Must-Haves for Collectors
- Goals: When I rediscovered toy collecting with STAR WARS in 1999, I bought pretty much anything I could find that had a logo or character on it. As a result, I ended up with a lot of stuff I no longer wanted once I realized 3¾” figures were going to be the focus of my collection. Fast food premiums, housewares, and other various odds and ends had to go, especially when I was battling for space in a very small apartment.
Setting specific goals for your collection can save you some hassle in the long run. If you’ve recently started buying items from a certain category like STAR WARS, G.I. JOE, Transformers, or Spider-Man, research the various lines that are out there, decide what appeals to you, and see if there’s a specific direction in which you would like to go. If you just want one of everything with no particular focus, that works, too. If you’re like me, though, and often want to complete whatever line you’re collecting, it’s best to map out a path as soon as possible.
- Display Space: Okay, if you’ve got the collecting fever and the financial means to support the habit, you’re going to need a place to display it. The most impressive of collections loses its visual appeal when you store it away in moving boxes or plastic tubs.
When I moved into my house, I picked a place with an extra bedroom that would eventually become my collection room. It took some time, planning, and work, but I eventually managed to cover the walls, creating something of a toy store appearance. It brings a different image to my mind, though.
When I was eight years old, the first contest I ever won was a call-in trivia game held during afternoon cartoons by a local television station, WCCB, which would become our FOX network affiliate the following year. Membership in the WCCB Kids’ Club (which was free) was required for eligibility. While watching the animated G.I. JOE series, that day’s question was announced: “What is the name of the villain in ThunderCats?” Well, I wasn’t a big fan of the show, but I knew Mumm-Ra’s name. After many, many attempts on previous days, I finally managed to get past that dreaded busy signal and give the correct answer. The guy took my name and information and told me I could stop by the station to pick out my prize. Assuming I’d be able to choose from a couple of ThunderCats toys, I wasn’t as excited about the prize as I was having won the contest. Besides, I thought, I could always trade a ThunderCat for something more to my liking.
When my grandmother drove me to One Television Place, though, that all changed. Instead of showing me a couple of ThunderCats figures, the man who greeted me walked me to a room full of toys from many different lines. There were ThunderCats, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and others, all from the shows the station aired in its afternoon block. This was every ’80s kid’s dream, and I was in awe. Once I managed to collect my thoughts, my eyes settled upon something I’d been wanting desperately, but had been without the opportunity to acquire: a G.I. JOE Zartan with Chameleon Swamp Skier. I picked it up off the shelf and asked the man if I could have it as my prize. “Sure,” he said with a smile. I thanked him and clutched it against my chest all the way to the car. I not only got my Zartan that day, but also what would eventually be the inspiration for my collection room.
- Creativity: Express yourself with your collection display! If you’ve got an artistic flair, put that to use. Murals on your shelving and backgrounds for your collection add a special touch. If you’re like me, however, and have no ability whatsoever with paints, an airbrush, or freehand graphic design, use what’s available to you: small promotional posters, printed images from the web, or anything you can think of that will add an extra dimension to your display.
See the Clone Troopers and STAR WARS logos between the shelves? Those are retail display materials from 2002. While out hunting for toys, I stopped by the Kmart near UNCC and noticed a stack of them. They looked like extras, as the action figure aisle was already lined with them. When I asked a stocker what was to become of these, he directed me to the store manager. “We’ll throw them away, unless you want to carry them out of the store for me.” Just like that, I had something that would transform plain, white shelves in my collection room into a proper STAR WARS display.
- Knowing Is Half the Battle: They say knowledge is power, and for geeks like us, the same is true in any collecting hobby. The internet is full of sites devoted to bringing you the latest in news and images from various aspects of this hobby. If you know what’s on the way and when you can expect it to hit retail or specialty stores, you can plan ahead and budget accordingly. Here are a few that might suit your interests:
- STAR WARS
- If you collect STAR WARS action figures, you’ll want to check out YodasNews.com for daily STAR WARS news from manufacturers, online retailers, and other collectors. Covers Hasbro’s 3¾” action figures, Gentle Giant, Sideshow, and more.
- Jedi Insider, part of the ENI network, is another great source for news and updates the STAR WARS fan won’t want to miss.
- G.I. JOE
- GeneralsJoes is one of my favorite hobby sites out there, providing some of the best, most concise coverage anywhere in the world of toy collecting.
