Monday, 2 March 2009

Vintage Star Wars Action Figures: Where to Find Them

I am always trying to discover new places to purchase vintage Star Wars action figures at the cheapest possible prices. Without giving away too many of my secrets, here are some suggestions.
  1. eBay. Before eBay and the other online auction sites existed, purchasing vintage Star Wars action figures was a much more difficult process. Although there don't seem to be as many outright bargains as they used to be, the sheer number of vintage Star Wars figures for sale makes eBay a very good resource for the collector. A few tips: Don't bid early (as this tends to drive the price up). Ask questions of the seller before you bid. Check that all accessories are included with the Star Wars figure - don't just rely on the pictures, ask the right questions. If you are the winning bidder, make sure that the seller is sending the figure in a way that is acceptable to you. (Pay extra if necessary to ensure that the vintage Star Wars figure reaches you in good condition). Watch out for reproduction weapons! The best advice for eBay (an other auction sites) is this: If the deal looks to good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Online stores and shops. These can be a good source of vintage Star Wars action figures. As you would in a bricks-and-mortar store, ask questions of the vendor. These sites are often run by toy enthusiasts (and they're often linked to a bricks-and-mortar store). If you purchase often from one seller, it is possible to build up a good relationship and this can help you to get in quickly when a particularly sought after vinatge Star Wars action figure is in stock.
  3. Thrift Stores, Collectables Stores and Antique Stores. I look for vintage Star Wars action figures everywhere. It's surprising where they turn up. Drop in to every one of these stores that you come across. You might find absolutely nothing in thirty visits, and then hit the jackpot the next time you step in. Make friends with the staff and leave your telephone number. My local stores phone me when they've got a new supply of action figures in.
  4. Garage Sales. These can be a great source of vintage Star Wars figures. Work out a route for your local area and try to hit as many sales as you can in one day. A good tip is to look out for other collectable toys at the same time as looking for Star Wars figures. These can be sold on eBay or traded with your local collectable toy store, and the profits can be used to buy vintage Star Wars figures. Make sure you rummage in the boxes under the tables, as these are often overlooked by the casual shopper.
  5. Toy Fairs and Specialist Star Wars Sales. These are worth checking out if you've got a specific figure you want to purchase. Expect to pay high prices, because the sellers will know exactly what they've got and what it's worth. These are good places for learning about the hobby and building up some contacts within the vintage Star Wars action figure world.
  6. Local auctions. I've managed to buy massive quantities of vintage Star Wars figures from local auction houses. Often I've had to buy other items as well in the same lot, but this is not a great problem. Again, bid late to prevent driving up the price.
  7. School sales. Another good place to find Star Wars action figures. They are worth checking out if you get a chance.
  8. Classified Ads. I've had limited success at responding to advertisements placed by sellers - usually the condition of the action figures is very poor and the price is too high. I've had more joy when posting a 'Star Wars Figures Wanted' advert.
  9. Friends and Family (and their Friends and Family). Let your social network know about your hobby. It's surprising how many people have vintage Star Wars figures stashed in their cellars, or attics or sheds that they are willing to part with for a bit of cash.
  10. Estate sales. Another good source of Star Wars figures.

Star Wars Vintage action figures can be found almost anywhere. The more you look, the more you will find. And the more creative you can be in the places in which you look, the better your chnaces that another collector hasn't got there first. There are a lot of great vintage Star Wars figures still out there; it's just a matter of tracking them down.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Star Wars Vintage Action Figures

The best book I have ever read about collecting vinatge Star Wars action figures is Star Wars Vintage Action Figures: A Guide for Collectors by John Kellerman. This is an amazing volume and it has obviously been put together by a real Star Wars action figure fan.

Star Wars Vintage Action Figures, published by Frontback Books in 2003, is an exhaustive survey of the hobby. It is over 250 pages in length and features lots of brilliant photos of vintage Star Wars figures.

The book starts of with a great glossary of terms that are often used in the field of collecting vintage Star Wars figures. The author then goes on to detail, with pictures, all of the common variations in the 92 Star Wars action figures released by Kenner from 1977 - 1985. He then turns his attention to the cards (the packaging of Star Wars figures), focusing on the variations of both the card fronts and the card backs.

