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When I was a kid (in the 90’s) my parents didn’t bother buying me any Tonka Trucks. My dad’s (which had been sitting in the same sandbox) would do just fine, they thought.
And, surprisingly, they were right.
Tonka Trucks, one of the most nostalgic parts of many childhoods, last forever. Not to mention that they are tons of fun, probably slightly dangerous, encourage imaginative play, and are even valuable.
You heard me right, there are Tonka Trucks worth money. Some of the most valuable Tonka Trucks can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars on eBay.
So, as a Tonka Truck lover and eBay seller, I set out a couple of years ago to learn as much as I could (so that I could make as much money as possible).
While I won’t claim to be a Tonka Truck expert, I have the experience of buying and selling a hundred or more of them over the past couple of years (keeping the best ones for my daughters of course).
So whether you’re looking to make money by selling your old trucks, want to know how much they’re worth, or just love all things Tonka, stick around, and let’s explore the world of valuable Tonkas!
Table of Contents
The Origins of Tonka Trucks – A Quick History
If we really want to understand what makes some Tonka Trucks valuable then we’ll need to take a minute and dive into the history of the company. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.
The story of Tonka Trucks begins in 1946 with a small company called Mound Metalcraft, located in a former schoolhouse. The founders, Lynn Baker, Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch, originally focused on creating metal tie racks and steam shovels (full-sized ones, not toys). However, they soon realized the potential of steel in toy-making and decided to venture into the world of toy trucks. In 1947, they introduced their first Tonka Trucks, and by 1955, the company officially changed its name to Tonka Toys Incorporated.
These initial Tonka Trucks were made from 20-gauge automotive steel (which is pretty darn heavy for a toy if you’re unfamiliar with steel gauges), featuring solid rubber wheels and designs that mimicked real-life vehicles. The 1950s and 1960s were an absolute heyday for Tonka Trucks and many of the most nostalgic (and therefore, valuable) trucks come from this era.
The Transition from Metal to Plastic
The 1970s marked a major change for Tonka as they shifted from metal to plastic in the construction of their trucks, totally destroying the resale value of their vehicles…
Well not quite. There are valuable options that come from this time period as well but much less so.
The move to plastic allowed for cost savings and a wider range of toys, but it also led to a decline in the durability and nostalgic appeal of the trucks. As a result, the classic metal Tonka Trucks from the earlier years have become increasingly valuable to collectors.
So, if I find a metal truck, it always goes into my car or cart before anyone else can snatch it.
Most Valuable Tonka Trucks: My 9 Top Picks
Coming up with “the most valuable” of anything is a fool’s errand if you’re a reseller. What you end up with is a list of strange one-off items that you’ll probably never see on the market again, let alone find.
This holds true for Tonka Trucks. The most valuable ones are typically trucks that were prototypes, made in a test color, etc.
So, instead of wasting our time there, let’s talk about the most valuable trucks that I personally have found or think it’s reasonable for you to find on Craigslist, at a thrift store/yardsale, etc.
1. The Mighty Dump Truck
The most iconic Tonka Truck (and probably the one that most people are familiar with) is the Mighty Hydraulic Dump Truck.
The problem here is that, even though so many people value this truck highly, it has been produced in astronomical numbers. It’s not unheard of to find a metal version still new in the box.
This means that this probably won’t be the most valuable truck you find. However, a good example of vintage dump trucks in good condition can sell for $100 or more with the best (oldest) ones fetching up to $300.
2. Rare Private Label Trucks
A category of valuable but far rarer Tonka Trucks is the rare private-label companies that Tonka made for specific companies when contracted to do so.
Typically these are remakes of the company’s actual trucks with their logos and company colors.
While there is not a comprehensive list of these private-label trucks (as far as I know) I have seen a dozen different ones on the market.
These trucks often have unique features or designs and were produced in limited quantities, making them more difficult to find and highly prized by collectors.
Some of the more common examples include the Morrell Meats refrigerated truck from 1954 and the 1955 Allied Van Lines Tonka Truck.
3. Classic Fire Trucks
Classic fire trucks, such as the No.5 Hook and Ladder Fire Truck, are popular among collectors, especially if they come with original accessories (including a fire hydrant).
This truck, originally made in the 1950s, featured pressure gauges, an emergency light, and a fully functional ladder.
I’ve seen Tonka fire trucks sell for up to $500 (or more) depending on their condition and rarity.
4. Unique Construction Vehicles
Once Tonka started having success they branched out to all kinds of unusual vehicles.
The one above (which my wife found and we sold for $475) is a Tiny Tonka No.968 Extended Backhoe. While it’s unlikely that you’ll find the same one, any unique piece of construction equipment from Tonka can be valuable, especially if it’s vintage!
5. Vintage Pickup Trucks
Vintage pickup trucks, such as the Round-Fendered Pickup Tonka Truck, are prized by both collectors and sellers for their rarity.
