Thursday, January 2, 2020

MarketWatch: It's Raining First Shots






Pete writes:

Hello Space Freaks -- with a plethora of 3D vintage pre-production hitting the market, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the influx of first shot figures that have come to market over the past few months. 

The back half of 2019 was a period that saw the second iteration of the IC Nashville event along with the evergreen shows such as Kane County, Cincinnati, and Columbus -- all of which had record attendance this past fall. It was also a period of time where the post Celebration woes finally wore off, and the hobby was back in its normal swing of things.  

This month we’re doing a special overview on first shots and their widespread availability through eBay, power brokers, and auction houses. It’s a unique opportunity to look at several types of first shots. From complete painted pieces to head and torso pulls, there has been a lot pre-production plastic on the market in the past six months.  

I felt it was a good time to talk about the topic given the overall growth of this segment in the past 4 years, as it’s had an arc/growth trajectory that surpasses even the general growth trend we’ve seen with other areas of the hobby. After a bit of a tumultuous turn through the Hake’s auction earlier this fall, I felt it was also the time to discuss this segment in terms of its viability and long term value, as it’s one of the few that’s had some significant fall off in a relatively short amount of time, resetting a new norm that some other areas of the hobby haven’t seen. The biggest things to remember on first shots and their performance in the market are:

1. Production like first shots are not as desirable as they were the last 24 months, especially with characters that have high numbers in their known population (Cantina Aliens being one example). They are still commanding good prices for good condition, but loose and rough condition items have really suffered.

2     2. Unpainted and unique first shots are still appreciating in value, gaining in popularity and still seeing some growth year over year in the hobby. Where one area is contradicting, another is gaining steam.

If you’re new to the hobby or just need a refresher, here’s a quick overview:

What is a first shot?

To quote one of the Holy Trinity of the Star Wars collecting world, “First shots are among the very first plastic figures to come from the steel molds” -- this has always served as the base to the core of this question, as the true place of a first shot in the production process is the biggest point of misconception in the hobby today. They can come in many forms, painted, unpainted, partially painted, or even in an early stage with some small variances needed, including alterations to the mold. This is part of the appeal to many collectors, especially character focus collectors, as many strive to show the progression of the toy line and production process.    

Unlike hardcopies, these are built with the final joints in place vs. pinned in place, in fact to the untrained eye a painted first shot figure may not look all that dissimilar from its production counterpart being produced in the same material. Thus, sometimes the lack of copyright info is the only way to identify a potential first shot figure with the naked eye.

In general, finding a first shot for your collection is an obtainable milestone for most vintage Star Wars collectors. This coupled with the reasons above have led to first shot figures gaining in popularity in the past few years, and with growth in popularity usually comes price appreciation. For the official Archive Lexicon entry on first shots click here.

First Shots by the Numbers:

Although they are among the oldest, some of the characters from Star Wars are the most plentiful of any first shots to hit the market. Looking strictly at characters, Boba Fett (roughly 100) and the Cantina Creatures (40+) represent nearly 15% of all first shots ever found (see below), explaining why we see such a large population of SW characters vs. the later lines which were more robust in character count. With SW the rarity comes in the other characters, with Death Star Droid and R5-D4 funnily being a couple of the rarest. 



As we get into later lines, variation increases and populations become more sporadic, especially with the ESB and ROTJ releases. Turning the corner, the last 15 POTF (Paploo and Lumat are counted with ROTJ) have varying degrees. Truly the next significantly large population on a per figure basis comes from the Ewoks and Droids series, and oddly enough more so with unproduced characters than some of the production figures from the line. 

As with any numbers that I post there is a margin of error. This aggregation is based on multiple sources, known examples, graded databases, and sold examples from the past several years. With that background covered and the quantities reviewed, let’s look at some of the great pieces to come to the market in the past months.



SW First Shots

Regardless of high quantities of a few, some of the other figures in the First 21 are the most difficult to track down of any series. Characters like R5-D4 and Death Star Droid are naturally rare, but the desirability of the First 12 drives the demand up on the entire gallery of figures.  

Cantina Aliens Set of 4 (with Blue Snaggletooth) - $32,750 Listed - eBay Listing

In addition to the set of four, individual examples of these figures have come up for sale through multiple channels over the latter part of the year, including Facebook and Hake’s Auction House. To keep things simple, we’ve just covered the Hake’s results below. Any other sale of the items previously mentioned sold below the following in terms of overall price.


