Saturday, September 27, 2014

An (Updated) Brief History of Online Star Wars Collecting Conversation

Tommy writes:

As anyone who knows me can probably tell you, I’m very interested in the history of the hobby. I wasn’t even alive for a lot of it, but it’s always fascinated me. Years back, I did a timeline which gave a rundown of where and how collectors in each era stayed in contact with one another and completed deals.

One of the other editors here thought it would be a good idea to do a blog post about the growing popularity of collecting Facebook groups, and I thought I’d add it to the end of my timeline. Technically speaking, this should have been posted weeks ago, before the entire community started discussing Facebook groups, but due to technical problems which I won't bore you with, it's was delayed until now.

In any event, without further ado, I give you an updated brief history of online Star Wars collecting discussion. Over the years, this community has gone through a variety of forms that current collectors might not be aware of and I always think it’s helpful if collectors know where we’ve come from.

The earliest threads I can find all take place on what was called Usenet.  Usenet could be considered something in-between email and a discussion forum.  Users posted topics to various newsgroups on Usenet, and then other users would receive those posts and be able to reply to it through a news server.  In the early days of the internet, it was the easiest and most convenient way to communicate with other users.  At that time, most of the people online were at universities and military installations.  In any event, the earliest Star Wars discussions I can find are on
net.sf-lovers. Posts there go as far back as January 1982, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. The most notable thread in the group is this one entitled: "Is Vader Luke's Father?", which is always fun to read through. This is one of the oldest SW related threads I can find, so it’s pretty historic in that respect. One of the oldest collecting references I know of can be found in fa.sf-lovers, in this thread from December of that year.
That appears to have led to net.movies.sw in May of 1983, although SW threads continued to appear in net.sf-lovers as well. Here's the first post that I can find in net.movies.sw. It was apparently short lived, as the last posts are in July 1985 when it was removed as a Newsgroup. Here is it being considered for deletion. Part of the explanation for its deletion reads "There seems little reason to support this group until a new Star Wars epic comes out (years), and we can recreate the group at that time, should the net last so long." The net lasted, but Usenet did not.
There is a gap here, but my best guess is that the majority of threads were posted to both rec.arts.sf-lovers (which dates back to Nov 1986), and to net.sf-lovers which had previously been used by SW fans before the net.movies.sw newsgroup anyway. It should also be noted that a lot of collectors during this time period were communicating and doing deals through the TKRP catalogs, which were periodicals filled with both for sale and want ads. All communication through these magazines was done using the regular mail though, the slowness of which would undoubtedly infuriate modern collectors used to instantaneous contact. 
In October 1991, rec.arts.sf-lovers split into the rec.arts.sf.movies after this CFV. Here's the First SW related thread that I can find there. The time soon came though that SW outgrew rec.arts.sf.movies, and there was a call for votes in April 1992. Out of this split came rec.arts.sf.starwars.
In May of 1995, the collecting aspect of the hobby split off to form rec.arts.sf.starwars.collecting (RASSC). This would prove to be one of the most important events the hobby ever had, as for the first time, collectors had their own community, and didn't have to share it with other non-collector fans. Now, this might sound like a given to modern collectors, but at the time, it was a big deal and resulted in heated discussion. Collecting was seen as merely an offshoot of fandom, and the thought at the time was that there couldn’t possibly be enough conversation to necessitate a separate group.
In May 1997, the group split again to form rec.arts.sf.starwars.collecting.vintage (RASSCV). Here's the first post I can find there. This was another very important (and hotly contested) issue. Vintage and modern discussion would be separated for the first time, and collectors found themselves in two camps. Now you were a "Vintage SW Collector" or a “Modern SW Collector,” rather than simply being a "SW Collector." RASSCV is fondly remembered as a haven for obscure collecting jokes and lots of great people. My own personal opinion is that the discussion aspect of the group was hurt by eBay. Collectors looking for an actual discussion had to sift through endless auction spam threads, on account of usenet's lack of moderation. Some of these threads proved rather interesting in the end, but the vast majority were pointless. Additionally, it meant that unpopular or unpleasant people could stick around the group and couldn’t easily be prohibited from posting.  
In part due to these issues, people began to abandon all of usenet. It had no moderation, and was notoriously difficult for some people to use. People new to the hobby were mystified by what they saw as an outdated means of online communication, and instead preferred to frequent online forums. Many collectors found their way to the now defunct SWCA Collector Connection, which opened in 2000 here on the SWCA. Of which, the only parts which still remain are the the main page, and the list of thread topics. A lot of the most active members of our current vintage collecting community got their start here. It is remembered for several legendary threads and the fact that it had a TON of pop-ups by the end.
The Bounty Hunter Collective was also a popular choice for collectors looking for something easier to use than usenet, although it too is now long gone. Some of its threads can still be found here and here.
The RebelScum Rebel Lounge opened in 2001 with this thread and that proved to be another popular option for collectors looking for a home.
Collectors could now choose between several different communities to post in. This was either very good, or very bad, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Discussion was fragmented, so unless you read every board, you missed something. On the other hand, since there were several different boards, there were several different chances to add new collectors to the community rather than having one monolithic forum for everyone.  
Eventually the less popular forums were weeded out, and the day soon came that the SWCA:CC closed down, and the BHC merged with the RebelSsum:Rebel Lounge in this thread: & Merger! For all intents and purposes, RS was now the place for the majority of hobby discussion.

