Collector Interview #6: Joe Yglesias – Bootleg Overlord

I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Mr Bootleg himself onto the blog. Yes that’s right, the one and only Joe Yglesias is joining us to share his thoughts on SW vintage collecting and also to give us a peek into his world. Massive thanks to him for sharing his time with us.
Joe is an absolutely legend of the Star Wars vintage collecting world and is arguably the most knowledgeable bootleg collector in the world. So you can understand how happy I am to have him on. Not only that, but he is a great guy. Everyone knows about my no ars*hole policy with the blog (yours truly being the one exception of course!). When I first joined Rebelscum, I kept hearing about this scary guy ‘Joseph Y’ who would smack down arrogant and ignorant collectors or wannabe scammers. Although I joke about Joe being a tough guy, he is actually very approachable and is always on hand to lend advice to other collectors or to help educate others to some of the dangers to our hobby (i.e. repros, scammers and u-grades). He is as vocal as they come and this interview is a testament to that.
Joe also tells me that he’s currently drafting a book about bootlegs, and that while it’s had some set backs it will be ready to hit the press by Celebration 8. A kickstarter will also be launched soon to help pay for the graphic design/photo editing and publication. Good luck and can’t wait to see the book!
Now to the interview! 
1.    Joe I have to ask you straight off the bat – are you really as scary in person as you seem in your photos? 
Joe: I’m a fairly soft spoken, and easy to get along with person, if you’ve heard any of the earlier Chivecasts where I had a monthly bootleg segment (still not sure why they stopped having me do that, it was fun), my speaking voice certainly doesn’t match what you’d expect me to sound like. As for me being scary in photos?I can’t help having been born with this ruggedly handsome face(lol), and while I might have some fun messing with trolls online, that buy into me seeming “mean or scary” I’m just another collector, I can be the most helpful person in the hobby in the areas that I’ve knowledge in, or the biggest jerk, all depending on how one approaches me. But overall I’m a pretty mellow person.  I can get a bit aggressive when a piece I want comes up for sale, but that’s just the hyper competitiveness of the bootleg segment of the hobby kicking in. 
VSWC: I did hear your segment on the CHIVE Cast (see our past interview with the hosts Skye and Steve here – a few times and I really enjoyed it. I have crossed paths with you quite a lot in the Star Wars collecting groups and can confirm that you are a very helpful collector and an easy-going guy, unless someone messes with you of course! 
2.    Before we get in to the collecting side of this interview, I’m sure our audience would love to know a bit about you. Where did you grow up? 
Joe: was born and raised in Cranston and Providence, Rhode Island. I currently live in Cranston RI. 
VSWC: What was it like living there? 
Joe: The neighborhood I grew up in was a working class neighborhood, I had my share of friends that were also into playing with Star Wars toys, reading comic books, riding BMX bikes, and a few years later playing video games like Atari 2600, and just the general things kids do. Because none of the kids on my street had “rich” parents, and no one had “everything” we’d usually merge our toys for bigger battles. Overall I’d say I enjoyed my childhood, still am on many levels.
VSWC: Sounds like a cool bunch of neighbourhood kids to hang out with. The kids in my street used to steal my toys lol! 
3.    When I interview collectors, I usually have to do quite a bit of background research to collate some info on the interviewee. We’re Facebook friends though and to be honest your non-Star Wars passions in life really shine through.  Am I correct in saying that you are a huge comic book fan and collector, involved in the tattoo and body piercing industry and play in a band?   
Joe: Comic books were part of my life since before Star Wars ever existed. I’ve been reading them since I was four or five years old. There was a news stand in the supermarket that my parents shopped at when I was a child. I have great memories, of my parents giving me .50 or .75 cents and me going thru every comic on the racks to decide what I wanted, and being able to get two or three comics just about every time we went there. As an adult collector, I’ve ebbed and flowed in my comic collecting over the years. Stopping for long times, then building right back up. I sold off my original collection at age 18 to buy a car, then bought a few collections from others after that and started to vend at comic shows while in college, and that’s actually when the adult Star Wars collecting began for me. I bought a loose collection of SW figs and vehicles along with a comic collection, and kept them….the rest is history. I also collect many other toys I either had or wanted but never got as a child. Such as Mego Super Hero figures, Six Million Dollar Man, Shogun Warriors, Evel Kneivel etc. But over the years Star Wars has won out every time. My other hobbies include collecting vintage BMX bikes, rare punk rock records, playing in my band and DJing. As for my involvement in the body piercing industry, I’ve been a professional piercer for over 23 years, owned my own shop(s) for the past 16 years. I pride myself on both the quality of jewelry that I sell and install, and the level of cleanliness used in my facility. I worked with my local department of health to write the regulations that RI uses for the licensing of piercing facilities and piercing technicians,and still operate at a standard higher than what they finally passed into law. My involvement in music stems from being an awkward teenager, and finding Punk Rock (with a little help from my brothers Ramones and Iggy Pop records), long before it could be just looked up on the internet or found in the local mall. Going to my first Punk rock show in 1985 changed my life. I found where I belonged and while I certainly enjoy many other forms of music, and have DJed many genres of music over the years (everything from Rockabilly, to 80s New Wave, to Gothrock, to Neo Folk and everything possible in between), Punk and Oi! music have always been what makes the most sense to me. My band ‘The Usual Suspects’, is just an extension of that. I try to write songs that I’d want to hear as a fan. 
VSWC: Joe just before hitting the stage to belt out a tune. 
Me just before we play
VSWC:  Wow you are a busy man but sounds like you are having a lot of fun. Funnily enough I’ve actually heard one of your band’s tracks – ‘Brick thru a window’. Skye and Steve used to play it on their podcast. Very cool song! Hope you don’t me sharing this link to you guys playing it live.
4.   What would you be up to on a typical Saturday night? 
Joe: Usually I’d be working on a typical Saturday, from noon til 10pm. After which more often than not I’d be tired and just go home, watch some TV, eat dinner and go to bed. But of course if there were a band playing that I wanted to see, I’d go do that after work (which doesn’t just apply to Sat night). On the Saturdays that my band is playing somewhere I typically have my other piercer cover the shop for me, and go have fun for the day. Sorry that this answer wasn’t “alcohol fueled benders” as many would likely presume. Don’t get me wrong….those happen too, once in a rare while, but that’s not a “typical” saturday night for me…lol
VSWC: Joe are you sure these benders don’t happen often? 
me double fisting drinks
5.    So how old were you when you first saw Star Wars? 
Joe: I was seven years old when Star Wars hit the theaters. Thanks to my father being a big SW fan himself, I got to see it quite a few times in the theater. He also spoiled me as much as the family budget would allow when it came to the toys.
6.    What’s your first memory of seeing a Star Wars figure? 
Joe: I got the EB (Early Bird) envelope, and a “Force Beam” or similar bootleg light saber as part of my Xmas present in 1977. While still waiting for the EB kit to arrive, Child World (a now defunct toy store chain) got figures in. Seeing the wall of them is my first memory of physically seeing SW figures as a child.  I believe my father bought me a Ben and Vader that day.

