Thursday, March 26, 2020

'Chive Cast 105: Captain Ron's Podmasque of Red Death

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful pod, with Ron Salvatore at the helm of the SS. ‘Chive Cast. Listen as we check in with many different folks, in their cozy Covid confinement, let's us all have a toast. We’ll talk about topics broad and wide like scams, Pokemon, Led Zeppelin and prototype finds. With Jonathan Robinson, McElwain too, a Justin Haynie and his wife, Amy Sjoberg, a Lemkuhl bro, the Crimelord Brott, Reihle man, Iain Sanderson here on Captain Ron’s Podcast ...also Yehuda and Gus.

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Monday, March 9, 2020

The Griffin: A Tale of Fake Pepsi Stickers from Argentina

Ron writes:

What does a collector do when confronted with evidence of fakery? Warn others, naturally. While that answer is fairly obvious, the best course of action usually isn't. Reputations are at stake, and the truth -- at least as the collecting community beholds it -- can be frustratingly elusive. Despite seemingly conclusive evidence, broad consent is rarely possible. There will always be some who disagree. Adding to the problem is the trickiness of blame. Often, the seller of a fake item isn't more aware of its fakeness than are his buyers. In such an instance, the best the seller can do is make the situation right to the best of his abilities. When high-value items are involved, this can be tough. Sales of fake items of lower value are easier to ameliorate. All of that said, I think our guest blogger Jonathan McElwain has done a bang-up job of outing these stickers as likely fakes. We publish this post with the hope that it'll help right the problem and encourage the involved parties to smooth things over. Should that be accomplished, or more information come to light, I'm sure Jonathan will be happy to post an update on the situation.

Jonathan writes:

The Griffin: part lion, part eagle. It’s pretty much Napoleon Dynamite’s second favorite animal, right after the Liger. It was also the key to identifying some Argentine fakes that have made their way into the market in recent years.

I’ve heard many stories about fakes and scams in this hobby. Autograph collecting is fraught with fakes. Some of the scams that have been perpetrated on toy collectors are legendary. But, I don’t actively collect in those areas, so I should be safe, right?

Sadly, no.

In 1984, a Pepsi promotion in Argentina involved hard plastic rulers and triangles, erasers, and a set of stickers. The rulers and triangles are shown below:

A few years ago, I was in need of two stickers to complete the set of eight. I had picked up the other six from sales on eBay, the Rebelscum forums, and at Room Sales during Celebration events. I was down to needing the Rebel B-Wing Fighter and the Arturito (R2-D2) stickers.

I was able to pick up both stickers and complete the set (or so I thought) in 2017. I got the B-Wing sticker at Celebration Orlando. I had prearranged the purchase before the event and was a little bummed that the sticker had a weird notch cut out of one side. I am not as sensitive to condition as some other collectors that I know, but that defect put it squarely into placeholder status for me; I would need to find a better one eventually. There were other characteristics that I should have been more concerned about when I received the sticker, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

I was able to purchase the Arturito sticker from the same seller a few months after Celebration. Upon receiving the sticker, my immediate reaction was that it didn’t look right. I compared it to the other stickers that I had, the B-Wing as well as the six that I had previously picked up. When scrutinizing the stickers, I could see that both the B-Wing and Arturito stickers shared many concerning characteristics. I felt a bit foolish for not noticing before.

It’s pretty obvious looking at the image of the assembled sticker set above that the B-Wing and Arturito stickers don’t match the others. Spoiler Alert: Both of these stickers are confirmed fakes and I’ll refer them as such in the comparison below:

1) Print Quality. Generally, the quality of printing on the fake stickers is inferior to the authentic stickers. The colors are off, small font copyright text and the Pepsi logo are not as legible, and there are relics on the fake stickers that suggest that they may derive from scans of the originals.

2) Cut. The authentic stickers are all of uniform size, with square corners and straight sides.  Presumably, they are machine cut from larger sheets. The fake stickers are smaller and hand-cut. I’ve highlighted some of the areas with visible trim lines on the fake B-Wing sticker below. The Arturito sticker doesn’t have visible trim lines, but is cut even smaller, which would hide the trim lines. None of the authentic stickers have trim lines.

3) Adhesive Paper Stock. The authentic stickers are all printed on Autofix brand adhesive paper stock, which is manufactured in Argentina. The authentic stickers each have a single vertically-oriented score line on the backs of the stickers. The fake stickers are printed on UPM brand adhesive paper with multiple score lines.

