Treasures... Star Wars toys - make you a mint, they will
I first saw Star Wars in the cinema in Boyle, Co Roscommon, in the summer of 1978. It was mind blowing. It's difficult, in a world now saturated with special effects, to describe the impact of the two suns setting over Tatooine's desert landscape. The dizzying fight sequence, as Rebel spaceships try to destroy the Death Star, was so overwhelming that I had to leave the cinema. Just as my parents remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot, my generation remember the first time they saw Star Wars.
In the late 1970s, the notion you could buy toys that were linked to a movie was relatively new. But, by the time The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return Of The Jedi (1983) were released, we had a fine collection of action figures including Luke Skywalker with a tiny telescoping light sabre.
The toys saw plenty of live action and the delicate light sabre was one of the first casualties, which is why the manufacturers soon changed the design. Later action figures of Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader had more durable fixed light sabres. Now, a Double Telescoping Darth Vader from 1978, in its original packaging, is one of the great finds of Star Wars collectibles. It's part of a collecting phenomenon that, in the quiet backwater of vintage toys, has created a great disturbance in the Force.
Earlier this year, a collection of 85 Star Wars figures sold in the UK for just under £60,000 (that's around €82,000). All were in their original packaging and made by the British company Palitoy, whose figures are generally more valuable than the American equivalent, made by Kenner. The earliest action figures are known as the '12 back' figures because the packaging showed all 12 characters on the back of the card.
Among the '12 back' figures in this collection, Darth Vader sold for the equivalent of €2,056. Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Empire Strikes Back packaging, known as '30 back' as it includes new characters, sold for around €5,760. His original price tag was £1.40. Even more covetable, a 1978 Palitoy Death Star sold in June for €6,584. The playset (action figures not included) was largely made of cardboard and originally cost £6.02.
"There's nothing like the Star Wars collector in terms of fanaticism," says Kathy Taylor of Vectis, the English auction house that conducted the sale. "It's to do with the quality of the storyline and the special effects, and the way the film keeps getting reinvented.
"The toys were mass produced and never meant to be valuable. You could have gone into a newsagent with just over £1 and bought something that people are now prepared to pay thousands of pounds for."
Few purchasers of Star Wars toys had to foresight to keep them in their packaging. The figures were made to be played with and came in a see-through plastic bubble with a card backing, designed to be eagerly torn open.
But those that have a boxed collection in their attic are in luck if it includes a rare 1980 version of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. There are only four or five known pristine examples of this figure and Vectis sold one of these last January for €24,663, allegedly more than Harrison Ford was paid to play Han Solo in the original 1977 film.
But Star Wars collecting isn't only about money. Unboxed figures from the first trilogy are not particularly expensive and cost between €15 and €25. This has brought young collectors into the market.
According to Taylor: "Star Wars collecting is a cross-generational thing. We have people who collect Dinky Toys and die cast metal toys, but they're old men. There's no such thing as a typical Star Wars collector. It can be a little kid with money in his pocket and he's buying the same toy daddy had when he was young, so everyone's happy."
Star Wars collecting is also linked to the cosplay movement, in which people dress up as fictional characters and meet at fan conventions to re-enact scenes from their favourite film, comic or television series. Extrovert, communal, and linked to the anti-bullying movement, cosplay has done a lot to bring young Star Wars collectors out of the closet.
"When people collect to extremes it becomes a way of life. It's not just something someone does alone in a darkened room - it's a shared experience," Taylor says. Given the way some men felt about Princess Leia, this could be an interesting one.
"I love anything to do with Darth Vader," says Alex Chamberlain, one of Ireland's few specialist vintage toys dealers. "At the moment I've got a storage box for the figures in the shape of Darth Vader's head." It costs €80 unboxed. He also has a 1970s Millenium Falcon (below left) in its original packaging (€400) and any number of unboxed figures from the original trilogy.
Toy collecting is still peripheral to the antiques world and Star Wars toys of the 70s and 80s are so recent they are barely admissible even to the vintage market. But they are currently bringing an injection of youth and energy into antiques and vintage fairs around. And, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens due for release this Christmas, the Star Wars collecting phenomenon has probably not yet peaked.
Chamberlain's shop, Toy Republic, is in Kilcrohane, Co Cork, and he will also take a stand at the Cork National Antique Art & Vintage Fair which takes place at the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel, Tivoli, on September 12-13.
Further details on Cork National Antique Art & Vintage Fair at firstname.lastname@example.org; Alex Chamberlain at email@example.com; and www.vectis.co.uk.
In the salerooms
The 50th Irish Antique Dealers Fair will take place at the RDS from September 24-27, with stands from Ireland's most reputable dealers in antique furniture, silver, jewellery, books, maps, paintings, prints and clocks, as well as exhibitors in contemporary design.
The fair is accompanied by a lecture programme with a strong international element, including talks by Judith Miller and Mark Hill of Antiques Roadshow fame, and on Fakes and Fences by Julian Radcliffe.
Ib Jorgenson will present on his career as a fashion designer and art dealer, and there will also be lectures on Irish Country House Sales, changing trends in jewellery, Irish furniture, what makes diamonds sparkle and the cult of mourning jewellery in the Georgian era. Admission is €10 and a full programme is available on www.iada.ie.
The recent Adam's Attic Sale, which took place on August 25, was relatively quiet, representing a clearing of the decks before the autumn flurry of auction activity.
Among the top lots, an Irish officer's sword, the pierced brass basket hand guard with "FF" insignia and an etched blade with Oglaigh na hEireann engraved on either side, sold for €580.
The new owner of an elegant set of 10 grained rosewood dining chairs (c.1825) must be congratulating themselves at having secured the set for €2,400 (the estimate was €3,000 to €5,000).
The chairs passed through the hands of J P Lynch of Limerick, a cabinet maker and joiner with a workshop recorded at Michael Street between 1906 and 1914. Lynch also worked as a dealer so he may have either repaired or sold the chairs.
They were sold again at Sotheby's Irish Sale in September 1995 for £13,000. The next sale at Adam's is Fine Period Interiors, which will take place on September 20 with details on www.adams.ie.
Queen Christina of Sweden (1626 to 1689), cross-dresser and patron of the arts, was described by the pope as "a queen without a realm, a Christian without faith, and a woman without shame".
Coins that bear her countenance are rare in Ireland, but a 1645 Swedish Christina (€400 to €600) is for sale as part of an auction of coins, jewellery, and glass at John Weldon Auctioneers on Tuesday, September 8.
The auction will include an interesting selection of coins, all of which come from a single private collection and have not been seen on sale for many years. The coins include a rare Irish 1943 half-crown (€1,000 to €2,000) dating from the year the metal standard changed. The coins were struck but not issued, and recalled by the Royal Mint for melting. Only a few escaped the net and are prized among collectors.
A second 1943 half-crown is estimated €500 to €1,000. Other Irish coins of interest include a rare 1802 Tullamore 13p token from Charleville Estate (€400 to €600) and a silver Ormond Crown (€500 to €800). Full details are on www.jwa.ie.