It may appear as no more than a popular children’s toy, but investors were able to secure a better return buying Lego sets over the past 15 years than from the stock market, gold or bank accounts, a Telegraph analysis found.
The value of the FTSE 100 is no higher than it was in February 2000, meaning the average annual return to savers over the past decade and half is just 4.1 per cent once dividend pay-outs are included.
By contrast, Lego sets kept in pristine condition have increased in value 12 per cent each year since the turn of the Millennium, with second-hand prices rising for specific sets as soon as they go out of production. Modern sets are performing even more strongly, with those released last year already selling on eBay for 36 per cent more than their original price.
The analysis found none of the main investments favoured by savers matched returns on the plastic building bricks.
Savers who invested in gold received a 9.6 per cent annual gain over the past decade and a half, while those who went with a savings account or Isa generated 2.8 per cent, according to investment company Hargreaves Lansdown.
Some Lego sets that once sold for less than £100 now fetch thousands on the secondary market.
Lego can only reach a top price if it has been kept in its box, according to Ed Maciorowski, founder of BrickPicker.com
Many of the highest prices are for old sets based around films such as Star Wars or landmarks or brands such as the Taj Mahal in India or the Volkswagen Beetle. But data from investing website BrickPicker.com showed even sets based on everyday scenes such as police stations and town roads are soaring in value.
The largest percentage rise in price for any Lego set has been on “Cafe Corner”, a model of a hotel which went on sale in 2007. The set, which has 2,056 pieces, originally sold for £89.99 but the price has risen to £2,096 since it went out of production – a return for investors of 2,230 per cent.
Ed Maciorowski, founder of BrickPicker.com, said the top price would be fetched only if the Lego had been kept in its box, in perfect condition. Used Lego is less valuable, but can still be worth hundreds of pounds more than its original price.
“The neat thing is that all sets are retired at some point, and several hundred are retired each year a movie run ends, a licence expires or the Lego Company wants to refresh its range,” he said.
“That means anyone with a set at home – large or small, it doesn’t matter – could have quite an investment on their hands if it’s in good condition, as this stuff appreciates very well in value.”
Most second-hand Lego is traded and bought on eBay. BrickPicker pays eBay for a breakdown of sales and compiles its own database of values and growth rates.
Mr Maciorowski said tens of thousands of investors across the world were pushing up prices of rarer sets.
He said the growth rates would continue. “Lego investing is not hitting bubble-like status,” he said. “That is partly because the Lego Company doesn’t promote the secondary market, it wants to sell direct to customers.”
Price rises can be disrupted if Lego restarts production of sets it had previously retired – but usually the effect is temporary as investors snap up the new stock, Mr Maciorowski said.
The most popular type of Lego is Star Wars themed, accounting for 10 of the 20 most expensive sets.
The Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon is the most expensive, having gone from a retail price of £342.49 in 2007 to £2,712 today.
Two slightly earlier models, the Death Star II and Imperial Star Destroyer, which were released in 2005 and 2002 respectively, also fetch more than £1,000.
Mr Maciorowski said the new Star Wars film, Episode VII – The Force Awakens will give the old sets a “new life” in secondary market.
“Demand is going to be off the hook,” he said. “Sometimes when the next instalment of a film comes out it boosts interest: the new Fantastic Beasts films, for example, should also see demand pick up for some of the recently retired Harry Potter Lego.”
Laith Khalaf, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The returns from Lego look pretty awesome, but investors need to beware that the value of collectables can be vulnerable to fads.
“There’s absolutely no harm in buying some pieces as a hobby, and you may well make some money, but as a main building clock for your retirement I would suggest sticking to more traditional shares and bonds.”
Seven Lego investing tips from a pro
Ed Maciorowski from BrickPicker.com says:
1. If you are interested in a particular Lego set, buy one to build and one to save for a rainy day. Even used Lego sets can appreciate to values higher than the retail price. Putting away a few large and exclusive sets to resell in years down the road can be very profitable.
2. Limited edition and seasonal sets do very well in the Lego secondary markets. Any sets with short production runs usually appreciate well. The rarer, the better.
3. Invest in Lego sets that were released after 1999. Pre-2000 sets were not really great investments. Many sets were basic and uninspiring. There are a handful of vintage sets that are viable collectables, but most have plateaued in value and many are in poor condition.
4. Keep the Lego boxes, pieces and instructions in excellent condition. Save all the components of a Lego set. Keep them in a dry and dark storage space. No sun … no moisture. The better the condition, the more the set will sell for in future.
5. Stack Lego boxes vertically like books. Horizontal stacking causes boxes to crush and seals to break.
6. Size doesn’t matter. Both small and large sets can appreciate very well percentage wise.
7. Lego mini figures are very valuable.
Most expensive Lego sets:
Set – release date – pieces (mini figs) – retail price – current value
1 Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon – 2007 – 5,195 (5) – £342.49 – £2,712
2 Cafe Corner – 2007 – 2,056 (3) – £89.99 – £2,096
3 Taj Mahal – 2008 – 5,922 (0) – £199.99 – £1,848
4 Death Star II – 2005 – 3,441 (0) – £249.99 – £1,524
5 Imperial Star Destroyer – 2002 – 3,096 (0) – £249.99 – £1,467
Lego sets with biggest rises in value:
Set – release date – pieces (mini figs) – retail price – current value – growth
1 Cafe Corner – 2007 – 2,056 (3) – £89.99 – £2,096 – 2,230%
2 Market Street – 2007 – 1,248 (3) – £59.99 – £698 – 1,064%
3 Holiday Train – 2006 – 965 (7) – £49.99 – £574 – 1,048%
4 Rescue from the Merpeople – 2005 – 175 (5) – £14.99 – £168 – 1,018%
5 The Batboat: Hunt for Killer Croc – 2006 – 188 (2) – £14.99 – £167 – 1,011%
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