Thursday, May 21, 2015

Limelight Collector Interview #4 - Yehuda Kleinman

Collecting in the Big Apple: The Collection of Yehuda Kleinman

Pete writes:

Happy May everyone and welcome to our latest Collector Limelight blog post. This month we head to a part of the country that has seen some of the worst weather in years. Luckily for them, the absolute worst hit a few hundred miles North in Boston, but still, NYC has had a very harsh winter, and thus I was happy to spend some time in February with Yehuda Kleinman, who probably needed a bit of break from the inhospitable climate. Yehuda is a lifelong collector. Growing up in the 70s and early 80s gave him the benefit of being the perfect age at the perfect time to experience the Star Wars phenomenon. As a Brooklyn and Manhattan native, he was also in a unique position geographically as a child given the unique aspects New York City retail stores at the time period. Unlike the suburban big box mentality that had already taken over with the likes of Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target in its infancy, Yehuda picked up his pieces at department stores, drug stores, and hardware stores, as these were the primary outlets for these types of products at this time in NYC.  

For Yehuda, this is really his first limelight, or public showing of his display in general. Unlike the other collectors I’ve covered to date, this collection isn’t seen on social media, forums or other venues. Thus, I was very excited that he would allow me to cover his vast collection of Star Wars and other toy lines. Residing today in Queens, Yehuda has a particular style in how and what he collects, making the collection we are about to see unique unto itself. When Yehuda told me during the interview, “I collect a lot like Gus and Duncan,” at first I thought that meant that his house was overrun with multiple rooms of Star Wars memorabilia, but what it really meant is that he’s not a completist and has a sampling of something from each segment of the release. This lead to a lot of discussion as there are dozens of segments of his collection to cover, spanning all three movies, multiple foreign release, production, pre-production, and other toy lines worthy of mentioning here.

Yehuda and I had the first multi-part interview since I started this series, somewhat based on the depth of his collection, but also based on the fact that he’s just that personable of an individual and made ample time for us to chat which also leads to the longest post I’ve put up to date. I hope you enjoy the interview and dialogue he provided as much as I enjoyed discussing his collection.


When we first conversed I wanted to spend some time on what segments of collecting he focuses on. Here I found that one of the greatest things about his collection is the variety. Not only does he have a complete run of MOC figures, he dabbles in everything. A 2-pack here, a 3-pack there, a 12” run, lots of vehicles, several large proofs, the coin series complete with several prototypes, and to top it off a run of Raiders of the Lost Ark figures and the 18” Alien figure -- literally a Kenner menagerie of items.

Of all these niches in his collection, the one area that I felt he connected with the most and stood out for me was the Palitoy series. It’s well represented through and through and one of the most impressive areas of the collection overall. Thus when we started the discussion I wanted to dive right into Palitoy and what it meant to him in the grand scheme of his collection.

FP: How did you start to collect?

YK: Started to collect loose, then carded, didn’t really focus on collecting full sets, but rather what I wanted in each segment. I ended up getting a full run of loose, then carded and coins as well, but it wasn’t the real goal for me.

FP: When did you start to collect?
YK: The first movie came out when I was 4, so I saw Star Wars in the theater. I was in a store a year later when the figures first came out. I was totally at the right age. I remember sitting at recess playing with the figure reenacting the movies, and it stuck with me for all my primary years (1st grade, 2nd and onward). I stuck with it through high school and ended up acquiring a lot of my friends' collections. It started building into armies -- Stormtroopers, Jawas, Death Squad Commanders, and even Vaders. I started to get interested in what else what out there, stuff that I didn’t have as a kid. 

YK: In the early 90s when I went to shows, there were always a few Darth Vader cases. Sometimes you would even see a carded figure. I went from collecting individual figures to collecting a full set of figures, mixing carded figures I would find with loose figures and forming a set of them that way. 

When I started building my display, it didn’t look right to have the carded figures in there with the loose figures. Even though they were beaters I couldn’t bring myself to open them, so I ended up trying to buy the rest of the figures loose. I went onto buying mailers and the coins. It was the infancy of Rebelscum at that point, and the Archive. 

FP: How have you gone about putting your collection together, what was your approach?

YK: I collect a lot like Gus and Duncan -- I collect the things that interest me and don’t focus on completing sets. I have one 2-pack and one 3-pack and so on; I find if you go any further you can turn these into complete collections and focuses unto themselves. The collection itself is all just things that I enjoy. There are several areas that I have only one or two pieces of and that’s really my style.

Years back I approached Tommy Garvey. He mentioned going to The Earth for a pre-production piece. The first one I picked up was a Bondo head from the second series of the Ewoks. It started the pre-production collection. Stuff is hard to come by, so I just try and wait for the right pieces to come along and buy other stuff in between them. When you’re a focus collector stuff lines up easily in a display, where when you have a lot of stuff you have to find a way to make it harmonize. When I have things that are completely divergent from each other I try to use different levels or shelves, as it gives separation and shows each of the individual pieces a bit more. That way it’s less distracting to the eye.