The Round-Fendered Pickup Tonka Truck, for example, is estimated to be worth up to $1000.00 USD, depending on its condition and rarity.
This value is often increased for specialty models such as campers or trucks that include a trailer.
6. Limited Edition Models
While this one has a bit of a cross-over with the above trucks, limited edition models are among the most valuable Tonka creations.
It’s hard to get an idea of how many of these were created but I’ve seen prototypes for different colors of Dump Trucks (including black), company mock-ups, and strange things that never went into production.
Putting a value on prototypes is extremely difficult but I’ve seen them sell for over $1,000 depending on the type.
7. Custom Jeeps and Houseboats
Multi-piece playsets, such as the Tonka Custom Jeep with Houseboat, are highly desirable but also extremely difficult to find with all of their pieces.
In this specific case (the jeep and houseboat) the most valuable ones are those that were made with an unpopular (for the time) color scheme such as purple and white.
Complete and in good condition, these sets can sell for up to $400 but prices from $100 to $200 are more typical.
8. Very Early Tonka Trucks
In general, the older a Tonka Truck is the more valuable it is (assuming similar condition, etc.)
Very early Tonka Trucks, like the 1953 Cab Over Log Hauler, are valuable not just because of their age but because they were produced in much smaller numbers than later units. Add in the fact that it’s hard to find very old trucks in good condition and they can be worth hundreds of dollars to the right buyer on eBay.
9. Tonka Truck Sets and Accessories
I alluded to it above but we’ll include “Sets” here in their own spot as being part of a set can make any Tonka Truck more valuable, regardless of the type.
Tonka Truck sets (especially those with accessories such as the Hi-Way Dump Truck set) add value to a collection.
Look for sets that include multiple dump trucks, trailers, and accessories.
The Hi-Way Dump Truck sets, for example, can be worth several hundred dollars depending on their condition and completeness.
Factors Affecting Tonka Truck Value
Now that I’ve given you a fish (a list of valuable trucks), it’s time to teach you to fish (recognize valuable trucks on your own).
When it really comes down to it, however, a Tonka Truck is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. It’s basic supply and demand.
So let’s talk about the three things that have the largest effect on value:
- Rarity & Age
- Original Packaging & Accessories
Each one has a significant effect on the price you can ask (or expect to pay).
Rarity & Age – I mentioned it above but my experience with selling Tonka Trucks tells me that older is almost always better. you’ll be hard-pressed to find any “new” trucks that are worth more than MSRP. On top of age, those produced in lower quantities are more difficult to find and therefore more valuable.
The most reliable indicator of age is the production material. Metal is older and almost always more desirable.
Condition – Given two trucks that are the same type and age, the one in better condition will sell for more money. Makes sense, right?
However, what is surprising is how wide the gap can be. A mint or near-mint truck can sell for 3-4x as much as a truck that is in “good” but played-with condition.
Trucks in very poor shape are typically not worth selling online unless they are an extremely rare style.
Original Packaging & Accessories – Having the original packaging for a vehicle can greatly increase its value, even if the truck isn’t in new condition.
This is so true that some people actually sell just the boxes for old trucks as collectors put their own trucks in them.
Some early trucks also came with paperwork or more complex boxes which can be valuable but extremely difficult to find.
Collecting & Selling Tonka Trucks
As much as I love Tonka Trucks I admit that I don’t really collect them. I keep some for my kids to play with but the majority of Tonka Trucks I pick up are destined to do one thing – make me money on eBay.
Assuming you’re also interested in the value of Tonka Trucks because you want to enrich yourself let’s talk about how you can make the most money in this reselling game.
- Where to find vintage Tonka Trucks
- How to assess their value
Where to Find Vintage Tonka Trucks
While we get the majority of things we sell by going to thrift stores it’s been hard in the past few years to find decent trucks at thrift stores near me.
Instead, we’ve mostly focused on yard sales, flea markets, and local online sites (Craigslist, Let Go, etc.) to find trucks worth flipping.
If you’re a collector your options open up a bit and you can also check out online auctions, antique stores, collector’s forums, etc.
When it comes to actually figuring out how much your Tonka Truck is worth, your best indicator is simply what else is on the market.
Going to eBay and perusing recently sold listings will typically give you a reliable price range where you should start.
While there have been over 30 Tonka Truck models to date you’ll probably see a couple of them most often. Once you become familiar with most models you’ll get much better and determining their value and can often just know how profitable something will be at first sight.
If you’re really stuck, online price guides and collector’s forums can help you find a recommended price range.
If you’re an eBay seller, figuring out what Tonka Trucks are the most valuable will be an easy trick for you. It’s as easy as looking up whatever you find and researching sold listings.
If you’re new to the game, however, the above list is a great place to start and will help you recognize some of the more sellable options when you’re sourcing.
At the end of the day, both selling and collecting trucks can be extremely fun and rewarding in their own ways. So, whichever one you’re doing, good luck!