites as the primary source for news, and online auction services such as Ebay offer a quicker, more immediate view of prices and values. And now, Mattel's own collectors website is offering pictures of every Hot Wheel ever made to supplant the need for a photo guide. Still it's hard to take your computer with you when you are cruising a flea market or toy show for deals, and for this reason alone, this will probably remain "the book" for Hot Wheels collectors.
TOMART'S PRICE GUIDE TO HOT WHEELS COLLECTIBLES Fifth Edition by Michael Strauss is published by Tomart Publications ISBN 0914293524, and retails for $32.95