Guest collector – Ian Cowley: The Hazards of Reproductions on Vintage Collecting

Hi all,

I recently approached one of my friends on the Rebelscum forum, Ian Cowley – resident head kicker and anti u-grade and repro crusader, and asked him to write an article on a subject that is very important to him – the negative effects of reproduction items on our beloved hobby. Well he told me that back in 2010 he had actually written an article on that exact subject and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here (no pun intended!). It’s a great read and the core of its message maintains its relevance today. The unfortunate reality is that repros and those who manufacture them continue to damage vintage collecting.

Ian can be a scary character at times, particularly when confronted with cocky newcomers or uninformed advocates of the u-grade and repros. But you would struggle to find someone who loves the hobby more than Ian and he is easily one of the nicest individuals I’ve met on the forums. He is often the first to answer a newbie question (many of mine in the past!) and is well loved by those who know him.

This article is quite timely for my current situation as I just bought a SW figure lot from the classifieds here in The Netherlands and a couple of the weapons ended up being reproductions.

Well here is Ian’s excellent article. I hope you enjoy it and if you are a supporter of repros, I hope you change your view after reading it!

The Hazards of Reproductions on Vintage Collecting by Ian Cowley

I will do my best to summarize the issues concerning repros. I am well aware that there are people here who can better articulate some of these hazards, or who may consider things I may overlook. If anybody wants to add to this, or even replace it with a better one, I welcome it.

First of all, I am going to include a couple of excellent resources that can help identify reproductions.

Jawa Armory
The Imperial Gunnery

The following is going to be fairly long. If you are not going to read the entire post, this is a quick summary.

  • Reproductions are defined, and how they differentiate from bootlegs;
  • Repros have the potential to cheat collectors out of large amounts of money;
  • Every repro purchased, even small common items, fuels the demand for more and helps the creators perfect the quality;
  • ALL repros will eventually and inevitably return to the marketplace if not destroyed;
  • Concerns about authenticity have led to third party authentication services, which have artificially inflated vintage prices; and
  • Ongoing concerns have caused many long time expert collectors to exit the hobby, which depletes us of invaluable resources.

I guess we should start with a definition of a repro as it applies to vintage Star Wars. Opinions on this will differ, but I would imagine the broadest definition would be any product custom made that replaces or substitutes anything produced and released by Kenner or its international subsidiaries at retail during the years of 1977 to 1989 in its Star Wars brand, and is intended to replicate said product. This definition excludes bootlegs, which differ in a couple of ways. Bootlegs were available at retail in most cases, and in any event, may resemble authentic vintage product but were never made with the intent of being a substitution for any licensed product.

For some collectors, repros are a relatively easy and inexpensive way to complete a loose collection that is missing (or has damaged) accessories, decals, and/or other miscellaneous parts. It also provides a method of storing loose figures in reproduction cardbacks to mimic the way in which they were originally sold at retail.

Surely this must be a good thing to be able to finally give that Tusken Raider a gaffi stick after all these years, and to have that rush of nostalgia seeing Luke Skywalker as he appeared all those years ago on the pegs of the local Toys R Us? They certainly display nicer, so what could possibly be the harm?

As it turns out, these repros which in all likelihood were originally created with the best intentions, have fueled a thriving underground market in which collectors are being ripped off by unscrupulous sellers, which threatens the integrity of the hobby as a whole.

Sure, there is little damage from a repro Bespin blaster that completes your beat up Lobot, but as the methods of replicating these accessories has improved, it has opened up an opportunity to make some big money under the right conditions. That Lobot is nothing in the big picture, aside from the fact that someone who has paid money for an authentic Kenner produced item has instead received something different that only copies what he wanted. But what about the person looking to get an authentic carded DT Ben Kenobi? Now we are talking about an item that sells for tens of thousands of dollars. In this example, authenticity suddenly becomes a major factor, as no one would pay that kind of money for a fake item.

The DT Ben example is an extreme one, but it highlights the issues surrounding the dangers of repros. Far more affordable are vinyl caped Jawas, DT Lukes, Luke Stormtrooper Helmets, etc. These are the items that most collectors can afford, yet are still relatively pricey if you are paying full market value for an item that is a counterfeit. Carded figures command a premium over loose figures, and the exact same dangers apply. As repros are made of higher and higher quality, and resemble authentic items more and more closely, it is becoming a challenge even for the seasoned collector to distinguish the fake from the authentic. Scam artists are making a LOT of money by duping collectors into believing they are purchasing authentic items that are not. The more repros they sell, the more they make, and the more they make, the better they perfect their craft of reproducing near exact replicas.