At one point a childhood friend got a wind up R2D2, I believe his family went to Niagra Falls on vacation and crossed into Canada, which knowing now what I know about the piece, makes sense, but anyway, my father saw this toy, and literally drove to every toy store, small and large that he could, trying to find a wind up R2. I’m not sure if he wanted it more for himself or me at some point. But that sticks out as a very vivid memory of my dad’s enjoyment of Star Wars. He kept at it looking everywhere for about a month then gave up once he realized it wasn’t going to be found. As an adult collector, when the chance to buy a carded Canadian wind up R2 came up, I jumped at it. I still have it, despite having sold most of my non US stuff, it would be the last piece that I’d part with if I ever sold up and got rid of everything, as it serves as a reminder of how much he was a part of why I got to enjoy the Star Wars toy line as much as I did as a child.
VSWC: Great story Joe! What a cool dad. So do you still have any of your childhood figures? 
Joe: No, sadly, all of my childhood figures went the way of being played with and lost. But had I been more careful with them, I likely wouldn’t have enjoyed them as much,and gotten as heavily back into collecting them as an adult, and we wouldn’t be having this interview.
7.   How long ago did you start collecting Star Wars figures in earnest and what did you first collect? 
Joe: I started collecting around 25 years ago, it started as most do, with nostalgia for the toys of my youth. I started with some loose figures that I picked up in a collection with some comics, then bought more loose figures to try and complete the loose “set” and then as time, and both my knowledge and income went up, I switched to carded, and boxed items. At the time non US items were selling for a fraction of what their US counterparts were fetching, so I often bought non US carded figures, partially because at the time they were cheaper, but also because the logos were cool looking in contrast to the US Kenner equivalent. 
VSWC: Now I know you’ve sold off a lot of your licenced figures but do you still have much of your carded collection left?
Joe: The only bits of my carded collection that I have left is my 12A set, my 20 and 21bks, my Takara 8″ figures, and my as mentioned above, carded Canadian wind up R2.
8.    Before we get to your love of bootlegs, do you mind giving our readers a brief rundown of what exactly defines a Star Wars collectible as a ‘bootleg’?
Joe: A bootleg is any mass produced (as in made in a factory) unlicensed item that directly is made to look like the character from whichever licensed toy line that it’s ripping off. Examples being, Uzay figures, Model Trem figures.
VSWC: An example of an Uzay, followed by a Model Trem. A tiny sample from Joe’s enormous bootleg collection of these lines. 
VSWC: Oh and the rest of Joe’s Model Trems. Might as well…
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A knock off, is also a factory/company made item that’s made to closely resemble an item from a licensed toy line. Enough so that it reminds you of the character, but far enough away so as to avoid direct copyright infringement. Good examples being Arco Spacewar figures, or Tomland Star Raiders. 
VSWC: Here’s a couple of Arco Spacewar toys from Joe’s collection to give you a taste of what some of these knock-offs look like. 
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9.    So what’s the earliest known bootleg and at what point did bootlegs become ‘modern’ bootlegs?
Joe: Earliest known knock off items would be pieces like the Force Beam, and the dozens of other light saber toys that littered the shelves before Kenner product became available, I also believe that these little statues called Star Warts, were on the shelves before Kenner SW toys. Some of the Timmee toys space figures w. a SW like header card were out there and the Arco SpaceWar figures were VERY close in timing to the Kenner toys hitting the shelves. Earliest direct bootlegs would include some of the rarer Mexican pieces. The “Heritage” metal figure sets, and from what has been said, the Dutch/German bootlegs were available before Kenner items in Germany. As far as the cut off for what’s considered a vintage bootleg, that’s such a grey area, as the movies didn’t get “legally” shown in some countries until the mid to late 80s, so while Kenner stopped in 85, other countries bootleg lines ran well into the early 90s, with the vintage Mex/SA (semi-articulated) line was still being sold in Mexico in marketplaces to be used as toys, with different variants even after POTF2 came out, some even packaged w. POTF2 headers/backers. Modern bootlegs started the second that POF2 came out, heck likely even before, I’ve got some non vintage based pieces that may have been made in the years between vintage and POF2 era. Once again, as said before that early to late 90s line of what to classify where is very grey. That said, bootlegs made in the modern era, in many cases mirror their licensed counterparts very closely. The lines that stand out are few and far between. Still fun to collect, but with the current world, licensed items were likely in abundance in most of the places where these items were also available.