In 2005, SWFUK started as a place for UK and international collectors to gather and discuss the hobby.  Up until this point, the hobby had been centered almost entirely in US based forums which served a mostly North America based collector.  SWF was one of the first forums to see the worldwide nature of the hobby and the demand for a place for international discussion.  It also allowed its members much greater leeway in regards to language than the other forums at the time, and it grew in prominence thanks to surreptitious advertisements in eBay auctions.  
In 2009, The Imperial Gunnery International Vintage Star Wars Collectors Forum opened and was soon providing another alternative to Rebelscum.

While neither of these forums are as large as Rebelscum, many collectors enjoy their casual circle of friends atmosphere and less stringent moderation.
Beginning around 2012 or so, collectors began to look to Facebook as another good place to discuss SW collecting. Facebook has what are called groups, and it allows anyone to create a group for basically anything you can think of. Other members can join these groups and share their thoughts on the topic and post pictures. The most well-known Star Wars collecting groups are probably:
Vintage Star Wars Toy Collectors  (5,000+ members), (closed group, requires approval).  
Vintage Star Wars Action Figures (Open group)(12,000+ members). 
Star Wars Pre Production 2D & 3D 1977-Current(Closed group)(300+ members). 
Star Wars Droids and Ewoks Animated Series (800+ members)(closed). 
Star Wars Displays and Advertising (300+ members)(Closed group). 
Power Of The Force Coins (250+ members)(Closed group). 
Since this is an entirely new avenue for collector discussion, it might be helpful to take a moment and review the problems and benefits of the Facebook Group system.

  • Since all discussion on Facebook will be in a Facebook Group dedicated to one topic, this can segment the community just like usenet did. There are any number of groups and no one can actively participate in all of them. Thus, the Group system creates several dozen small communities with no overlap unless you belong to all of them. This also means that if someone gets something new, chances are you’ll see it several different times because they’ll post it to several different groups, which can get repetitive.
  • The Facebook Group system segments the discussion based on what you’re interested in.  In other words, if you are interested in coins, the odds of you seeing something in the group about 12” figures is virtually nil. This keeps discussion on topic, but it makes it difficult to discover new areas of collecting you might be interested in.  
  • A significant percentage of members don’t know how to search for the material they’re looking for in past discussions, which means that the same questions will be asked a lot.
  • The discussion is not threaded, so if there are two posts about the same issue, they will not be connected in anyway unless one is a reply to the other.
  • The groups can be exclusive, in some cases.  You need to be invited to join some of the groups, and most require approval before you can begin posting.
  • They are moderated by an administrator to different degrees, which means that someone else will decide what is and isn’t included in the record. Some groups will allow the craziest things you can imagine and others are so heavily moderated that it stifles conversation.
  • Conversation is mostly based around pictures, which means that it depends on people limelighting their items, rather than collectors truly discussing the ins and outs of the hobby in the abstract. While it’s possible (and easy) to create a text-based post, most members don’t.
  • Some of the groups have so many members that most of them will be strangers. It’s difficult to know everyone and many of the people have a less than cordial posting style. 
  • It is a system that is utterly dependent on Facebook as far as access to older threads go. Facebook could unilaterally decide to purge the conversation history, and all of that information would be lost since it’s not backed up anywhere and is incapable of being preserved by its users.
  • The groups tend to involve a lot of short posts and replies. Very seldom do you see posts of more than a paragraph in length. In fact, almost everything in a group is said in about three sentences or so. This means that if you’re looking for in-depth discussion on an issue, it isn’t the best place to go.

  • The groups are easy to navigate if you’re familiar with Facebook.
  • The groups are very easy for new collectors to find, especially if they’re younger and used to using Facebook.
  • Since there are so many members and so many people use Facebook throughout the day, you can get answers to your questions very quickly.
  • You get a notice every time someone replies to your post.
  • They allow for a great amount of specialization in regards to discussion. If you’re interested in some obscure, random bit of collecting, you can create a group for it and find dozens of other collectors out there who are interested in the same thing.
  • You can set up exactly the community you want, rather than simply routing out the people you don’t want. The Group system allows you to send out invites to specific people and then close membership, meaning that if you only want certain people to join, you can do that. Personally, I view this as a problem, but many view it as an advantage.
  • The groups tend to be large and very active. The members who use the groups are typically from all levels of collecting, from someone just starting out to someone who’s been collecting for decades. This typically makes for a diverse and talkative member base.

