Our guest this week on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) is Mark Bellomo. Mark is an accomplished author and collector. He has written hundreds of articles about toys from the 1980’s and a whole library full of books on vintage action figures and pop culture. Most recently, he wrote The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars: 1977-1985, a book that covers every action figure, accessory, creature, mail-away, play set, vehicle, and weapon system from Kenner’s original Star Wars toy line, along with a wealth of text discussing the history of the characters, spaceships, and settings within the Star Wars universe.
At 272 full-color pages, since the end of November this reference guide has already sold out of its first printing, and the book has garnered many positive reviews. The guide’s second printing was released nationwide on December 17th, 2014.
Like so many Mark found refuge in collecting from a very early age. He’s been interested in action figures since he was 5 years old. He later got into Spider Man Comics and received as a gift a C3PO in 1977 and never looked back.
Fast forward to the purchase by Disney of the Star Wars franchise. The first movies were pretty entertaining but the next 3 were not as well received. So why is this such an enduring thing? People who saw the 1st 3 were not the right age for the 2nd 3. Kids who saw those last 3 movies loved them. With the new TV show, it’s also a way to get a new generation of consumers into the Star Wars “brand”. So from a marketing standpoint, Lucas did their job of initiating a new generation of collectors and consumers and another tribe of consumers is born. All of us who collect go see these movies and it takes us back to a time in our lives that seems better now. Another reason is just practicality as he wrote about the first three movies because there was just too much to try and include. The characters from those first 3 movies are universally recognizable and are iconic.
Mark describes those original characters as “touchstones”, everyone recognizes them, as compared to characters from the later movies. There were also practical reasons, like limiting the scope of his book. He could write forever if he did not have any boundaries established for his work. Plus, the industry has to make money and Mark and others like him have to write for an audience that will buy books. The fact that he is passionate about action figures and comics compliment his writing and gives him a real purpose. If you can find a profession that combines something you really like to do and make money at, you have arrived. This is a thread that runs throughout the people who come on the Collectors Show. Most of them are passionate about their collections and have found ways to get paid at them.
The 12 Inch G.I. Joe and The Razor and The Blade
When you see the very first G.I. Joe, think of him as the “razor”. The original G.I. Joe came with a uniform, dog tags and training manual. That was it. To make him complete and more fun to play with, he needs equipment, different uniforms, buddies, etc. Those are the “blades”. This philosophy was different than the “play set” model from Kenner who sold you everything in a single box. Same thing with Barbie, Major Matt Mason and so many others through to Star Wars figures, and the phrase “collect them all” became vogue. While being fun to play with was what people my age remember about those original figures, marketing and product extension was what was at the center of their design. Since those early figures through now, the razor and blade model has been used with much success.
Mail Order and Cereal
Kenner was a division of General Mills, the cereal company. Kenner was well known for the Give A Show Projector and the Easy Bake Oven. The Cereal company marketers tied sales of breakfast food to the figures by offering them via mail order. If you sent a proof of purchase seal, you could redeem them for action figures from the Star Wars line. Kenner sold over 300 million Star Wars figures. Redemptions from the cereal company drove a lot of sales of cereal and action figures. It was a stroke of marketing genius.
The 12 Back Set and High Prices
In 1978, Kenner started making Star Wars action figures, mounted them on a cardboard back and sealed them in plastic. They made 12 figures to start with. Each figure had pictures of the other characters on the back of its “box”, known as a “cardback”.
Today, if he is still sealed in the original package, a Luke Skywalker figure could be worth over $600.00. Sure there were millions of the figures made, but how many of them were preserved in their original package and not played with, buried in a sand pile, eaten by the dog, etc. The answer of course is not many and that is why they are so expensive.
Make A Profit Now
To make money on figures this year, with the new movie coming out, you will have to buy those vintage characters and flip them the weekend the movie comes out. Mark did this successfully when he found out that the Guardians of The Galaxy movie was going to get made. He describes the process in detail during his interview on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) or iTunes. Mark says there are always opportunities to make money in collectibles but it takes a lot of knowledge and a willingness to sell when the time is right.
To start a “vintage” collection now, he recommends finding a figure you like and when the opportunity presents itself, buy it.
The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars: 1977-1985 is really good. Yes, it has all the information about pricing in it like all the price guides but it is also a very good read. He has lots of back story on the characters and it is a very well written narrative.