You might think the Happy Meal was always a McDonald’s staple, but you’d be wrong: it was the creation of Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, who ran the Guatemala’s first-ever McDonald’s restaurant in the 70s. She came up with a smaller, pre-packaged meal for children, which included a hamburger, fries and sundae. McDonald’s dubbed it the Happy Meal, added the famous collectible toys, and rolled it out across the USA in 1979. Ever since then, kids have been collecting these distinctive playthings – and some have even become quite valuable.
McDonalds ‘Translites’ – the illuminated signs that advertised the latest Happy Meal offerings – are worth a fortune. If you’re lucky enough to own one, it may fetch sums of several thousand dollars thanks to its unshakeable nostalgia value.
Hot Wheels Cars – $550
The Hot Wheels franchise dates back to 1968, but these toys only collided with the McDonald’s brand in 1983, with 14 toy vehicles on offer. One seller on eBay came up with an unexpected item from this era: the original and full display board from the restaurant, showing children which toys they could choose.
This seller specified: “These were not Happy Meal issued but rather genuine vehicles that could be purchased for 69 cents with any purchase. A different car was made available every day for two weeks.” Given that each branch of McDonald’s would only have one such display case, it’s no surprise that these are particularly treasured collector’s items. This collection sold for $550 in July 2022.
McNuggets Buddies – $150
Long before the Toy Story movies made him even more famous, Mr Potato Head was first distributed in 1952. This classic toy was the first to ever have a television advert, and by the 80s, McDonald’s was keen to capitalise on the plastic foodstuff franchise. It created the McNuggets Babies, named Cowpoke, First Class, Sarge, Drummer, Corny, Sparky, Boomerang, Volley, Snorkel and Rocker.
A complete set of new, unopened McNugget Babies sold for $150 on eBay.com in October 2022. The seller posed separate, out-of-package toys for the listing so that browsing buyers could see exactly what they would get. These toys belonged to the Girls category and first reached restaurants in 1988.
Santa’s Workshop Book – $150
A seasonal special, the Santa’s Workshop Playhouse Book was a McDonalds tray liner from 1985. Adjacent to the main Happy Meal toys, which were inspired by Santa Claus: The Movie, this book boasted a range of activities: “Punch out people and props, open the book, and have fun playing in Santa’s Workshop!”
In August 2022, a copy of this Playhouse Book sold for $150 on eBay.com. “[This] brand new sealed McDonald’s tray liner is [in] excellent condition with a crease down the middle,” the seller, from Piqua, Ohio, noted. “You probably won’t see these anywhere else.”
Mac Tonight Set – $125
Mac Tonight was an original character of the McDonald’s franchise, appearing in the late 80s. His most notable feature was his bulbous crescent-moon head and was often depicted playing Mack the Knife on the piano – which led to a lawsuit by Bobby Darin, its original singer. Mac Tonight came to his demise in 1989 after McDonald’s lost the case.
One lucky seller on eBay could offer a full display set from this toy’s era – a cardboard poster with every Mac Tonight toy attached. It sold for an impressive $125 in September 2022. “The tape on the clear plastic display is still intact but is it no longer attached to the inside of the box,” the seller added. “All 6 moon man figures are included. Please examine photos closely.”
Transformers Changeables – $124
Each of these Changeables contained three moving parts and could be turned into a Transformers-inspired figure. The Big Mac became the Macro Mac, Large Fries turned into Fry Force, Ice Cream shifted into Turbo Cone and the Quarter Pounder box morphed into the Gallacta Pounder. Three series were released in 1987, 1989 and 1990.
In September 2022, a collection of 19 Transformers Changeables dating to the 80s sold for $124. The seller, based in Chicopee, Massachusetts, had an impressive 24,398 reviews to their name. “[A] wonderful addition to your collection,’ they wrote of these items. “Great overall condition, used, minor wear.”
