How do you describe your collection?
Predominantly action figures in the superhero and sci-fi genres that spin out of the 1980s. I’ve been collecting for about 40 years. I estimate that I have a little over 10,000 figures. It’s hard to put a precise number on it because there’s no way I’m going to count them.
When and why did you start your collection?
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and I think like many kids of my age, it all started in 1978 with the release of Kenner’s Star Wars line. It was an incredible time for imaginative properties. It began with Star Wars then morphed into G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe. It was also a fertile time in comic books. And, while there weren’t very many comic book action figures that came out during the 1980s, we’ve gotten such incredible representations of those characters and heroes as they become more mainstream since that time.
Every kid loved Star Wars. On the playground in first and second grade, the big fight was about who got to be Luke Skywalker and who was going to be Han Solo. Our generation’s stories were built around that. I think kids today forget that, for my generation, there was a huge gap of time in between the movies. In 1980 we found out that Luke Skywalker was Darth Vader’s son and that Han Solo was trapped in carbonite. We didn’t get any resolution to that storyline for three years. During that gap, our action figures really allowed us to play out the stories and the different possibilities. It’s not like you’re watching a Netflix show, where you can just skip through the credits and go straight to the next episode. There was this huge block of time between the movies where it was just us and the toys. I think that led to us creating our own worlds and adventures — you know, bringing these little pieces of plastic to life in ways that no one had imagined before.
Prior to the Star Wars figures from Kenner, we had 12-inch figures like G.I. Joe and Captain Action, and eight-inch figures like Mego’s World’s Greatest Super-Heroes and Planet of the Apes. But with Star Wars, they scaled the action figures down to three and three-quarter inches. Part of that was so the figures could fit into vehicles and Kenner could produce vehicles and playsets. For an action figure collector, it brought the price point down to where you could collect them all instead of just a few figures in a line. Kenner was able to create an immersive world of action figures that opened the door for volume collecting and collecting numerous figures within one line. Star Wars then created the different spin-offs to get a little bit of that success with things like Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and The Black Hole. Toy lines were produced for all of those properties.
Moving into the ’80s, there cartoons were deregulated. Basically, every afternoon when we came home from school, we were watching 30-minute advertisements for G.I. Joe or Transformers and those that supported the incredible lines of toys carried throughout the rest of the 1980s.
How do you display and store your collection?
When we moved into our current home, it had a wine cellar. It was a very nice space, as the previous owners were huge collectors of fine wine. I like to drink wine but I don’t collect wine, so that space was relatively unused for a couple of years. Then, I was over at a friend’s house — he’s a very nice guy but not the most outgoing. But as we toured his newly-built wine cellar, he was so excited– energy just came flowing out of him. He started to talk about the details of this wine versus that wine and this vintage versus that vintage. As I was watching him get more and more excited about something that he was clearly passionate about, it ran through my mind: this guy needs a wine cellar; I need an action figure display room. I went home that night and started tearing out the old shelving in our wine cellar and drawing up the plans for how I was going to display all of my action figures in there.
It took a tremendous amount of thought, effort, and graph paper to achieve what I wanted. I can only display about one-tenth of my collection in the room, so I have to be very purposeful about where everything is. I like my display to tell a story. When you start in the room and you work your way around in a clockwise fashion, it progresses in chronological order of the stories that had been told. You begin on the left with some of the late-’70s action figures from franchises like Buck Rogers, The Black Holem and Robotech. Then you move around to some of the early ’80s figures that came from things like G.I. Joe and Transformers. It then moves into the ’90s with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and some of the Japanese cartoons and the 2000s and beyond, with various superhero figures. It’s purposeful not only in where each display is in the room but also the placement of each action figure within each display. The intent is to tell the story of these characters and the universes they live in.
I am a loose collector. I have a very few things — with the exception of some Spider-Man things — that I keep mint in the package. These are toys and action figures, and there is no action if they’re stuck in the package. I’d much prefer them to be out where they can be placed into dynamic poses and used in the way that they were meant to be.
It’s so sad, for Mother’s Day one year, my wife said all she really wanted was for me to get a storage unit so she could get some of this stuff out of our home. She got a storage unit for me for Mother’s Day. Everything I have has to be well-organized. I use large Tupperware bins sorted by the different franchises and toy lines so that it’s easy to find figures when I want to change or rotate out a display. Or, if I’m working on one of the videos for my Carbon Scoring YouTube channel, I can quickly find what I need to tell the story of that video.
I don’t have a tracking system — it’s mostly in my head.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
It depends how you define Holy Grail. If the Holy Grail is a figure or collectible that was at the top of my wishlist for a period of time that seemed like it was always going to elude me, it would have to be the Star Blazers bridge playset and the five figures that came with the set. Star Blazers was originally a cartoon in Japan titled Space Battleship Yamoto. It was shown in the United States for only one year when I was in first grade. It was so advanced for the time because it was a cartoon that told a continuing story over the entire season. There was very limited product made for Star Blazers in the United States but it had a huge market in Japan. The greatest playset made was the bridge playset — it was the actual bridge of the Argo spaceship that the Star Blazers travelled on and was recreated 100% faithfully. There were five three-and-a-quarter-inch action figures with the set. Through a friend, I met a fellow collector who had the bridge playset. It took us about a year to work out a deal. It has a real place of pride in my collection.
Right now, probably at the top of my wishlist would be the Mego Secret Identity action figure costumes from the 1970s World’s Greatest Super-Hero line. They were a Montgomery Ward department store exclusive. The costumes were the civilian clothing for Bruce Wayne (Batman), Dick Grayson (Robin), Peter Parker (Spider-Man), and Clark Kent (Superman). The product was very poorly distributed because they were just like plain street clothes. A lot of kids who got them just threw them out. It’s extremely difficult to find those four outfits in mint condition. But that would certainly be the top of my Holy Grail list right now.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting an action figure collection?
One comment that I get on my YouTube channel very frequently is, “I’ll never have a collection like yours. I missed out on all of these figures. I’ll never get to have this.” I disagree with that. We are living in the greatest time to begin an action-figure collection because so many terrific lines are being produced thanks to the explosion of Marvel’s popularity, the continued growth of Star Wars, and the products being produced by big companies, such as Hasbro. Incredible products are coming to market faster and faster.
There are also a great number of action figures coming from smaller companies. Plus, this is an era where 3D printing has allowed for collectors and customizers to actually create things that we would never have gotten from major brands. There’s so much opportunity in the collecting world right now to get started. It is never too late to start. And, you should always find the thing that you’re passionate about, focus on that and enjoy it. Instead of worrying about what another collector may have, be passionate and enjoy the collection you have developed.
See more of Trey’s collection on his YouTube channel.
Uncover objects of play through the eyes of collectors. Drop us a line to let us know about your collection of vintage toys and/or games. We just may feature your collection!