Greedo - AFA 60 - $2,596 - Hake's Fall 2019 Listing
85 or better estimated $5K+or better by this measure.

Walrusman - AFA 85 - $2,758 - Hake's Fall 2019 Listing

Hammerhead - AFA 85 - $3,540 - Hake's Fall 2019 Listing

Blue Snaggletooth - AFA 75 - $4,130 - Hake's Fall 2019 Listing
85 or better estimated $8K+ by this measure.




Given that we are talking about first shots, it would be a miss not to mention the item below, a nice variant making it one of the few rare RF Fetts out there.

Rocket Firing Boba Fett - $185,850 






ESB First Shots

The First Shots that have been found for the ESB series include some of the more sought after pieces in the pantheon of preproduction items, the series expanded upon what was built in ANH, and because of that many new facets of the hobby were created in the ESB line, which has lead to some very unique pieces.

Luke Skywalker Hoth - AFA 80 - $12,500 Listed Price eBay Listing

Luke Skywalker Hoth (Unpainted) - AFA 85+ - $9,750 - eBay Listing

AT-AT Commander (Unpainted) - AFA 85 - $5,500 - eBay Listing


ROTJ First Shots

Although one of the later series, first shots from the ROTJ toy line tend to be few and far between. More common examples like the AT-ST Driver, Lando Skiff, and Admiral Ackbar are exceptions to the rule.

AT-ST Driver - AFA 80 - $5,500 Listed Price - eBay Listing

Boushh (Tan and Brown) - AFA 80 - $7,750 Listed - eBay Listing

Boushh (Tan with Tan Crotch) - AFA 75 - $7,750 - eBay Listing

Prune Face (Alt Dark Cape with Grey Gun) - $7,750 -  eBay Listing


Rebel Commando AFA85 - $7,750 Listed - eBay Listing

Lando Skiff Torso Pull - AFA 90 - $2,500 - eBay Listing

Admiral Ackbar - AFA 90 - Clear Torso Pull - $1,550 Listed - eBay Listing


POTF First Shots



With hands getting heavy at Kenner towards the end of the Vintage era, several examples of most POTF figures have made it into the collecting market, including favorites like the Charcoal Anakin Skywalker and the below takes on the color pallets used in some of the Ewoks.

Warok Dark Brown - AFA 75+ - $7,750 Listed Price - eBay Listing

Romba Dark Brown - $7,750 - eBay Listing

Amanaman AFA 85 - $7,950 - eBay Listing


Ewoks and Droids

Some of the most sought after first shots in any toy line are the unproduced 2nd Series of the Droids and Ewoks figures. Great sculpting along with limited availability of some key characters have led to this being a very strong segment of the hobby. The examples that we’re seeing here are interesting as they're early unpainted examples which tend to be rarer than their finished counterparts.


Logray Ewoks Unpainted First Shot - $1,800 - Cantina Collectibles

Jord Dusat First Shot - AFA Q80 - $7,500 - eBay Listing

Chief Chirpa Unpainted UDE - $4,900 - Cantina Collectibles

Jann Tosh Unpainted First Shot - $5,000 - AFA 85 - eBay Listing





So as it can be seen the market for first shots is very healthy even after some larger discoveries and an increase in availability over the past few years. There are only so many pieces out there and they remain a hot segment of the hobby. Future growth potential will depend on a lot of factors (more so with the franchise as a whole, vs. this specific segment) however that might be the category continues to see strong demand and relatively short shelf lives when paired with the appropriate pricing and audience.

Until next time...Wampa Wampa,
Pete

Sunday, December 29, 2019

'Chive Cast 103 - Rise of Skywalker Vintage Winners & Losers

What vintage Star Wars toys saw their stock rise thanks to The Rise of Skywalker? Which ones saw them fall? What do Skye and Steve think of the movie? Lots of passionate thoughts and insightful insights! Skye is at his most obnoxious while Steve basically persuades him to soften or change virtually EVERY one of his angry takes!


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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod Episode 13 - Early Yoda Toys (Plus Mandalorian Vintage Winners & Losers)


First Skye and Steve break down the Vintage "Winners and Losers" of The Mandalorian. You won't believe the #1 Loser! Then Ron joins to discuss the Yoda Drought of 1980 and early Yoda prototypes. Seriously awesome information!




