Very few record-breaking auction sales surprise me in the overall antiques and collectibles trade. As an enthusiast of pop culture-based collectibles, I am used to seeing some exorbitant prices being paid for items that once only sold for just a few dollars or more. Some of these items include comic books that were once discarded by countless mothers, toys that were sent to the second-hand store, and even the home video games that were thought to be useless and obsolete. I have become tone deaf to a lot of these sales, and part of me actually thinks I am living in a sort of alternate reality, a place where my youth and almost everything I cherish about it is readily available to be sold to the highest bidder. Nostalgia has that effect on me. It has become near impossible for me to separate some of the items I am most passionate about without also lamenting how much they used to sell for and how much some of these items sell for now. Luckily, I am wise enough to know that not everything from my childhood has become a valuable piece of history from the past. Like most collectors, I dont just focus on those items. Does anyone really care to collect vintage Cabbage Patch Kids, Pogs, and Beanie Babies in 2019?
A Galactic Bounty Worthy Of The Hunt
That said, every once in a while a record-breaking auction sale does cause me to stop and pause. Mind you, it is not the kind of moment where I begin to act surprised, but more or less a moment where I experience regret about letting a certain item pass me by that is now selling for a tidy sum. And this is where we are now. As I write this article, I feel a weird sense of emotion come over me. Everything from the fear of growing older to the feeling of being at peace like a naïve child. This isnt supposed to happen when you are writing an article on the antiques and collectibles trade, I tell myself again and again. Yet those emotions are there, so we might as well get on with it and let bygones be bygones.
On July 11, Hakes Auctions sold a rare AFA-graded rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype Star Wars action figure for a record sum of $112,926. The figure is considered to be one of the holy grails among vintage Star Wars toy collectors. The item was graded in AFA 85 (near mint plus) condition and broke the previous auction record set for a similar figure that sold through Hakes last year for about $86,000. The history of the rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype action figure is almost as exciting as the character himself. Boba Fett was a bounty hunter set in the Star Wars universe and is best known for capturing Han Solo and returning him to Jabba the Hutt for a princely sum. Ironically, the character was veiled in secrecy after the success of the very first Star Wars movie. Finally, when work on The Empire Strikes Back drew near, Boba Fett was featured in the forgettable animated Star Wars Christmas Special that aired on television in 1978. What made him truly famous was how he was portrayed in The Empire Strikes Back. To increase awareness of the character, Kenner Toys launched a promotion where purchasers of Star Wars action figures could receive a free rocket-firing Boba Fett figure, which was advertised as a promotion on certain carded Star Wars action figures at retail.
Unfortunately, as Kenner Toys went to work on the not-so-secret rocket-firing Boba Fett, the company realized that the figures design could possibly cause a young child to choke on the projectile that was being included with the toy. This caused Kenner Toys to redesign the figure at the last minute, with the new, updated version of Boba Fett not featuring a rocket-firing mechanism. Kenner Toys also ordered all prototypes of any rocket-firing versions to be immediately destroyed. Lucky for todays collectors, a lot of employees smuggled the coveted prototype figures out of the Kenner Toys offices. And while estimates as to how many prototype rocket-firing Boba Fett figures exist in the proverbial wild, most estimates place the number out there today at about 100 figures. That is actually quite a high number for different prototypes of one figure still in existence. That said, Boba Fett was always considered to be a very popular character in the Star Wars universe; even back in 1979, Star Wars toys were loved and coveted by millions.
I had a chance to buy an ungraded rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype figure back in 2011, but passed on the chance because at the time I was very sick and suffering with undiagnosed celiac disease and didnt have an interest in spending the $11,000 the seller wanted at the time. That is why this is one of the hardest articles for me to write.
The high end of the collecting market is always full of record-breaking auction sales. This is no different. What collectors need to understand about this sale is that just because you collect vintage Star Wars toys and action figures does not mean that your items will appreciate as much as this rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype action figure has over the years. You cannot allow the high end of any collectors market to define the low to middle end of the market. Vintage Star Wars figures on average have remained flat for the past few years. It is only the items that are in heavy demand that are seeing great price increases at present. I urge collectors and speculators to use extreme caution if they are deciding to collect and pursue vintage Star Wars collectibles for investment. Prices of even once-coveted Star Wars 12-back figures that are AFA graded have been selling for modest sums now that the hype of the new Star Wars movies has finally begun to wear off. Make no mistake, this is one sale that truly belongs in a galaxy far, far away.
Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace.