Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Did Kenner's 1990s Star Wars Renaissance Begin with the Destruction of Vintage Collectibles?

Ron writes:

 Remember when everything vintage was new again, and copies of classic Star Wars toys graced store shelves from Chicago to Sheboygan? (Only about 150 miles separate Chicago and Sheboygan, but, trust me, those 150 miles contain a multitude of shelves.) Here's guest blogger Ben Sheehan to share some of the history behind that '90s Star Wars renaissance. Happily, he's included several photos, all of which are new to my eyes.

Don't like the idea of opening sealed vintage Kenner vehicles, action figures and playsets? You may want to stop reading now.

Ben writes:

A lot has been written about Kenner’s notorious Morgue -- allegedly the resting place of everything sacred to vintage Star Wars collecting. Popular myth says that all unseen vehicle, playset and action figure prototypes were removed from the location in 1999/2000, when Hasbro uprooted its Boys Toys division from the rusty Ohio valley to the sparkling shores of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Precious little though, has ever been said about the Kenner Museum.

The Museum sat adjacent to the Morgue in the same building (according to insiders), and housed all of Kenner’s manufactured toys -- or at least all those deemed important enough to keep. This included sealed cases and boxes of vintage Star Wars product -- pristine time capsules of everything the company had sold at retail between 1977-86.

When Hasbro launched its fiscally catastrophic post-license-expiration pitch to Lucasfilm, (as Kenner lawyer Jim Kipling explained to me in 2015 during book research, Hasbro had failed to pay Lucas’ coffers a measly $10,000 in royalties, which voided one of the most lucrative licensing contracts the toy industry had ever seen) one of the first steps the company took was to raid the Kenner Museum in Cincinnati, tear open sealed boxes of vintage Star Wars toys, and then slice and dice the pristine, mint vintage product, for its sales pitch.

C-3PO goes for a ride on an action-feature for the never-made POTF2 Ewok Village.

While it’s true that the company could have scoured eBay for mint loose examples of these exact same toys that were brutalised, the direct route was seen as the best -- and importantly, it ensured the quality and legitimacy of the product.

Leopards don't change their spots, but Kenner added zebra stripes to an AT-AT.

Toys such as the Millennium Falcon, Landspeeder, AT-ST, TIE Fighter, A-Wing and even the lowly Ewok Village, were unceremoniously torn from boxes, cut with saws, modified with styrene and glue, had their insides torn out, and electronics added along with new air brushing or paint in order to create updated designs more reflective of the look and play value children wanted in the mid 1990s.

The resulting kit-bashed concept toys were highly detailed hybrids of old-world Star Wars, analogue-based action figure nostalgia, and new world digital design. The new mechanisms, lights, and electronics were cut, glued, and stuck into them with varying levels of precision.

New paint applications were mostly stunning -- far above the standard of regular toys and something not entirely surprising given the cache that Hasbro saw in regaining the Star Wars brand for their subsidiary, Kenner.

So how do we know all this?

Savvy former Kenner employees saved many items from this pitch to Lucasfilm, and many of these turned up in a closet at the Cincinnati R&D offices on Elsinore Place when the company was selling through its office fixtures and the detritus of operations in 2000.

The designs of many of these toys altered little before their release over subsequent years under the POTF 2 banner. The pieces are undeniably modern, yet retained much of their vintage soul -- principally because many of the same hands that had worked on the original toys had contributed the handcrafted additions to the kit-bashed models. 

More remarkably perhaps, some of the models included hand-written notations indicating that parts be braced, altered, or re-tooled for the POTF 2 release.

These pieces also highlight just how blurry the line between vintage product and modern toys can be -- a concept that extends right through to the 1995 era first shots and other prototypes from around this time (the vintage molds were dusted off and put back into service before being altered for the new designs that would follow). These pseudo vintage pieces -- most particularly the '70s- and '80s-dated, creamy, clear, or plain white injection molded examples -- are often passed off by unscrupulous types as vintage, purely because they have vintage dates, and are sometimes shot in unusual color combinations.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Great Grading Debate: The History of Grading Collectibles

Pete writes:

 On a plane heading back from the Columbus Toy Show I found myself working on the post I’m presenting to you today. Queensr├┐che's "Operation: Mindcrime" was playing on my iPhone -- a great album and appropriate for what we’re discussing as the album, like our topic, is multi-layered. 

Grading. It’s probably the most discussed/debated topic in the hobby over the past 20 years. It’s been the center of casual conversations, debates, and even protests. Thus, the big question is what’s the big deal with grading action figures and why does the topic elicit emotional responses ranging from joy to rage and happiness to sorrow in the collecting community? As a long time collector, this has been a question that has perplexed me for years, and so I thought it was time to dig in and really get to the root of what grading is, why it’s controversial, and ultimately, why it’s so topical among collectors.

Without calling a lot of us whining entitled fanboys and girls, I would have to say that the concept of community and the culture within our hobby is an underlying factor as to the range of reactions this topic brings up. Call it the "sandbox mentality," call it standoffishness, or just call it pathetic. However you want to classify it, at the end of the day everyone has opinions on this subject. Even before the age of modern day Social Media we found ways to make the world smaller and to present these opinions. Through forums we formulated and expressed these opinions and ultimately tried to shape what others thought about grading. We debate the topic to no end and classify casual relationships, friendships, and other social biases around the topic.  

Now, this article isn’t really about the social implications of grading. But before I dive into the topic itself, I find it important to call a spade a spade, as one of the first steps of understanding something is being able to remove your own biases about it and look at it subjectively, and ultimately that’s what is at the core the great grading debate: subjectivity.    

In the spirit of this and full disclosure, I’m a big fan of grading...

Over the years I’ve probably fed over 1,000 pieces into toy grading companies spanning almost my entire Star Wars collection. I have no affiliation with any of these companies. I have no ownership interests in any of these organizations (complete or partial), and I never intend to. I am the end user and an end user for over a decade. Therefore my approach here in discussing the topic or the companies involved is neutral, but educated. I take a personal approach of pro-grading which I will explain, however my purpose here is not to make you send in all of your toys to get encased in acrylic, but rather to be honest and direct about something that I personally do.   

If you’re reading this to debate facts, or if you’re reading this because you have a  predisposed position on grading and want to tear this article apart with your own opinions, then you’re probably wasting your own time. That said, if you are reading this article to gain insights, understanding, or a broader perspective on the grading phenomenon, then please read on.  

The History of Grading Collectibles

As a species, we are prone towards items of value. It’s an inherent part of our nature. We hear the comment “it’s not about the money,” and truly that isn’t the point of collecting, at least for most of us. For many it’s about the enjoyment of the hobby, the thrill of the hunt, the time spent on Facebook telling others how to live their lives; you know, the fun stuff. The point of this is there is an inherent value in the things we collect in the Vintage Star Wars community, and that’s where grading first started. No, not with toys, but rather with items of value.

Historically we’ve gone through an evolution of how we exchange goods: barter and trade, cash, and today's digital assets. For centuries gold, silver, and jewels were coveted as the most valuable items on the planet, precious in nature, and used in the production of several items into the modern age. These were the equivalent of walking around with a roll of hundred dollar bills in your pocket today. It’s no surprise that these items were also some of the first items to be evaluated by a third party and still are today. This is really the genesis of the appraisal of valuables by another party and that’s the basis of modern day grading.

The modern era of grading collectibles started in the last half of the 20th Century and was first introduced in the stamp collecting category. At the time, stamp collecting was a fairly sizable hobby among the populous, and forgeries were starting to become more common. Through the years a few companies were founded focusing on the stamp collecting hobby, and eventually moving into the next big grading category: currency. Although evaluation and preservation were the key concepts of these early companies, they would start trends that are used by all grading companies to this date. One of which was the method of using serial numbers on their items. Though a simple concept by today’s standards, at the time the use of serial numbers was quite effective for its main purpose of preventing fraud. In the modern era, serial numbers serve multiple purposes: fraud prevention, tracking, but more importantly a digital ID, as they serve as the foundation for accessing information on an item through digital interfaces. This is just one example of how an early idea morphed into a necessity for all modern era grading companies.

As the hobbies grew so did the companies as well as the base of collectors as a whole. In many ways grading led to a renaissance in many hobbies at the time, as it added an element of confidence that fostered renewed interest and ultimately growth in these collecting areas. It was during this era that a new concept was introduced, and one that is so synonymous with grading today that’s it’s hard to imagine one without the other -- that being the idea of encapsulation.      

Encapsulation is an important practice to understand in the world of collectible grading. While serial numbers and COAs led to improved confidence in the authenticity of items, they didn’t create an impenetrable fortress for them.  Encapsulation benefited the hobbyist in several ways.

1.       Confidence (reduce the risk of buying a forged/fake item)
2.       Protection (from breaks, drops, sunlight and other risks)
3.       Presentation (easier to display, better aesthetics)
4.       Preservation (increase the longevity of the condition)

Needless to say encapsulation is a crucial aspect of modern day grading, and with the collectible toy hobby it saw a second evolution driven by variation which led to customization (shape, size, compartments etc.) to support the category. Here we saw the first divergence from the “slabs” that were used in almost every other hobby up until that point.