Dukes of Hazzard Cups – $108
The Dukes of Hazzard Happy Meal promotion came out in 1982. A set of five toy cars was released, all designed after the vehicles of the action-comedy TV show that aired from 1979 to 1985. But perhaps surprisingly, one of the most sought-after pieces of memorabilia from this era is the set of McDonald’s plastic cups, printed with the faces of Sheriff Rosco, Bo, Boss Hogg, Luke, Daisy Duke and Uncle Jesse.
A six-piece set of these cups sold for $108 on eBay.com in July 2022, after attracting five bids. They came from a home in Troy, New York and were in a used condition, but had retained surprisingly clear graphics and bright colours over the decades.
Happy Meal Stickers – $100
These rolls of Happy Meal stickers show various figures from the McDonaldland cast, who brought familiar faces to the vast franchise. Grimace, Birdie, the Hamburglar and, of course, Ronald McDonald are all pictured in these generous stationery supplies. Dating to the 1980s, they sold for $100 in September 2022.
The seller was based in Myerstown, Pennsylvania. “They are not ‘complete’ rolls (originally 250 per roll), but they look to be mostly there, I’d say well over 100 of each to be safe,” they noted. “Good shape. Free shipping.”
Chevrolet Stomper Set – $100
An invention by A. Eddy Goldfarb, the battery-powered toy cars known as Stompers were first sold by Schaper Toys. They later found their way into McDonald’s Happy Meals. One pair of original Chevrolet Stompers, released in August 1986, sold on eBay for $100 in August 2022.
“Both have been tested with a battery,” the seller noted. “One works, and is in good condition; the other is in a little rougher shape. For the non-working stomper, the light comes on, but the wheels don’t move. The wiring may need to be tweaked or connection cleaned off. It also has one plastic light from the roof missing, and a black latch broke off (included).”
Halloween Candy Buckets – $85
The first Halloween Happy Pails came out in 1986, with an original orange trio of characters named McBoo, McPunk’n and McGoblin. These buckets were designed for trick-or-treaters in time for the spooky season. Thanks to their popularity, Halloween Pails would return to Happy Meals in 1999, 2001, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 – so it’s no wonder the original toys are of considerable value to collectors.
One collection of five Pails from 1986 sold for $85 in August 2022, after attracting five bidders. This set included pumpkin, witch and ghost graphics. The seller, based in New Ringgold, Pennsylvania, warned interested parties: “They have some minor wear from age (scratches and wear to graphics).”
Astrosniks Set – $80
Astroniks date back to the 1970s, when the German toy company Bullyland first sold them as collectible plastic figurines. Also known as Sniks, these colourful characters came from a planet called Snikeria and resettled on Mars with an underground lifestyle. First sold in Germany, they were snapped up by McDonald’s, who included them in a lengthy Happy Meal promotion.
One seller on eBay advertised a collection that spanned two years of releases: ten figures from the 1983 and 1984 offerings, plus a spaceship from 1983, produced by Schaper and Bullyland. They came in a pre-used condition, with the plastic fading to yellow in a few spots. This set sold for $80 in September 2022.
St Louis Transformer – $75
This McDonald’s promotion of 1985 involved miniature Transformer-style vehicles with an extremely simple design, which couldn’t actually be posed or changed. According to the Transformers Wiki, “each [was] rendered in six different color variations, in various two-color combinations of red, green, blue, yellow and black. These figures were only available in St. Louis as a test run.”
With plastic wheels moulded to the car body, this toy wasn’t going anywhere but it still generated plenty of kudos among collectors. One eBay offering for this toy came from a home in Belleville, Illinois. Despite some minor wear and tear, this bright yellow-and-green item sold for $75, with the best offer accepted.
Christmas Muppet Babies – $45
A rarity among Happy Meal toys, these Christmas Muppet Babies are plushies rather than plastic. Released in the winter of 1987/88, they were based on the popular 1984 cartoon Muppet Babies, whose character also starred briefly in the 1987 TV special A Muppet Family Christmas.
Three of these Muppets Babies attracted attention on eBay.com in October 2022, ultimately selling for $45. Despite their soft materials, they had been preserved in spotless condition. They came from a smoke-free home in Saint John, Indiana. Postage alone cost $24.30, with International Priority Shipping to the UK offered.
