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Lego collecting delivers huge and uncorrelated market returns (bloomberg.com)
229 points by pseudolus 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 207 comments



When the Saturn V rocket Lego set came out a few years ago, I decided to try this "Lego collector" market. I bought and built (and now proudly display) one set, then bought and stored another in the back of a closet, inside the shipping box. Perfect condition, I figured, for when they stop selling it and it skyrockets in value.

They didn't stop selling it. I think they never will. I'm going to be storing this enormous box of Lego forever.

Still an amazing Lego set.


They released it 18 Months ago, usually they sell those Ideas-Sets for 2 Years. Which means starting this summer the prices should starting to rise.


According to my wife, it's been taking up closet space for at least a decade.

Still, I'll be interested to see if you're right and it vanishes from the shelves in 6 months!


>According to my wife, it's been taking up closet space for at least a decade.

Our wives must use a shared Gmail calendar.


It may have already vanished from your shelf.


Thank you for clarifying the timeframe. I read original OP's question and thought he had been sitting on the lego for like +10 years.


You can't "collect" something that has an artificial limit on production, like lego, beanie babies, disney movies, etc.

If demand warrants the manufacturer will just start pumping out more identical sets, like Lego is doing with their Harry Potter sets.

The only true collectible has to have some sort of natural limiting factor, like made in a specific year, or serial number sequence.


The collector's market is far smaller than the consumption market. If LEGO sells a million rocket models to kids and AFOLs, but 10K people are messing around in the collector's market, they aren't going to reissue the rocket. They are going to issue a new model for a current fad and sell a million more.

Harry Potter LEGO sets have a long life because Harry Potter has sustained popularity -- but even so, LEGO would rather issue N different sets, so LEGO fans buy multiples, than try to see N times as many copies of one set, since most consumers won't buy duplicates.


> Harry Potter LEGO sets have a long life because Harry Potter has sustained popularity

Really doubt it. JK Rowling is the Enid Blyton of our time. How many kids read Enid Blyton now?


Harry Potter has already had a sustained popularity, compared with many other popular young adult/childrens series.


Enid Blyton sustained an extremely high level of popularity [1] through three decades (the 40s, 50s and 60s) which only started to decline in the 70s. So 30 years against Rowling's 20 years so far. But again, very few children read Blyton's books now. I think it is too early to say that Rowling will enjoy a sustained popularity and it is my personal opinion that she won't.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enid_Blyton#Commercial_success


Enid Blytons’s books are still so successful that in Germany, the publishers decided to have other authors continue her stories, and so far they’re still continuing and publishing new books, recording new audio books, and even filming new movies to this day. With unbroken popularity.

"The Twins at St. Clare's", in Germany known as "Hanni und Nanni" is so popular, the movies in 2010, 2012 and 2013 were some of the most popular German movies at the time, and the reboot in 2017 also was extremely popular.

And even in Britain, another author continued the "Twins at St. Clare’s" book series into the 2000s.

So, if Rowling does equally well, and her works are also continued by other authors after her death, we’ll have decades of new Potter movies and books ahead of us. The Fantastic Beasts trilogy is already a taste of what’s to come.


>If demand warrants the manufacturer will just start pumping out more identical sets //

Collectors often aren't that rational and will value otherwise [functionally] identical sets much higher simply because they were released previously.


I did the same. I think you're overly pessimistic so early on. It was released less than 2 years ago, and while I read somewhere (but may be wrong) that the regular production run of LEGO IDEAS sets is 1 year they'll likely stop manufacturing sooner than later, like their other sets.

I bought a few with the idea of keeping them until 2069.


I'm not sure if you're joking or not but 50 years is a long time to store them, how are you planning on keeping them in good condition?


Anecdotal, mine were kept in my parents attic in poorly taped cardboard boxes for 20-30 years until they moved and I gave them to my kids. Still the same fun for them, none have broken or had any issues being used with newer sets.


Lego doesn't seem hard to store, I have 40 year old pieces that were just left unused in a drawer, and they look as good as new.


I was more thinking the box itself. For example just leaving it on a shelf will damage the box from rubbing caused by small vibrations


Just keep it dry and away from sun light. I stored one set of each the current Millennium Falcon and the Saturn V inside their delivery boxes in two layers of pond liner, added several bags of drying granulate, put it all in wooden boxes, and keep them in the dry attic.


> Just keep it dry and away from sun light

> inside their delivery boxes [...] two layers of pond liner [...] several bags of drying granulate [...] wooden boxes [...] in the dry attic

hackernews definition of "just" :)


To be fair we are talking about a years-long investment. There's nothing 'get rich quick' about this.


Lego cardboard boxes are sealed in plastic film. Should be good when stored in a dark, dry place.


I've never thought about that, that's very interesting. What is usually done about this? My first guess is bubble wrap.


Pffft, just put it in another box.


Same here I played with the same bricks my father played 40 years before me.


And my kids are now playing with the sets I played with 35 years ago. It’s incredibly durable.


Yes!

When I was a kid, I had that "medieval" Lego set with knights and castles. My nephews still play with this set.

It's a bit sad that it's long been discontinued. I liked the simplicity of it all: just knights, horses, castles, etc. It wasn't tied to a franchise. I think it was "Lion" knights vs "Horse" knights or something like that (I found it on a database once many years ago).

Also sad: many of my Lego pieces have bite marks. I wish I could travel back in time and tell my younger self one thing or two about taking care of cool toys...


30 years ago, it was legitimately hard to separate some pieces, and so teeth were often the way to get leverage. I share your sadness at the bite marks in my old legos, and was dismayed even at the time that they happened.

Now they have excellent orange lever pieces that work even better, and are included in nearly every Large set. (I wish I had them as a kid.) . I also discovered that the pointed end of a cheap spudger also works, but not as well.


You must not have used a brick 37,112 times yet. :)

http://phillipecantin.blogspot.com/2013/02/legos-magic-numbe...


We have got a child using her grandfathers Lego. The early wheels have rubber that doesn’t seem to last that well, but other than that, it’s excellent.


My mom threw away all of our Legos when we left home for college (along with our 1980s Transformers, Star Wars toys, etc.) :-(


If only she’d know it could have covered part of your tuition.


