With Star Wars movie due to land, old toys go galactic
Memorabilia from franchise undergoing massive increase in popularity, and value at auction
Vintage toys linked to the Star Wars film franchise are moving faster than a swirling lightsabre, sending prices of many of them soaring into hyperspace.
With the latest in the series - Star Wars: The Force Awakens – due to open in December, auctioneers in Thornaby in northeastern England have sold one for a colossal £18,000 (HK$209,000), 35 years after it went for £1.50 in the shops.
This was not a historic piece of trivia like the movie-prop blockade-runner spaceship that California-based auctioneers Profiles in History sold for US$450,000, or Princess Leia's actual slave costume, that went for US$96,000.
What collectible toys specialist Vectis Auctions sold in January on behalf of British collector Craig Stevens was a small plastic replica of bounty hunter Boba Fett, a cult character from Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
With the proceeds of that, and mainly other toys anyone could have bought for pocket money at the time, Stevens and his wife bought a house – for cash.
“I'd like to say I had some kind of vision but I didn't, I collected for myself,” Stevens says,, adding that some items he had collected had been about to be thrown away.
Various collectors' hoards of Star Wars memorabilia, from robots, to spaceships, Death Star pencil sharpeners and packaged figurines, are piled up in Vectis, which will hold another in a series of online auctions of about 700 pieces on December 8.
The most valuable toys are those that are sealed in their original packages from decades ago, having never been used, Kathy Taylor, Vectis's Star Wars expert, says, adding: “It's not a normal retail situation. It isn't anything that's just a toy,” she says. “It's actually a way of life and a cultural thing. People even look at some of these cardbacks that we sell as works of art.”
One of the oddest items at Vectis is a 2.5cm piece of plastic that is a prototype for a Boba Fett rocket, never produced, and estimated at £800 to £1,200.
“We've been blown away by some of the prices,” says Vicky Weall, the managing director of Vectis, which is stacked to the rafters with collectible toys of all sorts, including dolls, stuffed animals, toy trains and the increasingly valuable Star Wars items. The company makes a 20 per cent commission on sales.
“Once you get two people who are desperate for an item, then where do you stop?” she says.
What's happened to the Star Wars collecting market is that it has gone from being unfashionable, when Stevens was able to pick up cases of stuff for peanuts, to becoming the source of some of the most sought-after items in the collector galaxy.
“Star Wars memorabilia ranks at the upper echelon, it runs at the top, alongside The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca,” Brian Chanes of Profiles in History, the California auctioneer, says.
Even Sotheby's auctioneers, renowned for dealing in multimillion dollar paintings, is in on the act, offering the Star Wars miscellany of a Japanese collector on December 11.
Chanes says most of his buying customers are “private individuals with deep pockets”, but Bryan Goodall, chairman of Vectis, says his clientele come from all walks of life – from people who may spend a few hundred pounds to others who will spend thousands.
He says many are reliving their youth, and regardless of whether the new series of Star Wars movies is a hit, the market for collectibles will keep growing.
“I'm sure it will be a big hit because I'm sure everybody will love it, but it won't make any difference to us other than more people coming to the market,” he says.