Wednesday, April 20, 2016

MarketWatch Editorial: Toy Shows in the Digital Age

Pete writes:

With the Spring edition of the Kane County Toy Show just around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the role that toy shows and conventions play in the hobby these days when it comes to making new acquisitions. Over the last year I’ve had the unique opportunity to travel to Celebration Anaheim, Kane County, several regional comic cons, and both the Cincinnati and Columbus toy shows in the fall. These shows are great events to network and connect with other collectors in the hobby, as well as a great way to find some niche items that sellers may not want to expose through digital channels.

But one question that relates to our larger MarketWatch theme is the role these shows play in the digital marketplace that has become the primary means for finding new acquisitions. In this article I set out to give some context to this based on my interactions at shows over the past few years, and shed some light on what is truly a unique social gathering and what impact it can or cannot have on a collector and their collection.

Relevancy of Toy Shows in the Digital Age

The biggest question I personally had and seems to be aligned with a question that a lot of us ask is what is the relevancy of toy shows in an age where the majority of transactions in the hobby occur online? Well, as I’ve found out over the last year these shows are as strong as they have ever been. Attendance at every show I went to this last year was very healthy, ranging from thousands of people at events like Kane to hundreds of people at the smaller shows.

The events are as much social as they are about purchases. You get to meet people you may have only spoken with online and network with collectors who try to stay out of the online arena. At the core, these events were really eye opening and beneficial in terms of networking and general knowledge exchange. What surprised me the most at these events is the sense of community. Most everyone knows each other and there’s a comradery that’s unique to the hobby. It’s about re-connections between old friends and making new ones. As many experienced collectors state, the network of friends is the best thing about collecting and these events are at the center of that concept. Whether regional, national, or international they’re a great way for collectors to meet up with old friends, develop new ones and hear stories from collectors of all ages. It’s this single thread that makes these shows so much more than just a way to transact; the in-person interactions strengthen the social bonds of the hobby.

Toys and Collectibles at the Events

Through all of these events one thing has stood out to me more than anything -- that being the amount of products that are available for sale. Suffice it to say I was able to pick up a lot of key pieces for my collection ranging from common production items I’d missed out on via eBay over the years to pre-production items I’d never seen in person. The range of product varies from show to show, but overall I’ve personally had some level of success in expanding my collection at every show I’ve attended. Now this won’t be the same for every collector out there, but the key underlying theme is that there is opportunity at these shows. Whether you walk away with something great for your collection or just with a new connection there’s always something material or intangible to be gained.

Availability of product ranges from common to rare at these events. You’ll be sure to see vintage Star Wars items at each one, ranging from loose figures and vehicles to sealed items and the occasional pre-production. Overall it’s the breadth of items that adds some flavor to the events as we can all relate with the toy line in each of its forms, new or old. The one way to describe the stock of product at the shows is plentiful, and that means even if you’re not going to find something you especially want for your collection, you will be able to find something you can relate to.

When it comes to finding rarer pieces at shows you may be surprised. At Celebration Anaheim I expected to see a lot of cool and unique items, and from the show floor to room sales my mind was blown. The scale when I headed to the Cincinnati show this last year was different, however there were also some great pieces that really made me step back. A few of the best items at that show included an uncut sheet of POTF proofs (shown above), a complete set of the POTF coins, some Revenge of the Jedi box flats, a 12” unproduced box flat, and even a Scout Walker Cromalin that can be seen here, with Steve Denny and some other guy celebrating the transaction.

This breadth is what I think makes all of us come back to these shows. There’s really something for any level of collector and even if you don’t score something for your collection you’re sure to see some cool sights.

Not Everything Happens at the Show

Those of you that read my recap of Celebration Anaheim last year know that one of the highlights of the show from an acquisition perspective isn’t just what you find on the floor, it’s what gets traded after hours. Whether it’s an informal meet up or a scheduled event after hours, outside gatherings at these shows are present in one way shape or form. At Cincinnati we met up in a hotel lobby, at Kane we met before the show started, and at Celebration Anaheim it was the room sales. No matter the event, one of the best opportunities to meet other collectors and see some great sights occurs away from the sales floor in a more intimate environment.

The Roles People Play

The one thing that I really think has evolved over the years with toy shows is the aggressiveness of the attendees. There’s always been a feast or famine type of mentality at these events, however over the years it seems to have only heightened. What’s most interesting to me is the cultural dynamic that’s taken shape over the years and the roles that people play at these shows.

