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Bavarian Scandal over Model Car Production Reveals Lucrative Adult Market for Kids' Toys

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Model cars have become increasingly popular in Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Many adults consider model cars children’s toys, but in Germany they are a lucrative investment.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • A scandal involving investors in a company that sells model cars made by inmates has drawn attention to a high-stakes market in items many would consider toys.
    • Collectible model cars can fetch hundreds on eBay and even thousands at auction.
    • German model car maker CMC Modelcars specializes in reproductions of unusual antique cars.
  • Audio

    Audio

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It’s safe to say that collecting model cars isn’t exactly the sexiest of hobbies, and yet Germany is abuzz with what has been dubbed the “model car affair.” But this affair is less about matters of the heart than the love of money.

For many years Christine Haderthauer, the director of the Bavarian State Chancellery, and her husband, a forensic physician, held stock in a company that sold miniature cars handmade by mentally ill offenders as part of their occupational therapy.

A former partner in the company had filed a complaint against the couple because he felt disadvantaged in the sale of his shares. However, Ms. Haderthauer, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, and her husband deny that the company ever generated significant profits. In a statement issued through the Bavarian State Chancellery, Ms. Haderthauer insisted that she could “fully refute the accusations.”

The affair has focused public attention on a market worth millions, one in which high-stakes auctions are rare but not unusual.

In 2007, a collector paid $35,200 (€26,365) for a 1:8 scale model of a Mercedes Benz SSK sold at auction by Christie’s. With such astounding prices being paid for toys, some investors might be advised to take a look at the small-scale world of model cars, a market potentially worth millions.

A study by the Steinbeis University in Berlin finds that model cars are among the most popular collectors’ items in Germany, next to books, coins, stamps and clocks. Apparently some 4.2 million Germans keep their miniature car collections stashed away in basements and display cabinets.

Annual sales of model cars in Germany are estimated at €250 million. When the study’s authors asked 5,000 Germans about their collecting habits, 26 percent said they considered themselves investors. They are less passionate about the items themselves than the amount of money they stand to make – which isn’t exactly trivial.

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