My rule with pre-production is to buy whatever comes across that I really like and not get too specific on whatever comes my way. There’s a sticker shock that comes to a lot of folks that have collected for a while.  

I was also picking up a lot of stuff that Todd Chamberlain was selling, Hershey pendants and Oral B tooth brushes. What’s nice is that this stuff has a lot fewer collectors going after it.

FP: One of the first things I notice when I look at your collection is the displays. They’re quite unique can you tell me how you decided on that layout?

YK: When we bought our house 7 years ago we looked at one part of the attic which was a lofted space, but as we continued working and renovating it went from being my closet to something else. A lot of my stuff was in boxes in closets, and wasn’t displayed. The house due to its shape wasn’t really set up great to do boxed cases like those from Ikea. So I decided to build the cabinets from the ground up. This way we could use the space the way we wanted. This helped us get almost everything out there. The walls angle upward halfway up due to the vault. I wanted to keep the architectural integrity of the house and building the cabinets was the best way to do this and make the best use of the space.
YK: One piece that was more difficult to find room for was the Imperial Shuttle and I needed to build a specific space for it. Another was a mold that was very heavy for the AT-AT Driver; it was several hundred pounds so I needed to build a plywood shelf for it vs. the glass shelves I used in the majority of the display. It was a challenge to get it up to the attic, but it was well worth it.

Although I have some cases for pre-production, I do mix things with production and pre-production. While putting it together I played with light and placement. I wanted every piece to be visible, while having the better pieces getting the majority of the focus (tough with 1000s of items). I went with a matte white background, as it makes the cabinet disappear. The lights are LEDs to help reduce any UV light. There are 7 windows and a sky light, so I had the windows tinted with a tint that eliminates the UV, and reduces the natural light. The packaging wasn’t made to be preserved --  it was meant to be thrown away. But if it’s preserved right it will last, but at the same point you don’t want to keep them in the dark.

One random thing we did in the room as well was add a Switcheroo for the light switch for the cabinet, it adds another element of cohesiveness to the room.

FP: How about protecting the figures -- do you grade them?

YK: I don’t grade my figures. Where you see the cases it’s just sliding cases, I feel these are effective.

FP: One set of figures in your collection that stands out to me are the Droids and Ewoks figures.

YK: I have the whole run, of Droids and Ewoks (including Vlix). It’s an old display, and I have moved them over time. It’s a fun display to have up as people who were not familiar with the series could see something different and unique. Vlix I got from a good friend who was looking to move the item as he wanted something else.  He came without his weapon, but I eventually found one for him. If you’re patient things will come around; it’s a marathon not a sprint.  

If you collect the things you like it will probably become valuable as there will be others who feel the same way. If you collect because you think it will grow in value you usually won’t see things grow in value. When I look at the evolution of the hobby it’s very similar to comics. Golden Age wasn’t kept in nice condition and people didn’t collect them, people started to keep them in the Silver Age. Vintage toys are akin to the Golden Age of comics, and vintage prototypes are like Golden Age artwork. This is why the POTF2 line wasn’t appreciating in value. There seems to be similar patterns in other hobbies as well. I’m glad my mom didn’t throw out my toys like my grandma threw out my uncle's comic books.

FP: If the circumstances called for it would you get rid of your collection?

YK: If I had to get rid of it I wouldn’t think about it twice. It’s the friendships and memories that are the most important aspects of the hobby. My greatest enjoyment in the hobby is gaining knowledge and developing friendships.

Another great thing that really made the hobby even more interesting was when I had children who enjoyed it as well. You get to relive it through their eyes. I even sat through the prequels a few times be-grudgingly.

Really looking forward to seeing the new movie for the first time with the kids in the audience.
FP: What is your most coveted piece in your collection? 

YK: My hardcopy King Gorneesh parts. Such an interesting piece -- Mattias sold them to my wife who got them for my birthday. I don’t really own anything that’s complete that’s pre-production; I have the head, the comb from the top and the tail as well. I have a first shot of the figure without a head, so it fits well together. 

Over the years people made fun of me as I’m the parts collector.

FP: What are some of your interests outside of collecting?

YK: Jukebox and radio restoration. SW is where I spend a lot of my time. A collector is a collector, so I always seem to find things I like. As a kid I collected toys and baseball cards. My wife collects antiques.


Another piece worth mentioning is  something Gus gave me. It’s shaped like a jukebox (an employee piece from around 1990) -- it’s a great tie in to both collections. It’s a radio, a jukebox, and its Kenner so it’s such a great cross over piece. I still have my childhood radio that is really similar in all ways except it doesn’t have a speaker. It's a kitschy piece of Americana. If you look on the Toy Fair catalog from 1990, it says "Kenner has the hits."