Speaking about other hobbies, the practice of grading as it exists today was really brought to life by another semi-paper based and highly forged collectible: currency. Collectible currency and coins were one of the first types of collectibles to be graded by a third party and put into slabs, so at the end of the day it was really a continuation of what had been done before them, or in unison with them, depending on which side of the fence you fall on. During this era we saw the last key (but often forgotten) aspect of modern day grading: the use of a hologram. 

By the 1990s, slabs, serial numbers, and holograms were mainstays for third party graders -- all of which are present with the major toy grading companies today. Since these pieces of the grading puzzle were put together, the trend of grading collectibles has become even more expansive. One of the first of these new generations of companies was PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator). Many people know PSA as the authority when it comes to autographs and really all things pop culture, but the company started off on a smaller scale in 1991 focusing on sports cards. They are one of the few multi-category grading companies out there touching dozens of categories including covering autographs, cards, and posters today, and maybe toys tomorrow...

Following the success in the sports card category we saw yet another expansion as the 1990s came to a close, and one that is near and dear to many of our fellow Star Wars hobbyists: comic books. Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) was founded in early 2000 and is one of the premier graders of comic books. I say "one of" as the comic book grading market has been flooded by several companies, each with their own standards and style. This segment has been one of the most successful and expansive in the world of grading, with graded comics present at every major and minor comic con out there.

Before the turn of the century we saw yet another categorical expansion, this time into our own backyard.  Taking the ideas we've covered thus far but with a higher level of customization, the company was Collectible Grading Authority and the category of course was collectible toys. CGA has been the originator in the concept of incorporating grading into action figures and other popular toy lines. Although CGA employed a multi-category strategy like PSA, they kept their focus on all things toy related, breaking their categories into four separate but connected divisions: video games (VGA), action figure (AFA), dolls (CDA), and die cast (DCA).    

The idea of customizing the process is a tricky riddle to solve. You have to be able to grade everything from small items like loose figures to large boxed items such as the Imperial Shuttle. Both take a unique touch when it comes to the design of cases themselves.   Additionally, the category as a whole is much broader and less centralized than the others we've covered thus far.   

With over 400,000 pieces graded by CGA alone over the years, it’s easy to see that the world of grading toys is a healthy industry and one that like coins, cards and comics has now spawned several organizations participating in the practice, including Collector Archive Services (CAS) and UK Graders (UKG). With the complexion of this industry changing regularly, it's easy to surmise that the practice will be around for quite a while.

In summary, the practice of third party valuations has been around for centuries, the practice of encasing items in plastic with a numerical grades has been around for decades, and grading action figures just became old enough to vote. It’s an old practice but a popular one. But still not sure why?   Well, keep an eye on the SWCA Blog and our Facebook page for the next chapter in the topic: The Action Figure Grading Phenomenon: What, How and Why.

Until then... Wampa, Wampa,
"Fratastic" Pete

Saturday, August 11, 2018

'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod Episode 8 - Puzzles and Gobblers

This episode features Kenner Puzzles in the US and Canada from 1977 to 1979. Ron Salvatore joins to discuss his article and Canada’s Greatest Know-it-All Scott! Bradley Bradley jumps in to talk about the Canadian versions. We learn about the mysterious disappearing rebels from the medal ceremony, the meaning of “electric mauve” and a Canadian food promotion featuring monstrous gobblers. All this plus a little discussion of the Archive Party at the end of the show on the eighth “Blog Log Pod.”

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06:31 – Common Misconceptions about Kenner in 1977
09:40 – Irwin toys selection process
10:17 – Why no Indiana Jones in Canada
11:45 – Kenner Board Games (and why Ron hates them)
13:41 – Skye’s Gazebo Story
16:10 – Electric Mauve! (Puzzle talk begins in earnest)
18:10 – Second Series Puzzle
21:42 – Kenner Sucked at non-Toy products
25:26 – Kenner needed more photos!
27:14 – The Problematic Space Battle Puzzle
28:50 – The Victory Celebration.  Disappearing rebels.
38:43 – Where were these things made?
42:23 – Which Star Wars Scene represents Online Dating?
45:55 – Hard to Collect?
46:26 – Luke and Leia Weird Image
47:30 – Banta! Banta!
47:58 – Corridor of Lights (A new focus is born!)
51:47 – Canadian Puzzles Discussion begins
52:58 – Irwin Sucked at non-Toy products
53:50 – Canadian exclusive puzzles (Stormtroppers)
55:03 – Boring Canadian Exclusive Puzzle
55:43 – Death Star Exclusive Puzzle
57:26 – 1995 Han Penis-finger Puzzle
58:07 – Skye’s inevitable language segment
1:00:28 – Irwin Breaks the Language Law!
1:02:28 – Alpha-Getti Gobbler and Promotion
1:09:05 – Schneider’s Bacon and Wieners Promotion in Canada
1:17:00 – Archive Party IV Details


Monday, July 30, 2018

Canadian Headaches: Parker's Star Wars Puzzles

Ron writes:

 A few weeks ago I published a post on Kenner's line of jigsaw puzzles of 1977 through 1979.