I break them down into 5 categories:

  1. Sellers – The people in the booths are always the primary sellers, however the spot transactions in the parking lot seem to be on the rise.
  2. Observers – Casual collectors and passers-by that came to see the show more than find items to purchase.
  3. Buyers – The heroes of the show, the ones who keep these things going and ultimately are focused on growing their personal collections or maybe helping out a friend that couldn’t attend.
  4. Buyer/Sellers (Flippers) –  They have been ever present in the hobby in some respect, but this group that has grown substantially in size over the years. Ultimately these folks are out to collect but their primary goal is to make money off the finds. They are extremely aggressive and will be first or second in line at a show and always do the pre-show sales. In the past year I’ve had discussions with several people on the effect these individuals have on the hobby and the overall tone is fairly negative.
  5. Celebrities – Yes, although they are not A, B or even C listers, toy shows do have celebrities in attendance. The most common are the ones that have some status because of their association with the hobby. The most common I personally see are the guys from Toy Hunter and long term collectors who are well known throughout the community. Their effect on the show itself is interesting in the fact that they have a presence and bring a sense of "ahh" to the events.
The Dynamic of In-person Shows

One thing that is present at shows is a general sense of combativeness, as some sellers are dead set on prices, and because this is their only way to sell, they aren’t familiar with the overall digital and online marketplace.

“I don’t care if a better one sold on eBay for $700, I’m asking $1500 and that’s the market price.”  It’s amazing to me how many times I’ve heard this or some variation of it at smaller shows in the last year. What’s more surprising is how angry some sellers get when you bring this up. I’ve had everything from casual denials, to one guy start screaming at me and telling me to get away from his booth (spoiler alert: he didn’t sell much that weekend). I appreciate someone who sets up shop and packs all of their toys away for a show, but the fact of the matter is if I can buy it for the same or less online, why would I buy something at a toy show for a premium price?

Well it’s an interesting paradox indeed. In part I think it deals with two factors: the captive audience feeling and the price of entry impact. Both are pretty simple to understand. Once you’re in the show you have a feeling of separation from the outside world, and sellers use this to their advantage as there is a finite amount of product available and the good stuff goes quickly. The price of entry is a real killer for those at shows, especially guys like me that may have driven 250 miles to get there. Once you’re in the building you’ve already invested into the event as a whole, whether it was driving time, what they charged you at the door, lodging, or even lack of sleep from getting into the lines early. This is something that sellers understand all too well and is part of their overall selling advantage.

In closing I wanted to say that even in the digital world that we live in, there’s always going to be something unique and beneficial about toy shows and in-person events. They have a unique charm and a way of bringing the community together, whether to reminisce or to meet new people. If you haven’t gotten a chance to attend one of these I highly suggest you put it on your bucket list, as whether you’re out to buy, observe, or interact, you will find value in the oldest method of toy buying: a face-to-face transaction.

Wampa Wampa,
"Fratastic" Pete

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Star Wars at the Movies: Theater Collectibles

Steve writes:

With present day in-theater promotional items mostly consisting of various bits and bobs for purchase (think about your snazzy Captain Phasma 3-D glasses or BB-8 cup topper), there are still opportunities to leave the cinema with some free merchandise. Such was the also the case with the initial theatrical runs for the original trilogy. This installment of "Star Wars at the Movies" will highlight a sampling of such premiums that were available to moviegoers around the world for sale or as giveaways.


Our first item is one that was actually handed out to theater employees and customers prior to the original film's release. This pinback button features the early "pointy W" incarnation of the Star Wars logo that is a primary signature of the film's pre-release collectibles. Though it bares no licensing information, it was most likely distributed by 20th Century-Fox to theatrical venues along with the film's teaser trailer during the Christmas season of 1976 to ramp up marketing efforts on the front lines.
Star Wars Exclusive Engagement Herald

As the May 25th, 1977 limited engagement premiere date approached, heralds advertising the film's release began to appear. The blank area at the bottom of these flyers was used by theaters in participating markets to list local venue information and promotions. What better way to get butts in the seats than to offer a free 'STAR WARS' button? The Charles Theater in Boston was one of several that offered buttons with the "May the Force Be With You" catchphrase to their first 5,000 patrons.


Those lucky enough to attend U.S. pre-release press screenings for each original trilogy installment were able to receive simple programs or "credit sheets" with the respective film's logo donning the front of a foldout with complete cast and production credit listings inside.