VSWC: Wow I feel ten times smarter after reading that rundown. I guess that’s why you are considered the go-to-man for bootlegs. I was always curious why some of the vintage bootlegs lines were producing bootlegs so late in the game but I guess that answers it. 
And here are some of Joe’s modern bootlegs. 
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10.    Now I know one of your bugbears relates to some collectors insisting that bootlegs and reproductions are essentially the same thing. What is the actual difference? 
Joe: Legally and in general terms, to someone outside of the hobby, or someone without much knowledge of the world during the vintage era, they could be considered the same, as both are unauthorized and both do/did breach copyright laws….. BUT….. intent and hobby accepted definitions make them FAR different. Vintage era bootlegs were made to be played with as toys by children that were in countries where the licensed items were either unable to be legally imported, such as, Hungary, Poland and Russia, which thanks to trade embargos, had no legal imported SW items, and the few items that were illegally imported, were inflated beyond belief. Or third world countries, where even if the licensed item were available they were beyond many peoples means to buy as toys for their children to play with, so bootlegs flourished as the worldwide influence of SW had everyone everywhere, wanting something from that galaxy far, far away… Repros are made for the collector market, made to fool people, and in many cases defraud them into believing that they are original weapons or carded figures, etc, and since collecting is a first world luxury, regardless of where you live, if you have the disposable income to collect vintage SW, you can save that disposable money, and buy the real thing. Even the stuff that’s marked as repro somewhere on it, unless the markings are huge, the marking can be obscured and sold as original to an unknowing buyer. Bluntly stated: In general repros are made for people too cheap to buy the real thing. IF the repro weapon makers started making their weapons in colors that Kenner never made them in, that would be a great solution for those that want to give beater vintage figs to their kids, and still have weapons for them to play with.
VSWC: Well said Joe. So do you think the recent coordinated action undertaken by various Facebook Star Wars vintage groups (see here – will have any affect on the presence of repros in our hobby?
Joe: I think that it will hopefully educate people on the potential pitfalls of repro items, and make them think twice about what they want to collect. I will also put a nice dividing line up between people that collect vintage, and people that just want something that looks vintage.
11.    I’ve been looking forward to this next question since you first agreed to come onto the blog. How the hell did you get into bootlegs?
Joe:  It all started at a toy show in Auburn Mass. in 94/95, I was set up next to a collector named Paul Levesque (not the WWE wrestler) but Paul was an early contributor to the Archive, was active on the Usenet groups, and had his own site, which is long defunct called which had comical situations w. figures, an idea stolen by Toy Fare magazine, and expanded on by Robot Chicken…. IMO…… Anyway, Paul had these odd looking figures, that piqued my interest. At that show I ended up buying my first four bootleg figures, a carded Hungarian Leia and Wicket, and two Polish unarticulated figures, Luke and Barada. The dealer across from us had two carded Uzay figures and one Polish first generation carded figure. They also caught my interest, but I didn’t have the $ to spare that show. The same venue the following month, from the same dealer, a known East Coast seller at the time, by the name of Art Liew, I purchased my first Uzay figure, a carded Imperial Gunner that day, and then at the next month’s show, I bought my carded Blue Stars and first generation Fett from him. From that point on, I was buying bootlegs as a part of my collecting, not my main focus as I was all over the place. I finished many goals in my time collecting licensed items. I finished a first 79 set all on premier cardback, a full set of POTF(85), a full set of Ledy 12″ dolls boxed, a full set of Trilogo carded, and a huge variety of non US licensed items, including at one point, a full set of Palitoy and Takara 12bks, and the majority of each 12bk set from around the world including Clipper, Harbert, and GDE/Canadian 12bks. 
While I was collecting all of these other licensed items, I was always buying bootlegs here and there, and my interest would ebb and flow, for a few months, I’d concentrate on my Trilogos, then I’d switch over and work on my non US 12bks, or another facet of my SW collection.
VSWC: A past limelight of  Joe’s production pieces at the time. Yep, he knows a bit more about vintage than simply bootlegs. 
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VSWC: Wow what a collection! Most collectors can only dream about obtaining these full sets. So at what point did it become your collecting focus? 
Joe: Bootlegs were slowly taking over my collecting time and money from the late 90s on, they became my main focus in the early 2000’s but as said, I also was still collecting licensed non US items and even modern prototypes.