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual collector to decide how and where to send his/her time. There are currently any number of different options available, more so than at any other time in the hobby’s history, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Personally, I would suggest utilizing both online forums and Facebook groups, since both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Common Misconception

Ron writes:

Hey, where are the freakin' toys?

I sometimes hear comments to the effect that Kenner dropped the ball on the Star Wars license by not releasing any action figure toys in 1977. I suspect the folks making those comments don't realize just how tight the timeline was.

According to reports, Kenner wasn't even pitched the license until January of 1977, and they didn't seriously negotiate with Lucasfilm and Fox until February. The deal they made to market toys wasn't inked until April. That's right, April -- the month before the movie premiered. That's the sort of timeline that virtually guarantees no products being on the shelves at the time of release.

In their licensing agreement Kenner allegedly promised to produce only one Star Wars item in the year of the film's debut: a board game. Presumably, had the film failed to find success, that's about all that would have been produced, as, like most companies, Kenner wasn't in the business of losing money.

Remember: No one knew Star Wars would turn out to be Star Wars. Most thought it would be a minor success at best.

All of this information is in Steve Sansweet's From Concept to Screen to Collectible, an essential collecting book that has been widely available since the early '90s.

Steve reports that the designers at Kenner were hot to work on the film right from the start. And given all the cool stuff that's in the movie, I believe it. But designer enthusiasm doesn't necessarily translate into sales, and I think it's pretty likely the powers that be at Kenner would have had those designers drop their plans in a hurry had the movie been a bomb. Obviously, that didn't happen. Star Wars was about the biggest hit of all time, and its success sent the folks at Kenner into overdrive.

Ultimately, the company managed to get 12 figures, three vehicles, a large playset, and a host of other products to market by the middle of '78. A bang-up job, all things considered.

Here's an interesting question to ask yourself: What would have happened had Lucasfilm and Fox failed to work out a deal with a toy licensee prior to the movie's release?

I think you can be certain things would have gone much differently.

Once the enormous popularity of the movie became apparent, toy companies would have come running to Lucasfilm and Fox in hopes of working out a deal. Lucas and Fox would have been in the catbird's seat: They would have gotten more money for the toy rights, better terms, etc. Also, it's possible that a bigger, more prestigious company than Kenner would have acquired the license.

In other words, the history of Star Wars toy merchandising would be very different. Meaning, of course, that the history of merchandising boys toys would potentially be very different.

But no one could have predicted that. At the time the deal with Kenner was inked, it's a fair bet the folks associated with Star Wars were relieved to have guaranteed extra marketing opportunities and  some additional bucks. They were looking for partners, and Kenner was the only interested party.

If you're interested in thinking further about such issues, and possibly even discussing them with a primary source, you might consider sending a friend request to Charles Lippincott on Facebook. Lippincott was intimately involved in the licensing and advertising of Star Wars, and he's been posting some fascinating background information on his Facebook page.

Touching on this very issue, Lippincott refers to Lucas' alleged displeasure with the terms of Kenner's toy license as "Monday morning quarterbacking."

He continues:
George and other LFL people thought we should have gotten more money or waited until after the film had opened to make the toy deals but the reality was no one expected Star Wars' colossal success. George himself thought the film was not going to make it at the box office, so how could we have gotten more money for the toy license prior to the release of the film?
Like I said: Fascinating.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some Palitoy History

Ron writes:

Recently, UK collectors Richard Hutchinson and Ben Coomber unearthed some interesting bits of Palitoy history. They found these in a "time capsule" lot of early Star Wars material auctioned by Vectis. Basically, they bought a ratty old suitcase filled with unspecified Star Wars stuff.

You can get an idea of what was in this suitcase by taking a look at their YouTube video concerning the find. You can also catch up with this Rebelscum thread discussing their purchase.

There was a bunch of cool stuff in the lot, including a vinyl cape Jawa. But my favorite item is a scrapbook comprised of vintage magazine and newspaper clippings, many of them focused on Palitoy's offerings from the late 1970s. Fascinatingly, these include some material related to a "Star Wars Weekly" contest among whose winners were the original owner of the suitcase, David Harrison. The prize: a set of the first 12 Star Wars action figures.

Nine years old at the time, David was so thrilled to win the prize that he saved everything related to it. Below you see his clipping of the original contest advertisement.

And here you see his clipping of the announcement of the prize winners. In an understandable gesture of triumph, David circled his name.