I'm not taking any special precautions with it. As other commentators noted the bricks themselves will be fine. They're just sitting in a box in a garage. It's relatively humid here, so I'm sure the boxes and instruction manual will be in relatively bad shape in 10-20 years.

I'm not planning my retirement around this or anything, it was just a relatively inexpensive thing to do, and seemed to be a fun thing to sell on the 100 year anniversary of the moon landings, or alternatively to give it to a child or a grandchild.


a friend of mine used to trade lego sets - apparently lego collectors can be just as fussy as figurine collectors about mint-in-box status.


Why not wrap it in more paper or cardboard and then in plastic film?


Hm, do you sell them before or after they re-issue the set to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the mission?


In all likelyhood that won't be the exact same set given LEGO's history, and even if it is surely the older one will have some novelty value.


Yes, I just built this from a set received for my birthday. It's a great set! Highly recommended.

However, I already had one, as I like to try and 'hold' a copy of any sets that I think are special.

I tend to collect what I like, mainly Lego Technic, but I think my most valuable set right now is the big Star Wars AT-AT walker, but I have one of the older Ferrari F1 cars, the big Technic crane 42009, etc.


Being originally from Chicago, I remember when the Sears Tower was in the process of the name change to Willis Tower. There was a Lego kit to make the Sears Tower (marked as such) and it was re-released with the Willis Tower naming. I believe we paid $19.99. We bought it purely for nostalgia purposes and keep it on the shelf unopened.

This article caused me to look into the kit. According to BrickLink[0], the average selling price is $148.83 One sold this month for $193

[0]: https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?S=2100...


They will, don't worry :P It just takes longer for some sets than others. It's not like Disney, where you'd get a year and then into a vault for 7.


I have an unopened one as well. Currently I'm weighting the utility I would get from building it versus a 11% monetary gain...


The only issue is there are high fidelity clone sets available from China for all the great old sets. This reduces the market for old perserved sets. Look at AliExpress and Lego, there are 10s of thousands of sales across hundreds of vendors


No one who would consider paying 5x retail for a LEGO set would be happy with a junky knock-off.


Someone gave me one of those. They aren’t as high fedlity as you think. They don’t stick as well because they don’t have the same precision.


No there aren't any "high fidelity clone sets". Lepin, the Chinese Lego clone, isn't anywhere near Lego quality.

Hell, even the American building brick competitors aren't as good. You can tell Lego from any of the competitors by feel. By the way they don't hold together as well, etc.


I should have done this with the Shuttle set. I just couldn't afford to buy two at the time.


Is it the one with 1969 (!) pieces? According to the article, "sets with a relatively few pieces, up to 113, returned 22 percent per year, almost 16 percentage points more than the group with about 860 bricks in each".


Give it a moment. The 2015 Doctor Who LEGO Ideas set for instance was retired after a bit less than 2 years and is rising in value already. I'm pretty sure, the Saturn V will be retired this year, after the Apollo 11 anniversary.


Just wait on it. My mom bought me a lego ferrari f40 a couple years ago for 100$, it's now going for 200 sealed on ebay. All of the old lego ferrari and Lamborghini sets are going for insane prices now as well.


Is it that hard to enjoy the toy (or give it to someone who will) and spend some time in the next few years to do something productive to earn $100?


Just finished building that set with my son. It was a really fun one to build. Printed lettering on the pieces versus the usual stickers was a nice touch.


You would have better luck with the Christmas lego sets. Those really are only printed for 2 seasons (at least so far, Lego could always change it of course).


Last time I checked eBay and did the math, a first gen iPhone new in box has appreciated something like 14% year over year for over a decade.


I didn't know this existed until I read your post. Now I have it on the way. I can't wait to build it! Thanks mabbo!


Matt Levine today: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-01-17/the-co...

"Sounds great! So if I am running a $10 billion institutional portfolio how much of it should be in Legos?

">In one extreme case, a kit for Star Wars Darth Revan that retailed in 2014 for $3.99 went for $28.46 on eBay a year later -- a 613 percent premium.

"Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. So the extreme case is making a profit of … $24.47 over a year? I mean, I guess you could buy … a million … of those Darth Revan sets … and … put them somewhere … but … no, I am going to say no, this is not a strategy with institutional capacity. (And you can’t use it as an additional signal in your multifactor general model of what stocks to buy, because they are Legos, not stocks.) I suppose if you are a perverse sort of finance professor though you should be using a factor model to trade Legos in your personal account; let me know—and, more importantly, brag to your students constantly about—how it goes."


At the height of baseball card collecting in the 90's, my best friend's dad went out and bought a closet full of baseball card sets (not classic sets, but sets from the time period). He told my parents he was doing it to save for his son's college education.


Yeah. People don't get this, but what you want to collect is what kids are having fun with today that they'll want to have fun with again when they're older.

Nostalgia and natural rarity. If it weren't for emulators, I'd wager that old Nintendo systems would be the rage right now.


NES and SNES games in good condition or of higher rarity regularly fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay and the like, and retro game collecting has grown enormously popular compared to ten or fifteen years ago.


Nintendo has sold over 10 million units of the NES Classic Edition and Super NES Classic Edition.


While this shows the demand is there, it also shows that the "if it weren't for emulators..." part of OP's comment is important.

Stashing a mint NES back in 93 with the hopes of making fat stacks today would have been a folly because of how people are valuing the whole thing(they value the game/experience, not the console/object).


So maybe not the NES console, those are still only moderately pricy even in mint condition due to the extreme number of consoles made, but certainly if you bought a stack of Little Samsons and Mr. Gimmicks and Panic Restaurants for $39 each in ’93 and sat on them until today you would be set for a while:

https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eb...

Yes, the ROM can be had for free and the experience of playing the game is identical. No, a collector doesn’t care.


But a game is not a system...There are def individual GAMES that are bananapants expensive (I'm looking at you Super Copa!) but the systems aren't as expensive.

Maybe I'm just being pedantic?


No I think you get it even better than I laid it out. The extreme or rare ends are where nostalgia meets numismatics.

The casual nostalgics are happy with emulators, hence the systems not being expensive. Still enough SNESes out there to placate the the small number of people that want the original.


I think you need to check the prices on mint unopened nes consoles.