While I was certainly more into my bootlegs than any other part of my collection, and was known as the bootleg guy already, I didn’t shift my focus entirely towards them until after May 22, 2006 when my piercing shop burned to the ground, my insurance screwed me and the restaurant that started the fires insurance money all went to the state (who also sued them), and the owners claimed bankruptcy, so I got nothing to make up for over $100k in jewelry and equipment,and about 30k a month in lost revenue. . I sold off a huge chunk of my comic collection as well as most of my record collection to get the new space ready to work in, and thanks to the fine folks at Industrial Strength body Jewelry, who sent me a care package of basics to get me up and running. It’s a shame that “crowd funding sites” didn’t exist then, I could have likely rebuilt w.o having to sell my stuff, but…anyway,  I’ve kept going. Unfortunately my income level has never gotten back to where it previously was, so I had to make decisions on what mattered most  and what I could part with as time went on, and when rare bootlegs came up, what I could sell to pay for them. The bootlegs have always won. I’ve since sold off most of my licensed collection,including most of my prototypes, and have only kept 77-79 items with the SW logo(first 21 carded, 12″ doll set, and vehicles/playsets etc), as those were the most important to me when it comes to licensed items, as they had the most nostalgia attached to them. There are less than a dozen licensed items that I currently  really want, all, other than 2 store displays, are easily available, but bootlegs are more important to me, so any expendable income gets socked away for the eventuality of a grail bootleg piece coming onto the marketplace.
VSWC: Terrible story and I’m really sorry about what happened to your store. But it’s kind of poetic in a sense though that your SW collection help fund your new enterprise. Must have been heartbreaking to sell them though. Can you give us some examples of the prototypes you had to sell off? 
Joe: For prototypes, I’ve sold off a nice vintage Klaatu Skiff hardcopy, unproduced Leia Arctic doll, some vintage signed sample pieces my (formerly my) unproduced Salacious Crumb plush proto (that one hurt the most to part with), and literally, dozens of modern HCs, over 100 first shots, the unproduced Power Sparks hard copy and test shot vehicles, I at one point had an entire room of prototypes….all gone.
13.    So any idea how many pieces you currently have in your collection? 
Joe: If we’re counting both vintage and modern bootleg toys, as well as unlicensed non toy items, easily over 10,000 pieces of unlicensed SW merchandise
VSWC: Here’s a large selection of photos of Joe’s collection that have not already been shown in the interview. Yes, wow! I have to add that these photos are not updated, his collection is even more awesome these days. 
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14.    What’s your favourite line of bootlegs? 
Joe: Overall Uzay, they’re simply the best made line of bootlegs out there. The card art is what got me addicted to bootlegs. While other lines may be harder to finish, the Uzay line is everything that’s fun about collecting bootlegs.
VSWC: Joe’s insane Uzay collection. 
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VSWC: The cardback art on the Uzays is fantastic! My favourite is the Imperial Gunner manning the calculator!
Here’s Joe’s example. 
15.   What key bootlegs are you still chasing down? 
Joe: Well, there’s a loose black plastic first generation Polish Leia that I was screwed out of, and another example has yet to surface, that’d be a nice one to get. Of course any and all second and third generation Polish articulated figures on card, so I can eventually complete those sets too.  Other than that, the last couple of Mex/SA figures I’d need to have one of each character made, a couple of Uzay variants, both carded and loose. The last five Imai Star Command minis that I need to finish my set, the last two Arii Space Convoy R2s that I need, and a few other Japanese bootlegs that hopefully with time and patience will end up in my collection. Those as well as a few things I’m not going to mention, as it’d only get those that want to shut down the bootleg tractor beam to hunt for them harder.
16.   Do you think you’ll ever change your collecting focus?
Joe: Not unless I get out of the Star Wars hobby all together. The hunt for the bootlegs is still fun and exciting most of the time, and all of the other parts of the hobby that I have interest in are sewn up IMO. I could never get to the level I’d want to be at collecting other SW stuff that interests me at this stage in the game, the kingpins of those segments of the hobby are firmly entrenched, and I’d much rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.
17.   What would you say is the bootleg line most difficult to find? 
Joe:  Polish articulated on card, any generation. It took me nearly 17 years to put together a full set of carded Polish first generation articulated figures. That’s 20 figures…. I got to 11 of them, and it was like it’d hit a brick wall, I had been offering three and four times any previous known sale for them, none came up. Then all at once, between an auction for three that was at Morphys Auction house in PA, and my friend, James Gallo coming across some in a collection he bought, all of the ones I needed to finish my set were available. I scurried to sell off as much stuff as possible as fast as possible (which meant selling off items I normally would have kept) including my entire R2-D2 prototype collection (to Mike Ritter of course) and my loose Vlix, to Yehuda. Not to mention two of my best friends in the hobby, Mike Vogt, and Daren Wilde, letting me borrow some money, to make sure that there was no way on the face of the earth that I’d be leaving PA without my first generation set being complete. Still can’t thank them enough.
VSWC: Here’s Joe’s completed Polish first generation set, flanked by some second and third generation carded, including an ultra rare black Polish HothTrooper
VSWC: Another cool story. Nice to see collectors helping each other out. Does this happen much in the bootleg world?
