Monday, August 31, 2015

MarketWatch: (Twin Pod) Cloud Car Pilot

Michael L. writes:

I'll admit that the Cloud Car Pilot was one figure I didn't own as a child. However, as I've become a collector in later life I have come to appreciate the figure. It's interesting the design Kenner came up with for him, given they had only the head and torso to go by.

In terms of the market for him we found a few decent examples this month among quite a few beat up cards. No Coin Offer stickers, which was a shame (and a surprise) -- I'm sure there are some good double offer examples out there.

Pricing seemed pretty reasonable. As usual, where the item was a high grade (in this instance an AFA80) and on a debut card, we saw a pretty high price, somewhere around the $450-$500 range. Outside of that piece, other nice examples (graded) fetched in the $200-$250 range. Once the quality fell off -- and we did see quite a few examples with poor bubbles and sticker peel-off damage -- pricing was well under $100.

In terms of the highlight, I would put forward this first foreign example. Obviously the cardback is rare, but it did come with both accessories, with the radio having a unique LL style to it .... onto the data:


Lili Ledy Cardback and Figure - $740.02 - eBay listing

The selling feature of this listing was both accessories, weapon and radio were genuine Ledy accessories (it would appear a Ledy radio is rare).


Starting off with the debut card...
45 Back AFA80 (C80/B85/F85) - approx. $500 - eBay listing

45 Back (Ungraded) - $141 - eBay listing

45 Back (Ungraded) - $130.50 - eBay listing

47 Back AFA80 (C80/B85/F80) - $200 - eBay listing

48A AFA80-Y (C80/B85/F85) - $260 - eBay listing

48C (Ungraded) - $109.16 - eBay listing

48C (Ungraded) - $50.95 - eBay listing


65 Back (Ungraded) - $91.00 - eBay listing

77 Back (Ungraded) - $51.44 - eBay listing

Another background character completed. Quality was pretty mixed, with a lot more poorer examples. They seem to be the ones that trade hands the most. I'm interested to see where the market goes as we lead into Episode VII and 2016....

Till next month,
Wampa Wampa

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Graphic Designer Reviews Hasbro's The Force Awakens Action Figure Packaging

Ron writes:

I interviewed toy collector, author, and graphic designer Mattias Rendahl a few months ago on the occasion of the release of his great book, "A New Proof." Hasbro's The Force Awakens figures having started to hit stores (the full catalog can also be viewed here), I asked Mattias to take a look at them and provide me with his opinions on the packaging. Take it away, Mattias.

Mattias writes:

I don’t consider myself a fanboy. I’m a toy collector: the toys and their packaging are what interest me. I’m more interested in who designed the toys than I am in Luke’s late cousin's father and whether Snaggletooth's real name is Zutton. To me, Snaggletooth is Snaggletooth, and 4-LOM is 4-LOM -- and definitely not Zuckuss.

That said, I admit I’ve been thrilled following the development of The Force Awakens, and I can’t wait to get in line to watch the movie when it opens. I love all the nods to the old movies that J.J. has made. I love the look and feel of the movie and the characters. And, being an Art Director by profession and author of the Star Wars packaging design book "A New Proof," I’ve been hoping that the toy packaging would be just as good as everything else we've seen from the production. Even though I haven’t been buying and collecting modern product for more than 10 years, when I walk down a toy aisle and see Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie figures on the pegs, I’m sure I won't be able to resist buying them. Provided, that is, the packaging is just as cool and revolutionary the vintage packaging from back in the day.

So it was with a combination of relief and disappointment that I examined the new packaging design from Hasbro.

The action figures themselves look cool. I like that they don’t have 1,000 points of articulation. But the packaging leaves a lot to be desired. It feels like a desktop product created in focus groups. The group participants have provided input regarding what they like about toy packaging. And, of course, they've advocated for what they're used to seeing: illustrations of characters in extreme action poses. I do like the clean cut of the cards. And the header, with its simple, big Star Wars logo and attractive typographical rendering of the words "The Force Awakens," is nice. But the illustration of Kylo Ren in the upper right corner is a tired concept. It originated 20 years ago with the POTF2 line and its looming Darth Vader. And it popped up again in The Phantom Menace line, where Vader was replaced with Darth Maul. We've seen this already.

