Yet again I’m very excited to present another special guest on the blog – Mr Bill McBride! I know I always say I’m excited but that’s the simple truth – vintage Star Wars pumps me up! I am though a pretty excitable bloke in general I must admit. Anyway… I was thrilled when Bill agreed to appear on the blog, not only is he one of the biggest names in the industry but he is also someone who embodies everything I love about collecting – he is stark raving mad about vintage SW and takes his collecting seriously but he is also able to have a laugh and does everything he can to contribute to the collecting community. Anyone who is a member of the Rebelscum forum or the Facebook groups can attest to that.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Bill’s great webpage:
So let’s find out a little bit about Bill!
VSWC: Hi Bill! Thanks so much for joining my readers and I on the blog. When I first decided to interview collectors, you were one of the first names that popped into that pea brain of mine. You have an amazing collection and you are second to none when it comes to sharing your expertise with other collectors, even relatively newer collectors like myself. It’s a great example you set.
Let’s get to the questions.
1. I always like to get the most important and controversial questions out of the way as soon as possible. I recently watched ‘Plastic Galaxy’ (read our review at http://vintagestarwarscollectors.com/documentary-review-plastic-galaxy-the-story-of-star-wars-toys/), which you were filmed and interviewed for, and I came away thinking – what the hell is going on with Bill’s humongous biceps? So do you work out or did you get implants?
BM – Thank you ! I’m glad to be here. I’ve received a fair amount of questions regarding that since the movie premiered; I like to work out (a lot) … and it helps when I have to lift all those cases of Vader goodies 🙂
2. Ha ha I bet they do! Now can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from and what do you do with your time when you are not playing with your Darth Vader figures?
BM – I am from the eastern part of the US, born, bred and educated. I am currently working on publishing my own Darth Vader project, based wholly off my personal collection. That has been consuming the majority of my time lately. I very much enjoy traveling, and spending time with my family and my beautiful German Shepherds.
VSWC – Who doesn’t love travelling! Do you get to take many collecting related trips?
BM – Not as many as I would like 🙂 I’m a collector at heart, so any time I’m traveling I *always* keep an eye open for Vader items (so in that context you could say I’m always taking collecting trips 🙂 ). I usually hit a few major shows every year, and more lately the local toy&comic shows. SW Celebration, San Diego and New York Comic Cons are also my usual show destinations. I also take massive satisfaction in the fact that I (think) have nearly all my friends and family trained to be on the hunt for SW/Vader items. I’ll get emails, texts, FB messages all the time from people finding cool pieces in their travels.(which is a large part of my plans for global Vader domination 🙂 )
VSWC – Now be honest with us, you’re not going to try and say you’ve never dressed your dogs up as Darth Vader are you? Not even once?
BM – LOL – as much as I would like to, they just don’t make the animal sized Vader costumes big enough for my pups (although, if I could find some large enough, I would do it for Halloween in a heartbeat 🙂 Something about dressing up my German Shepherds in matching Vader costumes appeals to my Inner Dark Lord’s sense of humor).
3. I know you are a regular on Rebelscum but you also use the main Facebook groups a lot. What do you think of the Facebook groups?
BM – I think with the spread of social media, we now have more choices about who/what/where/how to interact with people. It really comes down to personal choice for most of us. Personally, I’ve found outlets such as Facebook to be a superior means of mass communication with people from all walks of life, and every country you care to think of. It also gives you a more direct means of control over the scope of the information that we receive and go through each day. I can say that you really have to pick and choose how you interface with the community as a whole. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with the forums, ebay, FB, etc. There is no right or wrong, it’s simply what works best for you, your comfort level, with the amount of time you have available.
4. So what are your favourite groups then?
BM – All the groups that cater to my respective interests 😉 (I am a huge fan of the German Shepherd owner groups, which is where I find myself spending more time reading and learning.) However, there are many great FB groups to look into, from the official Star Wars page, to nearly every niche bit of fandom available. On a personal level, it is an absolute gift to have direct access to some of my favorite artists. I am a huge fan and collector, and to have that opportunity to see their work, and feel an active part of that is just amazing.
5. Other than social networking sites, do you get the chance to meet up face to face with other collectors?
BM – I do from time to time, and most recently had a chance to spend time with people at JediCon WV. That’s one of my favorite parts of the hobby really; just the opportunity to spend time with collecting friends, catch up and talk shop.
VSWC – How about collecting clubs? Are you a member of one in your region?
BM – I live in Washington DC, so I’m a member of the DCSWCC (DC area Star Wars Collecting Club -http://www.dcswcc.org/). They are a great group of people, and it’s always a treat to get to get together with them to talk shop from time to time. I would *strongly* recommend that if you don’t belong to your area SW club, definitely look into it or in the event there isn’t one, start a club yourself!! I can’t think of too many places in the world that doesn’t have regional club offerings.
