RyFi Ryan, Nerf

Ryan collects Nerf blasters. In this edition of Collector Spotlight, Ryan talks about gimmicks in the product line and explains why collecting Nerf can feel like trying to eat an entire elephant.

How do you describe your collection?

My collection tries to catalogue all the important moments in Nerf history.

The Nerf brand began in 1969. There have been many iterations over the years. The brand has changed with its different corporate parents. It’s taken many shapes and forms and has ended up in the blaster world.

I try to capture specific moments through the brand’s history. One of the special moments for me — going back to my childhood in the early ’90s — was the explosion of what Nerf could be and it kind of started coalescing around dart blasters. So, products like the original Nerf Sharp Shooter — I have one of those. I recently picked up some ’94 Nerf Secret Shots — that’s been going wild on TikTok because of the gimmick. The commercials show a kid surrendering but it’s a false surrender. I learned something: false surrenders are apparently a war crime. But you’d never know it from watching those commercials in the ’90s.

It starts getting wacky with stuff like the Max Force line, which is basically animals interpreted as Nerf blasters. I don’t have too many of those — I would love to have more. An adjacent line is the Cyber Stryke. It’s from the early ’90s and is kind of a cybernetic hacker fever-dream where these blasters have ridiculous gimmicks but they are just so much fun.

Recently, there is an emphasis on the performance aspect of Nerf blasters with simulations of different squads and military stuff. But I’m drawn to the toy aspect of Nerf. It’s a toy that shoots projectiles but there are just so many fun gimmicks and different ways to interact with launching something out of a tube.

That’s what draws me to Nerf.

When and why did you start your collection?

I love to find stuff. I’ve always had that interest. I like going into a store and finding something hidden underneath the bottom shelf that hasn’t seen the light of day in who knows how long — it gives me an innate thrill.

Growing up, it was a constant barrage of commercials, commercials, commercials. Buy this thing! There was an emotional connection that formed with something that was specifically designed to get me to buy it. And I already had that predisposition.

I rediscovered the thrill of finding stuff about five years ago. I like going to thrift stores and outlets to search the bins. At the time, it was just a fun side-hustle. I would find different toys from different eras and list them on eBay. With Nerf, I found a sweet-spot. While it’s an easy brand to find, there are hard-to-find blasters. Some of those are highly sought-after by collectors.

I mentioned the performance aspect of some of the blasters — some people are deeply invested in performance. People were modifying them, ripping apart the blasters, taking out the guts, cutting them up, then reassembling them into brand-new blasters that can shoot 200-plus feet a second. Around that time, Adam Savage from MythBusters had a video about repainting a Nerf blaster and other super-cool stuff.

I picked up on that.

For some of my nephews’ birthdays, I would customize blasters for them. People seemed to like that, and over time I started listing less on eBay and collecting more. There wasn’t a single tipping point, it was a slow realization of the fact that I just liked this stuff. It’s colourful, it’s mechanical, and it’s fun to collect.

How do you display and store your collection?

This sounds bad but they are basically hiding in closets and on shelves.

Some people like to imagine my closets are a John Wick-style armoury with lights that shine, metal grates, and all this crazy stuff. No, it’s just nicely placed so that the Jenga-like tower of Nerf doesn’t fall.

I have 300 or 400 unique blasters. I did purge some duplicates and triplicates this summer. My space isn’t conducive to properly displaying and showing off the entire collection. It’s a very small selection that is displayed in my TikTok and YouTube videos. Those represent different Nerf lines or special things that people have sent me.

People see me as a blaster guy but I don’t only collect Nerf. A good friend that I met through the influencer sphere sent me things from his town, like the Buttheads Fart Launcher 3000, which is prominently displayed behind me in my videos because it holds a lot of sentimental value and encapsulates the gimmicky side of blasters that I like.

What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?

I’ve had a few things elude me. Before Star Wars had its own offshoot of Nerf, a highly prized Rebel Alliance blaster slipped through my fingers.

Walmart had a Black Friday exclusive around 2010/2011 — it was a run of specific-coloured Nerf blasters called the Crimson series. It was the very early N-Strike era when Nerf launched more performance-based stuff that included realistic design cues. It’s the only time they produced the Crimson blasters and only a handful of them were made. Finding one of those in the wild is like finding a four-leaf clover — it’s next to impossible. Those slipped through my fingers.

I have quite a few things in my collection that are really fun. Some of them are not from Nerf, they were produced by Koosh. Koosh did a Vortex line of blasters in the 1990s that included the Tornado and Firestorm, which are ridiculously sought-after. Sometimes it’s not just the blaster that’s tough to track down but the ammunition. The Firestorm used rubberized rings as ammunition. Rubber and foam degrade over time. Without the ammunition, it’s an incomplete toy. For me to have both the blaster and the ammunition is one of my Holy Grails.

The Nerf Perceptor from the 1990s Cyber Stryke line — Styke is spelt with a “y’ which is very ’90s — is the most fun and silly blaster I own, although it’s not on the expensive end. It’s the goofiest thing with a vest-like accessory that hooks up to the blaster. That then attaches to a headpiece so you can fire darts from your head. It includes a reflective sticker to see if anybody is coming up behind you. It is positively ridiculous and so much fun.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a Nerf collection?

Own a barn.

Looking back, I wish I had started collecting Micro Machines. Space is a huge issue for Nerf collectors. When you have some of the flagship or showpiece blasters they are massive hunks of plastic. Space becomes a problem.

A piece of practical advice is to start with a collection that you feel is attainable. Really think about what you want to collect, because to cover all the different eras, Nerf gets expensive really fast. Start small with something like the Roblox collaboration. It’s current, can be easily found, and is popular.

Get involved with the Nerf community. There are a lot of different voices out there. You can go the route of modification or performance and chase those blasters. Or, go the route of celebrating the history of Nerf. That’s where I come in. If you want to talk about Nerf culture and things like that, somebody like Sophie Lightning is a great person to follow.

It can feel like trying to eat an entire elephant because Nerf has such a long history and a huge product catalogue. Hone in on what excites you about the brand.

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