Canadian collectors of the late '70s also had the opportunity to purchase Star Wars puzzles. In Canada, however, puzzles weren't marketed by Kenner Canada; rather, they bore the logo of the company's affiliate, Parker.

Their boxes also bore the French term for "jigsaw puzzle," "casse-tete," which I believe means something like "headache" if translated literally.

Is this the only Star Wars toy named after an actual ailment? Does Prune Face count?

You might recall that Kenner's initial assortment of puzzles came in boxes that were uncharacteristically colored. Some were blue and some were a shade that I dubbed "electric mauve."

One of the fun aspects of the Parker puzzles is that they all came in fruity-looking boxes; none sported the familiar black-and-silver deco scheme that we now associate with vintage Star Wars products of the 1970s. This makes them worth seeking out, especially if, like me, you enjoy the funky head shop quality of those blue and mauve boxes.

I'm not going to devote much space to discussing each puzzle. For the most part the photos speak for themselves. And, generally speaking, the Canadian puzzles repeated the American ones in terms of design.

You may, however, notice a few slight discrepancies. For instance, note that the puzzle depicting the Sand Person features a picture that has been flipped through the vertical axis. On the U.S. puzzle the business end of that gaffi stick was on the left rather than the right side of the image.

The image showing Luke leaning in to make out with R5-D4 was similarly flipped on the Canadian version.

Although, like their American counterparts, the Canadian puzzles came in 140- and 500-piece types, the 140-piecers came in blue boxes that were vertically oriented while the 500-piecers came in electric mauve boxes that were horizontally oriented. The American line wasn't nearly so regimented.

Curiously, the electric mauve puzzle boxes featured the Parker logo on their fronts while the blue ones did not.

Note that the Canadian puzzle depicting the medal ceremony is once again flipped relative to its American counterpart.

Incidentally, no "extended box photo" variation of this puzzle was released in Canada, meaning that none of the Parker boxes depicted those two stick-in-the-mud-looking guys whom my co-blogger Yehuda Kleinman calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Another flipped image relative to the U.S. was in evidence on the box of the puzzle depicting the Rebels' spacecraft inside their secret base.

In my post covering the American products, I noted that the Sand Person puzzle was the only one to use an image featured on Kenner's action figure blister cards.

The Canadian line adds one more: the Canuck Stormtroopers puzzle employed a photo that will be familiar to toy collectors who've pursued the carded figures. The photo on the puzzle, however, retained the original background, airbrushed out on the action figure packaging, and was flipped through the vertical axis.

If you look closely you'll see that the title of the puzzle was misspelled on the box.

Yes, you've been introduced to the Stoom Trooper. Now meet the Stormtroppers.

Oh, I've gone and buried the lede. The Stormtroppers puzzle is of interest in large part because it was not released in the States. It was a Parker exclusive.

Here's another Canadian exclusive.

Do you think this is the least exciting photo used on a Star Wars puzzle? I do. Maybe that's why Kenner didn't release a puzzle featuring this image?

I thought this was the only puzzle released by Kenner or Parker to lack a title printed on the front of the box, but Scott Bradley has pointed out that the box does have "Luke - C-3PO" printed in black text at the bottom left of the image.

The third and final Canadian exclusive was this puzzle, titled "Death Star." It featured a pretty unusual composite image of X-Wings and Darth Vader's TIE Fighter zooming around in space.

Did this image appear anywhere else? It strikes my eye as pretty unique. Shoot me a message or post in comments if you've seen it on another product or in a publication.

What about variations?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

The only one I'm aware of concerns the trademark notice, which on at least some puzzles appears stamped onto the reverse of the box rather than printed within the graphical overlay on the side.

Which puzzles exhibit this variation? Was the error corrected? I'm not sure. But these are questions to keep in mind while pursuing these items. This particular instance occurs on the Space Battle puzzle, which was one of the earliest designs released by Kenner in the States. It's possible that this issue affected only the earliest of Parker's puzzles.

As mentioned above, Canada saw the release of three unique puzzles.

But that's not all the puzzle uniqueness bestowed upon our excessively polite friends to the north. They also benefited from a promotion that allowed the consumers of Alpha-Getti to mail away for two different puzzles.

Marketed by Libby's, Alpha-Getti was a pasta product that was shaped like letters. Presumably, this allowed children to spell out a ketchupy "help me" should they be forced to eat it by the giant sea anemone that served as Libby's mascot.

