My youngest child recently became a Lego fanatic (as am I). She was already enthralled by the Harry Potter books and movies, so the discovery that two of her favorite things were now combined (and just before Christmas, too) gave birth to a new obsession. Unfortunately, Lego stopped making Harry Potter Lego sets last year.
Most of the remaining Harry Potter Lego sets were apparently snapped up in stores during the Christmas rush, and now it’s hard to find Harry Potter Lego sets at a reasonable price. (Evidently, it’s not a new thing for investors to buy up collectible toys like this, and resell them online for two or three times the price.) What’s a geeky Dad to do? I want to encourage creative play and nurture her individual interests, but the prices of these hard-to-find Harry Potter Legos sets are eye-popping!
I disappeared into the Harry Potter Lego Internet rabbit hole and here are a few of the places I’ve found to buy discontinued Harry Potter Lego sets, or even used Lego pieces — all without breaking the bank.
First Place to Look: eBay (But it’s Not the Cheapest!)
My daughter is young, but already computer literate enough to search eBay for Harry Potter Lego Sets. The prices for complete Harry Potter sets tends to be sky high (eBay prices are second only to the after-market prices on Amazon) — although you can find bargains if you pay attention. You might find a loose set (no box, most of the pieces) for 1/2 to 3/4 of the (after-market) price of the unopened box, but that’s still expensive (as they’re going for three times the retail price when in-stores) and slightly dodgy, as you don’t know for sure that all the pieces are there until you build the set.
People also like to break up sets to sell the pieces individually on eBay, as they may make more money that way. The mini-figures are the most-valuable, some going for $40 each, even used! You might score a Harry Potter set for a (relative) song without any mini-figures, but your child might not be overjoyed, as the play value seems to depend on having the right beloved characters.
One way to find value for money on eBay is to buy loose lots of bulk Lego. Zoom in on the photos on eBay to see if there are any pieces/sets/figures you can recognize, and be prepared to bid $10 a pound (or more) for the lot. (Non-Harry Potter Lego tends to go for around $5 a pound.) Sometimes, you might notice most of a set or several great figures amid a sea of random Legos. The question is, whether your child would want the bulk parts to build things from their imagination or only be interested in the exact sets with instructions. If you were so inclined, you could buy the large lots, remove the parts/mini-figure you really wanted and resell the rest on eBay. That’s rather time-consuming. (Although to be fair, searching eBay and the internet at large for discontinued Harry Potter Lego sets is a time-consuming process, if you want to find value for money.)
Downloadable (Free) Instruction sheets:
Lego helpfully make all of their instruction sheets downloadable for free from Lego.com. (This doesn’t stop people on eBay trying to sell the instruction booklets for a good price, however. Buyer beware!) If you have a good supply of Lego bricks already, you could start by downloading the plans of a coveted Harry Potter set, and see how many of the pieces you already have. Probably most of them, but the colors might not be exact. But here’s the thing: don’t get caught up with being exact. Kids don’t let a desire for 100% accuracy get in the way of play. One of my daughter’s friends saw the multi-colored Hogwarts we built and exclaimed “A rainbow castle! How cool!” That reminded me kids aren’t as uptight as adults about collecting or having things perfect.
Bricklink: The Best-Kept Secret of the Lego World
A great source of individual parts (new and used) is Bricklink, an online network of stores who sell Lego piece by piece, as well as some complete sets. You’ll find almost everything cheaper than eBay here.
However, many of the sellers are overseas, so the shipping and exchange rates can kill any price savings versus eBay. For comparison terms, I’ve seen a popular set like The Burrow go for up to $250 on eBay and around $110 on Bricklink. You can filter your Bricklink search by country, which helps to find the best combination of price and shipping costs. [Note: prices may have changed since this blog was posted.]
You can also buy Lego Harry Potter mini-figures individually on eBay or BrickLink if those are what the kids are really in love with. While one Harry Potter figure might still set you back $15 plus shipping (at the cheap end), that’s a lot cheaper than buying a whole set. Again, figures tend to be more expensive on eBay due to the auction effect.
Buy Individual Bricks Direct from Lego.com
You can also buy individual Lego pieces direct from the Lego.com. The selection is much less complete than Bricklink, but you can buy in bulk whereas sellers on Bricklink often have only one or two of each brick. You will not find specific Harry Potter mini-figures or “Hogwarts” pieces there, but you should be able to find many of the pieces you need to complete Harry Potter sets, and in the correct colors. The same might be the case if you live close to a Lego store (we don’t, so I can’t pop in and see what they have). Shipping from the Lego online store tends to be more expensive than BrickLink, so if you are only looking for a few parts bear that in mind. I got bulk quantities of windows, tan bricks, doors, and other various parts that look like they belong in the Hogwarts castle, and the shiping is much more reasonable once you’re ordering a larger amount of bricks. They often have special offers or free gifts with purchase, so you can find great value or get some exclusive bricks by ordering direct.
Amazon.com: Possibly the easiest source of complete sets
Surprising, almost two years since I originally write this post, Amazon.com still have sellers listing complete Harry Potter Lego sets. Some are still quite expensive, but others look more reasonable once you’ve done your research and seen the much more expensive and complicated options out there. There are little stocking stuffers like the bagged Harry Potter in the Lab figure that are reasonably affordable, and larger sets like some of the Hogwarts sets (beware, there are several that make up the complete castle) and others with many unique and iconic pieces (such as the Quidditch Match set) easily available.
In comparison to the more time-consuming sources, Amazon.com looks better all the time.
The Creative (and Cost-Effective) Approach: Buy the Unique Harry Potter Lego Bricks Only
One fun use for Bricklink.com is to get a bunch of different body parts and let the kids build their own characters. You can get torsos (the chest and arms) of Lego mini-figures wearing Gryffindor sweaters, Slytherin sweaters, generic Hogwarts sweaters, plain school-uniform sweaters, as well as quidditch uniforms. Add some male and female wigs (several should be red to become Weasleys), a few witches hats, brooms, wands, pets, and capes, and your child can mix and match to make most of the students at Hogwarts. You can also find Lego heads in a variety of darker skin-tones and create a Hogwarts that’s a little more racially balanced than the one found in the officially sanctioned Lego sets. (FYI, the Bricklink site is not the most user-friendly, so poke around for a while and set up a wanted list to help you source the parts you want.)
My solution to ensure some creative Harry Potter-themed Lego fun without breaking the bank has used all of the above sources. First, I showed my daughter the downloadable plans for all the Harry Potter Lego sets which gives her great ideas, and helps her build approximations of them with our old Legos (we have tons, including a lot from my own childhood — one of Lego’s many virtues is that it’s practically indestructible!). Then, I ordered some special parts and figures from Bricklink (spiral staircases, Gryffindor banners, the Fat-Lady’s portrait hole, chocolate frogs, etc.), scored one small lot of mixed Harry Potter Lego pieces at a reasonable price on eBay, and found the rest of the pieces we needed on the lego.com site (where we got a free gift). I then left it up to my kids’ imaginations to build their own Hogwarts. The colors might be a mixed bag, but all their friends ooh and aah when they come over, and I haven’t heard one word of complaint.