Friday, December 12, 2014

Fratastic Pete’s Limelight Review #1 - Mark Yeo

A collection with no Focus

Mark Yeo’s Vintage Star Wars Collection                                                                   

Vital Stats:
Focus – Everything Cool
Likes: 51
Views: 2,500+
Comments: 52
Items: 200+
Fratastic Collector Rating – Super Collector Extraordinaire

Pete writes:

Welcome to our first Limelight Review on the SWCA blog. Each month I’ll take you through a collection of some notoriety that has been published on the web through one of the many websites dedicated to our hobby. As the hobby is so segmented we want to give some attention to some of the great collections that might only be shown on a finite number of sites, and share them with the greater Star Wars collecting community. The collections covered will span all eras of the hobby, with a mix of Modern, Vintage and Neo Classic eras. There is no threshold for the size or value of the collections covered here; from 3 pieces to 3,000 pieces I’ll be focusing on unique and notable collections that celebrate the hobby and spirit of collecting!

For our first review I wanted to start out with a bang... something large in scale, something sprawling in size, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This month we have a collection that covers the gamut of the hobby, MOCs, mailers, foreign release items, really something for everyone. We’re talking one of a kind items, items that have less than a dozen in existence, and some more common, but just as high in demand items from the domestic production runs. This is the collection of Mark Yeo -- collector extraordinaire, lawyer, and by all measures one hell of a nice guy.  
On a quiet Saturday morning in mid-October I sat in my office in the Twin Cities getting ready for the first of many future calls with other collectors in the hobby. Waiting patiently I looked over my desk at a framed Tron Legacy poster that hangs in my room. The movie which by all standards fell flat with a mis-executed plot is still a favorite of mine for the simple fact that I’m a sentimentalist, someone who craves something from my past being connected to today, and that’s truly where this movie was successful for me. It was representative for me of why I collect and I keep it posted directly in my peripheral vision as it’s a constant reminder of an emotional connection that is hard to be summed up in words, some of us just like things that we can’t explain. This is a feeling that was ever present as I talked with Mark about his collection and dug into some of the why’s and how’s of his great collection.

Now I converse quite often with other collectors, but this time was different as it was the first time I was able to spend a lot of time discussing someone else’s collection exclusively. As I waited for a call from Singapore I pondered the questions that I, and super collector Mark Yeo would cover in the coming hours. Being the first to be interviewed is never easy for the interviewer or the interviewee, so I focused on how Mark and I could break the ice and really get into one of my favorite collections to be documented in the past few years.   

As Mark and I started to converse there were some basic things I wanted to know about him and his tie to the Vintage Hobby:

FP: How did you start to collect?

MY: 15 years back, I was in Law School, I didn’t have the financial means to pay for school so I started selling a few of my old toys. This was in the early days of eBay, my username was MarkY204Yeo and I started to see some of the prices that old Star Wars toys were going for. I was shocked by the going rates for items, so that started my interest in selling and also collecting long term. I met the guy from Falcons Hanger, and got the price lists. When I finished school I started collecting with my first paycheck, then eBay hit, it made it easier to collect and find things. It was a bit cheaper at that time.

My first auction with eBay was interesting, as the seller didn’t want to sell me the item after I won. He noticed that I had 0 feedback, and the seller thought I was going to scam him. He thought there was no way that someone with 0 feedback was serious and was going to pay, even after I sent payment he thought something was wrong and wanted to cancel the transaction.

I personally found this humorous and unbelievable, how would someone sitting with a money order for an item still think that the buyer didn’t want it? My first thought is the seller didn’t want to sell the item and was trying to get out of it, which used to be easier to do. On that note for you new collectors who don’t understand the loopholes and challenges with eBay back in the day, they were many and the processes were not as nearly defined and succinct as they are today. For the first several years everything was done by check or money order, feedback was different and there was no PayPal. Some of us long for some of the old features of eBay, while others are just happy that things aren’t as convoluted as they used to be, regardless what side of the fence you’re on, you have to admit these types of situations are far and few between in the modern age of eBay.

FP: What is your most coveted piece in your collection?