Mattias' attempt at correcting the problems he sees on the Hasbro packaging.

Anyway, I can live with the top of the cards. It's the bottom two-thirds that leave a lot to be desired. If you have a movie with fantastic, nice-looking photography, why not use that imagery on the action figure cards? That's something a movie-based toy line should leverage. The look and recognition established by the movie's advertising should be leveraged, too. The illustrations on the new card backs don't do that. Even worse, the two illustrations, each in the same style, make the design look cluttered and undifferentiated. My eye doesn't know where to focus. And don't even get me started on that big ugly sticker promoting a big ugly accessory: it draws attention away from the toy.

A good packaging design spotlights the toy so that it becomes the hero. The design elements should support the toy and make it look even cooler than it actually is. I don't think that's happening here.

Finally -- and this, to me, is a major blunder -- where on the packaging do you look to find the names of the characters? That element is way too discreet. Fans, of course, will know all the names, and younger kids can’t read. But as a parent and somewhat casual fan, I want the packaging to tell me what I'm buying. I want to be able to answer my son when he asks me about the characters we're buying. My son likes the toys related to Disney's Cars. Without obvious names on the packaging of those toys, neither he nor I would know what to call the 100 or so characters, and we wouldn't have as strong a connection to the world in which those movies take place. Names, I think, are important.

So far I've discussed the design of the card fronts only. The backs are too boring to warrant comment. Okay, I'll do it anyway: Where are the rest of the characters in the line? Where's that familiar "collect them all" feeling that inspired kids from previous generations to turn the products over and start drooling? Kenner was very successful with that approach more than 30 years ago. When I was a kid I used action figure card backs to mark the figures I wanted or had. Who didn't? I'd love to have that experience with my son. It's sad that these new Hasbro figures don't provide the opportunity for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don't want the packaging to have a straight-up vintage design, like Hasbro has been trotting out for years in their attempts at "vintagesploitation," as the guys on the 'Chive Cast would refer to it.  What I expected was something new that was as true to the Original Trilogy, in terms of look and feel, as the new movie seems to be. I'm disappointed we didn't get that.

In summary, the packaging isn't as good as I thought it would be, Hasbro has managed to make me feel that I shouldn't "collect them all,” and for once I'm relieved to not feel forced into buying my son new Star Wars toys. He can play with whatever he wants, even if it's not Star Wars. Right now it's Lego (yes, with a focus on Star Wars), My Little Pony, and dolls. We have a lot to choose from. See you in the toy aisles.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Scrapbooking Star Wars Part 4: Tom's Notebook Collection

Amy writes:

In the latest installment of "Scrapbooking Star Wars," we take a look at some organized notebooks from the collection of Tom Stewart. There are certainly quite a few notebooks to choose from. Below are just a small selection of books from several shelves in his collection.

Tom organized all of his notebooks with plastic sleeves that he has replaced over the years. The benefit of this is that it keeps the newsprint in fairly pristine condition. Like Earl Bergquist, Tom began to cut out news clippings to help conserve space as whole newspapers were too bulky. Unlike Earl, Tom has never stopped collecting clippings since he began. His family and friends still help him collect any news ads they find.

Some of Tom's earliest articles are from 1977. Perhaps the best is this front page section of the Sunday Oregonian's Northwest section entitled "What is this thing, Star Wars?"

Tom and his brother both contributed to an ongoing collection of Star Wars comics as they appeared in the Sunday newspaper. Some of the highlights shown below include book cover art and a 'Special Edition' way before 1997 Special Editions.

The strength of Tom's collection is in its wealth of Return of the Jedi articles. They encompass the lead up to the film's premiere and follow through well past its release.

Warning: 32 year old spoilers ahead...

Tom was sure to include national toy advertisements and flyers from stores and ones local to the Pacific Northwest area.