Empire Strikes Back Pre-release Screening Program/Credit Sheet

This two-sided Spanish credit sheet for the original film has the Style C poster artwork on the front and cast/crew/plot information on the back, as well as some lively "FRASES DE PUBLICIDAD" heralding the film's box office success. The film was released in Spain in November, 1977.

Star Wars Spanish Credit Sheet (front) - From the collection of Duncan Jenkins

These days, souvenir programs are typically only available at prestigious theatrical presentations in select venues, which for the general public are unfortunately increasingly few and far between. When Star Wars was released in 1977, however, they represented one of the nicer keepsakes available to many cinema patrons. Published by George Fenmore Associates -- whose parent company produced numerous movie programs from the 1960s to the 1980s -- the original Star Wars program featured Tom Jung's artwork from the theatrical half sheet poster and included 18 pages of photographs, character and actor biographies, and behind-the-scenes information about the making of the film (along the lines of the pressbook described in the first post of this series). The first printing of the program has a glossy cover and interior pages, while later printings (including those distributed in the United Kingdom) have a pebble textured cover and matte interior pages. As stated at the back of the program, additional copies could be ordered by mail for a reasonable $1.50 each.   

Star Wars Souvenir Program (Second Printing)

Rather than traditional programs, "Official Collectors Edition" magazines were produced for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Published in the U.S. by Paradise Press, Inc., the magazines contain roughly 60 pages of  written sections on the filmmakers, characters, plotlines, and making of the films interspersed with color photos and attractive two-page spreads of Ralph McQuarrie concept paintings. Though these were available for purchase in theaters, they were not exclusively sold there.

Empire Strikes Back Official Collectors Edition

The cover for the Empire Strikes Back edition notably uses the earlier and "busier" version of Roger Kastel's Style A poster artwork which includes representations of Cloud City, Lando, Boba Fett, and an apparently integral new character, the Rebels' Radar Laser Cannon.

It's odd to think about a time before Empire's big paternity reveal was common knowledge. While going into fairly specific detail about the majority of the film's story in the magazine's 3-part plot synopsis section, the final confrontation between Luke and Vader is only very briefly summarized and its implications are agonizingly absent.

As with much vintage promotional literature, colorful language abounds. A particularly quirky passage describes Princess Leia:
"Her icy control is necessary on many occasions when the Rebel forces come under attack from the Empire. Once again in The Empire Strikes Back she proves she's got stamina, determination and can handle a blaster as well as any space ranger."      
A Toy Story crossover immediately comes to mind, with Leia teaming up with Buzz Lightyear to take down the evil Emperor Zurg.

Return of the Jedi Official Collectors Edition

Return of the Jedi's cover appealingly sports Tim Reamer's Style A poster artwork, which -- as mentioned in the highly recommended Star Wars Poster Book (2005) -- was designed with the intention to "sum up all three films in one kind of poetic symbol," i.e. the lightsaber.

The "behind the scenes" emphasis in the Jedi edition speaks to the massive mythmaking emporium that Lucasfilm and ILM had become by the time of the film's development and production. A good portion of the magazine is dedicated to anecdotes from visual effects, sound design, and creature shop stalwarts such as Dennis Muren, Ben Burtt, and Phil Tippett. The latter provides a quote that characterizes it best: "After Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi was to be our Graduate Thesis."

The original film didn't make its debut in Asian countries until mid-1978. This program from South Korea prominently incorporates the film's success at the 50th Academy Awards (though I'm not exactly sure why 8 Oscars are depicted; the film won 6 -- plus Ben Burtt's Special Achievement Award -- and was nominated for 4 others). I'm also unsure what the 9th award on the right might be. If anyone knows, please let us know in the comments section.

1978 Star Wars Program (South Korea) - From the collection of Duncan Jenkins

This 12 page oversize program for The Empire Strikes Back from Japan utilizes the fantastic poster artwork by the late Noriyoshi Ohrai to especially stylish effect.

Japanese Empire Strikes Back Program - From the collection of Duncan Jenkins

Japanese cinemas also offered smaller but ever attractive pieces of movie memorabilia in a unique form of handbills called "Chirashi" that are still produced to this day. Our very own John J. Alvarez has a Special Feature here on the SWCA titled "A Guide to Collecting Star Wars Chirashis" that serves as a perfect primer for those interested in pursuing these really neat and affordable items. Artwork derived from Japanese theatrical posters adorn the fronts of the Chirashi, while the backs usually contain credits and other information about the films.

