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Treasures: Star Wars and Masters of the Universe action figures sell for mind-boggling sums

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A Hungarian bootleg Boba Fett figure sold for $20,768

A Hungarian bootleg Boba Fett figure sold for $20,768

Star Wars 1978 Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker production action figure

Star Wars 1978 Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker production action figure

1950s An Tostal poster designed by Gus Melai

1950s An Tostal poster designed by Gus Melai

Mattel Masters of the Universe Masterverse 40th Anniversary He-Man

Mattel Masters of the Universe Masterverse 40th Anniversary He-Man

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A Hungarian bootleg Boba Fett figure sold for $20,768

On 12 June last, a Star Wars 1978 Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker production action figure sold at LCG Auctions, New Orleans, for a mind-boggling $100,252 (approx €99,881). It was super-rare on a couple of counts. For one, was a “12-back”. This refers to the backing card, which illustrates all 12 of the Star Wars action figures released by Kenner in 1977.

The early versions of Luke Skywalker featured a “double telescoping” lightsabre that was quickly deemed fiddly, breakable and expensive to make. Production ceased as the design was simplified, catapulting the “double telescoping” lightsabre models into the highly-collectible category.

The final issue was its condition, rated by the Action Figure Authority (AFA) grading system as “AFA 90” or “near mint/mint condition”. It would have seemed perfect to the untutored eye.

Putting aside the sheer insanity of paying $100,000 for a small plastic toy, this is considered a landmark price, hitherto achieved only by prototypes. On June 2, a Boba Fett L-slot rocket-firing prototype action figure sold at a Star Wars Special Event Auction held by Hake’s Auctions, Pennsylvania, for a world record-breaking $236,000 (approx €235,000). The figurine was a prototype for the Boba Fett figure in Kenner’s 1979 Star Wars toy line.

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Star Wars 1978 Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker production action figure

Star Wars 1978 Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker production action figure

Star Wars 1978 Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker production action figure

In the same sale, a Hungarian bootleg Boba Fett figure, AFA 50 Q-VG, sold for $20,768 (approx €20,700). According to the auction catalogue: “While the Turkish Uzay Star Wars figures are probably the best known bootleg figures, the series of 10 Hungarian figures released in 1987 are equally as desirable.”

Like any area of collecting, a tiny number of exceptional pieces make the headlines. The wider world of action figures is much more accessible. “The original 1970s and 1980s Kenner toys will be out of a lot of people’s budgets,” says Kim Mooney, owner of Uncanny Collectibles.

“But Star Wars and Masters of the Universe toys have been re-released a million times over, so it’s easy enough to find the piece you are missing, it just may not be the first edition original range.”

New releases are almost identical to the 1980s toys, even down to the packaging. Masters of the Universe action figures have an interesting history. The American animated television series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-1985) was the first syndicated show to be based on a toy. The original action figure was released by Mattel in 1982.

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Mattel Masters of the Universe Masterverse 40th Anniversary He-Man

Mattel Masters of the Universe Masterverse 40th Anniversary He-Man

Mattel Masters of the Universe Masterverse 40th Anniversary He-Man

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In the comparative innocence of the 1980s, the popular series was controversial on two counts. Firstly, He-Man actually hit people and, secondly, it was produced in connection with marketing toys to children. Collectors in this genre are typically male, in their thirties or early forties, and usually with at least one child.

Often, the action figures remind them of their childhoods. “These were times where people were at their happiest — no stress, no worries — they just couldn’t afford the toys back then,” Kim Mooney explains. “Now that they have adult money, they can grab some epic feel-good memories and keep them in a place in their house where they can look at them and feel happy again.

“Some of them have a man shed full of toys. During lockdown, their kids got a look in the door, so now there’s a whole generation of kids starting to collect.”

Collectors range from in-the-box collectors, who may invest in specially designed glass display cases with lights, to those who prefer to take their figure out of the box and pose them. Some will even buy two copies and keep one in the box.

Original 1980s Masters of the Universe action figures are very valuable. “You can virtually name your price,” Mooney says. “But only if they’re in the original packaging and that packaging is in mint condition. A lot of the ones we see are in terrible condition! There’s no professional grading service in Ireland or the EU, so people don’t realise that a crinkle in the box or a sticker in the wrong place will put off collectors.” Asking prices on E-Bay, which are often wildly inflated, can also give people a false sense of value.

There are, however, many ways to collect. “There’s a really vibrant community of Masters of the Universe collectors in Ireland. Some of them use 3-D printers to modify their figures, hand-paint them, and create their own dioramas.” See uncannycollectibles.com

In the salerooms

Adam’s
An Tóstal was a forerunner of festivals in Ireland, intended to celebrate Irish life and to attract tourists. It was launched in 1953 and ran, at various venues around the country, until 1958 (Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, was the only town to carry on the tradition). Posters for the 1950s festivals are rare. In 2011, a 1953 An Tóstal poster, a colour lithograph designed by Guus Melai and printed in England, outstripped its €100 estimate to sell at Whyte’s for €1,550.

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1950s An Tostal poster designed by Gus Melai

1950s An Tostal poster designed by Gus Melai

1950s An Tostal poster designed by Gus Melai

Another An Tóstal poster (Lot 121: est. €150 to €200) is coming up for auction in Adam’s The John Rogers Vintage Poster Collection, which closes online on Wednesday, July 27. The screenprint (101 x 63.5cm) poster shows a stylised image of a harpist and advertises “Pageantry – Sport – Music – Exhibitions – Theatre”. It’s undated but designed by Melai, a Dutch graphic designer who was brought to Ireland to help develop and promote the emerging tourist industry.

The poster was printed in Dublin by the Ormond Printing Co. Other original posters by Melai in the sale include ‘Ireland Invites You’ (Lot 233: est. €100 to €150), a tourist lithograph that shows an Aran islander in traditional dress weaving a críos. All the posters in the sale belonged to the former owner of Gallery 29, which sold original vintage posters in Dublin. See adams.ie.

Morgan O’Driscoll
The current Irish Art Online Auction at Morgan O’Driscoll continues until Tuesday, August 2, closing between 6.30pm and 9.50pm. It features work by artists including Colin Middleton, Letitia Marion Hamilton, Mr Brainwash, Sean Scully, Mary Swanzy, Barrie Cooke, Mainie Jellet, and Cecil Maguire. Viewing is in Skibbereen between July 28 and August 2. The sale will overlap with an Off the Wall online art auction, with bidding ending on Monday, August 8. See morganodriscoll.com.

Sotheby’s
Faster and deadlier than the T-Rex, the Gorgosaurus lived in North America around 77 million years ago. A complete fossilised skeleton of the dinosaur, nearly 10 feet tall and 22 feet long, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s, New York, on July 28. It carries an estimate of between $5m to $8m. The fossil was discovered in Montana in 2018 and is considered in remarkable condition. See sotheybys.com.


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