This Week on The Collectors Show Ventriloquist Dummies

This week on The Collectors Show ( Ventriloquist Dummies is our topics with Lisa Sweasy. Lisa is the curator and director of the Vent Haven Museum (

With over 800 ventriloquist dummies, and other related items, the Vent Haven is one of the most unique collections and/or museums we have ever spoken to.

Achmed is a dead puppet skeleton terrorist animated by Jeff Dunham, a ventriloquist.

Founder and First Collector

William Shakespeare Burger was the founder of the museum who collected dummies for 50 years. He collected his first in 1910. He retired from his job at a tile company in 1947 and devoted full time to the hobby. How did he get his name? After all the handle “William Shakespeare” is a lot to live up to.

Burger’s father was an actor who did Shakespearean plays. The younger Burger was not a performer or actor but certainly spent a lot of time around the theater. He was a collector to the bones. He kept good records and archives, which so often separates the casual collector from the more serious.

W.S. Burger became friends with a ventriloquist named, “The Great Lester”, who was a successful vent performer. No doubt their friendship did much to fuel the interest in the collecting hobby of Burger.

Burger bought his first dummy, Tommy Baloney, during a business trip to New York in 1910, and the collection took off from there. He was also interested in magic, which another type of performance art, which is solitary, though done for an audience. Sort of like a comedian. Lisa did not think he was a frustrated actor. And there plenty of other collectors like Burger.

Burger was fortunate to collect during a time when so many others could not afford to. And was one of the collectors who documented his items, which really separates people who acquire stuff to those who are really devoted to a hobby.

Contemporary Vent Performers

Jeff Dunham is probably the best known today. He has lots of characters including “Akmed The Dead Terrorist”.

Artists Who Fashion Dummies

There are companies who make puppets who also dummies. Most of the older dummies range in price. But there are no dummies made just to collect. There is no mass produced or “dummy of the month club”.

Annual Convention

Since 1975, Vent Haven has hosted a convention. Over 600 people show up every July for 3 days. Workshops, lectures, open mike and dealers. Classes taught to even people under 18. Of course there is a show for the general public on the last day. The Vent Museum is open May 1 – Sept 30 with tours by appointment only.

Over 800 Dummies Is A Whole Lot of Dummy

This week on The Collector’s Show we meet Lisa Sweasy, Curator/Director of the Vent Haven Museum. Many museums start based on the collection of a single person and that is the case this week.

The Vent (short for ventriloquism) Haven Museum is the only museum of its kind in the world.  It houses more than 800 figures, thousands of photographs, playbills, letters, and an extensive library of vent-related books, some of which date back to the 1700’s.

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Dummies, Funerals, Cryptography, Games and Moist Towelettes In Upcoming Shows

In the next several week we will some incredibly interesting collecting topics on The Collectors Show (

The week of January 19, 2015 will feature a collection of ventriliquist dummies, and lot of them. Over 800 dummies in this collection and that is a lot of dummy.

The following week we will meet the president of the National Funeral Museum and learn about the collection of caskets, coffins and what the difference between the two are.

John French from The Moist Towelette Museum will be on The Collectors Show this coming March.

John French from The Moist Towelette Museum will be on The Collectors Show this coming March.

The curator of the National Cryptographic Museum (associated with The National Security Agency) will be with us in mid-February. Followed by a representative from The National Kidney Museum.

Our game inventor friends will be back to discuss collecting prototype board games and then in early March we will be joined by John French who is the Curator of the Moist Towelette Museum in Lansing, Michigan.

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More About Collecting Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments from The Collectors Show

A Hallmark Keepsake replica of the original 12 inch G.I. Joe.


This week on The Collectors Show ( we meet Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark. Kevin was a collector of Hallmark Keepsake ornaments before he was an employee. He is one of so many people we have on the program who take their collecting passion and make it into a full time career.

The thing I really like about these ornaments is that they leverage other collectibles that remind us of a time when we were younger, or a time that was from what we can remember, better. Yoda in a Santa hat or a replica of the original G.I. Joe are just two examples. It looks like this trend will continue as on January 7, 2015 Hallmark and Mattel announced a renewed licensing agreement. According to their press release, the deal, which includes Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Monster High and Ever After High brands, also gives Hallmark the right to make ornaments and plush products with wider distribution in the United States and Canada. Cool!