Star Wars Japanese Chirashi (fronts)
The Empire Strikes Back Japanese Chirashi (fronts)
Return of the Jedi Japanese Chirashi (front and back) - From the collection of John J. Alvarez

In conjunction with the original film's release, 20th Century-Fox and/or the Star Wars Corp. coordinated a set of trademarked bumper stickers pertaining to specific Southern California theaters: Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the Avco in Westwood, and the Plitt Citer Center Theatres in Orange. Whether or not the stickers were sold or handed out at these venues is undetermined. If you happened to get one back in the day, let us know in the comments!

From the collection of Gus Lopez

A similarly styled "Wookies [sic] Need Love Too" sticker was also produced, of which a tough-to-find (and fantastically funky) unlicensed version also made the rounds in the late 70s.

From the collection of Gus Lopez

Though this next item was actually not given out to theater-goers, it's worth mentioning. Measuring about 9 x 9.5 inches, this rare octagonal sticker depicting C-3PO and R2-D2 was one of several that was part of a display in German cinemas. Others in the set featured logical pairings of Luke & Leia, Han & Chewie, Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi, and Jawa & Tusken Raider.

German Theatrical Display Sticker - From the collection of Duncan Jenkins

What is it with Swedes and Ewoks? These stickers featuring our furry hero Wicket W. Warrick were handed out as promotional items at theaters in Sweden when Return of the Jedi was released in the fall of 1983. This example was a generous gift from Swedish collector David Löfberg.

Jedins Återkomst (Return of the Jedi) Wicket Promotional Sticker (Sweden)

It's encouraging as a Star Wars moviegoer and collector to see that theatrical special format presentations and related promotional items remain a tradition in this day and age. The fact that The Force Awakens had limited engagements in 70mm IMAX and offered audiences several traditional ephemeral mementos (in addition to the modern-day knickknacks) has provided an opportunity for fans who missed the original trilogy's theatrical era such as myself to collect these items at their point of origin -- an experience definitely enhanced when the film in question is an enjoyable one.

Special thanks to Duncan Jenkins and Pete Vilmur for providing information and additional select images.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It Came from the Dark Times

Amy writes:

The "Dark Times" era of Star Wars collecting from 1985-1995 has always fascinated me. For many, this was a decade of depravation, as there was next to no product available. Why make products if there aren't any movies to support it?  Star Wars was just a trilogy of films that spanned from 1977-1983 and for the next ten years following Jedi, that is all anyone thought it would be even though we dreamed differently.

On the surface, it would be easy to discount these ten years and say that there aren't any collectibles from this time period. But that would be completely wrong. Countless Star Wars items were released. There were several projects over this decade that helped keep the collecting pulse alive. "Ewoks on Ice," the George Lucas Lucas Superlive Adventure show, Star Tours, Ewoks and Droids cartoons, and the Ewok live action movies all did their part. The products that came out of these events were not just offered in the U.S., but all over the world.

Here is a year-by-year sampling that provides just a glimpse of some of the fantastic product available all over the world that helped collectors get through the "Dark Times."

1985 - With new Ewok movies came new collectibles. While the films were TV specials in the U.S., elsewhere they were released theatrically. Posters, books (like the above example from Germany), and even food promotional tie-ins can be found.

1986 - Star Tours had a soft opening in Disneyland before its grand opening in 1987. Promotional items like mugs, posters, postcards, figures, and plush toys would soon follow.

1987 - "Fanzines" were made for fans by fans and distributed through the mail. This particular fanzine helps to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Star Wars. Also in 1987, the first Star Wars convention was held in Los Angeles with its own batch of collectibles.

1988 - In the UK, Dairylea cheese had an Ewoks and Droids sticker offer to run in conjunction with the cartoons' release on VHS.

1989 - West End Games releases adventure sets like the one above to play with their Star Wars roll playing game system.

1990 - The Ewok Adventure is released on Laser Disc.

1991 - Topps Trading Cards returns to Star Wars for the first time in nearly a decade. New trading cards depicted characters from Star Wars as painted by various artists.

1992 - Takara releases 5 plush Star Wars characters in claw vending machines in Japan.

1993 - JusToys releases Star Wars Bend-Ems, giving Star Wars figure collectors a reason to return to the toy store.

1994 - Star Wars novels continue to be published in the EU or Expanded Universe after the success of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy.

1995 - Star Wars action figures return to the toy store shelves not quite the way we remember them, but we buy the Power Of the Force 2 toy line all the same and the "Modern" era is ushered in.

For anyone interested in this era of collecting, be sure to check out and join the "Dark Times" Collecting Facebook Group where items and topics are featured weekly.