Shortly after receiving the Arturito sticker, I shared these concerns with a few friends who were also collecting this set. Others noted similar concerns with stickers obtained from the same source. The consensus was that the concerns were valid, but there wasn’t an obvious way to prove that they were fakes. One factor to consider is that these stickers cost around $20 each, pretty reasonable for a relatively obscure vintage promotional item. While these items are appealing to food collectors and to character focus collectors, they are pretty niche. I struggled with the question of why someone would bother to fake these items that are relatively inexpensive and appeal to a very small subset of collectors.

I raised these concerns with the seller. He attributed the concerns to multiple print runs and less sophistication in Argentina (leading to variations in print quality). While both of these reasons could explain away some of the concerns, I couldn’t get past the trim lines and hand-cutting. I remained convinced that the stickers were fake, but without conclusive proof.

Late last year, I joined a conversation among friends who were discussing TopToys from Argentina, parsing the known and suspected fakes among preproduction items related to the toy line. I shared my concerns about these Pepsi stickers. Within hours, Isaac Lew provided the key information to solve the riddle. The Rebel B-Wing Fighter and Arturito stickers are printed on adhesive paper stock which features a watermark on the reverse side with an image of a griffin above the letters “UPM.”  UPM (actually UPM-Kymmene Oyj) is a Finnish corporation which has used the griffin in company logos dating back more than 120 years, to 1899. The logo on the fake stickers is the current UPM corporate logo. Based on information on UPM's site, the current incarnation of the Griffin was designed by Esa Ojala in 1989 and first combined with the letters “UPM” in the mid-Nineties.

There it was, the proof that I needed! The Rebel B-Wing Fighter and Arturito stickers were printed on UPM adhesive paper stock that was at least a decade too new. They couldn’t be authentic stickers from 1984! While it was no fun to get this news, it was a relief to finally know for certain. 

I investigated the Autofix watermark on the reverse side of the authentic stickers. Autofix brand adhesive paper is still manufactured in Argentina. I was able to confirm with the company that the logo on the adhesive paper stock in the authentic stickers was the logo in use in 1984. Autofix updated to a different version of their logo in 1994, which is still in use today.

By coincidence, the same day that the information about the UPM adhesive paper stock came to light, I was interviewed for a 'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod episode. We talked mostly about cakes and transitioned over to talking about these fakes towards the end of the episode. Take a listen, if you are so inclined.

As a follow up to the podcast discussion, I wanted to share more detailed information in this post, in the hopes of spreading awareness about these fakes. If you are a collector of these stickers and have concerns about stickers in your collection, feel free to reach out to me and I would be happy to offer assistance.

For the record, I have reached out to the seller, Daniel Segovia, to follow up about these stickers, including sharing the conclusive information about the UPM adhesive paper stock. I haven’t been able to get a response. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

MarketWatch: 2020 Prop Store Toys, Comic Art & Collectibles Auction

Pete writes:

 Well, with a new year comes the second iteration of the Prop Store Toys, Comic Art & Collectibles Auction out of their Los Angeles office. Like last year we were treated to a full color catalog featuring a plethora of items from the Star Wars Saga, including vintage and modern, as well as cast and crew pieces. In short, they ran the gamut with the assortment that was brought to market for this event.

The layout of the catalog was augmented slightly, but still offered a range of information not just on bidding and the auctions, but the items themselves and where some of the more niche pieces fit into the bigger picture of Star Wars and movie collectibles and toys.

The presence of more items from the Howard Kazanjian collection was a nice addition to the already robust catalog. These cast and crew items mixed with the occasional toy or lunch box are an extremely important part of the Star Wars movie ethos. Howard being the producer of Return of the Jedi and working hand in hand on so many key details of the production brought another level of validation for the auction and helped separate it from many of the other large scale auctions taking place these days.  

The online interface for the event was good overall. All live auctions have some delay, but this was pretty good both performance-wise and functionally. The test lot is a great idea and shows that no matter how mainstream online auctions are, auction houses still use a lot of tactics to keep people engaged, as the ringing of the bell was fun to watch.

Brandon Alinger, the proprietor of the Los Angeles office, gave a good kick off and overview and the hand off to the auctioneer was good. He brought great energy to a long day. In fact, some of the last 100 lots were some of the most interesting of the day to watch.

