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Tag Archive: vintage toys


Anyone who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy also grew up with the Kenner line of action figures and other toys.  Eagerly awaiting kids learned about each new figure and each new ship and playset via commercials during Saturday morning cartoons.  They also learned about them in the Sears and JC Penney Christmas catalogs and mini-catalogs that accompanied certain ships, games and playsets–making checklists from the catalog for Santa was a key component of being a kid.  Over the next two days an auction house in Valencia, California is selling off a Star Wars fan’s ultimate dream collection.  At its Vintage Toys and Collectibles Live Auction, auction house Prop Store is auctioning off a spectacular collection of the Star Wars toys most kids from the era are familiar with, plus many of the rarer toys and prototypes that were known for decades to exist only through rumor and occasional obscure references.  Among the collection is a high-quality collection of nearly 100 pieces from Lucasfilm executive Howard Kazanjian.

Long before the latest Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill mentioned in interviews that certain Lucasfilm professionals received the line of new tie-in toy products as they were rolled out.  He mentioned that his kids enjoyed most of them, and he’s joked about wishing he’d saved some in the original boxes because of the sale prices some achieve today.  Kazanjian was also on that distribution list, and he maintained the toys he received in the mail for 40 years, some boxes were never opened and remain in near mint condition.  Prop Store’s auction catalog is incredible, a full color book of photographs and descriptive information almost as exciting as the auction itself–an extraordinary trip back through time even if you’re not able to drop $5,000–minimum–on a rare vinyl-caped Jawa or Yak Face variant action figure.

Bop bags, a Luke headset radio, Give-a-Show projectors, all the ships and action figures you remember, and trading cards are just the beginning,  The auction is featuring the rare Cloud City cardboard playset kids first saw in the Sears catalog–the only early playset that included four action figures (currently bidding at $400).  There’s the radio-controlled Sandcrawler (currently at $2,500), rare plush toys each starting at bids in the thousands of dollars, and all but the rare IG-88 figure in the large-sized version that was created for the key characters to match up with G.I. Joe and The Six Million Dollar Man.

But the 3.75-inch action figures make up the bulk of the toys hitting the auction block today.  The rare vinyl-caped Jawa even before the auction starts is already bid up to $6,000 (all bidders must pay the strike price plus more than 20% of the price for now-standard auction house fees).  An original R2-D2 is at $4,000, and if you want one of the rare “Power of the Force” Yak Face figures, it’s going to cost you more than $8,000.  At the end of the initial run of The Empire Strikes Back, I remember an entire wall of Yoda figures at my Target store being sold on clearance at fifty cents apiece.  That action figure type in this auction has already been bid up to $1,000.  In hindsight the figures on that clearance display were worth a small fortune.

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Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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