In case you're wondering, Alpha-Getti has no connection to Ceti Alpha V, where Khan was banished to live out his final years with no one to keep him company but some gross ear worms and those sidekicks who looked like extras from a post-apocalyptic aerobics video.

According to our friend Scott Bradley, the man responsible for the essential Canadian Star Wars Gallery:
Libby's Canada sponsored a mail-in offer in 1978 for two of the Canadian Parker Star Wars puzzles - R2-D2 & C-3PO as well as Han & Chewbacca. Consumers would send in $1.25 (plus provincial sales tax where applicable) as well as two labels from any size can of Libby's Alpha-Getti for each puzzle requested. The offer came on cans of three different sizes - 8 oz fl/227 ml, 14 oz fl/398 ml and 19 oz fl/540 ml. Oddly enough, this promotion almost never took place. From the book: "Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible" pages 114 and 116 (Stephen J. Sansweet, 1992, Chronicle Books): 
Lucasfilm's interest in promoting only healthful foods also led to an initial turndown in 1977 of a Canadian promotion featuring an offer for a Star Wars puzzle on labels for Libby's Alpha-Getti, a canned spaghetti product. Libby's appealed, noting that its product was "a regular menu item for patients at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto." A compromise was struck. The promotion could proceed if Libby's also ran it on labels of an even more nutritious vegetable or tomato juice product.
Maybe those kids were sick because they were eating Alpha-Getti?

By the way, I'd love to acquire one of these Libby's cans. So if you have one that you don't need, please let me know!

And if you get a chance, head over to Scott's website, where he has lots of information on Canadian products, including the puzzles discussed here. Scott helped me out on this post by providing photos of the Libby's can and the Canadian puzzles that I don't have in my collection. Thanks, Scott!

Here's a chart I put together showing all of the Canadian puzzles. The years are approximations.

That's all I have on puzzles. Does your head ache yet?

Update 7/30/2018

Food collector Jonathan McElwain was kind enough to send me the below scans of several Alpha-Getti labels: specifically the 8 oz, 14 oz, and 19 oz examples, as well as a close-up of the puzzle offer.

Enjoy. And thanks, Jonathan!

Update: 8/1/2018

Pete Vilmur figured out the source of the odd composite image used on the Parker "Death Star" puzzle: Kenner's Destroy Death Star Game!

And Steve Danley noticed that the same image is present on one of Kenner's in-pack catalogs from the late '70s.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Archive Party IV Sponsorship Opportunity!

With the fourth episode of the Archive Party Saga coming opening night of Celebration Chicago 2019 (Thursday April 11th at ROW 24 Chicago), the time has come to recruit sponsors! This is the official call to the collecting community to be a major part of something fun that will support a very good cause. All proceeds beyond the cost of the event will be donated to a Chicago-area animal shelter/adoption organization (TBA).

48 Sponsorship spots (once again in honor of Skye’s favorite 48Bs) will be open. A very limited number of tickets will be available for this year's event, so don't miss out on your chance to guarantee yourself entry and the opportunity to significantly contribute to one of Celebration's can't-miss events.

All Archive Party IV Sponsors... 

Hereby promise to donate a sum of $425.00 to the "Archive Party Fund," with the understanding that none of the money will be returned, but that sponsors are allowed one additional guest and will receive all sponsor/standard attendee exclusive give-away items created from the Fund.*  

The first 48 sponsors that submit donations will secure their sponsorship and we want to have the deposit for the venue paid ASAP, so the sooner the better! 

Send an email to swca.party@gmail.com for instructions and additional details if interested.    

*Sponsors were allowed to split the cost of sponsorship for previous parties. This option will be available again, with the understanding that joint sponsorships can be split by a maximum of two entrees to the event. Any co-sponsors beyond that will be required to purchase an additional entry ticket due to very limited space. Joint sponsors will forgo their guest spots and determine among themselves how the exclusives will be distributed.

Thanks so much for your support,
Steve & Skye

Special thanks to Jarrod Clark for creating this year's sponsorship graphic!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Summer 2018 MarketWatch

Pete writes:

 Happy July Space Freaks! Wow, what a year it’s been and we’re only halfway through it. So far this year we’ve seen a major auction house wreak havoc across the hobby, a movie release that wasn’t well received by fans, and Star Wars Fandom becoming a hot topic on social media as in-fighting among fans reaches new heights. All of this together has created an interesting but extremely volatile market.

The one thing that hasn’t waned in lieu of all of these activities is that amazing pieces continue to come onto the market and perform well even vs. a year ago. The market is still hot, and although some segments like loose figures have lost some luster over the past 24 months with a rise in the quality and availability of reproduction accessories, packaged toys and pre-production continue to be strong.    