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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
00:54 – Intro
02:50 – Fancy Steve Goes to the Movies
04:38 – Skye's Big Time 501st Buddy
08:15 – Mandalorian Thoughts  (We all win when Vintage toys smash!)
13:15 – Neal Scanlan is the Devil
14:46 – We need Rian and Filoni

- MANDALORIAN Winners and Losers -

16:30 – Number 5 Loser (Bib)
17:13 – Number 5 Winner (R5)
17:56 – Number 4 Loser (Power Droid)
18:35 – Number 4 Winner (Jawa and the Land of the Jawas)
19:34 – Number 3 Loser (Jabba's Goons) and Last Jedi Discussion
23:04 – Number 3 Winner (EV-9D9) and the Toy Box Discussion
24:42 – Number 2 Loser (Bossk)
26:38 – Number 1 Loser (???)
27:10 – Number 1 Winner (Ugnaught)
28:52 – Soundtrack Length Talk
31:05 – Baby Yoda Talk

- RON -

35:00 – Ron joins the show
38:58 – Yoda joins the action figure line! (31-back and 32-back Timeline)
43:01 – Jar Jar was the new Yoda
47:08 – Finding the Yoda Sculpt with Fluffy!
51:09 – Gimer Stick: A Star Wars Story
53:53 – The Yoda Puppet
1:07:19 – Internal Kenner Plan-o-gram Shot
1:10:13 – Porg vs. Baby Yoda, Skye vs. Mall
1:12:12 – Mervyn's Commercial
1:13:50 – Thanks Mortimer, and Goodbye!


READ THE ORIGINAL BLOG POST:

Monday, December 16, 2019

Get a Holda Yoda: Baby Yoda & the Great Yoda Drought of '80

The Baby Yoda that's supposedly coming sometime next year.

 Ron writes:

 How hard are you crying right now because you can't buy Baby Yoda* toys?

 Admit it: you love Baby Yoda so much that you haven't even noticed that he's a rip-off of Gizmo from Gremlins.

Well, you've noticed; it's pretty hard not to notice. But you've made an agreement with the discriminating part of your conscience to accept it and move on.

It's similar to the agreement you and your conscience have worked out regarding the titular character of The Mandalorian. Both you and your conscience know that he's just the Diet Coke version of Boba Fett, but you're gonna ignore that and act like you're seeing something really novel. If this show was called Boba Fett, and featured Boba Fett, it'd be the same darn show, and you'd love it just as much as you love The Mandalorian. Perhaps you'd love it more, because you have Boba Fett Underoos.

Mind you, this is all just my personal opinion and not an attempt to critique your fandom. I, too, am keeping up with the show, but only because I like Apollo Creed.

Anyway, The Mandalorian has been streaming for several weeks, but there are no Baby Yoda toys. Apparently there won't be any Baby Yoda toys until May of next year, no matter how hard you cry.

The situation has been compared to the one that prevailed in the fall and winter of 1977, when there were no Star Wars toys available to the movie's rabid fanbase. As explained here, toy licensee Kenner had jumped onto the Star Wars bandwagon only a month or two prior to the movie's release. Since it takes about a year to bring plastic toys to market, consumers were forced to wait until spring of 1978 to buy plastic Star Wars toys.

But I think there's a better analog to the Great Baby Yoda Drought of '19.

That would be the Great Adult Yoda Drought of '80.

That's right: in May of 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was released, there were no Yoda toys on store shelves. Hoping to keep the character secret, Lucasfilm imposed an embargo on the little guy, which prevented his use in publicity and merchandising.

If you're thinking, "Gee, I didn't know that," you're not giving yourself enough credit. Of course you knew that. The Yoda delay is the reason there are 31-back and 32-back blister cards.

The 31-back blister card.

The first ESB blister card featured 31 figures on its reverse, none of which were Yoda. This card debuted in the spring of 1980, just as Empire was hitting theaters.

From Kenner's perspective, this must have been something of a bummer. Yoda was surely the most marketable character in the movie!

Fortunately, the Yoda action figure was in the hopper; by late summer, it was in stores, ready to be purchased for Christmas. Of course, this necessitated a blister-card change, resulting in the 32-back blister card, which showed Yoda tucked -- somewhat amusingly -- into the available space in the upper left corner.

The 32-back blister card.

Kenner was certainly conscious of Yoda's appeal.