Many collectors who knowingly buy these repro items do so believing that they are causing no harm, as the items are locked away in their personal collections. The truth is, this is an incorrect assumption. Not even the most diehard collector will own their items forever. Notwithstanding what happens to inherited or the unfortunate stolen collections, the fact is the vast majority of collectors who maintain they are in it forever will eventually move on and sell. This can be either a change in interest, or an unexpected financial downturn could necessitate it. There is also the probability that most people upgrade their collections, and it is always possible a repro item will mistakenly be sold or traded off. Any time a repro item leaves your hands, it is unknown what future owners will do with them, which means there is always the potential for a future scam.

The residual effect of this unethical market is the introduction of authenticating services such as that which AFA provides. While it is debatable that AFA provides a needed standardized system of grading that eliminates a separate issue (incorrectly described conditions), it is the authentication service that is directly fueled by the very existence of repros. If authenticity wasn’t a concern (ie. repros did not exist), this service would not exist. Being a business, they charge a fee to authenticate items, which is an additional cost on top of every single vintage purchase a collector wants to make sure contains no repros. This has made a quick and easy way for a collector to forego educating themselves on identifying repros, as they just pay for authenticity. Many collectors pay a ridiculous premium for pre-authenticated toys. As a further issue, some people have seen the opportunity for profit here as well, and purposely buy non-graded top condition toys, have them graded, then sell at inflated prices for the sole purpose of making profit.

The irony here is that repros have caused a bigger problem out of what they were created to solve – the cost of authentic product.

Throughout all of this, long time collectors who have spent countless hours learning how to authenticate their own items, and who have spent untold dollars on building their collections, now watch as newer collectors increasingly find no need to educate themselves, and fill their collections with items that are not authentic. Furthermore, those still trying to complete collections the old fashioned way are facing an uphill battle as repros flood the market and sellers knowingly (and sometimes unknowingly) try to pass off repros as real. More than a few of these incredibly knowledgeable collectors have withdrawn from the hobby as a result, which does nothing but deplete valuable sources of information from the hobby, not just in the toys themselves, but the history behind them as well.

There are still many long time collectors who try to maintain the integrity of the hobby, who will not settle for anything less than authentic items to consider a collection to be truly ‘vintage’. However, the continued use of repros continues to fuel a market that produces them, leading to unscrupulous sellers, fraud, and inflated prices for authentic items.

So what is the solution? As long as a market exists, there is no way to eliminate repros. The only thing that can be done is for ethical producers of repros to make some sort of identifying characteristic on their items. This can be a unique marking, or a significant difference in the repro item (ex. a noticeable change in an accessory’s color may be an idea). Anything that can easily be seen by even a novice collector would help prevent the scams that occur on a daily basis. Unfortunately, as long as there is money to be made from near perfect replicas, this is not likely to happen any time soon.

I can only hope that this post can enlighten even a few of those that feel that a few repro purchases here and there do not harm the hobby. It’s a cumulative effect for sure, but everyone who purchases a single reproduction item is adding their contribution to this mess that threatens the integrity of the hobby which we all hold so dear to our hearts.


18 thoughts on “Guest collector – Ian Cowley: The Hazards of Reproductions on Vintage Collecting

  1. Ian C, Josh, Joe Y and Todd O – has anyone ever seen them in the same room together?

    …..would be one hell of a party!

  2. Pingback: Replicator Reproduction and the Proliferation of Repro Boxes and Store Displays - Page 9

  3. Your usual great job, Christian! Ian did a fantastic job highlighting this blight on our hobby.

    Just say no to repros, people! Nothing satisfies like the real deal!

  4. Pingback: Do you guys cancel bids from people who sell recards?

  5. Seasoned Collectors seem to agree on this point of view. It is sad that some are only into the hobby for profit alone. I think back to the days when making trades was the way to acquire a needed item- mainly because we didn’t have the money to go buy all of what we wanted. I have also heard of people leaving the hobby simply because they are fed up with the greed and influx of repro items. I usually advise those who are unsure to buy from only reputable sources and those that stand behind the authenticity of an item. Thank you for a well written blog.

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