In the summer of 1983, Lucasfilm launched an advertising display campaign at local malls called the "Jedi Adventure Center" that highlighted the film with costumes and various merchandise items. The hope was to bolster theater attendance well after the film's release in May of that year (for more information and images, check out Pete Vilmur's 2006 article archived here and as well as this Legendary Auctions listing). This is an article describing the display at a mall in Everett, Washington:

Newer articles follow in separate notebooks. They include the wish list newspaper ads for 90's era Star Wars toys.

And who could forget that exciting time when unknown Star Wars characters were introduced to us for the first time.

Perhaps the most fascinating portion of Tom's scrapbook collection are articles featuring fellow collectors in the area who at the time were complete strangers. Here's a piece about Tom Berges who later became good friends with Tom. It just goes to show, it really is a small world!

In the Internet age as we move further and further away from print articles, I hope you've been inspired to hold on to some paper items or at least got to see something new. It's a great way to collect on a budget and no one single scrapbook is alike.  

Special thanks to contributors Tom Berges, Earl Bergquist and Tom Stewart without whom this series wouldn't exist. I plan on revisiting this series in the future with more scrapbook treasures.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer 2015 MarketWatch: Catalog Mailer Spectacular

Pete writes:

Happy Summer Space Freaks!

As August comes to a close, we'll spend a bit of time looking into the Summer market -- the typical season of vintage where prices soar through the roof and people clean out the closets, driving up the availability of key items on eBay.  

This month, however, we'll diverge from the traditional eBay review and cover an interesting live auction with a focus on a growing area of the hobby: catalog multi-figure mailers (for more information on these, check out this SWCA Special Feature). The segment has always been a niche, and there are several reasons why. First, there aren’t a lot of these left, especially in comparison to MOC figures. For example, for roughly every 1,000 MOC figures that sell on eBay, 1 catalog mailer is sold. That’s a pretty staggering ratio when you think about it. Thus, it makes it hard to focus on the segment as they’re truly scarce, and with limited availability comes a more limited collector base. One thing that comes with rarity combined with growth in the marketplace is price inflation. Over the years these items have kept pace with the overall staggering rate of price appreciation. As you’ll see in our auction results, less desirable items will sell in the $400-$600 range with more expensive and desirable sets going for several thousand dollars.

The second reason this segment is a niche is pretty obvious: they’re not the most aesthetically attractive items on the market. I’m not saying they’re ugly, but they usually don’t have the detailed artwork or eye appeal that a lot of other items in the hobby have. Now there are exceptions to this, as the ESB line art boxes could be considered some of the best two-color artwork in the vintage line. They’re also some of the most desirable as well, you may remember a MarketWatch a few years ago where an empty line art box went for over $1,500 on eBay. Needless to say, there’s truly some strong demand for some of these key pieces and people willing to pay top dollar.

The third challenging thing about catalog mailers is one that’s truly a matter of opinion and personal style.  That challenge is how do you effectively display these items? You can’t stand the figures up like loose figures, you have to lean or lay them down. The other option isn’t exactly cheap -- that being getting custom cases built for them or sending them to AFA to be cased. This is one area where I feel that it’s undeniable that AFA does the best job of making an item more visually appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I think that having a case built is great, but side by side I don’t think there’s any denying that AFA adds a special touch to the quality and consistency of laying these out for display.  

The segment is growing due in part to focus collectors and what I would call a maturing collector base looking for new areas to collect. Ultimately the segment is fairly diverse. Among the three movie lines there are over 80 variations of these to be released into the market. There’s also an interesting level of nostalgia attached to them, given they all came through catalogs or in some rare cases through specific retail stores or other promotions. Personally I feel part of this nostalgia comes from the fact that kids like me that grew up in a rural community and couldn’t ride their bikes to a store that sold figures probably saw the toys more through these catalogs then through retail stores.   

Due to a major auction in June we have the opportunity to look at more of these in one month then we typically see in the market in a year. This auction was held through an auction house in Pennsylvania which also sold several modern era items from the DeMartino collection. The auction featured not only Star Wars mailers, but other toys from the vintage line, comics, and several other popular toy lines for the 1980s.  