MY: If the building was on fire I’d just die in the fire. I have a few favorites, but out of the entire collection the Meccano Yoda is at the top of the list. It came from JC – Juan Carlos from Spain. It wasn't cheap, and I don’t think it was even on the market. The artwork is my favorite aspect, the condition is so great with a clear bubble. Another one is my Orange head Luke, came out on an ESB 41E, I have a pair of them.

FP: How did you come-up with your focus?

MY: I’ve never really had a focus. It was more opportunistic for me -- as things came my way, or I found items I would capitalize on items as they would come along. Out of everything in the collection the only thing I “hunted” for was the wind-up R2-D2. About 10 years ago I saw my first one on eBay. It was part of a scam as it was the prior to the PayPal days, and it was done via money order.

So really there is no focus for Mark other than what he enjoys, which one could say is the best focus to have in the hobby. Some of us (like yours truly) crave structure and goals to keep us on track in the hobby. Without it we would veer off in multiple directions with lack of continuity. But hearing Mark say that he really doesn’t “hunt” for anything or that he really doesn’t have a focus is extremely admirable to me and in many ways humbling, as his collection is 10 times what I could ever hope to have and encompasses so many unique niches.

As Mark and I continued we started to discuss something that happens to a lot of collectors -- frustration -- and ultimately a break from the hobby.

MY: Around 2004 I lost a bunch of auctions, my career was taking off, and my internet connection was ticking me off as I was still on dial up. This coupled with timing of US ending auctions (middle of the night in Singapore) I took a break for 6-7 years. Most of my stuff went back in storage. I wish I didn’t stop but it was becoming frustrating to be a collector in a market that could be easily scammed, and where I was consistently spending an overwhelming amount of time on trying to win auctions at 3AM.

FP: Take me through your collection shelf by shelf, or section by section.

  MY: 3 Packs, Some came from Tom Derby, I have a great rapport with Tom that has been built up over the years, speaking with him over the phone, he offered them up to me.  

MY: Variants – Creatures Set QC Sample, Top shelf came from Joe Barr (It was featured in Star Wars Archive) with Shadow Box -- it’s a an early version of the sets, the last run before production.

These are my personal favorite pieces that we covered. 3 Packs at the top of the list in terms of difficult items to collect from the production run. If you want good condition examples they are going to be expensive, regardless if it’s the Creatures set or one of the many super rare ESB sets. Thus seeing prototypes for these is just jaw dropping, especially when there are 3 of them lined up.

MY: I’m missing 2 Sets in the production run of the 3 Packs – Rebel set with Leia Hoth, and Bespin with Cloud Car Pilot.

 MY: My vacuum sealed figures came from Tom Derby -- a great acquisition and a center of one of the shelves. The 7 Figure MOC Set came from Tom Derby as well (starting to see a pattern here). It’s a Sears release, he was doing some research on his own and asked what other rare items I was looking for. He was able to find one, it’s a great piece with some great characters and the last one in the set is actually a vacuum sealed item.

MY: Moving on to the Uzays – Blue Stars came from Michael in Germany, has a small crack in the bubble.  The AT-AT Drier it came from Joe Y, two C-3POs from Adam Burgess in UK, Royal Guard without the cape was a BIN for $999 -- it was the first time I saw an Uzay and I made a $500 dollar offer on the $1000 listing and won it! The Royal Guard has a crack in the top of the bubble, the weapon can come out but not the figure.

MY: The stacks of AFA figures are all 12 backs and is where I concentrated a lot of my efforts over the years -- 12A, 12A white stamps, 12B, 12 D (Full Set). It’s the focus inside the collection.

MY: When it comes to Mailers my focus was more on the Sears lineup. I have two examples of the 15 pack (one graded and one not). The graded piece came from Tom Derby; one of which was featured in the MarketWatch last year (MarketWatch Feb. 2014). I bought the loose set missing 2 figures and found those on their own to complete the second set. I have one 4 pack that came from Tom as well -- it’s the one with Darth, IG-88, Bossk, and Fett it was graded 80. One 4 pack, went for $5,000.  There’s one more 4 pack out there that I’m trying to find as well. I found the box itself and I’m trying to build it from that piece of the set alone. This was another item that was featured on the MarketWatch last year.