Old gaming consoles and their games have had their prices sky rocket over the last 5 years or so. There is a huge retro gaming community and a whole industry or after-market emulators, addons, old console modifications, upscalers, etc etc


> People don't get this, but what you want to collect is what kids are having fun with today that they'll want to have fun with again when they're older.

LEGO would certainly fit the bill


My dad did the same with Magic: The Gathering. It actually would've worked okay (though still probably not as good as investing in an S&P 500 index fund), except that he died, my mom knew nothing about M:tG (or negotiating, for that matter), and she took the first lowball offer from a card dealer she ran across. He made a nice 80% profit off of them, at least.

On the plus side, I had a lot of fun showing off & playing with my dad's "investment" as a teenager.


He probably did pretty well if he invested at the right time. There were a few cards I got when I was a kid that were worth $6 at the time and spiked to about $800 in 2018 -> http://www.mtgprice.com/sets/Revised/Underground_Sea. I dumped everything valuable in my collection as I just play for fun occasionally and "bad" cards are just as fun as "good" cards.


That's kind of tragic. Out of curiosity, do you know what happened to the cards?


Sadly I'm not sure what happened to them, my family moved away from the area when I was 14. I caught up with him a few years ago, and he did go to college, though I'm not sure if the cards were sold to help pay for it.

As an aside, his dad was for the most part a pretty smart guy, he had a PhD in Physics. He just got caught up in the hype and made a bizarre financial decision after reading articles on the projected value of baseball cards in the future.


I had imagined the worst case, "I traded our cow for magic beans" scenario, but without the goose with golden eggs.


Intellectual Darwinism.


Matt's been out of the game for a while now, so this is an understandable oversight.

Obviously, you don't trade cash Lego. You trade Lego asset swaps.


So, now that there's been an article in Bloomberg, I'm guessing we can expect future events to play out like the comic book collecting market has since it became a thing in the 1990s: A bunch of people try to build up their stockpiles at the same time, potentially driving up prices in the process. Then, in a couple decades, they also try to liquidate their collections at the same time, driving prices down to near 0 in the process.


I still have a box of baseball cards from the '80's and '90's. It'll make me rich someday...


Or postage stamps. Though I quite like buying them from collectors for 40-60% of face value.


Unless you have this stamp [1] .. since its been discontinued and story went viral, unused unstamped sheet of 16 got sold for $1000 on ebay.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/us-postal-service-statue-l...


I'm confused why the USPS has to pay up $3.5M in this case. They purchased the image from Getty Images I assume with the proper license for printing/distribution. However, since this is the statue in Vegas it's not in public domain? How does that work? Are you not allowed to legally photograph the Vegas statue?

Does this mean if the USPS wanted to create stamps for the major cities of the US say LA, Chicago, NY and were to use pictures of Santa Monica Pier, Sears/Willis Tower, and Empire State building that they can't purchase pictures from Getty Images and would need permission from the owners of those properties? Also what stops me from suing Google or Zillow for taking a street view shot of my home and claiming copyright infringement on monetizing google maps / Zillow listings with a picture of my home?


The artist that sold the images to Getty did not have the appropriate property release, Getty was made aware, and Getty made the US Post Office aware. Without this property release the artist's photograph, and the stamps are a derivative work of the statue because it is a work of art. They continued to use the image commercially to sell stamps, knowing that they did not have the appropriate release for years after the fact, selling nearly 5 billion stamps with this image. I expect the $3.5m judgement will be challenged though, the case has been ongoing for 5 years, and it is unusually high when you consider the actual economic loss of the artist who made the statue.

>Does this mean if the USPS wanted to create stamps for the major cities of the US say LA, Chicago, NY and were to use pictures of Santa Monica Pier, Sears/Willis Tower, and Empire State building that they can't purchase pictures from Getty Images and would need permission from the owners of those properties?

A property release is not normally needed for buildings. In the US copyright for buildings viewable from the public is treated differently from copyright for statues or sculptures or other art. Also some of those are in the public domain because of their age, or because the architect did not register the copyright to the building. There are some cases where the trademark could also be an issue too, like for the Transamerica pyramid. It is generally not a problem for a photographer to get a property release before selling stock images for commercial use.

>Also what stops me from suing Google or Zillow for taking a street view shot of my home and claiming copyright infringement on monetizing google maps / Zillow listings with a picture of my home?

Google is not using the image commercially, and does not need a release from the architect or property owner to use the image. Whether or not they make money is not what determines commercial use or editorial use, and editorial use does not require a property release. In a newspaper that costs money it is OK to take a photo of Trump for a headline about him, and ok to use this next to an ad the newspaper is getting paid to publish, but not OK to use his photo as an endorsement for a product without a model release. Zillow generally gets your permission to use your images to sell your home when you upload them to a site that syndicates with zillow. For other uses where they are not selling your home, like showing the past sale price they would not need a property release. The architect would be the one with standing to sue under copyright law, to prevent others from making derivative works. If they did not register the copyright this is not practical because there are no actual damages, and they cannot collect statutory damages. The owner of the home could sue under right of publicity laws in some states if the image was used commercially. Historically but this has never applied to regular homes, and it would be rare to have meaningful damages. See Robinson v HSBC Bank USA


I really appreciate the time you took to put together that solid response! Definitely learned a lot. It makes a lot more sense now for why USPS is facing the $3.5M judgement since they were made aware of the license issue and continued with printing/distribution.


As a LEGO enthusiast it would suck if LEGO turns to the next tulip (nobody mention the c-word..!), except LEGO can just react to hoarders and ruin the "futures" market.


>they also try to liquidate their collections at the same time, driving prices down to near 0 in the process.

But it will be great for people who like to build Legos! Only think about all the sets that were missed and now are too expensive.


Ok, interesting as a curiosity, but:

> In one extreme case, a kit for Star Wars Darth Revan that retailed in 2014 for $3.99 went for $28.46 on eBay a year later -- a 613 percent premium.

Say I'm really prescient, and know exactly which kit to collect.... can I expect to invest 400K and get that 600% return? I doubt it. Sure it's possible for 4$, or 100$, but is it possible at any kind of significant scale?


I worked at toys r us in the mid 90's and snagged a bunch of "rare" action figures. I've been sitting on them for 25 years now. They aren't worth anything more than what retail price back then. My lesson was to stay away from collectibles. It's too much like gambling, may as well take your money to Vegas.