Fraggle Rock Cotterpin Doozer – $40
Fraggle Rock is a TV show set in the extended Muppets universe, with the first episode airing in 1983. Muppets creator Jim Henson described it as a “high-energy, raucous musical romp” – and, thanks to its popularity with TV audiences, it soon secured a deal with McDonald’s. Among the franchise’s Fraggle Rock toys was a figurine of Cotterpin Doozer.
In the show, Cotterpin Doozer is an artistic type with a rebellious nature. She wears a visor, while other Doozer characters typically wear helmets. The McDonald’s toy shows her driving a forklift truck. One such toy sold for $40 on eBay in July 2022. Dating to 1987, this toy was described as “ultra-rare” by its seller, who was based in Gorham, Maine.
Muppet Babies including Kermit
The Muppets have collaborated with McDonald’s for decades, and in the 80s this partnership produced a wide range of classic Muppets figurines. One seller on eBay offered up a collection of five Muppet Babies, including miniature forms of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo. The set sold for $40.
This seller, based in McLeod Hill, Canada, was particularly conscious of the fact that health and safety standards have changed over the decades. “If it is a toy that you are purchasing [from us], it is never meant to be played with and only meant for display,” they noted. “If you give what you purchased from us to a child, know that you are taking the responsibility and liability if anything happens to said child.”
Grimace – $37
This rather unhappy-looking plush toy of Grimace first reached Mcdonald’s restaurants in 1981. Grimace is the fuzzy creature of McDonaldland, with a dopey personality – he famously said “duh” before many of his lines, and was voiced by Frank Welker, Larry Moran, Kevin Michael Richardson, Patti Saunders and Terry Castillo over the years.
One Grimace soft toy sold for $37 on eBay.com in August 2022. It came in its original packaging, in pristine condition after decades of careful preservation, from a home in Southampton, Pennsylvania.
Flying Saucer – $40
The Flying Saucers of the 80s had no links to any franchise other than McDonald’s. In their portholes, you can spot a Fry Kid, Hamburglar, Captain Crook, Officer Big Mac, Ronald McDonald and Grimace. These toys can be opened and closed, with nothing inside – making them a perfect hiding-place for childhood treasures.
On eBay.com, a green Flying Saucer sold for $40 in September 2022. The seller has parted ways with two of these, with one more on offer. For the same price, this seller is also offering blue and yellow Flying Saucers, which likewise show McDonaldland’s famous figures at their windows.
Bigfoot Monster Trucks – $25
These Bigfoot trucks reached Happy Meals in 1987. One fan in Gadsden, Alabama amassed a collection of seven monster trucks, in black, navy blue, red, pink, orange, green and light blue – and these sold for $25 in July 2022.
“Offered here is a lot of 7 vintage 1980’s McDonald’s Bigfoot monster truck Happy Meal toys,” wrote the seller. “These little monster trucks are in overall nice condition with minor paint wear hear there and one heat mark on the front of the regular blue Bigfoot. All 7 roll as they should and display great! All are different, which gives you a nice instant collection!”
Train Toy – $40
These colourful 1982 collectibles hooked together to form long chain trains, and their thin plastic composition meant that few have survived intact over the decades. Nevertheless, one seller in Chandler, Arizona brought together a set of four train toys, in purple, yellow, green and red. They sold for $40 in September 2022.
These toys came in an “excellent pre-owned condition”, with minimal damage. “[The] cars connect together with “t” shaped plastic piece,” the seller added. “When train is moved each car has a movement. Features Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Birdie and 4 Hamburgers. Cars are approx. 2.5″ long.”
Dukes of Hazzard Car – $82
In 1982, McDonald’s set up another promotion with the TV show Dukes of Hazzard. Among this new range of collectibles was the car of Jefferson Davis Hogg, better known as Boss Hogg, the white-suited county commissioner. His vehicle matched his outfits in colour and was a 1970 Cadillac DeVille convertible. A McDonald’s toy of this iconic car sold for $82 in August 2022.