- The Terror Drome is another favorite and a great source for your dose of G.I. JOE news.
- YoJoe is a peerless resource for all G.I. JOE collectors, featuring some of the most in-depth archives you’ll ever see. Their images and descriptions go far beyond toys, diving into all kind of licensed products.
- What’s on JOE Mind? is a wonderfully fun podcast about all things JOE. If you’re a fan, you’ll have a good time listening to their commentary.
- Marauder “Gun-Runners” offers amazing weapons for your 3¾”/1:18 scale action figures. Most of their custom weapons are based on actual rifles and pistols. Not satisfied with Hasbro’s choice of hardware for your favorite G.I. JOE characters? Hit up this site for an authentic upgrade. I cannot recommend the products or service enough!
- JoeDeclassified digs deep into the history of JOE, uncovering production artwork, preproduction toys, and all kinds of JOE goodness that would otherwise never see the light of day.
- JoeCustoms is the place to go if you’re into customizing G.I. JOE figures. Need hints and tips? Want to swap parts with other hobbyists? Head on over.
- General Toy News & Info
- Action Figure Insider is a site that deals with action figure collecting in general, with insider (duh) information from manufacturers, particularly Mattel.
- ToyNewsi is a site that covers a wide range of toy collecting news, so if your specific interests aren’t covered here, that’s a great place to start.
- Marvelous News, part of the ENI network, is a great resource for anyone following the House of Ideas.
- Gentle Giant
- Gentle Giant Collectors is the place for Gentle Giant aficionados. GG enthusiasts can get news updates, explore visual guides, and participate in the site’s contests.
- Pup Culture News
- STAR WARS
- Dedication, Devotion: Building and displaying your collection is only the beginning! Once you have acquired a massive stash of toys, cards, comics, busts, statues, or whatever it is that you collect, you’ll spend the rest of your life maintaining it.
The first thing to remember is that you should minimize light exposure. Use shades to darken the rooms in which you store your collection, and keep the lights turned off when you’re not using that room. Sunlight exposure will result in fading colors and white plastic turning a dull yellow. Don’t buy bright lights to aim directly at your goods, either. While not as destructive as the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, it can still cause discoloration over time.
Another aspect of nature from which you will need to protect your collection is dust. A beautiful collection quickly becomes ugly when it’s covered with nasty dust. Don’t use canned furniture polish or anything like that. All you need is a simple duster with a plastic handle. Stay away from lambswool and feathers, and stick to the soft, synthetic (or Polywool) dusters that can be had on Amazon.com for less than ten bucks. While the idea of dusting each of your collectibles individually might seem tedious, it really gives you a chance to spend time with your cherished possessions. I spend a couple of hours doing it every few weeks, and it’s a chore that actually grows on you.
Finally, if you smoke, do it outside. While many factors can cause toys, packaging, busts, and maquettes to deteriorate, only fire or flood will ruin the appearance of your collectibles more quickly than nicotine stains. If you smoke, you know what I mean: The walls in your home were white when you moved in, but now they’re yellow, except for the patches behind your poster frames. It’s impossible to get the windows of your car or your television screen completely clean. Don’t let this happen to your collection! You’ve spent so much time and money on it, so do yourself a favor, and take the tobacco outside. Your non-smoker guests will thank you for it, too.
And yeah, I just quoted a Dire Straits song. There’s no need to rub it in; I’m already ashamed.
- Insurance: You wouldn’t keep your money in the bank if it wasn’t insured, would you? Of course not, so why would you keep your prized possessions in your house without insuring them? Assuming you already have some form of home owner’s or renter’s insurance, talk to your agent about adding extra coverage for your collectibles. With only a few items here and there, you might not need anything additional with your policy. If you have thousands invested in your hobby, however, why take chances? Anything can happen, from roof damage to electrical malfunctions, so it’s always best to be prepared for the worst. As someone who once lost a substantial collection of comics and toys, I speak from experience when I say insure your collection, and do it as soon as possible.
Be sure your insurance provides you with the cost of replacement. That’s a very important word, because remember, a Return Of The Jedi Darth Vader figure cost like $2.77 in 1983. That is the item’s retail value; the replacement value is what it will cost on the secondary market. Keep a detailed manifest of everything in your collection, as you have to prove you actually had these items. For the bulk of my STAR WARS figures, I use the collection tool offered by AllTroops.com. This is such an awesome resource, and I really wish something similar was available for the other lines I collect. They already have a database of pretty much every Kenner/Hasbro release, so when you sign up for a premium account, you can just click and submit. It only costs five bucks a year, a truly nominal fee for such a convenient service.