I worked at a competing toy store in the mid 90s also. It always brought me great joy that Beanie Babies ended up being a bad investment. We had to call the cops the day we got our shipment of Princess Diana bears. I'd say about 90% of our BB sales were to adult buyers speculating on huge returns.

Care to share what action figures you held onto? My guess is Star Wars reissue figures from the 20th anniversary theater releases. Maybe some early McFarlane toys? :)

Fun fact: The small toy store chain I worked for is the toy store that Arnold goes to in Jingle All The Way. I make sure to watch it every year for a little trip back in time.


I like buying my kids weird old collectible toys from ebay, usually for about 50% of their original MSRP. I recently snagged a set of early 90s Star Wars action figures for damn near nothing in their original boxes. My kids had a blast opening them.


Yes. This is the problem with this as an investment strategy for anything but hobbyists.

In addition; it would require quite a lot of labor to auction and send all these sets around, as well as paying for storage space. Something which is not accounted for in the 10-20% return figure.


I would have thought depth of market would be the problem.

Presumably no one bought the set, which is why it wasn't selling for very long. If you buy 1000s of sets you run the risk of Lego increasing production to compensate. Second you can't just sell all your sets at once. There might be demand for one set at $28. What about 2? 10? 100? So even with a 'winner' you may be only able to sell them in dribs and drabs, and even then only at an average of $14.


So my dream of an LBS ETF will remain a dream.


Local Bike Shop Exchange Traded Fund?

I’d think there may be an opportunity for a buying group or banner type consolidator though.

Or just straight up acquisitions, like independent pharmacies getting bought for 2-4x earnings, then sold as a package to public investors at 10x+ earnings.


Lego-backed security?


Obv something that can be solved with futures.


That's right (and also a direct application of the fundamental theorem of software engineering).


Of course not, it's an insane argument. To end up with a decent retirement fund, say $1.5m, you'd need to buy 50k units and store them for years. Whether you could even get hold of such a large quantity would be questionable, but when it came to shifting them you'd encounter a huge liquidity problem as you single-handedly flooded the market and watched the asking price plummet.

I think the only feasible way would be to use them as retirement income rather than a lump sum, by trickling them onto the market at the rate you needed for your weekly income.


Niche collectible markets can be really fragile. Just a few people interested in a particular topic can skew the price expectations, and then someone trying to liquidate a large collection while prices are high can single-handedly burst a bubble.

> I think the only feasible way would be to use them as retirement income rather than a lump sum, by trickling them onto the market at the rate you needed for your weekly income.

I know of a guy who has inherited an ENORMOUS collection of old hand tools. He's been dripping them into the market via online auction website for well over two years now. Every week he just lists a few chisels, some hand planes, a saw or the like netting, by my estimate, around the average salary.

While this is a good strategy - he gets the fair market value of each and every tool, instead of selling in bulk at a huge discount - this is also almost a job: taking pictures, setting up the auctions, accounting, packaging, and sending the packages, possibly resolving disputes.


What do you mean “almost a job”? That is a job by any reasonable definition. He’s effectively operating an online store, but he just doesn’t have to source inventory.


> and know exactly which kit to collect.... can I expect to invest 400K and get that 600% return? I doubt it.

You are correct to doubt it: there are a limited number of collectors so as soon as you start selling the supply/demand curve bends away from your favour. To keep the curve in a good place you would need to buy many individual kits (or perhaps one or two of each at most) and there won't be enough good candidates to build a 400K portfolio.

Very few kits will see that sort of return over just one year. I'm guessing not many more will see that order of return over several years, and once you get into multiple years you have inflation to account for when comparing purchase and eventual re-sale prices.

Also, you have the cost of storing the kits and ensuring they are safe from (and/or insured against) damage/theft/etc.


You don't need to only buy Legos. If you diversify across more toys, electronics, etc you can certainly get to over 400k in inventory. I know people selling more than that every month.


If you don't forget the storage cost and shipping effort. Sure.


You can certainly scale it to make a comfortable full time living and I know multiple people that do that.

Easier if you branch out to other stuff that's not Legos.


yeah Revan was an exclusive "buy $75 worth of LEGO, get a free Revan." I don't believe it was available at retail by itself


Investment markets come in to ruin yet another thing - people who just mix up Lego and play it themselves, now under pressure to keep their sets, sets.


> people who just mix up Lego and play it themselves

Those people (/me waves) aren't going to be ruined by this. The people who mix up their sets aren't particularly interested in the sets, anyway - why would we be, if we're just going to mix them into a giant bucket anyway?

But yes, people who buy sets to build them and display them are probably going to be dinged by this, as people rush out to buy "investment" sets. (My friend is one of these people. He loves to buy sets and build them, and then stick 'em on a shelf. I don't get it.)


I do the same, build them and set them on shelf. Then take them down every few days when my 4 year old wants to play with them. Then spend 20 mins putting them together when he is done with them; he is quite considerate for 4 year old: bircks, or entire sections, will get detached, but he won't outright destroy them; he also love to build complex models together. Currently working on the Tower Bridge.


Maybe it'll go the way comics went; a massive increase in people purchasing items solely for investments, the manufacturers pandering to (or alternatively, taking advantage of) them, and ultimately a massive crash leading to plenty of choice and low prices for actual lego aficionados in the future.


I don't see how you can think of this as a negative thing. We should be celebrating people buying $100 toys for their kids because they know they'll retain (or increase) in market value than $5-10 trash.

It:

a) Reduces waste, since we get re-use rather than disposable plastic that's thrown away soon after its first use.

b) Gives owners an economic incentive to preserve quality toys for generations, thus preserving iconic products.


If you get your kids a "collectible," you're not buying them a toy, you're buying them a decorative box. If you open it and play with it, it stops being collectible and the resale price plummets.


You can be buying both. E.g. used LEGO Death Star II sets seem to go for around $700 on eBay (~$1500 new), and similarly if you buy BRIO train sets for your kids you'll both get better quality and something you can re-sell at a reasonable price, v.s. say buying crappy IKEA train sets.

After having kids I've seen the sheer amount of crap in excessive volumes that gets gifted to kids. Everyone would be better off if kids got 10x fewer toys of 10x more quality.


The analysis ignores 99.99% of LEGO that has been sold and is now worthless.