FP: Are you done with your collection or what’s next for you?

MY: I’ve always wanted to try to finish the 12 back variant line (missing double telescoping Ben and Vader). I’ve always found the 12 backs to be the most important to me in the line as my memories of the line are very vivid. It was right in the sweet spot of my childhood where I was playing with the items and that packaging stuck with me over the years.

FP: How does your significant other feel about your hobby?

MY: She has her own collections (shoes and bags), it’s the only way to even it out. She doesn’t like the time I spend with the collection vs. the cost, something that rings true with a lot of collectors in relationships.

FP: How many other collectors are in Singapore?  

MY: There’s a few vintage collectors (Derek Ho – Uncle Gundy), he was one of the early ones who started in the 90s. Jeff Koh – (Only Boba Fett), 21 backs, a huge collection of them including one of the only proofs out there. 

It was impossible to fit in all the questions that I had for Mark as I wanted to be respective of his time, given the time zone difference, and the fact that this could have easily been a three hour conversation.  

Some of the areas we weren’t able to cover in detail include some of his random MOCs from ESB and ROTJ that you see in the images. In addition, we didn’t get a chance to dig into the Early Bird kits, Display Stands and other Mailers in any detail. Thus this may be a collection we revisit again someday just to talk through some more of these things. It was truly a pleasure to talk with Mark and hear more about his collection and understanding more of his focus and the background of how this massively detailed collection came to be.

Mark gives back to the community through his reference posts, what he posts on RebelScum and displaying his collection for others to enjoy as well. One specific area of pride for him is the reference guides he’s posted on RebelScum, detailing the 12 back releases. These extremely detailed posts (Guide to US Kenner Star Wars Cardbacks) help show people what exists in the line and gives and additional point of reference to some of the existing matrices that are out there today. He made mention that a lot of people helped bring the guide together, and that it was very time consuming. He takes pride in accuracy and doesn’t want to mislead people so it’s taking a long time to compile the final version, and verify so that it’s completely accurate.

This illustrates one of the great things about the hobby and those that have been part it for some time -- the ability to give back to the community and pass on what you have learned. Collectors pick up so much meta knowledge from other collectors, through posts, through interactions and through reference material. It’s the constant circle that makes this hobby great and helps it thrive and grow year after year. Mark is a true zealot in this sense and his contributions to the collecting community can’t go unrecognized.

Final Thoughts:

Mark’s collections spans so many sub focuses of the hobby that it’s difficult to keep track of all the niches in the collection itself. At the core of the collection is something beautiful, the fact that he is solely focused on things he enjoys collecting and has very loose goals for what he wants to acquire. I think that speaks miles to the impact of this collection. Many of us get caught up in our focuses and loose site of what collecting is truly about, that being enjoyment. Whether it’s getting upset over losing an auction for that key item, or dealing with eBay on some random issue a lot of us get brought down by our hobby vs. being lifted emotionally. For Mark like any other collector there has been frustration due to some of those challenges, but he’s always stayed focused on why he collects: the joy of the hunt. Personally I find this very admirable, and something to be modeled by other collectors.    

The collection itself is absolutely amazing and one of the best in existence today. The level of rarity of some of the items is enough to make one’s head spin when trying to comprehend the time and financial investment that must have been made to get to this level. From the detailed completeness of the 12 back set, to the foreign release items, the prototypes of 3 packs and everything in between it’s quite a site to see. If you haven’t checked out his collection yet, run and do so -- you won’t be disappointed. And if you take nothing else away from this article, please remember this: our hobby is about celebrating our lust for the past, the present and everything in between. Collecting is a means not an end, and those of us who truly get the most out of collecting don’t do so by having the most items, or by spending the most money. We do so by building a network of friends, developing relationships and creating stories out of not what we have materially, but what we’ve gained intangibly: friendships, stories, and knowledge. These are the true great benefits of our hobby.

Happy Collecting!


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