You may have noticed that the original ad depicts only eight of the 12 original figures; Stormtrooper, Sand People, Jawa, and Death Squad Commander are not pictured. This is surely because Palitoy didn't yet have those figures on hand. By the time the contest's winners were announced, the Stormtrooper must have arrived, because there he is in the photo accompanying the announcement. Still, upon receiving his initial haul of figures, David received a note from "Star Wars Weekly" apologizing for their being capable of sending only part of the 12-figure prize. Jawa, Sand People, and DSC were still not available. Here's that note.

Fortunately, a little while later, the rest of the figures arrived along with this follow-up note.

Pretty cool, right? Presumably, the vinyl cape Jawa that was rattling around among David's stuff is the one he received as part of his prize. Since it was one of the first Jawas Palitoy had on hand, it was the notorious VC version. 

Richard and Ben later tracked down an original copy of the "Star Wars Weekly" issue in which the contest ad first appeared. Here's a scan of the page as David must have seen it back in 1978.

Thanks to Richard and Ben for sharing this material. If you haven't yet checked out their excellent podcast devoted to vintage Star Wars collectibles, I heartily encourage you to give it a try. The pair are regular posters at the Star Wars Forum UK.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Some Obscure Early Bird Items

Ron writes:

The Early Bird Certificate package was first showcased to retailers in Kenner's Star Wars-only catalog in the fall of 1977. The catalog was Kenner's way of trumpeting their early plans for the Star Wars license.

When mailing the catalog to retailers, Kenner's sales force packaged it with an introductory letter and an order form. These are some of the first pieces of sales paperwork associated with the Star Wars line.

Note how the letter emphasizes the fact that all Star Wars toys and games are exclusive to Kenner. Hey, when you have the hottest toy property in history, you might as well let people know it's yours.

Here's the order form, which pimps the EB Certificate as well as the blue- and purple-boxed puzzles, Dip Dots, Playnts, and the Escape from Death Star Board Game. Interestingly, Playnts isn't referred to by its product name. Neither is the EB Certificate: It's called simply "Star Wars Certificate."

This ad from October 1977 shows how retailers around the country advertised the EB Certificate. Gotta love how the paper is The Cincinnati Enquirer.

You can read about Shillito's department store here and here. Toys were on the second floor.

Finally, here's a cartridge used to screen the EB television commercial to retail buyers. It was used in Kenner's New York showroom.

The label uses the same bland "gift certificate" terminology.

Prior to this cartridge surfacing, it was a matter of some debate whether an EB television commercial had actually aired. Some collectors remembered it, others didn't. Here's a version of the commercial on YouTube. It was probably ripped from a version mastered using this cartridge.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spotlight on (Dark Lord) Bill McBride

Ron writes:
Bill McBride, Darth Vader collector extraordinaire, was recently featured in "The Daily Mail." The "Mail" may be the greatest trashy tabloid in the world, but Bill's collection is anything but.

Take a look at the write-up here.

Bill's site devoted to Vader collectibles, The Darth Vader Toy Museum, can be found here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ewok Village Displays

Amy writes:

Love them or hate them, those cute but deadly furry creatures on the forest moon of Endor can be found in many collections.

It's likely some of you grew up playing with the Ewok village straight out of the box as my brother did.

Today, as collectors we display these plastic tree playsets with pride.

This display by Tom Stewart includes some Lego pieces in addition to other vintage items such as this Ewok village presto magix board as a backdrop. A swath of AstroTurf completes the look.

If you find yourself stopping by Toy Traders in Langley, B.C., Canada you'll find this alternate take on the battle on Endor. This display incorporates pieces from several Ewok villages and action figures from the vintage to the modern lines.

During the holidays I add some lighting to the village. A lit holiday garland and some battery operated red LED lights inserted in the fire pit hole make the village interesting at night or by day.

A real mix up, this is one of my earliest displays of the Ewok village using as many Endor figures as I could find across a variety of licensees.

This is a display from the Washington State fair, 2014. It's a great blend of ROTJ with Ewoks collectibles. Note the wonderfully vintage Ewok family portrait in the upper left corner.

Sam Williamson's Ewok display has doubled with his addition of the Kenner Robin Hood village and other forest guests. Kenner recycled the Ewok village mold when they made the Robin Hood line. The foliage is a nice addition to otherwise bare Ewok tree trunks.

Using mainly vintage items, Curt Hanks has created a scene that puts the 1983 Sears catalog to shame.

Have collecting topics or pictures you would like to see?  Please leave a comment below.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Stephane Faucourt's "La French Touch"

Ron writes:

When Archive editor Stephane Faucourt visited me last winter, he came toting a copy of his latest book, "La French Touch: History of Star Wars Merchandising, 1977-1986." The title pretty much says it all: It covers every bit of "Star Wars" merchandising to appear in France during the vintage era. Not just action figures or toys . . . everything. (That said, you action figure collectors needn't worry: There's a ton of toy information contained in the tome.) It'll surely remain the definitive book on licensed French "Star Wars" product for some years to come, if not forever.