Focusing on items that have been resold would bias the analysis to show larger profits for LEGO investment.

This looks like a great example of survivorship bias.


>and is now worthless.

Not quite. You can always part stuff out on http://bricklink.com/ and might get a penny per element or might get several dollars per element depending. Us AFOLs that make MOCs are frequently buying random elements we need for this or that. For example:

To make this Mars habitat MOC I spent about 60$ just to get some of the elements (like the curved tops of the habs, the PV panels and the ISRU tanks) because I simply didn't have the elements or anything comparable. That base plate was 11-12$ by itself and it's the only thing remotely Mars-regolith looking that Lego has produced https://www.ryanmercer.com/ryansthoughts/2016/7/29/my-lego-m...

When 31032-1 Red Creatures came out I really wanted a black dragon, not a red dragon, so that was another 15-20$ I had to spend, again didn't have some of the necessary elements, to be able to make one https://www.ryanmercer.com/ryansthoughts/2016/7/6/lego-31032...

I will agree though that speculating on any given, current production, Lego set is idiotic at best. You never know what will be popular and what won't, you'll never know when something will be retired or won't.

I also add to my Modulex collection every quarter or so. Modulex elements are considerably smaller than traditional Lego and incompatible. They were a 1:20 scale for building architectural models that never really caught on but are just neat https://lego.fandom.com/wiki/Modulex


Ah, exotic America: where people think seriously about exploring Mars, while still using top-loading washing machines. Truly, a land of contrasts.


> I will agree though that speculating on any given, current production, Lego set is idiotic at best.

The comment you're replying to doesn't suggest any of that.

yukonbound's comment made me think that comparing the items whose value really popped to those whose value didn't might provide a guide to which items would become more valuable in the future.

> You never know what will be popular and what won't, you'll never know when something will be retired or won't.

The really obvious counterexample is Star Wars-branded stuff associated with a current feature film. I don't think it would be that hard to identify stuff with a limited production run. The "will be popular" part is trickier, yes.


>The comment you're replying to doesn't suggest any of that.

Uh

>The analysis ignores 99.99% of LEGO that has been sold and is now worthless.

That blanket covers 99.99% of anything Lego, combine that with what this article is about... speculating on Lego sets... my comment is fine.

"worthless" though is not the case. Individual elements absolutely have value on the secondary markets. Bricklink has more than a million mmebers, 10,499 stores and 125,105 unique elements with millions and millions of pieces for sale.

Parting a 'worthless' set out can often yield you more, if not several times more. Sure it might take you years to sell every single element of a set, but by no means is 99.99% of Lego 'worthless'.

>really obvious counterexample is Star Wars-branded stuff associated with a current feature film.

Plenty of Star Wars sets have gone on varying levels of sale/clearance (some quite drastically) via both shop.lego/Lego stores and non-Lego retail outlets in the past several years. 42 of the 97 Star Wars sets are currently on sale on shop.lego for example and almost certainly won't rocket up in value, ever. The Clone Wars sets were probably the worst failure here.

Lego also has plenty of series that just never gain traction. Most recently I'd point at Nexo Knights. Kids just weren't interested, despite the cartoon, and most of us adult fans only bought it because we wanted space and/or castle/knights to come back and this was the closest offering. We basically got 2 rounds of releases the they scrapped it.

Legends of Chima is mostly a flop.

The Minecraft series had some of the steepest discounts I've seen directly from shop.lego/lego stores.

Architecture sets are more often miss than hit and you find unopened sets fairly regularly in thrift/budget store chains.

Bionicle flopped hard and only has a small die-hard fan base not unlike the Dreamcast.

Angry Birds had pretty steep discounts direct from Lego early on.

TMNT several years ago was a pretty big bust and hasn't retained value.

Etc.


>Bionicle flopped hard and only has a small die-hard fan base not unlike the Dreamcast.

This is a very poor example; Bionicle sets have skyrocketed in value.

Plenty of things may go on clearance now but become worth a lot of money years later.


>This is a very poor example; Bionicle sets have skyrocketed in value.

Comic con/promotional exclusives, yes. Everything else, no. The biggest increase I'm seeing is a 14$ set going for staring around 42$ sealed (and only 7 new have sold in the past 6 months on Bricklink and 0 since November with only 16 new available), a 300% return that is not impressive - especially considering this is one of the 3-year old reboot sets which means the bulk of that value is likely from speculators and not actual collectors and will probably go down considerably over the next few years. You can see this clearly on Bricklink:

https://www.bricklink.com/v2/search.page?q=bionicle&brand=10...


> only 7 new have sold in the past 6 months on Bricklink and 0 since November

Yeah, on Bricklink. Have you tried looking at more mainstream places like Ebay? There are dozens of sealed sets selling there.

>a 300% return that is not impressive

Really? You dont think 300% ROI is not impressive? Most of the regular sets from the 1-4th generation also sell at that kind of inflated price so its really not that unusual.


Yes, assuming people will be playing with Legos in 10-20 years ( which is a safe assumption) and that knock off will stay low quality (which might be not), there is a floor on the value of a set.


That was my sentiment exactly. I couldn't tell 100% from the article, but it looked like the professor only looked for items that had been on sale in the secondary market, and then looked back at the original retail price to gauge the return. Worthless (or near worthless) items wouldn't be put up on EBay at all. This invalidates the entire study.


Bulk used Lego sells pretty consistently around $10/lb. Certainly less than retail, but never un-sellable. Of course, selling piece-by-piece on Bricklink will net more, for more work.

Especially when compared to pure "collectibles" that are past their peak, they're much more regular in value and always sell.


You can usually get closer to $5 per pound on eBay if you search carefully. I built an algorithm to do this searching and filtering for me:

https://joncraton.com/lego-by-pound


99.99% of wine and jewelry sold is also worthless (beyond immediate enjoyment, which LEGO also provides). For any successful product the collector market will be small.


Or a lack of false positive/hypothesis test analysis.


Certainly related, cause or effect ?

> Mar 22 2016 > Why Stealing Legos May Be the Perfect Crime > > A recent undercover sting operation busted a Lego thief in Portland, but thanks to the toy bricks' high price and the ease of reselling them online, stealing them has become a lucrative trade.

Source: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/yvx77j/why-stealing-legos...


