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    Sony Walkman nostalgia leads to a hot market for old technology

    Roll tape.

    Back during the late 1980s heyday of the Sony Walkman, the parent company of the Apple iPhone of the era partnered up with Tiffany & Co. to create a silver-plated version of the personal, portable cassette player, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the absurdly-popular listening device.

    Only 250 of these special Walkmans were made, many of them delivered directly to some of music’s greatest names.

    Today, long after the revolutionary technology was made obsolete, Walkman collector Mark Ip is the proud owner of not one, not two, but three of the Tiffany Walkmans — for which he spent a total of about $10,000 to remove from a surprisingly robust collector’s market, The Guardian reported.

    The Walkman was the Apple iPhone of its time — a must-have status symbol that many couldn’t afford. Linda Bestwick – stock.adobe.com

    Ip, 60, is one of the higher-profile Walkman collectors; he aims for the most pristine models he can find, which he shows off on his popular Instagram page, @boxedwalkman.

    “I’m a little bit OCD,” Ip told a Guardian reporter. “Because I’m not satisfied with only single units. I want packaging, user manuals, original headphones.”

    “Like all collectors, you are seeking perfection,” he said. “What is perfect is a new box, never touched, no scratches, no dust. It’s almost impossible, but I will do my best to patiently wait.”

    So perfect are many of the specimens in his collection, Ip decided to put them on display for the public to appreciate, a few years back.

    “This is one of my missions in Walkman collecting,” he said, to expose the young to something that meant so much to the older generation. Many of the younger attendees were “seeing a cassette player for the first time”, he said. “Most were genuinely curious. They were intrigued by its mechanics.”

    For the Hong Kong based collector, the business is deeply personal — he keeps about 20 of the devices out at all times, just to play around with; Ip’s obsession dates all the way back to his youth, he said, when he couldn’t afford a Walkman of his own.

    The iconic sports Walkman was a commonly-spotted accessory on the waistband of fitness junkies at the time. Nicola.K.photos – stock.adobe.com

    “When I was in high school, a classmate had the first model, the TPS-L2. The stereo sounded so good. And it was portable,” he remembered.

    It wasn’t until years later, when the devices were no longer needed and all but forgotten, that Ip began to build his vast treasure trove of tape players — about 1,000 of them, he estimates, but he’s hesitant to let any of them go, at least for now.

    Not so Stephen Ho, an active eBay-er who lists well-cared-for Walkmans for up to $3,780 — though most of what he sells, he admits, goes for a lot less. He deals with all ages, he says, from the Gen Xers like him that grew up attached to their players, on down to youths with a taste for the old.

    A Walkman on display in a gallery of Japanese art at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Getty Images

    “Before social media, it was limited to older generations,” Ho told The Guardian. “But since social media — Instagram, Facebook, whatever — teenagers have been exposed to old stuff. Old guys are buying for their memories. Young people are buying to try. They think it’s trendy, it’s interesting.”

    The fiftysomething retiree from Hong Kong, now living in the U.K., worked in Sony’s marketing department back in the 1990’s — for him, this is much more than a business. His Walkmans are a vital link to a beloved past.

    “Because I grew up with Sony products and I worked for Sony, I have a passion for their products,” Ho said. “During those years, Sony was like Apple nowadays. I was a normal teenager. I had Sony Walkman, Sony radio, everything Sony.”

    At least one collector confessed to having a thousand Walkmans in storage — with little to no interest in putting them on sale. Ned Snowman – stock.adobe.com

    When Ho moved to England in 2020, he brought his precious collection with him, including hundreds of Walkmans, Discmans and MiniDisc players.

    He tries to limit himself to a budget of about $600 for new acquisitions, but confesses to paying slightly under $2,500 for one of the Tiffany Walkmans.

    And no, he said — that’s not for sale, and never will be.

    “I’m buying more than I’m selling,” he admitted — one of his favorite places to find new acquisitions is Japan, where street markets can be full of finds, though these days, it’s entrepreneurs in China using 3D-printing technology, he said, that are helping to keep Walkman fever alive.

    “Since the price of Walkmans has gone so high, people are making spare parts, which makes their lifespan longer,” he said, though old tech like this has a few of its own longevity tricks built in — as long as you have normal batteries on hand, for example, a Walkman could potentially live forever.

    Try bringing your old iPhone back to life in fifty years and see how that goes.




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