6. How long have you been collecting and how did you get into it?
BM – I’ve been actively collecting Darth Vader memorabilia for well over 20 years now. Vader has always been my favorite SW character, and I am a collector by nature. Once I decided to actively pursue SW as an adult, I found myself naturally focused on Darth Vader items. There certainly wasn’t a lack of appreciation for other types of items and characters, but when it came time to obtain items for my collection, I found that I was voting with my wallet – Vader was the only choice.
Some of Bill’s amazing Vader pieces:
7. So what pieces exactly do you collect? Just the vintage figures? What about other Darth Vader collectibles or even modern?
BM – The short answer is that I collect the pieces that I like. When I see something that I really like, or think is cool. I’ll get it. My collection has quite a range of items, both vintage up through to brand new items that I’ve already placed on pre-order. However, it always defaults back to my single collecting rule: I only collect the items that I truly like.
Here are some great photos of Bill’s SW room.
VSWC – I don’t want you to give up your sources but can you at least hint where you source your harder to find items? I mean do you simply search eBay, forums etc etc or do you find them through your personal connections with other collectors?
BM – Hmmm …………. Yes! 🙂 (All of the above actually.) I tell people that they should use every resource they can think of. Don’t restrict yourself to one potential source, location, group, selling site etc. I think that’s one of the most puzzling things I hear from other collectors; they establish some sort of self-imposed buying restriction for whatever justification they have concocted. As a rule, I never discuss my sources but I can say that quite a few of my significant finds have come from “tip of the iceberg” scenarios. This is where you find yourself looking to purchase a single item or small group of items, and once you engage the seller you find that this was only a fraction of what they really have available.
However, I am, and will always be infinitely grateful for the help and generosity of my fellow collectors. I can absolutely say that my collection would not be what it is today if I didn’t have help from people over the years. I can’t tell you how many times someone has come to me and said “Hey, I found this ______ for you, I thought you might appreciate it”. It’s massively humbling to have someone give you that kind of consideration simply because they are being kind, and genuinely want to help. Those are the items for me that take on a nearly spiritual level of significance. Not only are they great pieces, but he/she allowed me to add this to my collection. It is hands down the best part of our hobby for me.
8. What Vader pieces are you still chasing?
BM – Believe it or not, quite a few items are still very much on my radar. What those items actually are is a top hobby secret 😉
9. What do your family and friends that you grew up say when they see your Star Wars room?
BM – I think it’s a bit of a shock to some people, but I’ve always had an overwhelmingly positive response to both the hobby, and when they have the opportunity to see my collection first hand. I consider my displayed collection and the curation of my pieces as significant to me as every other aspect of the hobby, if not a primary concern actually. I am always mindful of the items in my collection, and try to give them the respect they deserve while they are displayed.
Some more photos of Bill’s collection:
10. Do you ever stand in your display room, look around at all your Vaders and even for a split second say to yourself “What the hell am I doing?”
BM – No, to me it’s massively satisfying and more of a statement of my passion, and personal enjoyment of the hobby. (more sometimes something along the lines of “wow … did you really need every variation of the Vader watch ? Why yes … yes I did 🙂 )
VSWC – Haha I feel the same way, as do most collectors I guess. I do though look at my collection sometimes and think ‘What the hell am I going to do if I someday lose my passion for Luke Skywalker figures??? But I guess we can only work with how we feel right now. You’ve been going for a long time so I think if you were going to lose your interest that it would have happened already.
11. Have you ever collected other Star Wars figures?
BM – I haven’t … I only have room in my heart for the Dark Lord 🙂
12. You’re also known pretty much as the go-to-guy for double telescoping sabers (DTs). Did this interest come about as part of your Vader collecting or is it something you’ve always been interested in?
BM – When I started collecting as an adult, I tended to gravitate towards items that were rare, or that I knew were supposed to exist, but never saw at any shows. In the realm of Vader, the obvious first, tough piece was the Double Telescoping figure. It was legendary even back then, and I found that people rarely found a single example, let alone were in a position to authenticate one. I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about them, and it eventually led me into my main collecting sub-focus, DT sabers and prototypes.
A bunch of Bill’s DT Vaders below. Now pick your jaws off the ground!
13. Have you ever had a DT in hand that you couldn’t determine as repro or not?
BM – At this point, if I have an example in hand I can absolutely determine the authenticity of any given example. The only examples that I ever had in hand that I couldn’t authenticate were the Circle DT saber Lukes. They were unlike anything I had ever seen, and so obviously different that I wouldn’t authenticate them at first. ** Fortunately, a prototype Vader figure surfaced, and it was remarked to have a “prototype DT saber”. Once I was able to add it to my collection and examine the saber, I realized what it was and established a direct link back to Kenner. Once I documented the Circle sabers as authentic, I was able to help people with similar examples.
VSWC – Definitely a great job with the circles variant. I was reading one of the old threads on TIG just the other day where collectors, including yourself, were first discussing this variant. Really shows that there is still more to find out there. Do you think there are many more Vader pieces out there that may not be documented?