Rather than covering these items in our usual detail I’ll be listing out each of the mailers that sold and speaking only to each movie release, as covering all of these individually would be a daunting task.


The first series of catalog mailers followed suit amongst other popular toy lines which wouldn’t sell the retail packaged items via the catalog channel and instead focused on diversifying their mix with multi packs and other ways to add value and increase the ticket price of each item. Think about it in scale -- it really wouldn’t make sense for retailers to try and ship single items to end users who could easily buy the same products at their local retailer outlets. However, you couldn’t ignore the channel either as it was a huge part of the industry during the time. Thus manufacturers found unique ways to add value to offerings by creating the value packs and exclusive offers for the catalog retailers. 

The Star Wars line is arguably the most unique of the releases in diversity of sets, but it could also be the dullest in terms of packaging. With almost every set coming in a plain brown box, there was little visual appeal to the packaging itself. Regardless, these have become very sought after in the hobby and the sets fetch a large price tag for even the most mundane group of characters.

In our auctions at hand we had a nice selection of different sets from the first film's release. However, none really stood out from the crowd in terms of price or rarity, thus we’ll save some of our dialogue for this month for the ESB and ROTJ releases which were a bit more diverse and well represented.   

3-Pack – Han Solo, Death Squad Commander, Luke Skywalker = $500

3-Pack – Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2 – AFA 75 = $...  
We don't have record of what this set went for. However, a similar set was sold not too long after on eBay. This auction was for an AFA85 example: Chewy-C-3PO-R2D2 AFA 85 Mailer. Although this didn't have the Kenner catalog included it's a good reference point.

4-Pack – Two Stormtroopers, Tusken Raider, Darth Vader = $650

4-Pack – Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO = $750

4-Pack – Chewbacca, Death Star Droid, R2-D2, C-3PO = $800

4-Pack – Chewbacca, Jawa, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo = $950


In the 2nd wave of catalog mailers, we find that the packaging becomes more diverse. Plain white boxes, line art, and coded boxes were all featured in the release supporting the Empire era in the vintage line. Not only did the appearance change, but so did the material of the boxes themselves. Here we saw a mix of a similar thick cardboard stock that was used in the Star Wars release and the thinner cardboard that would ultimately be used in the entire Return of the Jedi release.       

The vintage ESB mailer line also saw the most diversity in figure combination quantities, spanning from 3 to 15 figures in a set. With multi-figure mailers, the number of figures included drives a significant portion of the value and can be seen in the auctions we have listed this month. Think how crazy it would have been to get a 15-pack as a gift growing up -- BOOM -- instant collection with one tiny white box. 

In this grouping of auctions there are a few very noteworthy sets. One of the smaller quantity but higher dollar pieces we saw sell was a 4-pack including Vader, Bossk, IG-88 and Boba Fett -- quite the motley crew indeed. The box in this set did have some pen marks which probably brought the overall price down, however this piece still commanded a price of $750, which is fairly remarkable.

Not surprisingly, the large quantity sets saw the biggest price tags attached to them, with each of the 15-packs reaching over $4K a piece. These were a few of the last auctions of the night and were the longest in terms of time with nearly 40 bids on each item in the live auction and a lot of bids in the pre-show bidding.

3-Pack – Two Rebel Soldiers and Rebel Commander = $475

3-Pack – Darth Vader and Two Stormtroopers = $500

3-Pack Sealed – Darth Vader and Two Stormtroopers = $600

4-Pack – Leia Bespin, Lando, Luke X-Wing, Han Hoth = $550

4-Pack – Boba Fett, Bossk, IG-88, Darth Vader = $750

4–Pack – Rebel Soldier, Rebel Commander, Stormtrooper, Snowtrooper = $475

4-Pack – Lando, Yoda, Luke X-Wing, Han Hoth = $800

8-Pack – TIE Fighter Pilot, AT-AT Driver, Imperial Commander, FX-7, AT-AT Commander, Cloud Car Pilot, Luke Bespin, 2-1B = $700