With all that in mind let’s look at some of the great pieces that came up on the open market via eBay over the first half of the year.


Revenge of the Jedi Box Flat AFA 85  - $785 - eBay listing
Well let’s start it off hot. Here we have something we don’t see hit the open market all that often: a Revenge of the Jedi box flat for the Tripod Laser Cannon. A great piece and a hot growing segment of collecting, box flats represent an interesting intersection between the pre-production and production worlds. They can be either based on how you look at it, as a box flat is usually identical to the production boxes, however most of those that have been found represent internal or salesman samples, pushing the majority onto the pre-production category. In the case of this piece, the line is drawn clearly to the pre-production side of the equation given the Revenge logo. Overall a great price with pieces like this and mini-rigs well passing the $1,000 mark in recent history.

POTF Luke Stormtrooper AFA 85 - $2,897 - eBay listing
Well, well, look what we have here, a clear bubble Luke Stormtrooper. One of the best figures ever produced by Kenner, this is also widely regarded as one of the most difficult pieces to find with a clear bubble in the Power of the Force series. Given that and the overall condition, the price of $2,879 seems about right for a top end example.

Early Bird Certificate/Display Stand U85 - $5,400 - eBay listing
Early Bird Package with DT Luke CAS 80 - $7,322 - eBay listing
Moving back to where it all started we have a pair of Early Bird items: The Early Bird Certificate/Display and an Early Bird Mailer Set with a Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker.  

The Certificate represents the start of the Star Wars series and because of that it will always have a special place with collectors. In this example, we have an open graded example in great condition. Not sure why one would open a sealed certificate, but to each their own. For the condition, it’s hard to argue with a strong price on this, however I think someone could find an open EB Certificate and get it graded for quite a bit less.

Next we have the payoff from the empty box promotion: a complete mailer set. This is a great example of a piece that seems to be getting harder and harder to find these days. Graded 80, it’s a clean example as many of the mailer boxes that survived are significantly damaged. Good price for a piece that needs to be cased to be displayed properly.

Sears Exclusive Skin-Wrapped Ugnaught MOC - $7,500 (Estimate) - eBay listing
Here we have a truly rare piece and one that like many other rare items has grown in value over the past few years by leaps and bounds: a skin-wrapped Canadian MOC. This particular example featuring the Ugnaught is one of a very few of these fragile and low production number items to survive into the modern era. Like Luke Hoth, AT-AT Commander (or as the Canadians knew him, General Veers) and a handful of others the skin-wrapped line was exclusive to Sears Canada for multi-packs. The figures are rare and when they come around they demand a commanding rate. In this case we can’t hone in on the exact amount, but it gives us an idea where they are trading for these days.

Lot of 40 POTF Coins - $9,400 - eBay listing
Hot and cold, the Power of the Force coin series is one of the most volatile segments of collecting when it comes to value and demand. The concept of completing a full collection of 62 of these is something that many collectors aspire to and in comparison to many other focuses or runs, this set is quite obtainable with two essential things: time and money. In this case, we have what I would recommend as a good jumping off point for anyone who is looking to start from scratch: a nice lot of coins of multiple rarity tiers. This is a great way to get some tough pieces along with what can be at times annoying to find Category 1 and 2 coins. Priced right for the market, it makes for a good deal for both buyer and seller.

DT Luke Skywalker MOC - $15,000 (Estimate) - eBay listing
For our last entry, we have what is considered by many to be one of the few Holy Grail pieces of collecting that made it to production: a Double Telescoping MOC figure. In this case we of course have a Luke Skywalker, the most common of the three DT figures. Now these have come up more regularly in the past few years then historically, and part of that is just due to identification of known examples and finds that have come into the market both from the wild and through former Kenner employees. Here we have a great example and the highest condition in terms of grade in recent history with a solid 80. The price is on par with what other examples have sold for in the last year, as well as the recent Hake's auction.

That’s all for this month. Until next time...

Wampa Wampa!
Fratastic Pete

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Kenner's Star Wars Puzzles

Ron writes:

 You're a kid in the fall of 1977. You've just seen Star Wars for the 11th time, and you're wandering through the toy aisle of a department store while your mother fends off the advances of the slightly louche gentleman who sells mops and vacuum cleaners.

What do your eyes fix upon?

Chances are they fix upon the first wave of Kenner's Star Wars jigsaw puzzles.

Remember, in the fall of '77 licensed Star Wars product was scarce. Kenner, the principal toy licensee, offered only a board game, two painting sets, and the Early Bird Certificate Package. Actual honest-to-goodness toys were still several months away.

So you're looking at puzzles. And perhaps you're thinking, "What have puzzles ever done for me?"