Joe: There are lots of times when real friends help one another out in the bootleg community, I’m at the point where I know who my real friends are, they’ve helped me many times, and I’ve tried to help them when I can. I also know who’s out to roadblock me every chance they get. Due to the rarity of many of the items, there’s also a certain level of hyper-competitiveness in the bootleg community as well.
18.   Do you have many pre-production bootleg items?
Joe: Yes, I have the steel injection molds that were used to make the Uzay figures. I have all but four of them. At one point I owned them all, but hit some financial hurdles last year, and regrettably sold off some of them to trusted friends, that I know would never use them to make repros.  I would eventually like to figure out a way to buy them back from those friends, to make my set complete again, time will tell. Other pre production items that I own include steel injection molds for two Polish figures (Leia and Hoth Stormtrooper), and two mock up cards, one with three HC figures in the packaging, for the Arco Spacewar line, the steel mold for the head of a 12″ Mexican Vader figure, a full set of Polish 2nd gen figures, on sprues, unassembled and unpainted, as well as an Uzay AT-AT Driver un assembled and unpainted. I also have the proofs and color separations for the Space Warriors puzzles from Colorforms, the figures in the puzzles are not SW in any way, but the font for the logo is unmistakably Star Wars.
VSWC: Check out the moulds for the Uzays.
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VSWC: Here’s an example of Joe’s Colorforms proofs. 
19.   Considering how poorly some of these bootlegs are made, what’s to stop someone sourcing an old bootleg mould and then punching out their own? Could you tell the difference? Has it been attempted before?
Joe: There have been people that made fake lines of bootlegs, including a scumbag named Mario, aka FX master. He made these fake “Dutch” bootlegs, they still pop up on Ebay from time to time. They’re recast and repainted Kenner figures. Also another scammer named Pablo Artesi created an all white rubber set of bootlegs, as well as the PPL line which is attributed to him (he also made fake Top Toys protos and carded pieces, which were a licensed line). His worst fraud were a bunch of fake Model Trem figures, which in pictures can typically pass muster, but in person there are several tell tale signs that they are fakes.
Currently there is a batch of figures coming out of Mexico that are recasts of a very early bootleg line and need to be avoided, as they’re just being made to fool the collector market. There’s an articulated Greedo and Chewie in this line, and they have been seen in colors that almost match the vintage versions, as well as clear plastics. The tell tale signs of them being fake is obvious when next to an example of the real thing, as well as some other factors, which I don’t want to give to the fakers, so that they can make their product look closer. Also from the same sellers are fake static (solid figure, unarticulated) Gam. Guards and Jawas, in a variety of plastics.
VSWC: Gee that’s unfortunate. Actually I remember now that I read about Artesi on Rebelscum. Didn’t he allegedly die and then come back to life or something like that?
Joe: Yep like all “good” scammers, he faked his own death, only to come back a few months later using his wife’s Ebay account and selling more fake items.
20.   I’m a big bootleg fan myself and I know a few collectors who are into them but I’ve heard several people comment that they are not as popular as they used to be. Is there any truth to this? 
Joe: I think that all parts of the hobby ebb and flow when it comes to popularity. Proof cards will be hot for six mo’s then cool off, then it’ll go to POTF coins for a few months. Currently 12bks and non US licensed items are the hot spot. That’ll change and maybe displays will be next?  One factor in the cooling off of the bootleg segment of the hobby is lack of presence on forums. I’ve stopped posting for the most part on the two forums that I’m a member of (not intentionally, just been spending too much time on FB), and the third and largest forum, thanks to their owner and I having a disagreement to put it nicely, I can’t openly post on that forum, which I think definitely hinders the exposure that bootlegs get.
VSWC: I can tell you now that you are definitely missed on that forum! As I touched upon earlier, when I first joined up a couple of years ago I saw members openly lamenting you not being around anymore to keep troublemakers and scammers in line! 
21.   Who would you say are the other major bootleg collectors? 
Joe: I’d say that the closest to me in quantity and quality would be Daren Wilde, after him, Shuichi from Japan has a massive bootleg collection, Michael Vogt, Steven Weimer, Martijn Emmelot, Mete Akin,Trevor Wencl, Jason Edge, Wolff, Dylan Leong, Seth Delpha, Patsy Pedicini, Cristian Guana, Horacio, Jakub, and I’m sure I’m forgetting quite a few others that I haven’t talked to in a while as well as some up and coming collectors that I haven’t seen the spectrum of what they have well enough to tell. As well as some focus collectors that have massive amounts of bootlegs of just one character…..
VSWC: I’ve heard stories about collectors travelling to Eastern Europe back in the early days of bootleg collecting and bringing a massive amount of bootlegs back to North America. Were any of the above guys involved in those expeditions? 
Joe: None of the current bootleg collectors were involved in those expeditions. The two main people behind those trips were Lenny Lee (Lee’s AFN magazine) and Lev (owner of Toy Tokyo). Neither of them have anything left from their adventures, I got most of Lenny’s Uzays when he brokered them thru Tom Derby in the late 90s, and he just recently sold his last piece, a carded Polish first generation Fett, that I’d been working on getting for a while, to a friend of mine (Mike Vogt) that I passed the deal on to once my set was finished, as it was one of his grail pieces.
22.   Do collectors from a particular continent dominate bootleg collecting or are they spread around the globe?