In this fall 1980 edition of a company newsletter, trumpeting the early success of their Empire line, Kenner gave pride of place to Yoda, at that time their newest action figure. The key portion reads:

The biggest item is probably the smallest toy ever to sweep the toy industry. It's barely two inches tall, but with the potential impact of a giant. We speak, of course, of the newest mini figure to add to your collection. He's Yoda, the 800 year old Jedi master to whom Luke goes to learn all the secrets of the Force. The 26 inch Muppet with the curious speech, the expressive eyes, and those incredible ears was an instant hero, and Kenner was right there to answer the demand for Yoda.

Geez, ease up on the coffee, Mortimer.

But you can sort of understand the excitement. Kenner was gonna sell the heck out of Yoda!


Because the Yoda action figure wasn't featured in Kenner's 1980 Toy Fair catalog, this sales sheet -- basically a one-page supplement to the catalog -- was issued to retailers to ensure their awareness of the impending release of Yoda.


In order to meet demand, cases of Yoda were available to interested retailers, each packed solid with 24 Yoda figures. It was a lucky kid who walked into his local department store and was greeted with a wall of freshly unpacked Yodas!

Likely intending to offset the figure's slight stature with added value, Kenner gave Yoda a softgoods robe and three accessories. At the time of its release, it was the most complex action figure in the line.

(By the way, the Yoda figure pictured in this sales sheet, as well as on the Kenner newsletter, is likely the hardcopy prototype seen here.)

This ad, from retailer Mervyn's, shows that the Yoda action figure was available by late July.

Kenner was fortunate to have begun work on the Yoda figure in 1979. Their early work paid off, allowing them to release the figure after the end of Lucasfilm's embargo but before the holiday shopping rush.

As were most of the figures in the vintage line, Yoda was sculpted in wax by Kenner's in-house craftsmen. Each part -- six in all -- was lovingly detailed over many hours of work to yield the now-familiar figure -- surely one of the best in the line.

Fortunately, the sculpt still exists. That's it on the left side of the above photo. I'm sorry the quality of the photo isn't better. It was taken some time ago. Thanks to an anonymous friend of mine for allowing me to use it.


Unfortunately, this photo, taken by collector Chris Georgoulias, isn't much better. It's interesting, though. It shows the figure in the state in which it was found in the possession of a former sculptor. He took pretty good care of it, separately wrapping each piece in plastic.

Okay, so Kenner succeeded in getting the Yoda action figure to market for the 1980 holiday season. What other Yoda-related products did they serve up to a Yoda-starved public?

None.

Where Yoda toys were concerned, the action figure was the only game in town. Additional Yoda toys wouldn't hit until 1981.

I think it's fair to speculate that Kenner was probably a little surprised by the popularity of Yoda. As I wrote a few weeks ago, The Empire Strikes Back was far from a guaranteed success. And within this still-speculative blockbuster, Yoda was just a single character. An unknown character, too -- a speculative character in a speculative blockbuster. Kenner had no way of knowing that Yoda would turn out to be, well, Yoda.

So in 1980 Kenner had to get to work. The mission: bring more Yoda stuff to market.

They succeeded: 1981 saw the release (or near-release) of several toys with a Yoda focus. I'm only going to deal with three of them here: the Yoda Hand Puppet, Yoda, the Jedi Master, and the notorious Talking Yoda.

Let's start with the Hand Puppet.


Judging by the number of Yoda Hand Puppets out there in loose collections, Kenner sold a lot of them. And it's easy to understand why: It was attractive, nicely sculpted, and large. In fact, it was so large that some collectors treat it as a de facto part of the large-size figure range.

Sculpting aside, the product's killer app was its flexibility. Because it was made of vinyl, a child could use his hand to bend it into a variety of poses. And by "variety" I mean exactly three poses -- the three you see highlighted in the above advertisement.

The toy has an interesting history. It appears to have started out as a product that combined a sewn cloth body with a vinyl head. A child whose hand was inserted into the body would be capable of manipulating the flexible vinyl mouth.


We know this because, around 20 years ago, the above prototype surfaced bearing a tag identifying it as a puppet.

The date on this quote sample is April of 1980.

Prior to that discovery, prototypes of this kind were thought to be early versions of the Talking Yoda toy, to be discussed a little later in this piece. It was quite a surprise when one turned up clearly labelled as a puppet.

Why the change to an all-vinyl Yoda Hand Puppet?

Short with his creation, circa 1981 (Used with the permission of Robert Short)

Evidence suggests that Kenner committed to the vinyl puppet, and abandoned the cloth version of the product, when Empire producer Gary Kurtz brought an all-latex prototype to the company. The prototype had been created by Lucasfilm employee Robert Short, who was at that time working on costumes and playing the part of C-3PO in television commercials.

