Pristine quality is everything in this market, as a Star Wars figure originally on sale for about £1.50 when released in 1980 showed when rocketing to an astronomical £15,000 (£18,000 when 20% buyer's premium is included) at Vectis of Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees, on January 28.
The toy specialists believe this sum paid by an unnamed online bidder makes it the most expensive production Star Wars action figure ever sold at auction.
Most surviving Boba Fett figures in this condition were made by Kenner in Ohio. They are valuable (perhaps $5000) but not in the same price league as this rarer figure made by Palitoy of Coalville, near Leicester.
The Empire Strikes Back Palitoy 30B Boba Fett had been estimated at £10,000-15,000, and as one of probably about four or five pristine examples, factory-fresh in its original UK packaging, vendor Craig Stevens was confident it would do well. The packaging is unpunched (not pierced)ready to hang in the toy shop.
Another sought-after lot, the Palitoy Empire Strikes Back Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi on 30B unpunched card back with original price sticker for 'D.J.'s Toys 1.40P', sold to a commission bid of £4200, or £5040 plus premium (estimate £2000-3000).
Star Wars Fan Club
Craig, a former chairman of the UK Star Wars Fan Club, is selling about 85 mint, on-card figures over two sales at Vectis with the next on February 25. It is not as if he is waving goodbye to all his collection though - he does have around 10,000.
Louise Harker of Vectis says: "The sale split over two days has been given an auction estimate of £50,000-75,000 and hopes to exceed £100,000 - with the first 70 figures being estimated at £22,710-32,950. They achieved a fantastic £41,796, which certainly makes the £100,000 figure very likely.
"One of the characters in the February sale is no stranger to Vectis. A Palitoy FX-7 sold for £8,400 (including commission) back in February 2014; a world-record price. Now almost exactly one year later, a second medical droid is hoping to beat that record. The Empire Strikes Back 3¾in vintage figure comes on an unpunched 30A back card and has been given an estimate of £3000-5000."
Louise adds: "Interestingly, the £18,000 figure for Boba would have been sufficient to pay Harrison Ford for his role as Han Solo inA New Hope, with enough left over for Chewbacca or Darth Vader! Should the sale reach the £100,000 anticipated estimate, it would equal the fee paid for the score and music for the film."
STAR WARS FIGURE FACTS
Tens of thousands of Star Wars figures were sold in the 1970s and '80s during the height of the film's popularity. The original wave of figures, which didn't hit the shelves until almost a year after the film opened, consisted of a dozen key characters from the first movie. Collectors refer to them as '12-back' figures, coining the phrase from the original bubble packs that showed all 12 figures from the series on the card back. Some of the rarest Star Wars figures are those from that original series of a dozen.
Putting aside some rare prototypes, the most desirable of the series is the callow youth turned Jedi knight Luke Skywalker. The rarest of the rare in Star Wars figure collecting are those from the very first wave of production that saw Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker holding telescopic lightsabres. These proved difficult to manufacture and broke easily, and were scrapped after only a few hundred figures had been sold.
One of the 'early bird' types is known by collectors as the Vinyl Cape Jawa (jawas are the hooded creatures with glowing eyes who buy and sell droids). The very first 'early bird' issues featured the character in a brown plastic cape but, after negative feedback that suggested it looked a little cheap, the design was changed to give Jawa a cloth cape.
Most surviving Vinyl Cape Jawa figures (they retailed at the time for 99p each), were made in the US by Kenner and can command upwards of $5000. But in 2012 a British-manufactured figure, made by Palitoy, appeared on eBay. Authenticated by the US-based Action Figure Authority, it sold in its card and bubble plastic packaging for £11,300. Another has since emerged. It was Vectis again who sold it, for £8500 in October 2013 on an estimate of £6000-8000.
Most Star Wars aficionados are familiar with the story of the Flintshire pensioner who bought 20 Palitoy action figures for 49p each in 1978 and sold them at Vectis for a small fortune in 2003. While working as a newsagent 25 years ago, the lady had bought one complete set for her grandson to play with but kept a second set in their original packaging in case any of the figures became lost.
In 2010 Bury St Edmunds saleroom Lacy Scott & Knight (15% buyer's premium) could relate a similar tale following their May 15 sale that included 26 lots from a lady who, having bought a set of figures for her son in the late 1970s and early '80s, had liked them so much she bought some for herself.
The Suffolk collection included all of the original 12-back figures, all unopened in their original packaging: 11 by British manufacturer Palitoy and one (Chewbacca) by their American parent company Kenner.
Rarest Star Wars figures
Here are four more models that have become part of Star Wars collecting legend:
- Double Telescoping Darth Vader, 1978 - When the first wave of Star Wars 'early bird' action figure sets began arriving on the market in 1978, the original Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker figures came with 'double telescoping' rather than fixed lightsabres. Luke Skywalker is scarce but Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi even rarer.
- Blue Snaggletooth, 1978 - Another figure featured in the 'early bird' sets released in 1978 was Snaggletooth. The story goes that the design was produced from a grainy, black-and-white photograph of the character's head and both his scale and colours were wrong. It was quickly scrapped.
- Rocket Firing Boba Fett, 1980 - The Rocket Firing Boba Fett was scheduled for mass production by the Kenner factory, but fears that children could potentially choke on the small red rocket led to its demise. Only a handful are known in two variations.
- Yak Face, 1985 - When Kenner finally ceased production of Star Wars action figures in 1985 one design - Yak Face - had yet to be distributed to toy stores in the US. Some were destroyed by the factory as overstock while others were sent to outlets in Europe and Canada.