The seller described it as “rare” and in “excellent condition”, adding, “All stickers intact (slight aging). No tears, no crushed sections, no damage. An excellent example of this McDonalds/Warner Brothers cross promotional collectible.” It was mailed from Acworth, Georgia.
Gayla Kite – $40
Gayla Industries has sold kites with a plastic keel-guided, delta-wing design since 1961. These heavily patented products have featured in McDonald’s promotions on several occasions, including the 1998 World Cup in France. Gayla-Mcdonald’s kites of the 80s were printed with slogans like ‘Fry in the Sky’ and ‘Let’s fly a kite with every McDonald’s Happy Meal.’
Manufactured in Taiwan, it was marketed as a gender-neutral toy. One such kite, emblazoned with the McDonaldland characters and dating to 1983, sold for $40 on eBay in July 2022. It was sold in a brand-new, unused and unopened condition.
Tinosaurs – $18
In partnership with Aviva Entertainment, McDonald’s released the Tinosaur figures in their Happy Meals in 1985-86. Characters ranged from Jad the Baby Dragon to Fern the Time Traveller. The Happy Meal packaging read, “Floating between here and there, in the sea of Neverwhere, you’ll fin the magical Isle of Tiny, home of the Tinosaurs.”
A set of seven Tinosaurs sold for $18 on eBay.com in July 2022. The seller, based in San Diego, California, offered first class postage the to USA for free, with priority shipping to the UK costing $14.16.“Excellent vintage condition,” they wrote. “Looks new! Clean from smoke-free home.”
Kissyfurs – $17
Kissyfur was a US cartoon show that aired for two seasons between 1986 and 1988, featuring on NBC. A Saturday morning staple, it was about Gus and Kissyfur, a father-and-son bear duo who escape from the circus to set up a community in swampland. They befriend local alligators and eventually set up a boat tour business to help other creatures explore their environment.
Ed Gilbert, Russi Taylor, Lennie Winrib and Frank Welker were among the stars to lend their voices to this show. Their characters featured in a 1985 McDonald’s promotion, appearing in the form of plastic and fuzzy figurines. One set of seven figures from this vintage toy range sold for $17 during an online auction in October 2022.
Berenstain Bears Family – $25
The Berenstain Bears originated as a children’s book series in the 60s, created by a family of the same name. Despite some criticism that the tales were overly stern and didactic, the franchise flourished in the form of an animated TV show plus various TV specials throughout the 80s. McDonald’s produced Happy Meal Berenstain Bear family figures in the same decade, and the characters had plastic bodies with felt fur markings.
A complete set of eight figurines sold for $25 on eBay.com in August 2022. The seller, under the username chriost_4893, is based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Under international priority shipping to the UK, postage would cost almost the same as this item, at $23.81.
Bambi Set – $44
The Disney classic Bambi first came out in 1942, but it returned to cinemas six more times. Bambi and her pals Friend Owl, Thumper and Flower all featured in a McDonald’s promotion in 1988, just before the movie became available for home video.
Manufactured in China, these toys have occasionally withstood the test of time, with one set of six selling for $44 in September 2022. “All sealed and brand new!” the seller added in the description box. “[The] flower toy is slightly torn open but still brand new.”
Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers – $120
Chip and Dale, the chipmunk detectives, first reached screens in the 80s with their treetop antics. In 1989, McDonald’s partnered with the show to produce four collectibles: Chip’s Whirly-Cupter, Dale’s Roto-Roadster, Gadget’s Rescue Racer and Monterey Jack’s Propel-A-Phone. Exchangeable parts let you mix and match the vehicles and accessories of each character.
Thanks to the franchise’s enduring popularity, these Happy Meal toys are of particular interest to collectors today. One seller from Charlottesville, Virginia managed to list not just these toys, but their original display collection from a McDonald’s counter. They earned $120 at an eBay auction, finally selling in September 2022.