I could go into detail regarding the book's contents, but Stephane's website does exactly that, and it provides page samples that give a sense of how attractive the layout is.

I'm a big fan of books focused on collecting, especially ones that convey a lot of first-hand research and experience. If you're of a similar mind, I heartily recommend you pick up "La French Touch" before Stephane sells out.

Here's an interview with Stephane about the book.

The book can be purchased on Amazon here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Archive Party WANTS YOU To Sponsor

Archive Party II sponsorship opportunity announced.

Image by Jarrod Clark

With the second installment of the Archive Party set for the opening night of Celebration (Thursday April 16th, 2015) at the Anaheim Hilton, the time has come to recruit sponsors. So, 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 the Best Friends Animal Society's No Kill Los Angeles Initiative dedicated to finding homes for healthy/treatable animals currently in shelters in the LA area.

All Archive Party II Sponsors... 

Hereby promise to donate a sum of $250.00 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/attendee exclusive give-away items.*  

The first 40 sponsors that submit donations will secure their sponsorship. Donations must be submitted by September 20th, 2014. Send an email to for additional details if interested.    

*Sponsors were allowed to split the cost of sponsorship for the first party. This option will be available again, with the understanding that joint-sponsorships will forgo their guest spots and determine amongst themselves how the exclusives will be distributed.

Thanks so much for your support,
Skye & Steve 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

MarketWatch Editorial: This is Reality, Come Back to It. Part 2

Pete writes:

Happy summer space freaks. As promised here is our second round of our “This is Reality” editorial, focusing on four specific trends in the hobby that quite frankly are the reality of the hobby today. This month we’ll cover several topics including the inequity in character values, specifically Boba Fett and Darth Vader. We’ll talk about AFA and it’s true rarity vs. value, amongst several different segments of the hobby, MOC, MISB and some others as well. We’ll wrap up this month with an unplanned, but very important update on something that has become an alarming common trend over the past few years. That being abandoned auctions the new type of evil in collecting. In September we’ll come back to our normal coverage of the hobby with a new update on the general market trends.
Character Value Trends
When it comes to the popularity of certain characters in the Star Wars universe there are a couple different schools of thought and varying opinions on who is truly the most popular character in the Star Wars Universe. Many not too familiar with the universe outside of the movies would say Luke, or maybe even Chewbacca, but seriously who likes those whoolie beasts; Those die hard fans of the hobby are quick to point to Han Solo who has been voted the most popular character on Star Wars dot com several times over the years. All are great answers, but when it comes to vintage collecting there is one who rules supreme over all others, Boba Fett. The character that appeared for less then 2 minutes combined in the original trilogy is by far the most expensive figure per capita in the Vintage Hobby. It doesn’t matter the banner, whether it’s ANH, ESB or ROTJ the figure is by far the most expensive (non-variant) in any line. Let’s look at some of the going rates over the past few years for the Fett man.
Average Price by Banner 2014 – Boba Fett
Star Wars – 21 Back - $5000 - ANH Boba Fett
ESB - $1500+ - ESB Boba Fett
ROTJ - $800+ - ROTJ Boba Fett
Revenge Proof Card- $1500-2500
Droids - $2500 - Droids Boba Fett

The Star Wars banner sticks out against all other banners, especially when you compare to any 12 back figure, a grouping of figures that is consistently seen as the most expensive run in the hobby. Even as we go down the line into the ROTJ realm a figure that is just as common as almost any other figure in the run (that being the re-issue Tatooine scene) goes for infinitely more than the other 6 re-issue figures, in fact you could find the re-issue Chewy, Han, Obi Wan, and Han as a group for less then what it costs to find one clear bubble Boba Fett figure. Going onto Revenge proofs you could literally get all the other ESB bounty hunters for what it costs to get the one Fett proof. A pretty astonishing revelation when you really think about it, and one that from a personal perspective has been hard to swallow over the years.

Moving onto another character and one with not as an extreme of a story is Darth Vader.   By definition the quintessential villain not only in the Galaxy far, far away,  but also considered by many to be one of the greatest theatrical villain in the history of cinema. Thus it’s not as difficult to see why this character would demand such high value amongst his signature items in the classic Kenner line.  He’s the only main villain to appear throughout the original trilogy, so fans of the bad guys really only have 1 choice to focus on vs. the 5-7 good guys that play opposite the Dark Lord. When you compare Vader to Fett it’s hard to imagine someone who had literally an hour+ of screen time in the series comes in 2nd place to someone with less then roughly 2 minutes of screen time. I’m not a clinical psychologist and won’t get into the subtle undertones of why this may be.  

