People Are Stealing Legos. Here's Why

Apr 3, 2021
Originally published on April 15, 2021 11:42 am

Lego larceny may be on the rise.

French police have been investigating an international ring of toy thieves with a particular affinity for the colorful, interlocking bricks, according to a recent report from The Guardian.

In this case, three suspects were caught taking boxes of Legos from a toy shop near Paris, with the goal of selling them in Poland, according to Le Parisien.

And it's not just Europe. Lego robberies have happened in the United States as well. Last month, a man in Oregon was arrested after local police suspected he stole $7,500 worth of Lego toy sets.

There's a lot of money in Legos. Lego sets come out in limited editions and they soon become collectors' items.

There might even be a whole black market for the bricks, Lego specialist Gerben van IJken tells Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.

"Well, that's very difficult to prove that there's a black market. However, there is an enormous amount of collectors out there who are missing out on certain sets right now and are willing to pay a lot of money for these sets," he says.

Van IJken is an auctioneer at an auction website for collectibles. He says the most valuable and sought-after sets are those in their original packaging, not opened yet.

For example — Lego Café Corner, a set released in 2007 for about $150, can nowadays run up to $3,000 if kept in its original condition, van IJken says.

Other sets routinely fetch thousands of dollars in online marketplaces. Some sellers are asking for more than $3,500 for an unopened set of the Lego Millennium Falcon.

Just like almost everything else in the world, the pandemic could be a driving force behind this phenomenon.

"Especially during the lockdown period, as we are in right now — it's still extremely popular," van IJken adds. "And Lego sales are still extremely high, not only in the Lego Company itself but on our platform too. We saw a 100% rise in sales over the past year."

Peter Breslow and Kitty Eisele produced and edited the audio version of this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Lego larceny is on the rise. The Guardian newspaper reports that Lego thefts have soared during the pandemic. French police are investigating an international ring of toy thieves that target the colorful interlocking bricks.

We're joined now from Utrecht in the Netherlands by Lego specialist Gerben van IJken. Mr. van IJken, thanks so much for being with us.

GERBEN VAN IJKEN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And I got to tell you, you're the first Lego expert that I've ever interviewed, so this is a big moment for me. Thank you...

VAN IJKEN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Very much.

VAN IJKEN: I tell a lot of people my Lego is tax deductible, and they don't believe it (laughter).

SIMON: Well, from where are these Lego sets being lifted?

VAN IJKEN: The French case is definitely toy shops. However, earlier last month, in Portland, in Oregon...

SIMON: Yeah.

VAN IJKEN: ...On your side of the pond, a warehouse was robbed. So it's mostly very expensive Lego sets.

SIMON: So what does a Lego thief do after they've lifted a Lego set?

VAN IJKEN: Well, I'm not a detective. But Lego runs in seasons - little bit like fashion...

SIMON: Yeah.

VAN IJKEN: ...So in a winter and a summer season. And Lego sets will retire after a few years to make room for a new Lego set. And the old sets who are retired by Lego and aren't produced anymore, they shoot up in value to sell on the black market, as they say.

SIMON: There's a black market for Lego sets?

VAN IJKEN: Well, that's very difficult to prove, that there's a black market. However, there is an enormous amount of collectors out there who are missing out on certain sets right now and...

SIMON: Yeah.

VAN IJKEN: ...Are willing to pay a lot of money for these sets, especially the mint-in-box sets. The mint-in-box we mean, as collectors, that the box hasn't been opened, and the Lego hasn't been built. The Lego Cafe Corner set, for instance, representing a Parisian restaurant, in 2007, you can buy it - you could buy it for around $150. If you kept it mint-in-box, right now, it's over two and a half thousand euros, so close to $3,000 right now for a Lego set. Just last year, on the height of the pandemic, in the U.K., a warehouse - a toy warehouse was raided by thieves. And they only stole the Lego worth almost half a million dollars.

SIMON: Yeah. Just given your experience, you have a favorite Lego set?

VAN IJKEN: Yeah. I'm inclined to go for the "Star Wars" sets.

SIMON: Is it a good life being a Lego expert?

VAN IJKEN: Yes (laughter). As a set to have, a Lego to have - especially during the lockdown period as we are in now - right now, it's still extremely popular. And Lego sales is still extremely high, not only in - by Lego company itself, but on our platform, too. We saw a - almost 100% rise in sales over the past year, and on already a large auction here at Catawiki. So Lego is still an extremely popular toy for young and old.

SIMON: Well, I wish you sweet dreams of Lego.

VAN IJKEN: Ah, I always dream of Lego.

SIMON: Oh, my word.

VAN IJKEN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Gerben van IJken is, thankfully, a Lego specialist and senior expert for toys and sports at the online auction site, catawiki.com. Thanks very much for being with us, sir.

VAN IJKEN: Thank you for having me, and good luck.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "CANTINA BAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.