Sure, there was that time you and Timmy Perkins argued over who got to put the last piece into Farrah on that Charlie's Angels puzzle that his uncle gave him for Hanukkah. But that was different. You had a broken ankle. And it was Farrah.

Come to think of it, Timmy Perkins is Methodist. What is he doing getting presents for Hanukkah?

Regardless, you're not exactly convinced by Star Wars puzzles. But the pictures are cool; they really evoke the movie. And what are you going to do, buy a freakin' Micronaut? Micronauts just won't cut it. Not now that Star Wars exists.

So you look back over at your mom as you try to formulate a plan to ask her for $2.50. She's still talking to that guy. And now she's calling him by his first name.

Kenner's puzzle line debuted with four products spread across two assortments. One assortment contained a pair of 140-piece puzzles, one depicting the droids, the other depicting Han Solo and Chewbacca. The other assortment boasted 500-piece puzzles depicting a space battle and Luke Skywalker on his home planet Tatooine.

The earliness of these products is demonstrated by their aesthetics: They don't even look like Kenner Star Wars products.

Rather than the familiar black-and-silver color scheme that Kenner would eventually use on every Star Wars product that had no connection to Play-Doh, their boxes sported odd, almost fruity design schemes. While the 140-piece puzzles came in blue boxes, their 500-piece counterparts featured packaging of a color that can only be described as electric mauve.

Coloration aside, the boxes featured primitive star-field graphics and a motif of concentric circles that may have been a reference to the illuminated charts seen in the Rebels' command room on Yavin.

No doubt about it, with the possible exceptions of Blue Snaggletooth and the plush version of Chewbacca, these are the most '70s-looking things that Kenner released in association with Star Wars.

Perhaps the most amusing puzzle of the original four was the one titled "Space Battle," which featured an image of an X-Wing and TIE Fighter locked in battle.

This is undoubtedly the product to which Kenner representative Jim Black referred when he told Steve Sansweet that "One of the first things we shipped was a boxed puzzle that had so much black sky and so many small stars, that it was almost impossible to put together."

Impossible to put together or not, Kenner re-released the Space Battle puzzle as part of their 1978 line of products. And when they did, its box was sporting the familiar black-and-silver deco scheme.

Not only were all four of the early puzzles reissued in the new packaging, text was added to their boxes to make it clear that they comprised the first series of Kenner Star Wars puzzles. Lest anyone doubt that additional series were imminent.

For some reason, upon its reissue, the puzzle depicting Han and Chewie was packaged in a horizontally oriented box. The original blue-box version featured a vertically oriented design.

The photo I'm using to illustrate the puzzle featuring the droids provides a good opportunity to discuss a variation that affects the puzzles. If you look at the lower portion of the silver "racetrack" border, you'll see that the Kenner logo appears between the title and the circular element highlighting the number of pieces and size. This variation appears to affect all of the first- and second-series puzzles. In other words, all the puzzles from these series can be found in versions with and without the Kenner logo on the front of the box.

When the Kenner logo was added to the front of the box, age ranges were also added to the upper right corner.

You might also have noticed that, on the droids puzzle featured above, there is text below the title indicating that it was "manufactured in Canada." That's getting a little too esoteric for my tastes, but if you want to try to hunt down all the "manufactured in Canada" versions, be my guest. And then considering scheduling an appointment with your therapist.

So what about Series II? I know you're dying to learn about Series II.

The series consisted of -- shockingly -- four new puzzles! As was the case with the earlier series, two consisted of 140 pieces, and two consisted of 500 pieces. My favorite is probably the one seen above, depicting the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.

If you're looking at this item and muttering, "Gee, that looks a little odd," it's probably because the entire background, showing the Death Star hangar in which the Falcon is parked, is the creation of an airbrush artist. In the film, the orientation of the Falcon is flipped. I think it more than likely that the original background was too dark to serve as good puzzle material. So Kenner redid it. Also, the sabers have been recolored. Ben's yellow saber matches the accessory eventually packaged with the large-size action figure.

A variation of this image appeared on Kenner's packaging for their inflatable lightsaber toy.

This puzzle is entitled, very appropriately, "Trapped in the Trash Compactor!"

Exclamation points were added to the titles of the puzzles released in Series II, presumably to make them sound more exciting. Possibly someone at Kenner was following the lead of Topps, whose trading cards often featured titles with exclamation points.

This 500-piece puzzle featured one of the film's most iconic moments. It's a good shot of that moment, too. Hamill really seems to be feeling it.

Rounding out Series II was this 140-piecer depicting Luke leaning in to make out with R5-D4.

Clearly, this momentous event necessitated the use of an exclamation point.

As this page from Kenner's 1978 catalog makes clear, in addition to the Series I and II puzzles, the line for that year included two new 1,000-piece products, each measuring 21.5" by 27.5".