Similarly, a former SAP executive was busted for printing his own fake UPCs, applying them to Lego sets, buying them, and reselling them on eBay in 2012.

https://venturebeat.com/2013/08/03/former-sap-exec-faces-30-...

https://www.wired.com/2013/08/langenbach/


I have a client that has a reverse logistics business buying second hand X, testing, cleaning, repackaging and then selling X as refurbished. They have been doing this a few years and created a multi-million dollar business unit with reasonable margins.

They did a trial about 3 years ago of buying separating, sorting, cleaning, repackaging and selling LEGO bricks/parts. After about 3 months they ended the trial deciding that the economics of the process just didn't work for them at any kind of scale.

What I just described is quite different than buying new LEGO sets, leaving them unopened and storing them for a few years and then selling them with the hope that some of them have appreciated so greatly that the overall collection is worth substantially more.


Apple products?


On a sample of 2 tear downs, I’d say harvesting Apple products for parts is where the real money is.


Or refurbishing and upgrading old iPod classics:

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/3daq4n/music-geek...

I've done this myself (listening to 5.5 gen iPod, I'd forgotten how good mp3 sounds vs Spotify), but for personal use not flipping for profit. Some refurbished iPods sell for quite a lot though.


See also "Lego a 'better investment than shares and gold'" on HN 3 years ago[0] and the various Lego investment websites[1]. Not something I engage in myself, but have been aware of. Like the people who "invest" in trainers/sneakers[2].

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10791057

[1] e.g. https://www.brickpicker.com/ & http://brixinvest.net/

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18535897


I've been a fan of LEGO since I was a kid and have got back into in the last 5 years or so.

I wish I'd have bought more sets when I was younger as some of them sell for crazy amounts of money now. Particularly the early Harry Potter, Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean sets. The minifigures alone can sell for close to £100.

I dabble in buying and selling LEGO and it is true that you can make money but it's a lot harder than it used to be. LEGO makes and sells a lot more sets now so it's not as lucrative.

At the end of last year I bought a load of sets that were shortly going to be discounted in the hopes of making money in the future. Some of the sets I'm expecting to do well are the Silent Mary Pirates of the Caribbean set as this was the only set released when the latest film came out. Also I'm predicting the Old Fishing Store set should do well as it's a much loved set and it was only on sale for a year. Generally the higher priced licensed sets have netted you a nice return in the past.

The problem with buy sets if you have to have somewhere to store them and be prepared to keep them for a long time, even slight damage to a box can harm its resell value. Plus my wife doesn't like having lots of boxes lying round the house. I'm mainly concentrate on collecting minifigures now as their easier to store and take up a lot less room.


There was a time that beanie babies, baseball cards and comic books would have yielded similar returns or better. The collectible market can get insanely hot and then die in an instant.


I wonder how much the compatibility between sets (being able to snap blocks made in the 80's to ones from a set today) affects that, along with them having more of a "repeat use" than something like a baseball card or comic.


I think that's the distinction that matters. You can collect it, and it stops being sold, now somebody somewhere wants your set in brand new condition so they can play with it, cause well they love Lego's and you've got some rare set they wish they had.


The lower bound for the price of a collectible Lego set is what you could expect when sold solely as a cheaper, slightly outmoded alternative to a new Lego set. That's better than baseball cards and the like, but still easily offset by the cost of storage and handling.


I have Lego bricks that are from the 80's and they snap together with brand new ones just fine even after being used by my parents through their childhoods and through my own


The Lego Group has some pretty tight tolerances for what's acceptable in a brick. For being a toy, Lego bricks are created to incredibly high standards.


Yes, but this time it's different.

That's what everybody inside the bubble thinks. That's what they must think. It's what makes the bubble work. The bubble must always contain some forgotten ingredient that makes it special. Something that people do not remember about the past bubbles. Then nobody inside the bubble can prove that it will burst and if it's not provable maybe it won't burst.


I wonder what difference intended collectability has on the value if any.

All three tried to exploit those to inflate the bubble. Given the strategy seems more toys first than limited platinum collector's edition - which doesn't really have much demand over the baseline. I would expect an overleveraged by speculators market to collapse eventually but far slower - akin to the decline in antiques as many new buyers shun them as white elephants.


The thing with collectible markets is that usually price collapse trails far behind transaction volume collapse, so that the few examples of complete price crashes are just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently even the most professionalized traders would rather hold on to imaginary riches than liquidate their stocks for pennies.


Also BTC.


Why would you expect correlation? Financial assets are correlated because people tend to think of them together.

Lego is not in most people's investible universe, so there's no wealth effect or substitution effect to drive correlation.


I would expect correlation to the amount of cash sloshing about / the state of the economy.

Unemployed people aren't likely to be buying collectors sets of Lego.

Its unclear how much of this return is due to a recent boom. I hadn't heard of Lego collecting until 5? years ago. So now you have adults in the market with a lot more money to spend, wanting to relive their child hood (not intended as an insult), is this just a bubble?


But mental accounting probably does not lump the stocks/bonds portfolio together with the hobbies.

Also most people actually don't have any stocks or bonds, it's held by pension funds who certainly aren't Lego investors.


What do you mean by 'mental' accounting?


A particular cognitive bias that creates separate budgets for things that ought to be considered together.


Ok, I'm not sure how that relates to the conversation?

But it would depend on why you bought it? If you bought it as a toy, then yes. If you bought I as an investment, wouldn't you then lump it in with your other investments?


Its only those with large portfolios - that consider non standard assets: classic cars , watches, coins, wine, whisky, toys etc


My brother has a few boxes of unopened baseball cards from the 1980s.

They're not worth anything.

We also have star wars cards from the 70s. To worn to be worth anything, but they brought a lot fun to young me.

If you collect things I feel you should do it because you enjoy it. Collections for collections sake always puzzled me.

Also Beanie Babies. And a bunch of other "collectables". That market crashed. Its very hard to predict.


LEGO is smarter than all of those companies, though, because there's always a couple unique pieces in larger sets, and those are the insanely expensive ones. The part-out value on Bricklink is useful for this.


Agreed, but a lot of collecting involves talking the monetary value of the collection. Some people will never sell it, but they will tell you - with some sort of pride, even - the thousands of dollars it is worth.