Nothing really says Merry Christmas quite like Yoda in a Santa Suit.

Nothing really says Merry Christmas quite like Yoda in a Santa Suit.

And unlike so many other manufactured collectibles, these seem to (in some cases) have retained or increased their value. For example, on the Hooked On Hallmark website, ( there are ornaments for sale that list at $599.99 and dozens more that are priced at over $200.00 each. Like with all collectibles, I recommend collecting what you like and leave the profit taking to others or for a time when you REALLY need the money. At our house we own a number of the pricier/older/rare ornaments but they are strictly not for sale.


In 1973, when Hallmark introduced six glass ball ornaments and 12 yarn figures as the first collection of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, a new tradition of Christmas decorating was started and a new collectible industry was born. When the first line was introduced, they were unique in design, year-dated and available only for a limited time – innovations in the world of ornaments. Since 1973, Hallmark has introduced more than 8,000 different Keepsake Ornaments and more than 100 ornament series (groups of ornaments that share a specific theme).

Today’s Keepsake Ornaments reflect the way styles, materials, formats and technology have expanded since they first appeared in Hallmark stores. Once a collection of decorated glass balls and yarn figures, Keepsake Ornaments are now made in an array of wood, glass, metal, porcelain, and handcrafted formats, and many feature licensed properties. Technology has also been incorporated into the world of Keepsake Ornaments through light, sound and motion. The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the superior craftsmanship and high quality that ensures Keepsake Ornaments will become family heirlooms and cherished collectibles.

Collecting Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments On The Collectors Show

This week on The Collectors Show ( we meet Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark. Kevin was a collector of Hallmark Keepsake ornaments before he was an employee. He is one of so many people we have on the program who take their collecting passion and make it into a full time career.

Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark is our guest on The Collectors Show.

Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark is our guest on The Collectors Show.

Ever since his mom taught him to read at age 2, Kevin has loved to figure out how stories work so he could make up his own to tell-usually ones with spaceships, aliens and weird science stuff. In his career, he has told stories with novels, children’s books, screenplays, newspaper articles and more, including Hallmark greeting cards and Keepsake Ornaments. Kevin grew up in central Kansas and graduated from the University of Kansas.

You will hear his enthusiasm for the topic in his voice. Of course there is always news from the world of collecting, one story in particular that made me laugh. This one is about an author who wrote a book that did not sell well. To drive some sales he signed books to create a collectible but is now unhappy that the collectibles are selling well and he is not getting paid. I say either write better books or become a book dealer.

Mark Bellomo and Star Wars Collectibles

Our guest this week on The Collectors Show ( 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.

Star Wars Action Figures 1977 - 1985.

Star Wars Action Figures 1977 – 1985.

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 ( 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.

Mark’s Book!

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.


In response to the hype surrounding the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” New Era has released a collection of limited edition character caps.

As you have most likely heard about by now, there is a new Star Wars movie set to hit theaters next year. If you are like the rest of the world, you are probably chomping at the bit for anything Star Wars related. “The Force Awakens” is the latest installment to the series, and the first one to be released since 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith.” Perhaps even more significant is that this film will be the first in the entire series that is not headed by long time director George Lucas. With Disney’s purchase of the franchises’s rights, J.J. Abrams takes over the helm, as the series moves along in a new direction.

What does this have to do with hats, you might ask. Well, the folks at New Era decided to do what virtually every clothing/apparel company in the world is probably planning to do; milk it for all it is worth.

Now, you can take home some of your all time favorite Star Wars characters…on your head. Character caps are the latest in the company’s line of limited edition gear.

Remember that piece written a while back about that Derek Jeter cap? Consider this redemption on the part of New Era. Sure, the hats are still pricey at $55.99 a piece. However, these are actual collectors items. How often does one get the chance to purchase a baseball cap themed after arguably the most famous entertainment franchise in cinematic history? Plus, have you seen these designs?