Some of Vader’s key items and they’re prices realized are listed below to give a comparison to Fett and the general grouping of characters out there. You’ll instantly see a premium vs. other staple characters if you follow the market, and this trend has held pretty solid over the past few years, whereas Fett seems to be a little less predictable, but that tends to happen with the most valuable items in any collectibles hobby.

Average Price by Banner 2014 – Darth Vader
Star Wars – 12 Back - $1500+ - ANH Darth Vader
ESB - $600-800 - ESB Darth Vader
ROTJ - $300-500 Clear Bubble - ROTJ Darth Vader
Revenge Proof Card- $800-1000

Over the years I’ve been very vocal that there are a few things that really drive up the price of an item in our hobby, condition being the top reason on an item to item basis.  But when you look at these items based on more tangible aspects the character reigns supreme when it comes to value. It’s important for collectors to know what drives the cost of these items, if nothing else to prepare for what it will take to get the items they want. In addition I think it’s always important to look at the “outliers” the lunatic fringe as my graduate school stats teacher called it.  As there is a point when emotion outweighs logic, and a point where there always be a few individuals (collectors) who will do crazy things and pay insane prices to get the pieces the covet so much.

AFA High Graded Items – Value vs. Rarity and the impact on Price or V + R = P or maybe not…
This next section is more of a post reply, then anything else. As most of you are aware I’m not an advocate of AFA, but I do use the service and am happy that my entire collection has been incased in acrylic over the years. I always reference some of the earlier AFA ads that showcase single MOCs displayed in museum settings. I’ll be the first to say that these suckered me into the fold as I have nice display cabinets at home, but my collection just wouldn’t be as secure or visually impressive, as it is today without the additional protection that AFA offers my vintage collection. Maybe that’s something that is important to you, but I really love the way my collection looks in those little cases.
When it comes to grading I have one opinion, and I’ve always held by it, if you like it great, if you don’t and spend any time slamming the service, or putting any effort into letting others know you think it’s worthless, you have other issues you need to address in life (okay there’s the psychologist coming out). It’s pretty obvious there’s a general bully mentality amongst other collectors around AFA, and because of that there will always be mixed thoughts in the hobby as to it’s validity, value and overall place in the hobby. Regardless of your opinion, you have to admit that it has changed the game in the arena of vintage Star Wars toy collecting. Whether it’s for the better or worse is left up to your opinion, but one thing that has been obvious to all those who collect is that the price index in the hobby has shifted drastically when it comes to “loose” or graded items.  
A big discussion over the last few years has been what does the little number that AFA assigns to an item truly do to the value of an item. Unfortunately there are several answers to that question given the number of variables that affect each individual piece and grade in itself. To get specific and help ground us here’s my own personal opinion on value/price when it comes to graded MOC figures based on what I’ve seen on eBay, chat boards and retail outlets over the year.

AFA 70 and below – Value of items is typically lower than a non-graded item of slightly below average condition.
AFA75 – Value is roughly the cost of a slightly below average condition plus the cost of grading.
AFA 80  - Value starts to increase above just the cost of grading and the value of a non-graded C8 or better figure.
AFA 85 – Value takes a major spike, and so does scarcity (depending on which line you’re looking at), when it comes to an 85 you’re usually looking at the highest grade some specific figures will ever receive, meaning for the specific figure/cardback combination this is typically the top end of the grading scale.
AFA 90 – Here things get crazy and where we get into the lunatic fringe.   A MOC or MISB item getting an AFA 90 is truly a rarity, there are collectors with the full series graded that will never get a 90 on any of the figures.  From a price perspective the prices typically double the average price of the same figure in 85 condition.
Above AFA 90 – It’s hard to actually put a value on items in the 95 or even a 100.   They represent something beyond an outlier when it comes to MOC and MISB items.  For that reason alone I won’t give a percentage increase or even a relative ranking in value as they are something of a legend in the hobby and thus create unpredictable purchase behavior.

That should give a general line of reference for the MOC and MISB items. I hate to use generalities as scarcity, and as previously mentioned character also have a huge impact on final prices. Other factors that affect all auction prices are present as well including reputation of the seller, the day of the week, time of the auction and believe it or not the season as well all have significant impacts on the price.

Moving off of MOC and MISB items for a moment I did want to give a brief thought on loose grading.  Ultimately the one thought that I wanted to ensure I conveyed is that you cannot compare a loose graded item with a packaged graded item although the scales are the same. Rarity truly takes a nose dive here as good condition loose figures can easily pull a 90. For comparative purposes I have a large collection of packaged items and of all 100+ I only have one 90, my AT-ST driver. On the inverse I have a very small loose collection (Just Droids and Ewoks Line) and in that grouping 17or so figures nearly half of them received 90s.   