I wonder how well that holds over time. Maybe there is a huge price increase after LEGO stops manufacturing the set, with value not increasing much over time after the point at which buyers are left to the secondary market.

Also, listing fees. Swedish eBay owned Tradera charge fees and 10% of sales value.

But, I would love to save in Lego. Keep them around and look at the boxes.


We really should start a Lego index fund buying up 10% of all new sets, storing them for 10 years then selling them on eBay.

Maybe we should do tulips too while we're at it, I heard they give a huge return too :)


Last black Friday I bought multiple boxes of Lego City series as an investment. We will see how this goes.


City is a bad move.

Licensed sets, Ideas, and modular Creator sets are better bets. You're really looking of uncommon pieces in rare colors or unique minifigures.

The radar dish from the original UCS Millennium Falcon will fetch a couple hundred dollars because it's a custom print.

There's an X-Men set "Wolverine Chopper Attack" or something that retailed for $20 but goes for about $60 on the secondary market because it's the only set with a Deadpool minifigure.


Doesn't need to be Lego. Buy most popular items when discontinued, hold for a year, some people will be willing to pay more for it.

This is part of my e-commerce business. (I do some regular items as well but discontinued items are often lucrative).

See e.g. https://www.amazon.com/Motorola-H720-Bluetooth-Headset-Packa...

Two years ago this was going for $23.50 wholesale (I was offered by a large supplier) and $35 retail. Tens of thousands of units sold. Price went up over time and whoever still has units is making a killing now.

It's definitely possible to deploy millions into the business, but it's far more of an active part of a portfolio. You can't trade an index of discontinued products that appreciate.


I'm confused. What moron would pay $270 for that cheesy bluetooth headset?


Someone who used the same one for years - this was one of the most popular bluetooth headset for years.

Sales went down as price goes up, but I estimate it was selling 100+ units/month when the price was $150 and got worse as price got higher


These must be the same boomers I see mindlessly walking around Best Buy looking for help with their phones.


You may be heavily discounting the aversion some of us have to change. If I've been using one thing for several years, and have become accustomed to it's quirks, I may be very willing to pay a high premium to get the same thing again when it craps out. This is doubly true, if I found it difficult to settle on the thing originally.

Take this blue tooth headset as an example. If I spent $300 buying various headsets 5 years ago before finally settling on it, I might expect to spend a similar amount of money (or time) to find a new headset today, and may well be willing to pay $300 just to get the same headset. It's not necessarily a great example, since I expect the quality of headsets to be much improved today, but I was super tempted to scour ebay for an old microsoft itellimouse when my last one finally became unusable. I'd used this model for 2 decades, and no other mouse I've used feels the same. I'm likely to give this new mouse I found another few months, but I may end up deciding that it's worth it for me to pay whatever premium it's currently going for.


Yes that's something boomers and the old do. One of their most identifying characteristics is aversion to change. And they have more money than sense if they are buying a $270 old Motorola bluetooth headset that has been superseded in every way by a $30 headset today.


Not necessarily.

The important thing is that the demand curve slopes down but doesn't go to 0 that quickly. With Amazon you have the entire US (and other countries) as potential buyers and for popular items there will often be some buyers.

Also, you don't need much appreciation to make money. If MSRP is $50 and you get $80, and paid $35 wholesale you still make a good return after fees.

I just picked this one out because it went up a ton, plenty of others go up less but are still good.


If anyone wants to chat about the business there's an email in my profile that still forwards to me


How do you differentiate discontinued product versus ones that are upgraded to a different model?


There's no difference. People will pay more for older model even if there's an upgrade.

I generally look for stuff where I make a small profit at current price and where total quantity isn't so much that I'm worried about getting stuck.


I was thinking that model upgrades have a smaller profit potential because there is a possibility of a consumer switching to the newer model. You think that effect, if it is present, is not worth thinking about?


I generally look at the data on the specific product. If it's been discontinued for a year already and new model has been out for a year and it's still selling, that tells me something.

I look at a lot of things, and like I said I don't just do discontinued items.

Right now I'm holding onto some Samsung Blu-ray players from 2015. Samsung stopped making them, so the 2017 models are the latest, but the 2015 are cheaper and still selling quite well. I expect the price to go up a bit as the other guys selling it sell out, and then I'll make maybe 30-40% on my money for holding it for 4 months or so, minus costs/returns.

Very doable if you have capital and are willing to be active and take some risks.


Thanks interesting, thanks for your feedback.


Made some money with LEGO technic sets something between 100% - 200%. But what was much much better was keeping some Magic Cards currently valued ~5k which I bought for pennies when at university.


I must dig out my MTG cards from 20 years ago and see if I have any rares or valuable cards I assume there is some online resource


If you want to sell them quickly and easily you can use: https://store.tcgplayer.com/help/playerbuylist . It's not as much money as you would get selling them individually on ebay but a lot more money than you would get from your local card store.


Anything from the Alpha release is going to be worth a lot.

Even a set of basic lands will set you back $500.

When I used to play back in '95/96 (4th Ed/Ice Age era) any Alpha/Beta cards were relatively expensive - now they're crazy.


MTG is really skewed towards high end stuff 99% cards are never really going to be worth anything. I think a lot of people get disappointed when they find out their old bulk cards aren't as valuable as they expected them to be.

I own thousands (probably 10's of thousands) of magic cards but I'd say 95% of my collections value is tied up in probably fewer than 50 cards.

If you have unopened product (sealed boxes or packs) those are potentially worth quite a bit. A lot of old unopened booster packs are worth $15+ now.


I'm lucky because I sold those 95% of cards (collection) back in the day and have only a playing deck left which I kept in the drawer for 20y. I was astonished to find that Mishras Workshop is $1k (also lucky that I've kept all cards in sleeves from the beginning).



Now that I have kids I've been looking up all my favourite childhood toys. Some of them are worth a crazy amount now. But that's maybe 5% of them. So what do I do? Hoard everything?


no, just pick the ones that will be in that 5%


Yeah, exactly, right?

If I do the unquantifiable math on the cost of storage tomy happiness living here, it's not worth it. But I value various things like clutter as incredibly expensive.


Very popular toys, preferably with something unusual/wrong with them.

Or very unpopular toys, that no one bought.

Easy.


There is a several dozen location retail chain called bricks and minifigs (https://bricksandminifigs.com/) that supports this trade.