The most useful elements of the book to the keen collector are the grids that log all of the known combinations of figure and the designs of card front card back. It really is an incredible achievement, and one that is essential for the serious Star Wars action figure collector.

In addition to looking at all of the figures produced by Kenner, John Kellerman also devotes pages to preproduction items, Star Wars action figure store displays and other promotional items.

Unfortunately, Star Wars Vintage Action Figures is now out of print. Copies can sometimes be purchased on eBay, but there are usually copies available on Amazon. It's also worth keeping your eyes open for the book in used bookstores. The book is now quite expensive, but it is one of the best resources available for the collector of Star Wars action figures.

Lego Star Wars Mini Figures

Although they are not Star Wars action figures (and definitely not vintage Star Wars action figures), I felt compelled to write about Lego Star Wars figures because I think they are the Star Wars collectable of the future.

The first Star Wars themed Lego sets were produced in 1999. They featured Star Wars scenes and vehicles from the original Star Wars trilogy, and their production coincided with the release of The Phantom Menace. Lots of other Lego Star Wars sets followed, and Lego has recently extended its agreement with Lucasfilm, allowing it to produce Lego Star Wars sets until 2011.

The Lego Star Wars vehicles were a great success, providing enthusiasts with specially designed bricks that allowed them to accurately create scenes from the Star Wars movies. However, it was the
Lego Star Wars mini figures that really caught the eye of the Star Wars action figure collectors. Based on the standard Lego minfigs (yellow heads with dots for eyes), the Lego Star Wars minifigs had a kitsch, cartoon appeal. Seeing Darth Vader in the form of a Lego minifig is a great sight - he looks both menacing and comical at the same time.

Collectors started purchasing Lego Star Wars sets not for the vehicles and bricks, but for the Lego Star Wars figures. I think it is the quirky appeal of the Lego Star Wars mini figures that led to the production of the Lego Star Wars videogames. There is just something about those little Lego figures that makes people smile - just like the
vintage Star Wars action figures.

With Lego Star Wars mini figures from all six movies to collect, plus more releases promised in the future, if you haven't started your collection of Lego Star Wars figures yet, you'd better get started.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Vintage Star Wars Action Figures

When people talk of Vintage Star Wars Action Figures, they are referring to the 3 3/4" action figures produced by Kenner from 1977 to 1985. Although Kenner did produce action figures of characters from the original Star Wars trilogy in the 1990s, these later figures are not vintage Star Wars action figures.

Vintage Star Wars Figures are the most important and popular Star Wars collectable. They can be collected in several different ways depending on the collector's budget and desire to own every variation and combination. The most common and most affordable way of collecting vintage Star Wars action figures is to collect them loose.

Loose Vintage Star Wars Action Figures

The term loose means an action figure without its packaging. Although some collectors of loose action figures are willing to accumulate figures without their original weapons and accessories, most fans of loose vintage Star Wars action figures demand that the figure be complete.

From 1977 to 1985, Kenner made 92 vintage star wars action figures in the US (93 outside of the States - see below). The focus of some collections of loose figures is to find a perfect example of all 92 action figures. To be perfect, the vintage Star Wars figures would have to be complete with all accessories and be free of signs of wear, such as paint chips, wobbly limbs and yellowing plastic. However, other collectors of loose Star Wars figures want to take their hobby to the next level by collecting all 92 vintage Star Wars action figures, plus all of the accepted variations.

Accepted Variations in Loose Vintage Star Wars Action Figures

Although they are obviously the same figure, some of the Kenner Star Wars figures varied during the life of their production. Some of the variations were quite dramatic, whereas others are only noticeable to the keen eyes of the Star Wars figure collector. The action figures can vary in several ways.

  • Variations in how a figure is molded.

  • Variations in a figure's paint job or colouring

  • Variations in the weapons that accompany the figure

A number of variations have become accepted in the vintage Star Wars actions figures collecting world. There other variations, but the list that follows details the most important ones.