Joe: Definitely spread around the globe, just in my list above, we have collectors from the US, Canada, Germany, UK, Japan, Mexico, Poland and The Netherlands. There are a few bootleg collectors in Australia, they have just as diverse of an audience location wise, as licensed items IMO. 
23.   In what ways are you involved in the social networking side of bootleg collectors? 
Joe: I run the bootleg and knock off collectors page on Facebook, I answer easily a dozen questions a week sent to me via PM and email about bootlegs, I also run a bootleg SW toy site (still being built but is live) I need to make myself more visible again on TIG and SWFUK as they’re both great forums.
24.   Do you often get the chance to meet other collectors face to face? 
Joe: Not as often as I’d like. I have many friends in the hobby worldwide. I’ve traveled a lot to hang out with my collecting friends, bootleg and non bootleg collectors.  Just this past weekend, Yehuda K, a great friend, and collector in NY had a get together at his house, I drove part way, and met up with Micro Rob AKA Rob Amantea, and rode with him for the 2nd half of the drive. It was a great time, hanging out with friends from the NY and CT area, seeing how his display room looks, coveting some items that he has, getting display ideas for when I revamp “Mos Yglesias, the most wretched hive of product piracy” in a few months.
25.   I wouldn’t be carrying out due diligence if I didn’t ask you about the Action Figure Authority (AFA). I know you’ve had a lot to say about them in the past. What are your general ideas about their place in our hobby? 
Joe: My personal opinion of them is that I will never use them until they banish the U grade and add effective bubble protection to their cases. SW collecting is the only hobby that encourages people to remove an item from it’s original packaging, only to be repackaged in acrylic, creating an artificial collectable. Beyond that as mentioned before, I feel that they need to step things up on their bubble protection, for carded figures, as SW items age, the bubbles become more brittle, and we’re seeing more and more shipping damage with these bubbles not being secure or buffered.
26.   Do they have much of a role in relation to the grading and authentication of bootlegs?
Joe: Authentication is done by CIB, and when they have had bootleg related questions in the past, they’ve called me and I’ve gladly helped Tom out. As for grading bootlegs, personally I see no use for it.
27.   Do you think they should be liable for the Toy Toni’s they incorrectly authenticated? (read here for more info on the Toy Toni scandal –
Joe: While I don’t believe that they should be fully responsible, as they were fooled too, IMO they do have some level of culpability, after all they refer to themselves as an “authority”
28.   Did you personally get stung by the Toy Toni fiasco?
Joe: I had sold three figures that were TT (Toy Toni) pieces, years before, and when all the news came out, I found the emails of all three buyers on those pieces and offered to buy them back, and only one of the three replied, and said that he was fine with the piece as it was.  I got stuck with a TT Fett, which I sold with full disclosure, to someone I trust not to move it off w.o also disclosing. And recently, I was buying a collection to flip, and this guy hadn’t collected since the early 2000s had 2 TTs in his stuff. One I sold with full disclosure, the other I still have.
29.    I’ll finish off with a few random questions. Firstly, if you could change one thing about this hobby what would it be? 
Joe: Fewer bootleg collectors……..LOL Seriously….. collectors educating themselves on what to look for in real vs not real on items, and not just relying on third party grading to tell them that they have a nice item.
30.   What do you think will happen to the hobby once the current crop of collectors, the generation who actually collected the figures as kids, pass on? Will the hobby keep going or will it die out with us?
Joe: I think the hobby will continue, while the nay-sayers compare it to the Vintage GI Joe (12″) market as how there are tons of formerly rare pieces out there and selling for a fraction of what they did at their peak, I see Star Wars collecting maturing more along the lines of the comic book market. There may be lulls as it solidifies but overall I see a strong future for vintage SW items, as long as they don’t all break thru the bubbles in shipping….
31.    Will you be at Celebration Anaheim?
Joe: Yes I will be, I’ll be doing a panel  with Ron Salvatore, and John Alvarez on Worldwide SW collectable oddities (my segment will be mostly bootlegs).
VSWC: Now that is a presentation I will not be missing! Do you think you’ll set up a sales booth as well? 
Joe: No, I won’t be set up at a booth, I will however be bringing stuff to sell during the room sales that happen after convention hours. 
32.    You’re pretty active on both the forums and Facebook. Do you have a preference?
Joe: Currently Facebook, as when I don’t want to hear the same questions asked a million times, I can just hide in the specialized groups for international collecting and my bootleg group. If I feel like engaging a wider audience, I can go to the main vintage group.  But that said, I really need to get back to being on the forums more.
33.    Final question! So looking back on all the years you’ve collected and all the collectibles that have come and gone from your hands, do you think you can answer this timeless question – why the hell do you collect Star Wars vintage figures? 
Joe: It’s cheaper than drugs and whores. Serious answer: partially nostalgia (the licensed stuff) and partially due to the history and cheese factor of the bootleg toys, seeing just how far SW affected the world and how far the bootleggers would go to both make their money and give the children of these countries something SW to enjoy…. And lastly because the hunt for some of these pieces that I’m still missing keeps me awake at night. It’s truly an addiction on some levels.
VSWC: Well that’s the wrap. Thank you Joe for coming onto the blog and sharing your collecting adventures with us. I doubt there is a more colourful collector than you and I had a great time conducting this interview! Thanks for letting me pick your brain. See you in Anaheim!