BM – I think as a whole, there are many “new” vintages items that have slipped through the cracks waiting to be discovered. The line is over 35 years old at this point, and the quantity of items that were produced is simply mind boggling. Once you change gears, and make that intellectual, tangential shift to consider non-toy items or things that were produced outside of the US, it should nearly be an expectation at this point, rather an exception. In a broader sense, we know the main branches of the tree so exploring some of the various smaller branches is where a lot of us are at now. This idea can easily be applied within the context of a single character, especially Darth Vader. From the beginning, he was always one of the main characters in the limelight, so you are going to find a vast range of Vader items that were available over the years, from all over the world. If anything, I think people would be shocked at how little time or effort it takes once you start digging to find a previously undocumented item, or something that we’ve never seen before. I’ve been working on fleshing out two significant non-US/foreign lines that are massively significant, but also a bit shocking that they haven’t been documented before. I think that’s just remarkable that you can make big finds after 20+ years in the hobby. I would hope that it also gives newer people inspiration in their collecting journeys
14. I know you get a lot of questions from collectors, including from myself, regarding the authenticity of their DTs. How often do you get questions like this?
BM – I get a few every week. Most are from people that are digging up old childhood collections due to the Eps.7 popularity and resurgence of SW, or looking for a 2nd opinion on an example they are considering for purchase.
15. Does it get annoying at any point?
BM – Not at all. If I can help someone to obtain or ID an authentic example, then I certainly don’t mind. The market prices on DT Vader and Bens is well north of $4,000usd, and that’s a considerable investment. It’s even more considerable if someone purchases a fake. If by some extension of my work, the hobby is a better and safer place, then it’s all worth it.
16. Do you think repro DTs are an increasing danger to our hobby or are they on the wane?
BM – I think they are absolutely a danger to the hobby. Hands down, they always rank in collector’s “Top 10” most wanted items, and with the massive influx of new collectors, we are seeing a massive rise in the demand for these types of items. No collectible based hobby is immune from people seeking to exploit this type of situation, or high end pieces, and we are no different.
VSWC – How about other repro items? Are there any specific reproduction items that you think are a particularly concern to newer collectors?
BM – I have always preached to newer collectors the importance of doing your “hobby homework” and educating yourself. This couldn’t be more of an issue today with the flood of new people coming into the hobby. I know some people are devotees of the various 3rd party grading companies, but the fatal flaw with this practice is that it’s not time sensitive. There is a considerable window for turn-around or just information, and 99% of the time in this market you aren’t going to have the luxury of such an expansive window for an acquisition. Quality items are being snapped up before they hit the open market, and we are the text-book definition of a “seller’s market” right now. As I mentioned before, with any collectible based hobby you are going to have fakes and reproductions. This changes exponentially with the levels of collector population and relative values. (A fair quantity of higher value items available, combined with a higher amount of new collectors is just a dream scenario for scam artists.)
The biggest changes/issues I’ve seen recently regarding fakes/repros:
~ The original line of 12-backs, and high end POTF figures;
~ Double Telescoping Sabers; and
These used to be infrequent, or bi-monthly issues, now I’m seeing fake carded figures every day. DT sabers are usually the most high profile, and potentially accessible rare items out there, and it’s simply a function of supply and demand. Just because I have 10 new people a day demanding a DT Obi Wan doesn’t mean you can turn around and find one right away. I know people that have spent 10+ years tracking down a single item. Unfortunately, in a near frenzy level of demand, scam artists are more than willing to fill that void. If you don’t know what you are looking at, you are going to get burned. Prototypes are another area that’s just exploding. I think most collectors are eventually drawn to pre-production items simply due to the rarity/cool factor. The problem here is that vintage pre-production material isn’t readily available. The vast majority of vintage prototype items are locked up in private collections. This is why any time a piece comes up for open sale, the prices just go crazy. The reality of the situation is that most of these pieces aren’t going anywhere, any time soon, so the demand and prices are just going to continue to grow. The biggest issue I’m seeing lately isn’t necessarily fakes or repros, it’s from the collectors themselves. There is such a high demand for these types of items, that any paint error, mold flaw, or general weirdness is now being called a “prototype” or some kind of significant production item. This is where the hobby education really comes into play. Once the realization sets in that nearly 3/4 of a BILLION toys where made, it’s far easier to be objective and pragmatic about these types of items.
17. So where do you see your collecting activities in the future? Will you ever change your focus or are you a Darth Vader man until the end of time?
BM – Perhaps the End Rule of my collecting is simple – I will collect as long as it makes me happy. If I ever lose my passion for collecting, it will be the final days of my career.
So you see yourself still collecting SW vintage 20 years down the track?
BM – Absolutely! If anything has changed over the years, I’m more passionate than when I started. The more I learn and discover, the more I want to collect.
Well thank you so much for joining us Bill! I know you are a busy man so I appreciate you giving up your time to share your collecting thoughts and insights. Not to mention the brilliant photos of some of your collection. Hopefully you’ll join us back on the blog in some other shape or form in the future. Here is one last photo to remind you all how fricking awesome Bill’s collection is!
Readers stay tuned for our next monthly collector interview!