Switching categories again let’s take a quick pause on Proofs. Much like loose figures proofs are prone to higher values then MOC and MISB items, thus it’s difficult to compare grades and value in the same way as what we see with sealed toys. It’s also difficult to say that it’s comparable to the loose figure scale as it’s truly a different beast.
In closing the impact grades have on value and perceived rarity is real. It’s sometimes inflated and sometimes understated, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on it’s something that can’t be ignored. When it comes to a simple way to look at it’s true impact in value, sorry to disappoint but these aspects are situational, and although I tried to boil this down to generalities, you really have to add in aspects of the character and rarity to get a true read. Overall this was put together to use it as a guide to help boil down some of the core elements, and what value you can assign to different items and eliminate some of the muck that surrounds the topic.
Abandoned Auctions
The true ultra evil in our hobby, beyond U grading, beyond fakes/repros, there is one truly sickening and deprived trend in the Vintage Hobby today…..Abandoned auctions!  You might say, well Pete it’s really not that damaging to the hobby overall, and I would agree to a certain extent. But when I look at this there’s no benefit that comes out of it, only damage unlike all the other evils I’ve listed above.   For example:

AFA – casing is the main reason over 50% of people send in their items to AFA, no harm no fowl, as you can easily uncase the item if you have the muscular dexterity of a 5 year old. Not to mention that every hobby, coins, stamps, paper currency, and comics all have grading companies and regardless of the vast minority of collectors in those hobbies bitch and moan about it, they are the standards, I just wish ours was a bit more consistent.

U Grading – Hard to argue their isn’t damage, but U grading also had a significant impact on the value of loose figures, and in my opinion is still okay for very poor examples of packaged items.

Fakes/Repros – A straight evil in every way trying to devalue legitimate items, lying an cheating collectors that are non the wiser, and creating a recreational hazard to entry for new collectors, there’s nothing good about making or selling these pieces of fake vintage plastic.

Customs – To a well trained collector they’re great, to an shady dealer they’re dangerous.   Something that has a bit of a ying and yang in the vintage community they can cause as much damage as enjoyment.

Ultimately the validity of abandoned auctions being a huge issue in the hobby tugs at a questions that we’ve discussed before on the MW, why do you collect? For some it’s the joy of the hobby, for others it’s reliving memories, and for some it’s about an investment. Regardless of your reasoning, abandoned auctions have adverse effects for all segments of collectors who are actively or planning to sell any part of their collection. This boils down to a few points, mainly belief in the auction selling process, perception in prices and the behavioral effects on buyers and sellers.

The first two points can be summed up fairly quickly.   In the global market there is a general apprehension about eBay, this is elevated by apprehension towards internet purchases, and escalated by the third party nature of auctions in general.   Given that we must understand that a vast majority of buyers don’t particularly like to use eBay as a means to find products. In the case of Vintage Star Wars, this is the main marketplace, as Toy sites and chat boards make up the minority of Vintage toy sales. Hearing about shill bidding and seeing abandoned auctions leads to greater apprehension on customers. Knowing that both happen in rarity is fine for a seasoned collector, but for the rookie out there it creates an additional perceived risk in collecting.  With that in mind we must know that these types of auctions end up having a negative effect on the one thing that keeps our hobby going, new collectors. As without new blood the hobby will dry up, the effects will be significant, and overall devastating regardless of your disposition on selling or keeping  your collection.

The second negative effect on the Hobby is perception in price. One of the barriers to entry in the hobby today is price.  Unlike the late 90s and 2000s where someone could find proof cards for $50-100 and MOC 12 backs for $200 consistently, we now live in a world where prices have increased 5 fold. Thus if someone is keeping tabs on the market, specifically a unique or hard to find item we find that an abandoned auction can create a sense of fear or apprehension regarding collecting overall. There are dozens of examples of this occurring, but one that’s close to the chest for me and rather visible in the hobby happened earlier this summer. As a lot of you know I focus on the ROTJ line, and overall I have a pretty strong handle on the rarity, and true demand of the line which is usually understated by most veteran collectors.  However I was strangely taken back by a particular auction for an ROTJ Tie Fighter. The auction ended in early June and was earmarked by two factors, one it was the first and only ROTJ Tie Fighter to receive an AFA 85 (10 Total Grades) the highest grade ever given to an ROTJ MISB Tie Fighter. But what really caught my eye was the ending auction price $3,802……Yes that’s five periods for WTF, OMG and any other three letter acronym that conveys shock and awe. I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t, what it was, was an abandoned auction driven up by someone in Isreal who then refused to pay for the item. After contacting the buyer on this one, I found out that he eventually sold it for $1500 to someone in the states. A little high in price, but given these aren’t nearly as common as the ESB or Star Wars release, and throwing in the fact that it was the highest graded example I wasn’t completely shocked. But for someone who didn’t follow up or just didn’t have the ability to be nosey like me and contact the buyer directly they would go on thinking that the piece actually sold for that much. And so is the folly of our hobby and our friends at AFA, as they took the auction and listed it on their front page under a section they call the power of grading. Showcasing the piece next to a C6 non graded version that sold for around $300, and saying see, see this is what AFA does for you, silly graders. I reached out to AFA and I believe they eventually pulled the listing off their front page, but it just shows how much people take ending auction prices at face value. Thus this is a damning trend from a price perception point of view as well as behaviorally.
Tie Fighter MISB ROTJ - AFA85 - $3802