It drives me crazy to spend $15 for a Jedi Master Plo Koon minifig but when my kid has been saying for weeks that is what he wants, i shell it out, and I see tons of other parents doing the same at our store.


What REALLY annoys me, is that people selling minifigs on the second hand market, are splitting them from new sets. Leaving the set without any figures. If you search eBay you'll see 100s of nearly-new sets listed but with 'NO MINIFIGS' in the description. If you wanted to buy a popular out-of-stock set for your kid, expect to massively pay over the odds just to replace the missing minifigs all because of the greedy minifig collectors market.

What LEGO should do here, is sell single minifig 'blister-packs' for all their themed figures (Disney/Marvel, Star Wars etc.). This would have the benefit of ensuring that new sets don't get split for profit, and also create a new income stream for LEGO. They could even make some minifigs limited run 'blister-pack' only, driving up the demand/value.

I'm a casual minifig collector, but I refuse to buy figs that have been clearly split from bigger sets. It makes it hard for me, as I also won't pay more than £10 for a set, so I'm restricted to the blind-bags and the small range of tiny single-figure sets. It's frustrating, but at least my conscience is clear.


Around here lego seems to be doing that, except they are the “trading card” or “loot box” style packs where you can’t see what you are getting ahead of time. This seems to be a direct strategy to further cash in on minifig collecting.

And on second reading, that’s what you might have meant by “blister pack”, but I’ll still comment as I wasn’t sure.


Yup, blister pack = trading card. Where you can at least see what you are buying - think the individual proper Star Wars action figures from Kenner/Hasbro.

LEGO do have the 'blind bags/loot box' type minifigs, which run in 'Seasons', the last season was Harry Potter themed, so I skipped that. I'm currently waiting for the next Season to come out.


Why are you driving yourself crazy instead of being a responsible parent?


"Lego collecting delivers huge and uncorrelated market returns" - up to 2015, when articles like this started coming out and more people started buying ans storing sets as investments.

If you invest now you will have more competitors with the same idea so supply/demand factors are likely to be less favourable when you try to re-sell the items later.


You should see the return of investment in reserve list Magic the Gathering cards... I wish I had bought some 15-20 years ago.


And yet there are places online where you can buy cheap legos by the pound (or kilo).

So I guess the real value is in keeping the sets together? I suppose you could make some money buying legos by the pound and then sorting them into sets and reselling them. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people who do that.


I think the problem with this approach is the lack of the box and instruction booklets, which are also part of the set.


You can download them all from the lego website now, and if you want to be full service, you can print them in color.


Also you are missing all the specific pieces the set needs.


I love Lego, my kids love Lego, they have all my old Lego and it really bums me out how quickly Lego sets go out of production. One of my sons really wants a set from the first Jurassic World movie, but it's been discontinued and is only available for several hundred pounds on eBay (or 100-200 if you settle for parting it out on Bricklink) and so he's not going to ever get it.

I get that they can't keep making the sets forever, it wouldn't scale, but it's still annoying and drives this feeling of needing to buy any Lego set you might ever want, because you'll never get it later without wasting loads of money on scalpers/hoarders.


Lego bricks are an example of a product that has the market advantages of popular with both children and adults (as parents, nostalgia) that is also a durable good[1]. Purchasing new bricks today is a lot easier to justify with the knowledge that can be used with the bricks purchased 20 years ago thanks to their durability and backwards compatibility. While planned obsolescence can be profitable, durability reduces sales friction.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durable_good


I dislike how this article goes out of its way to prejudice the reader against a perfectly reasonable criticism but making it sound like critics are simply unwilling to entertain unconventional ideas.


I'm pretty sure that's tongue in cheek, it's a fun article but no one is saying dump your 401k into lego.


LEGO collecting doesn't always work out.

I snatched up all the classic Bill Cosby Lego's I could find in 2013, thinking I could get ahead of a trend when they announced a new Lego version of The Cosby Show that was supposed to come out in 2014.

That show never came out, and Cosby's popularity isn't exactly what is was. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for some sort of morbid Lego fan interest but so far it hasn't materialized.

My tech friends bough Crypto in 2013. I bought Cosby. Lesson learned.


I might be just cheap but the last time I was at a toy store shopping for a Christmas gift for my friend's son, I was shocked at the retail price of Lego. I wonder how the numbers would look if we were to consider the year after year increased prices of new product, sort of an accounting for inflation. I do find it very interesting how the Simpsons kits have lost value though, is it because the bricks are somehow different than the rest?


Lego is kind of like Apple in the sense that they exercise draconian brand control, they have a best in class product no one can compete with, and thus they can command ludicrous profit margins.

In spite of being expensive, though, Lego is still a good deal, because it lasts forever. My childhood Lego, the oldest sets nearly 40 years old, was passed on to my younger sister, then my cousin, then my nephew, and I've got it back again.

No other toy from my childhood is still around, let alone in use. It's a pretty safe bet that Lego will still be popular in 40 years, and my childhood Lego will still be compatible.


Price per piece, Lego is still roughly the same price. Sets are now more complicated and have higher piece counts.

Small $5 sets with about 50 pieces that used to command shelf space are not polybags.

The bricks are the same. I think they don't hold the same value because the minifigures are non-standard. And they had a Minifigures blind bag set as well that used the same molds/prints. So most of the reason to buy the sets could be had by buying a display box of Minifigures.


A classic essay on collectibles is relevant to several comments here: https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photogr...


paying for storage of large amounts of lego sets will offset any gain you can extract out of them... obvious flaw of the study.


I believe Pokemon cards, other trading cards and sneakers are all valuable collectible markets as well


Lack of interest in my Erector Set's going to average out those huge returns.


they could have said the same thing about baseball cards 30 years ago


Haha. I'm still sitting on a binder and a box of hockey cards from over around 30+ years ago— thankfully I never had to spend a dime on them.

Some are still calling for a decent price, but I'm not sure there's the market for them quite as much.

On the plus side, we might see a minor resurgence in their popularity: https://theplantnewspaper.com/2018/03/the-evolution-of-colle...


When I was a kid I swapped a friend one Lego spaceship for his entire collection of original star wars figures that he didn't want.

If they were still carded their current value would be astronomical.


Sounds ripe for a speculation bubble.


Stamps.


well, not anymore




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