Enough with that though. Let’s look through a sampling of some of the cool vintage Star Wars pieces to show up in this auction.


We’re going to kick off with all things Jawa. One of the if not the most special part of this auction was the sale of the vintage Jawa collection. From the 6:1 and other coin related items to the EP and first shot, there were some special pieces. In fact there was enough to start 2-3 strong focuses just in this auction alone. Let’s look at the highlights. For ease of pulling this together I am listing everything in hammer prices, thus these prices do not include the 25% buyers premium that was added onto final hammer prices.

In the world of coins this was truly a cool experience. The ability to find all of these pieces together will never be duplicated. All of the 6:1 pieces did well, and by that I mean that even in a slightly down market, items like these were obtainable by a large chunk of collectors -- although the supply is very limited. We won’t cover all parts of the coin set, but it’s worth mentioning having a nice internal QC copy of the coin artwork with several spots of live ink/stamps was a nice touch, not discounting the die sets themselves which really rounded out the collection. In this situation we’re keeping it to the big four.

-        6:1 Coin Hardcopy Stage 1 - $6,000
-        6:1 Soft Copy - $6,000
-        Etching Plates - $6,500

Moving past the coins we have a great variety of 2D and 3D preproduction items. The simple but rarer Land of the Jawas box flat was one of those pieces that you didn’t need in there, but just fit so well with the rest of the items.   

Looking at figures, there were a good selection of MOCs from around the world, but the piece that stands out the most is the Vinyl Cape Jawa Engineering Pilot. This was by far one of the most surprising pieces of the day and saw an incredible final price.    

In addition to just Jawas, we got a great selection of the Jawa Limo itself: the Sandcrawler. Both the EP and artwork were incredible pieces to see, but the highlight of the whole Jawa set has to be the first shot Sandcrawler. Whether it’s the details it was lacking or the sweet blue door that it had, the first shot Sandcrawler was the king of the Jawa auctions and brought an incredible price for a unique and exceptional piece of vintage Star Wars history.

-        Land of Jawas Boxflat - $1,700
-        VCJ EP - $10,500
-        3-Pack Backdrop Concept - $6,500
-        Sandcrawler EP - $5,250
-        Sandcrawler First Shot - $17,000


Like other auction houses such as Hakes, this round Prop Store found themselves with a Rocket Firing Boba Fett, and in all honesty it was the first “mainstream” example to come to one of these large scale auctions over the past few years. Thus, this wasn’t as much about seeing Prop Store’s presentation on the item but more about how much it was going for and how aggressive people went after it.

Comparing this piece to the Hake’s sale last November is like comparing an apple to a watermelon, but alas that’s what seems to be the mindset among a lot of collectors. There may be some price adjusting going on in the lower and middle ends, but this really bucks that trend. If anything impacted this piece negatively it was the fact that it was being sold within a week of the DOW having record losses and a potential global pandemic with the COVID-19 virus, as that’s the stuff that people that buy these pieces are looking at: the former more than the latter.  

Nonetheless this was a great auction for a great piece, and appropriately ended with a price point of $75,000 ($93,750 w/BP). Not breaking the 6 figure number, but still a hell of a showing for a non-painted, non-AFA90 example of the L-Slot Rocket Fett.

Rocket Firing - L-SLot Boba Fett First Shot AFA 85 - $75,000


There were several other noteworthy auctions and here are a few of my personal favorites. Starting out was one of the most fun to watch auctions of the day: the R2-D2 Playdoh Dynacast hardcopy.   Measuring under 2 inches tall, he was one of the smallest of the day, but with the buyers premium cracked the $1,000 mark.

Revenge of the Jedi proofs have been all over the board the last 5 years, with Fetts pulling in $8,500 in the last 12 months. Thus it was disappointing to see an AFA90 example of Fett not move. On the flip side we saw a great example of Ben Kenobi sell for a healthy sum in this auction. 

It should have its own section, but given it didn’t sell it’s hard to give it too much of the limelight, but it goes without saying that it was very cool to see the 12” Lando come up for auction. Falling short of its reserve like many auctions of the day, this was a special piece and just didn’t have the right buyer this day. 

For the full review on prices realized visit their site.

With another successful auction in the books, this hopefully cements this as an annual or even better bi-annual event for the Los Angeles location.