Behavioral issues associated with abandoned auctions can be typically summed up by the reactive actions you see from sellers and buyers. Part of this is perception, but there is a reality in the fact that no matter which side of the coin you’re on it will affect your behavior in the sort and sometimes long run. For buyers the challenge is that they believe that something is awry. Let’s say that you were a character focus collector, you’re exhausted all the production pieces available and are looking for icing to put on your cake, let’s say a hardcopy of your character. You wait, a year, maybe two, maybe more, and then you see one come up on eBay. You get excited, about the auction, spend time prepping for the day it ends, set an end price you’re willing to pay. The auctions end nears, and low and behold it shoots up $1000 more then you wanted to pay. Disappointed you move on, but only to find the item relisted a few days later. Asking yourself what happened your first thought shoots to shill bidding, or something crooked with the other bidders or the sellers themselves. Thus you’re guarded about the potential auction and in turn act cautiously about the opportunity to purchase the item. In these cases buyers become more reserved and this can carry on through their collecting years, leading to overpaying, or worse passing on items.  

On the seller side the sting can be even worse. As we all know Evil Bay charges exorbitant fees these days to list on there site. And although there is recourse (to some extent) unless you have a cooperative non paying bidder you can end up eating those fees even if they don’t pay. Thus going forward you may hedge to stay away from auction style listings and opt to do buy it now auctions. Thus raising the price floor of the item to cover the even more exorbitant costs associated with BIN auctions. Now we have reactive behavior that not only affects someone’s ability to sell the item, it also adversely affects the buyers who now have to pay a premium for that item. 

BKCHI a member on Rebelscum had the opportunity to pass along a pair of ESB MISB 6 Packs recently. Both items went for the high prices these tend to drive in the market, however the Yellow 6-Pack which out numbers its Red 6-Pack counterpart by a ratio of about 7-1 was never paid for. In this case we saw the price appreciate to well over the going market rate over the past few years nearing the same price point as the Red version. To this day he’s still trying to part with the item, and from my perspective he’s just a shade high of where he can truly move the piece, but so are most sellers trying to sell as BIN auctions. And I believe this is due in part to where the auction ended as a whole, as the seller is pretty in tune with the market, but seeing an astronomical price tag on the item changes the price horizon for many sellers and makes them try to realize more then what the market bears.

It’s a trend that has risen in frequency and impact over the years. Something that used to be tied to shill bidding is quickly becoming a pandemic in the hobby. The effects of this phenoma in the hobby are reach deeply into the overall health of the hobby. But you can guard yourself against this by a few simple rules, for sellers, limit the geographic scope of where you’ll sell, Spain, The Middle East, Singapore and China tend to be the biggest areas where you risk dealing with non-paying buyers. Limit who can bid on your items, you can do this via the level of feedback they have received as well as the number of auctions they haven’t paid on. From a buyer perspective set auction limits and stick to them, you never know when the item you were watching will come back on the market, if the price seems crazy, it probably is.

What are your thoughts on these topics, post here or at forums and let us know.

This sums up the MarketWatch update for the month of August, our first new article to be posted on the Continue to follow us here or at

Wampa Wampa!

Monday, September 1, 2014

A 'Little' Event Called ICE

Amy writes:

Labor Day weekend 2014 marks the one year anniversary of ICE (International Collector Event). ICE was a weekend extravaganza devised by Seattle area collectors as an opportunity for Star Wars collectors to gather for a weekend specifically geared to them. Invitation postcards were mailed out to collectors and friends of local Seattle collectors.

ICE as a concept began in a small Starbucks coffee shop atop Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood Labor day weekend 2012. During the meeting many ideas were thrown about including transportation, lodging, events, and giveaways.

The giveaway concept phase lasted for several months as collectors settled on just the right amount and type of items to surprise ICE guests with. Some of the more unconventional ideas that didn't make it past the concept phase were cheeseboards, wood ornaments, floaty pens, and beer cozies.


There were of course concepts that eventually become the main giveaways of the event including a coin album with coins commemorating different activities over the weekend.

Ultimately the giveaways for ICE were expansive, six events each with their own set of giveaways designed by two designers.

Even the guests of ICE made their own giveaways to share. Button trading was in full force all weekend.

In the end ICE exceeded the expectations of the the few that gathered at Starbucks on Labor day weekend 2012. The end result: over 140 collectors from all over the world came to Seattle and had a great time.