FP: That’s really cool on the cross over. I’ve seen a lot of those jukeboxes like AMI and Seaburg come up on American Pickers and some of the other collector shows.

FP: If I asked your significant other about your collection, what would she say?

YK: I know exactly what she would say. Although she doesn’t collect Star Wars, she understands it gives me joy and pleasure and that’s what is most important. She has her handbags, shoes, and antiques.   When I designed the room she helped me with the colors and designs, and even pushed me further on investing into the displays than I originally had thought.    

FP: What would you want others to know about your collection, or your experiences collecting?
YK: It’s ah…it’s something that gives you many different levels of enjoyment, including reliving things from your childhood, watching your kids appreciate it, hanging out with friends who also appreciate, it’s a great escape.  We all have work and families, so it’s a great way to relax and unwind. It’s important to pace yourself. You can burn yourself out or isolate yourself, so you need to maintain balance.  

FP: The Vader in a frame...

YK: It’s a patch that a bunch of us put together for Celebration 7. It’s several pieces that create one large Darth Vader bust to resemble the Vader Case which several individuals decorated for Celebration 7.  

FP: Tell me about the coin collection.
YK: Along with a lot of the stuff in my collection, I would see something I wanted and would acquire and then I would expand from there. With the coins I had all the Category 1 coins, and thought I would try Category 2. I found Anakin, Yoda, and a few others, and from there I decided to get all 62. Tom Neiheisel (NEXTOY on eBay) -- he was the source of the AT-AT and Falcon proofs, along with a ton of toys (the AT-AT and Rebel Transport Proofs can be seen in a poster swing in one of the images). A lot of my coins came through Tom so it was directly from Kenner to Tom to me without any intermediary.

FP: Tell me about the Indiana Jones items -- how did that line end up working it’s way into your collection?

 YK: It’s still Star Wars stuff isn’t it? George Lucas, Harrison Ford. I remember picking them up in the stores, but if I had one choice for a toy I would get a Star Wars figure. I started to appreciate these more as an adult, as they mimic the Star Wars figures, with the card layout, the movie shots, and the mailaways. It became a natural progression for me as a collector. The figures had articulated knees, and arm swinging action with the German soldier. I have a fair amount of the run, including a hand-made styrene model of the truck and a bunch of proofs that I got from Tom Neiheisel. There’s a few holy grails in the line, including the mailaway Ceremonial Belloq as a carded figure and a few salesman samples.

FP: Another Kenner offshoot I noticed in your collection is one of my favorite toys of all time, the 18” Xenomorph from Alien. Tell me more about that piece.

YK: Politically the toy manufactures have to do things to make the other side of the business happy.  The producers of the movie wanted to market the line to kids. Alien was done tongue in the cheek, they did the same marketing, and it didn’t do well. 

FP: I would be remiss not to bring up your Star Wars MOC collection. What can you tell me about those pieces?

 YK: I have a full offerless movie release set, (except 4-LOM), a decent set of variants, (Leia and Luke Bespin). I don’t have a lot of variants, as I focus a lot on international releases, things like a Harbert Vader, a Takara C-3PO -- I thought they would look nice with what I had.   Glue Stick cards, one 3-pack, one 2-pack -- I just wanted representation of these as collecting all would be a hobby within the hobby.  

FP: I noticed a few POTF2 pieces in your collection -- prototypes from memory -- how did these additions come along?

YK: I didn’t’ buy anything when it was in stores. All of a sudden over time, the figures had their own kitschy appeal; they’ve become their own things. I don’t collect production pieces as it becomes monotonous. I just collect pre-production. Because there’s a limited supply of pre-production it’s a nice fun hobby a little bit of an offshoot. A lot of the stuff that was made during this run was made by people who made items for the Vintage line. They're a way to keep the hobby going and extend it beyond the Vintage line. It refreshes your passion for collecting.

Modern prototypes have become more of a new niche. It’s more attainable, and it was made in-house by some of the same people in Cincinnati as those that worked on the original line. The stuff that was created from 94-2001 before they left Cincinnati is selling for what Vintage pre-production stuff sold for 10+ years back. 

FP: Any regrets from your years of collecting?

YK: The only regrets are things that I didn’t buy.

Yehuda is the type of collector that everyone likes to chat with. His demeanor as an individual is approachable and genuinely open. Before I finished this post I had the chance to meet him face to face at Celebration 7. I was excited to meet him as we had such a lengthy discussion, and it was the first time I had conversed with the subject of one of my Limelights in person. Looking through his collection there’s literally something for every Vintage collector. It was a great honor to get to cover his efforts and truly a pleasure to cap off this discussion with a face to face meeting.

1 comment:

  1. Genuinely one of my favorite fellow collectors and friends in the hobby. Had the pleasure of meeting him and Michelle in Vegas. Great collection and article.