Economists from HSE University found that secondary market prices of retired LEGO sets grow by 11% annually (8% in real terms), which is faster than gold, stocks, bonds and other ‘hobby investments’. They sampled 2,322 LEGO sets made between 1987 and 2015 and found that small or big sets do better than medium sets. Unsurprisingly, thematic sets, limited editions and promotional sets tend to experience the highest growth and the rise in secondary trading markets is leading to higher returns.
High value themes
We analysed the 377 LEGO sets currently valued at over £500 (correct at time of print – Dec 2021). With over 14,000 sets in existence that’s not many. Investing in LEGO is far from a sure fire guarantee. With so many sets available, what are the chances that yours will be high value? By decade…
All aboard! The themes with the most high value sets were Trains, Space, City (aka Legoland/Town), Castle, Technic, Star Wars and Pirates. But watch out! On the chase with the highest annual growth are themes (many licensed tie-ins) including Monster Fighters, Ninjago, Disney, more Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pharoah’s Quest, The Lord of the Rings, Scooby-Doo, Vikings, Harry Potter, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marvel Super Heroes and Minecraft.
The values we analysed were all for new/sealed condition. Used sets will likely only be 10%-30% of that, but that said those sets will still be worth more than 4 times what you paid for them originally.
Let’s take the castle pictured here as an example as every pre-2000 LEGO castle features on our high value list. This one is the 1986 set 6074 Black Falcon’s Fortress, comprised of 430 pieces with 6 minifigures. It retailed for £25 and is now worth £849 new/sealed with an annual growth of 9%. But let’s face it, who didn’t tear it open on Christmas Day and build it straight away? Unboxed and used (even allowing for broken flag clips and the inevitable teeth marks when taking it apart again) it sells for £100-200.
A quick history of minifigures
The first LEGO figures were introduced in 1974 with four faces, clip-on hair, hinged arms and building block bodies. Hugely popular, a year later scale figures were introduced with blank faces and moulded limbs. They were nicknamed “The Extra”. The LEGO minifigure as we know it today was launched in 1978.
Keen to attract future LEGO builders, a new role play theme called Fabuland launched in 1979 for children aged 4-8. With one-piece animal characters and story book instructions, it was retired in 1989.
In 1989 the concept of good and evil was used for the first time with LEGO Pirates, creating a need for new facial expressions (but notice, they were still smiling underneath those big moustaches!) It wasn’t until 1996 that the familiar smile was replaced with angry grimaces for the Western theme minifigures. There’s now over 3,400 different heads available including specially moulded ones which allow for themes such as Minecraft and The Simpsons to be made.
LEGO Friends arrived in 2012 after several years of research on how to get more girls playing with LEGO. The figures were more doll-like in their shaping and sets had an emphasis on decorative detailing and accessories.
Here’s a few photos from our magazine LEGO spreads.
For our analysis we used raw data from brickeconomy.com (12/2021) and for clearer results we chose to exclude 1:87s, minifigures, bulk bricks, promotional/exclusive/internal sets and those not yet retired.