  • Luke Skywalker (normal lightsaber) / Luke Skywalker (telescoping lightsaber)

  • Luke Skywalker (blonde hair) / Luke Skywalker (blonde hair)

  • R2-D2 / R2-D2 (Sensorscope) / R2D2 (Pop-up lightsaber)

  • C-3P0 / C-3PO (Removable limbs)

  • Darth Vader (normal lightsaber) / Darth Vader (telescoping lightsaber)

  • Ben Kenobi (normal lightsaber) / Ben Kenobi (telescoping lightsaber)

  • Ben Kenobi (white hair) / Ben Kenobi (grey hair)

  • Han Solo (small head) / Han Solo (big head)

  • Jawa (vinyl cape) / Jawa (cloth cape)

  • Snaggletooth (blue) / Snaggletooth (red)

  • Leia Besbin (flesh neck) / Leia Besbin (painted neck)

  • Luke Bespin (yellow hair) / Luke Besbin (brown hair)

  • Lando Calrissian (with teeth) / Lando Calrissian (without teeth)

  • Yoda (orange snake) / Yoda (brown snake)

  • Luke Jedi (blue lightsaber) / Luke Jedi (green lightsaber)

Other variations to vintage Star Wars action figures

Although these variations have been noticed (an are sought out by some collectors), they are not widely recognised.

  • Chewbacca (brown limbs) / Chewbacca (green limbs) - on some Chewbacca figures the colour of his limbs seems to deteriorate with age.

  • Ugnaught (blue bib) / Ugnaught (violet bib)

As collectors clamour to find good examples of all of the figure variations, it stands to reason that the rarer versions of the vintage Star Wars figures will be worth considerably more than the more common version. These vintage Star Wars action figure variations are worth looking out for:

  • All of the three figures with telescoping lightsabers (Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi) are exceedingly rare and very sought after (particularly Vader and Kenobi). The telescoping lightsaber was phased out early on in production.

  • Jawa with vinyl cape

  • Blue Snaggletooth - much rarer than the red version.

  • Yoda with brown snake.

  • Luke Jedi Knight with blue lightsaber.

Other sought after loose vintage Star wars action figures

Often referred to as the Last 17, the final 17 Star Wars action figures, produced by Kenner in 1985 as part of the Power of the Force (POTF) line, are quite rare. The last 17 are: Amanaman, Barada, EV-9D9, A-Wing Pilot, Luke Skywalker in Battle Poncho, Imperial Gunner, Luke Skywalker in Stormtrooper Disguise, Imperial Dignitary, Lando Calrissian General, Warok, Romba, Lumat, Paploo, Han Solo in Carbonite, R2-D2 (Pop-up lightsaber), Anankin Skywalker and Yak Face.

Of these, Yak Face is particularly hard to find because he was never produced in the US Power of the force range.

Moving to the next level - Collecting carded vintage Star Wars action figures

The term 'carded' means the figure is attached to its card packaging in its original transparent plastic bubble or blister. Packaging consisting of a card and bubble are occasionally referred to as blister packs. Some collectors make it their aim to collect an example of every vintage Star Wars action figure in a carded state. This is an achievable goal - providing you have enough money - but it doesn't have to stop there. Not all of the vintage Star Wars figures were mounted onto the same cards, in fact depending on when they were released they might be backed onto a Star Wars logo card, a Empire Strikes Back logo card, a Return of the Jedi logo card, or a Power of the Force logo card. Truely avid collectors aim to acquire a carded example of every figure on every different available card front.

Yet even this is not the ultimate aim of the completist collector of vintage Star Wars action figures, because not only do the front of Star Wars cards change over time, the backs of the cards also evolved during Kenner's production. The number of figures shown on the back of the cards altered, as did the promotional adverts and offers. The completist aims to collect a carded example of every known variation and card front / card back combination. This is a life's work, and achieving such a goal would cost a fortune (as there only exist a very small number of some of the figures with a particular front/back combination).

Kenner did produce other Star Wars figures that are sometimes mentioned in the same breath as the vintage Star Wars action figures. To accompany the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series, Kenner made a range of 3 3/4" figures. As the two cartoon shows were short-lived, so too were the action figure lines. As a result, they are becoming increasingly collectable.

Collecting vintage Star Wars action figures is a great hobby. The focus of the collection can be adapted to suit any budget and level of ambition, and the figures, whether loose or carded, look fantastic when displayed.