Collector Snapshot #9 – Josh Blake

Welcome to our ninth segment of ‘Collector Snapshot’ where a vintage collector is given 10 short questions to answer. The same questions will be given to the next collector appearing on the blog. Next up is Josh Blake, a 35 year old from Cincinnati, Ohio. He owns a freelance graphic design studio where he creates marketing products for commercial businesses and individual personalised designs. It is these skills that Josh used to great effect during the recent SW vintage Facebook group anti-repro and u-grade combined initiative (check out our article here – Not only did Josh, with some inspiration from Ross Barr, design the fantastic anti u-grade logo but he also worked hard to cobble together the banners of a number of groups, including two of the groups I admin. Here’s an example of one of the banners:


Fantastic stuff huh! Josh is a pretty modest guy and I was surprised when Ross told me that Josh actually runs the main Star Wars Micro Collection group on Facebook and that he is one of the hobby’s go to guys when it comes to this line of collectibles. Check out his Facebook group here:
He also appeared in the Micro Collection section in Brian Stillman’s Plastic Galaxy! Very impressive. I love Plastic Galaxy and I urge anyone even vaguely interested in Star Wars vintage to rush out now and buy the DVD (or at least just click a few times and buy it online…). We actually reviewed the DVD in the earliest days of this blog:
Well I’d like to thank Josh one last time for his dedication to the wellbeing of our hobby and I’m happy to finally welcome him onto the blog!
To the questions!
1. How long have you been collecting?

I began rebuilding my childhood vintage Star Wars collection in December of 1993.

2. What do you collect?

I am known for collecting preproduction items relating to the Micro Collection 1982 line. My goal is to simply acquire items I find interesting – both vintage Star Wars and non-SW. My interest in prototypes occurred some time around 2002 when I began researching product plans for toys that never went into production. This was the milestone moment that ignited my collecting passion. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and was one of the lucky collectors that got to see incredible items and spend weekends at those famous local flea markets.

VSWC: Josh and a taste of his micro collection. 


3. What’s your grail?

My grails include three of the unproduced Micro Collection Playsets: Hoth Bacta Chamber, Bespin Torture Chamber and Jabbas Palace.

4. What collectors inspire you?

Alex Sleder was the first preproduction collector I met that helped guide me in the right direction, Bill Wills helped maintain a good balance between passion and priorities, Tracey Hamilton was the friend who always kept me encouraged when I considered throwing in the towel, Rob Amantea has helped facilitate the majority of my large purchases and Bill Byers consistently has my back and has more than once rejuvenated my passion for collecting.

5. What is your most embarrassing moment as a collector?

I generally don’t get embarrassed easily, although I do find myself having to ask some of the newer collectors what all of these online collecting acronyms stand for. Other moments may involve alcohol and past Celebration events.

6. What is your favourite Star Wars film?

The Empire Strikes Back.

7. What would you change about the collecting community?

It is my hope that we never lose perspective and always value friendships over the items we collect.

8. Forums or Facebook groups? 

I have never been a huge fan of anything beyond a toy show and a phone call. When I started collecting there was no online community to speak of. I see the arguments for both camps and respect their positions. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the hobby has evolved into the Facebook format, so instead of fighting it I have adapted to that trend. This is why I felt so strongly about starting a Facebook group devoted to my specific collecting niche. I wanted all of the best guys under one roof! As for the debate of whether it’s good or bad for the community as a whole, my personal feelings fall somewhere in the middle.

9. What Star Wars character do you most resemble? 

I would like to think that I resemble Chewbacca – a faithful companion and friend.