I keep a backup of the manifest on my hard drive, as well as a second copy uploaded to my web server. In the case of fire or theft, there most likely won’t be a computer left, so it’s best to not have your only copy of this information stored locally. Keep multiple copies in different locations. I personally know that Todd over at AllTroops.com keeps great backups, and I can vouch for just how thorough he is. That’s no reason to take chances, though. In addition to your text list, you also need visual documentation. You can take photos and do the same thing: keep copies on your hard drive, uploaded to a web server (even one of the free image hosts out there), on your work computer, on your friends’ computers, anywhere you can store them (originally written before so many cloud-based storage options were available, so take advantage of those). You can also slowly film your collection with a video camera every couple of months. That will allow you to have a tape and DVD copies to scatter across the earth, as well as uploading a copy to the web.
- eBay: Yes, I realize that many individuals strongly dislike eBay and think it’s all about sellers taking advantage of the poor collectors. The biggest haters usually don’t understand how to use eBay to their advantage, though, whether they want to acquire new pieces for their own stash or just sell off some extras. The sooner you realize eBay is your friend, the better, and the more you get to know your friend, eBay, the more you’re going to like him. See my other resource pages for more information on how to properly navigate the world of eBay auctions.
- Community Presence: One of the best things about this hobby is that many other collectors are willing to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s an even trade or mailing something to you for cost + shipping, you can often find elusive items from people just like you.
Actively participating in forums on web sites that match your interests is a great way to meet new people who share your interests, have some fun, and join the growing online community of collectors who frequent the various message boards.
UPDATE: Boy, how the internet has changed since I first wrote this. In 2013, recommending most collecting forums just isn’t something I want to do. There are a few sites with less active message boards that can still be fun, but most of the enjoyment on sites with much traffic is quickly drowned out by whining and complaining. These days, I prefer to talk toys on Twitter, where it’s far easier to filter out people who focus on negatives and gripe about every aspect of our hobbies. For my time, it’s a much better way to network with other collectors and just have fun.
- Patience: That’s right, patience is one of the essential keys to enjoying this hobby. If you pay attention to discussions on various sites, you’ll notice a lot of people complaining – incessantly, at times – about not being able to find the latest releases in their local stores. The most common scapegoats are scalpers, or people who buy items from retailers to sell on the secondary market, often via eBay. While blaming these phantom scalpers is probably a way to vent frustration, the fact is that distribution among retailers doesn’t really take toy collectors into consideration. Remember that Special Collectors’ Limited Edition Glow-In-The-Dark Talking Super-Articulated Deluxe Darth Vader figure that was in stores on the west coast two months before you saw it in New Jersey? You searched and searched, but couldn’t find it, even though sites were reporting that every Target from San Diego to Seattle had them? You were so frustrated, you paid $15 extra to get it online, only to finally see them clogging pegs in your city after another few weeks? It had to be the scalpers, man! Right?
Not so fast. Retail distribution is often very slow and sporadic, and if you’re patient, you’ll usually save yourself some money.
For more on the scalper myth, see my take on the subject, “Plight of the Scalper“.
If saving time is more important, though, there are several online retailers who specialize in collectibles. Many take pre-orders, so you can schedule upcoming items for front-door delivery. Some of these stores have great deals, very close to the same prices you’ll pay at large chain stores, and considering the price of gas these days, you might do better to go that route anyway. My favorite – and I say this based solely on personal experience and without receiving any form of compensation – is Big Bad Toy Store. Joel is a topnotch dealer, and I can’t begin to recommend BBTS enough.
- It’s Got a Lot of Numbers in It: One of the most important things you can do when collecting is your hobby is budget according to your means. You don’t want to get in too far over your head with collecting debt, so if you like to shop on your credit card, choose one with a reasonable limit and stick to it. With my appetite for adding new items, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to run up a substantial tab, so restraint is definitely a necessity. It’s also best if you don’t think of your collection as an investment, even if your focus is on high-end items. You’ll have a lot more fun with your hobby if you go into it assuming the resale value will never match, let alone outweigh, your cost and simply buy what you like and enjoy.