This example, entitled "Aboard the Millenium Falcon" (sic), shows the four male heroes contemplating the "small moon" that is in fact something far more sinister.

But the cooler of the duo, and perhaps the coolest item in the entire Kenner puzzle line, was this nifty number featuring the famous art developed for the movie by the Hildebrandt brothers. Factors sold tons of posters featuring this image; I'm sure Kenner had a similar idea in mind. Its title: "Star Wars Adventure."

Kenner's puzzles were a success. In his book Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible, Steve Sansweet claims that Kenner sold nearly 2.5 million of them during 1978 alone. That being the case, it should come as no surprise that by 1979 the line had expanded to include 20 different products.

Is this most extensive line of puzzles ever developed in conjunction with a single movie? I would guess so...

"Stormtroopers Stop the Land Speeder!," part of Series III, presented kids with yet another iconic Star Wars moment to -- erm-- puzzle over during rainy afternoons.

As the above image demonstrates, a variation affects the Series III puzzles. Specifically, they can be found with the Kenner logo either in the lower right corner or interrupting the bottom of the "racetrack." Note that the corner-logo version omits the age ranges.

Well, at least  the 140-piece Series III puzzles can be found in either style. I've yet to find evidence that the 500-piecers from this series exist in logo-in-the-corner versions. All the examples I've seen feature the logo in the racetrack.

"X-Wing Fighters Prepare to Attack" is one of my favorites.

Given the limits of the material Kenner was working with, it's a little surprising that this is the only puzzle that utilizes one of the images used on the company's action figure cardbacks. Note the mirroring effect used to extend the image on the left side.

Surely the most interesting puzzle released in Series III is this one: "Victory Celebration." As you've no doubt noticed, its box features a sticker that says "pictorial content of puzzle inside does not include these two characters."

It appears the folks at Kenner cropped the photo when producing the puzzle, but forgot to do the same when designing the box.

Okay, so maybe those two guys aren't the most exciting-looking fellows. And yet I find them intriguing. 

In particular, the guy on the left, whom I call Space Force Thomas Jefferson, has all the gravitas needed to pull off his hairdo. 

Certainly, he's more interesting than Space Force Steve Jobs, whose face remained unmolested behind the grumpy-because-he-has-no-medal Chewbacca.

Naturally, Kenner corrected the error by issuing this puzzle-accurate box.

I wonder: What did those two guys on the left do to warrant expulsion from the Star Wars toy universe? I don't know about you, but I find this example of Stalinistic historical revisionism to be more than a little disturbing...

Series IV was the final series of 140- and 500-piece Kenner puzzles. My rough impression is that the puzzles in this series are a little tougher to find than those in the other series. 

The title of this example, "The Cantina Band," pretty much says it all.

You know, it never occurred to me until now, but this must have been a hard scene to shoot. All those costumed children and little people carrying the R2 prop and trying not to trip over something. And having to do it while being "faster, more intense."

The puzzle's title is "Jawas Capture R2-D2."

Kenner never made a Bantha toy, but they did make this Bantha puzzle...though they blew their big moment in the spotlight by misspelling the creature's name. Their title refers to it as "The Banta."

Rounding out Series IV, and confirming that the series was an all-Tatooine affair, was this puzzle, "The Selling of Droids."

As far as I know, the Series IV puzzles do not exhibit a variation with respect to the placement of the Kenner logo. All the examples I've seen feature the logo in the racetrack.

While looking at the above-pictured spread from the 1979 catalog, you may have noticed that puzzles of a larger size were introduced in that year. They consisted of a whopping 1,500 pieces, suggesting they were aimed at the lucrative incarceration market. Because who but an incarcerated criminal had the time to put one of them together?

The title of the puzzle pictured above, "Millenium Falcon in Hyper-Space" is not only partially misspelled, it's inaccurate, as it appears to show the Falcon just kind of floating there.

Finally, we have "Corridor of Lights," featuring a rather odd composite image of a Stormtrooper firing his blaster within the Death Star's prison corridor. The image was also featured on one of Kenner's wholesale catalogs.

Well, that wraps up our look at Kenner's Star Wars puzzles. If you're looking for a one-shot overview of what I know to have been available, see the above chart (click to enlarge). Possibly I've failed to account for some variations? If so, shoot me a message and let me know. I plan to follow up with a look at the puzzles released in Canada by Kenner's sister company, Parker.

Update: 8/11/2018

Okay, so I was wrong that the Attack of the Sand People! puzzle is the only one to utilize the image from the Kenner action figure line. As Skye, Steve, and Scott point out in our podcast, modified versions of the images used on the puzzles were employed on the packages of several of Kenner's early action figures. Nitpicking: It's what we do.