9-Pack – Lobot, Han Bespin, Leia Hoth, Dengar, Imperial Commander, Ugnaught, 2-1B, AT-AT Driver, Rebel Commander = $900

9-Pack – FX-7, Luke Bespin, Han Hoth, IG-88, Asian Bespin Guard, Rebel Soldier, Leia Bespin, Lando, Snowtrooper = $1,000

15-Pack (C8 Box) – C-3PO, R2-D2, R5-D4, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Stormtrooper, Star Destroyer Commander, Princess Leia Organa, Luke X-Wing, Snaggletooth, Greedo, Death Star Droid, Ben Kenobi, Walrusman, Hammerhead -  $4,900

15-Pack (C6 Box) - C-3PO, R2-D2, R5-D4, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Stormtrooper, Star Destroyer Commander, Princess Leia Organa, Luke X-Wing, Snaggletooth, Greedo, Death Star Droid, Ben Kenobi, Walrusman, Hammerhead -  $4,300


The Jedi release continued to build on the line, however it cut back in some key aspects. For one, diversity of packaging was limited. The line built a consistent type of packaging with all but three variants featuring the same large round sticker on the box. In addition, it limited the number of figures to 3,4,7 and 8, thus removing the 9 and 15 packs from the mix. This line also relied less on characters from the previous two movies and spent the majority of the time promoting new characters. Another new move with this series was the more consistent and prominent listing of each of the figures on the box. We also see the naming of certain sets such as the Robots set, Villains set, Heroes set, and so on. Both of these changes made the boxes more retail-friendly and also aligned with the move towards a standardized type of packaging across the line.

This group of listings had an interesting mix of sealed and opened items, along with completely accurate sets with sealed baggies, others with open baggies, and some that just had the wrong baggies included with the sets. One of the most notable auctions was the Villains 8 Pack that features several popular Imperial figures along with Boba Fett, open and from what it appeared with at least two incorrect baggies for the set, selling for a price of $1,700 ,which is the most expensive open ROTJ set I believe I’ve seen to date.

In addition there were two 4 packs that I had never personally seen, even in pictures let alone in an auction: the Robots set which included IG-88, R2-D2, C-3PO and for some reason Chewy (which is very reminiscent of his inclusion in the "Androids" 3 Pack from the first release of 3 packs in the Star Wars line). There was a sealed and open version of this one and both went for pretty impressive prices. The second item that I had personally never seen before was another 4 pack very similar to the aforementioned in that three of the figures were the same, but IG-88 was replaced with Ben Kenobi. Going for an equally impressive price, this was the 2nd most expensive open item of the ROTJ release in this auction. The most expensive for some reason was a 4 pack including Vader, Leia, Han and Luke selling for $2,000 in a sealed package. The thing to note here is that this is actually one of the more common sets in the ROTJ release but demanded the highest price of any. I can’t really connect the dots on this but oh well, someone obviously really wanted this one and a sealed version isn’t nearly as common as an open version of the set.

Sealed ROTJ:

4 Pack Robots – IG-88, Chewbacca, R2D2 and C-3PO = $1300

4 Pack Original – Princess Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo = $2,000

4 Pack Ewoks – Chief Chirpa, Lumat, Wicket W. Warrick, Logray = $550

Open ROTJ:

3 Pack – Vader and 2 Snowtroopers = $475

3 Pack – Klaatu, Weequay , Ree Yees = $300

4 Pack Robots – IG-88, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO = $800

4 Pack – C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Ben Kenobi  = $1300

7 Pack Heroes – Paploo, Han Trench, B-Wing Pilot, Prune Face, Leia Combat Poncho, Wicket, Teebo = $750

8 Pack Villains – Boba Fett, Biker Scout, Snowtrooper, Stromtrooper, Imperial Commander, AT-AT Commander, Gamorrean Guard, Squidhead = $1,700

That wraps up the general market coverage for the Summer. We’ll be coming back to you in September with our next update.

Until then....

Wampa Wampa