10. Is there one thing that collectors may not know about you?

I have been a percussionist for over 20 years and have performed in both professional and garage band settings. I have served as an ensemble instructor, taught private lessons and have composed dozens of scores.

UK Graders agree to cease u-grading!

Just a quick post to help spread this great news. UK Graders (UKG) have officially agreed to cease their destructive practice of u-grading vintage items (other than mailers)!

Check out the Rebelscum thread below to gauge some collector reactions.

I’d like to personally congratulate UKG in this huge decision, one that comes hot on the heels of the recent vintage Star Wars Facebook group joint initiative to generate as much anti u-grade and repro press as possible. Check our previous post below:

The day Facebook groups united under the same banner!


Well done to everyone involved! However, as great a victory as this was, the anti u-grade movement has bigger fish to fry….We’re looking at you AFA. Get on board!

The day Facebook groups united under the same banner!

Anyone who is a member of a Star Wars vintage Facebook group would have witnessed a remarkable event recently. At 5pm (Amsterdam time) on Monday 2nd February 2015, a huge number of groups changed their banner photos to a universal one adorned with an anti-repro logo on one side, an anti-ugrade on the other but with their original group banner sitting proudly in the middle of these two guardians of honourable and community minded collecting.


It was a beautiful moment watching my Facebook feed blow up with these coordinated banner changes and I was proud to have the groups I admin be a part of this. Here are the banners for the three groups I admin. Huge thanks to Swedish super collector Mattias Rendahl for the repro logo and to Josh Blake, admin of the micro Star Wars group, for the u-grade banner and also for weaving his photoshop magic to make the banners for my Luke focus and Australian groups.

TOLTOYS_banner luke_banner2 10958547_10153113604914783_1624416157_o

So what was the origin of this Facebook group wide offensive? Well it was actually the brainchild of Jason Smith (aka ‘Mr Palitoy’ and the founder of the largest vintage Star Wars group on Facebook – check out our past article in relation to Jason and Toy Toni – Credit though has to also go to Ross Barr (check out his interview with us here –, who admins about three thousand Facebook groups the last time I counted, who really picked up the ball and ran with it to the in-goal. He used his boundless energy and drive to coordinate the project, source the creation of the logos and to write up a great spiel (below) that many of the groups posted along with the banner changes:

Today, the admins of many vintage SW collecting groups have posted banners in each of their groups incorporating the same logos renouncing reproduction items and the butchering of toys encouraged by the U grade designation given by AFA. While each of the various Facebook groups operates a bit differently than the others, we are all firmly united against reproduction items and U grades.

As a sign of solidarity against repros and U grades, in this group we plan to keep this banner in place for the most part (subject to the posting of certain COTW items here and there as our banner) from now until the end of Celebration 7.

We encourage discussion about the harms repros and U grades cause to our hobby. If you have any questions about that issue, feel free to contact one of the admins. Otherwise, please check out these articles discussing those harms:


U grades:

Many thanks to the creators of the repro logo (Mattias Rendahl) and the U grade logo Josh Blake) for letting us use their images to make this. statement.

This anti-repro and u-grade movement is quite timely considering that the place of Facebook in Star Wars vintage collecting is often questioned, admittedly even by myself. It does get tiresome in these groups to repeatedly debate the danger of repros and the damage that u-grading causes to the current population of carded figures. But this mass convergence in countering these hobby pollutants has reinvigorated my belief that Facebook groups can work alongside the forums and positively impact this great hobby of ours. That said, I’m still a Rebelscum guy at heart!

Although I’m absolutely vibing on the positivity spread by this offensive and am vehemently against repros and the u-grade, I’m a little concerned what the negative fallout may be when it comes to those who do not share the majority opinion about these issues. While I’m all for ostracising those who manufacture repros and the u-grade and sell them, particularly without declaring them as such, there are also collectors who may have one or two repro accessories in their collection or people who may not own repros or u-graded toys but argue that they have a place in our hobby. These collectors should not be vilified for holding an opinion contrary to the majority and I personally would not remove them from the groups I admin. I’d prefer to use logic and informed arguments to sway these critics of our movement, rather than abuse them or remove them from our community. So please don’t bash the guy who has a repro saber on display, there are other more civil and intelligent ways to win an argument. That said, all of the groups I admin, including this blog, do not allow for the sale or even display of repro or u-graded collectibles. And don’t forget our past article:

If you admin a Facebook group, or would like to lobby your admins, and are keen to get involved, please contact me and I’ll let you know how to be part of it. I know the SWFUK and TIG forums have gotten onboard and I’m really hoping the Rebelscum forum joins the show, even though the owner Phillip Wise has publicly distanced himself from the movement. There’s nothing to lose but everything to win. I’m definitely going to get a banner made up for this blog!

Thanks for reading.

Collector Interview #2: Bill McBride – Dark Lord of the Sith

Hi all,

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, 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 - 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 USit should nearly be an expectation at this point, rather an exceptionIn 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
~ Prototypes.

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!

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.