The prototype as it appeared in 2014 (Used with the permission of Robert Short)

According to the details posted by Short on Facebook in 2014, he created the prototype "on a whim," Kurtz took note of it, and presented it to Kenner -- a very unusual series of events!

The puppet prototype as featured in an Australian advertisement.

Prior to Short's Facebook revelation, the prototype puppet was known only through a limited number of appearances in advertising materials. I would've bet good money that it had disintegrated or been thrown out years ago!

Yoda Hand Puppet at Toy Fair 1981.

When you think about it, Kenner's decision to abandon a multi-part product in favor of one that was comprised of an integrated sheath of vinyl made a lot of sense. Whereas the former necessitated a complicated production process, the latter could be pulled quickly out of molds such as the one seen here. Painting and hair rooting were the only secondary processes necessary to generate a finished product.

An unfinished example of the early puppet head.

And let's be honest: the cloth prototypes of the Puppet just plain looked weird. That head says "blowup doll" rather than "Jedi Master."


There's no mistaking the second Yoda figural product released in 1981 for anything but a Jedi Master -- it was even called Yoda, the Jedi Master.

For all intents and purposes it was a rip-off of the Magic 8-Ball toy, which had been providing children with bogus prophecies since 1950.

Believe it or not, Kenner's engineers reportedly had a huge amount of trouble getting the plastic die inside the product's liquid-filled cavity to function correctly. It was apparently a lot harder than you'd think to ensure that, when shaken, one of its sides would emerge flush against the clear plastic embedded in the toy's base.


Although the finished product boasted a very nice -- and very child-friendly -- sculpt, the early prototypes were rather crude. Above you see the product as it was featured in the 1981 catalog produced by the Australian Toltoys company. I know sculptors in kindergarten who would be ashamed of that.

At least one of these conceptual prototypes has surfaced over the years, though it wasn't painted.

Yoda, the Jedi Master featured in a November 1981 advertisement.

My general sense, based on familiarity with the collector market, is that the Yoda Hand Puppet sold well while Yoda, the Jedi Master did not. The former product is common while the latter is more scarce than you might think. Regardless, both were out of Kenner's product line come 1982.

That's a better run than the one enjoyed by the final product we'll be discussing. That product never made it into any Kenner product line.


I refer, of course, to Talking Yoda, one of the most famous of Kenner's unreleased Star Wars products.

This example lacks hair and has replica hands.

I think it's indisputable that, had it been released, Talking Yoda would have been the best Yoda toy available during the vintage years. It was large, it was cute, and it talked. The talking was accomplished with a traditional pull-string mechanism sewn into the toy's cloth body. It was designed to say eight phrases.


The pull-string Talking Yoda seems to have developed out of a concept that involved audio tapes and read-along stories. The idea was probably derived from Mego's 2-XL, then a popular product.

So why wasn't it made? We don't know for sure, but I think it's reasonable to assume that cost was a major factor in its cancellation. All things considered, the Yoda Hand Puppet and Yoda, the Jedi Master were fairly cheap to produce, and Talking Yoda wasn't. Ultimately, the better (but more expensive) toy was axed.


I had originally thought that Talking Yoda evolved into Yoda, the Jedi Master. After all, the latter toy sort of talks, though it does so via the die floating in its liquid innards rather than through speech.


You can almost understand how, through the quasi-Darwinian agency of cost-cutting, a pull-string talking doll might develop into a figure that provides mute fortunes.




But the above photo proved to me that all three of the 1981 Yoda toys were planned for a concurrent release. The photo clearly shows the Yoda Hand Puppet, Talking Yoda, and Yoda, the Jedi Master displayed within inches of each other on a plan-o-gram setup.


I don't think this shot, which shows some prototype displays as well as a never-released ESB version of Darth Vader's TIE Fighter, derives from Toy Fair. It doesn't match known Toy Fair setups from 1981. Also, as far as I know, Talking Yoda wasn't shown at Toy Fair in 1981. It's more likely that it shows either a setup done internally within Kenner or some other industry show.

Well, I hope this article has eased your mind and convinced you that you aren't the first person to eagerly await the arrival of Yoda toys. Take deep breaths and focus. You have only a few months to wait for Baby Yoda. In the meantime, go play with a porg.





*As all real Star Wars fans know, the proper name is Baby Yoda, and anyone who calls it The Child is obviously far too willing to subscribe to fake news and conspiracy theories.