Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yo-Yo: An Old Dog With A Lot Of New Tricks

There are times in life when you can only find the solution to a problem by playing with a yo-yo. I’ve been a writer for a long time and early in my career worked at a fairly progressive ad agency. I was thrilled that when faced with a creative problem I was able to step outside of my office and do a few yo-yo tricks to get my brain working in the right direction. Some say that Napoleon, too, was a yo-yo enthusiast and would often relieve stress by throwing a yo-yo. Setting aside speculation, the yo-yo was first uncovered in history in 500 B.C. Greece.

The ancient form of yo-yos were produced using wood, metal or painted terra cotta discs simply referred to as discs. An example is on display in the National Museum of Athens in Greece along with a vase depicting a young boy playing with a yo-yo. The toy’s history moves through Egypt, China, Britain and France among other nations. The toy was very popular in the early twentieth century in the Philippines and helped the yo-yo gain ground in the U.S.

An image from a French fashion journal in 1791 shows a woman playing with what was then known as a Bandalore.

In 1866, James L. Haven and Charles Hittrick of Cincinnati, Ohio were given the first patent for a yo-yo in the U.S. It was for a yo-yo ‘coupled together at their centres by means of a clutch’. This was the first but many more followed using great names for the toy such as Wheel Toy, Bandalore and Whirligig. A very popular yo-yo was manufactured in San Francisco in 1920s by a man named Flores. Yo-yo in Filipino means spring.

D.F. Duncan Sr. worked for Flores, marketing the yo-yo and eventually bought out Flores. In 1930, he started the Genuine Duncan Yo-Yo Company and trademarked the name ‘yo-yo’. There have been many companies in the yo-yo business over the years and they all benefited us as consumers because, lets face it, we get a better selection of yo-yos to play with and collect. It is an endearing, unflappable, stalwart in the toy world and has become collectible as well.

Popularity in Yo-yo collecting caused a spike in prices between ‘97 and ‘01

Where does one start collecting yo-yos and what should one collect? Like any collection, it comes down to finding what you enjoy. Collect what you love and you’ll never go wrong. There are a lot of variations to consider when tracking down yo-yos: manufacturers, old or new (pre and post 1970), material (plastic, wood, metal), design (butterfly, traditional, adjustable), colours, sizes…

The Grind Machine by YoYoFactory
A sleeping yo-yo that is designed to do long lasting tricks.

The Velocity by YoYoFactory

An adjustable yo-yo that allows you to adjust the width of the gap which allows a full range of tricks.

Toy collectors are well versed in the art of toy hunting so, finding older yo-yos isn’t really that tough but paying for them can be. Prices for pre-seventies yo-yos can run anywhere from under ten dollars to over five hundred. Always remember to keep a budget in mind for any collection. To help you manage those funds efficiently you’re going to want to keep an eye out for condition when picking up a yo-yo, especially older ones. The graphics on the yo-yo should be sharp and clean and the move vibrant the colours are the better the piece. Flaws hurt value so keep your eye out for chips and dents. Clean paint on wooden yo-yos is almost impossible and repaints are tough to spot but you can see the chip paint under most repaints. Make sure that the two halves are even and aren’t loose. If the yo-yo is stillpackaged, unopened, clean and bright are the best.

There are many brands of yo-yos still sought after by collectors today. Here are just a few:


American Spinners

BC/What’s Next



Tom Kuhn


Visit the Museum of Yo-yo History for a yo-yo directory (with photos). It’s a great resource.

Basic Yo-yo Styles

To collect and play!

I took a look at a few yo-yos from an online dealer here in Canada (YoYo-Canada), and as a long time yo-yo enthusiast jumped in and purchased a new, modern yo-yo. I really didn’t know what to expect and when my Grind Machine yo-yo arrived in two days I was ecstatic. It was unlike any yo-yo I’d owned or even played with and it proved that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The Grind Machine in action

The newer yo-yos come in two categories; imperial with a more traditional shape and a butterfly or wing design. The imperial shape is good for looping tricks since it has a smaller gap which allows the string to catch more easily. A butterfly design is great for sleeping tricks. Yo-yos have advanced to a high state of play when you consider you can now buy string of differing materials depending on your preference. Add to that counterweights, off-string tricks and hub stacks and you have a world of possibilities to collect and to show off.

Basic Types of Yo-yo

The F.A.S.T. 201 Yo-yo put through its paces

One of the catches to the butterfly or sleeping yo-yo is that it is only designed to sleep so, that makes the traditional gravity pull impossible (palm up, throw yo-yo over the top down toward floor, turn hand over, pull, yo-yo returns). Like my Grind Machine, you must learn the bind return. It’s a way of getting a sleeping yo-yo to return and believe me, it takes practice.

The Gravity Pull

Binding Return

The yo-yo may not be as popular as it once was but it definitely has evolved into an amazing toy. Whether you reach back into your youth and search out some older yo-yo versions or look for the newest yo-yos, you just can’t lose with a toy that’s this much fun.

A Fun Yo-yo Fact:

The Primo:

Check out some great tutorial videos at Yo-Yo

Yo-yo photos courtesy of YoYo-Canada; fantastic online retailer who really know their stuff.

1 comment:

Danielle La Paglia said...

I had no clue that yo-yos had been around that long. That's incredible! I, of course, suck at yo-yos, but I did see a professional yo-yo demonstration once and it freakin blew me away.

Great article, Ian!