RECORD! Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Sold a 1978 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi for $76,000–an Auction Record for Any Single Production Action Figure

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What you see: a 1978 Kenner Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure with a double-telescoping lightsaber and an AFA grade of 80 NM. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sold it in November 2017 for $76,700, setting a world auction record for any singly packaged production action figure.

 

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles.

 

How many Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi action figures of this type did the Kenner toy company make? Exact production numbers are not known, but the change was made very early in the production run. This is the first of this rare version that we’ve sold. As far as I know, it is the only example sold by a major auction house in this AFA grade. We’ve had a number of other rare vintage Star Wars pieces over the years, but nothing in the same league as Ben–very little is. There are probably less than 20 known on the card [still in its unopened original packaging], and not all of those have been AFA graded and/or are in the high grade we sold. It being on its card is key. Loose figures are still in high demand and valuable, but not to the extent of carded examples–that makes it a “holy grail” item.

 

The lot notes say the card is ‘unpunched’. What does that mean, and why is that important?

The hanger tab at the top of the card is intact. These tabs were to be punched out and the cards hung on the hooks of store displays. Any action figure that is unpunched commands a higher price.

 

How rare are circa 1977 unpunched Star Wars production action figures? Not crazy rare, but if you’re a high-grade collector, you want it unpunched. It adds to the value.

 

The lot notes say the figure has the ‘initial ‘Double-Telescoping’ lightsaber’. When and why did Kenner stop providing this feature with its Star Wars production action figures? The first lightsaber was two pieces, with the inner piece telescoping out from the outer piece–it slides out, extending it an additional length. The production costs for this two-piece lightsaber were high, and it was thought that it didn’t add much play value for the cost. The lightsaber change was made very early in the production run to three figures: Ben, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker.

 

So there are also circa 1977 Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures from Kenner with double-telescoping lightsabers? Yes. Luke is more common than the others. We’ll have a Luke in our next auction in July, and we expect it’ll get $25,000 or so.

 

What is AFA, and what does it mean for this toy to have an AFA grade of 80 NM? AFA [Action Figure Authority] is a professional grading company that authenticates and encapsulates all types of action figures and related toys. It’s like CGC, but for action figures. As we have seen with comic books, cards, and coins, having a third party grade items adds greatly to the value. The higher the grade, the more it impacts things. The 80 NM that the Ben had is a high grade for this figure, and it certainly added to the selling price. It also established that this was a legit double-telescoping lightsaber figure, so bidders had piece of mind about that, and again, it encouraged strong bidding.

 

Does AFA grade on a 1 to 100 scale?  Yes, but it’s not like CGC. It’s done by fives–80, 85, 90, 95. A 95 is extremely difficult to get on an action figure because they’re graded on three components: the card, the figure, and the blister [the plastic covering the figure, which attaches to the card]. All three can have distinctly different defects. For example, you can have a beautiful figure and a beautiful blister, but a card that’s creased. It makes action figure grading a bit more difficult, but it also makes sense. We had an AFA 95 Mint Luke Skywalker in the November 2017 auction that we estimated at $10,000 to $20,000 and sold for $50,622. The person [who won the bidding] didn’t want to wait and hope to find a 95 again. The next auction will have a 95 Darth Vader.

 

The record-setting Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure is from the Russell Branton Collection. Who is Branton, and how does his provenance add value? And is Branton the only person who has owned this toy?

Russell Branton established himself as a serious Star Wars collector who assembled one of the best collections of vintage original trilogy Star Wars toys. It contained key pieces, rare variations, foreign issues, proof cards, prototypes, and high-grade examples. There’s no way of knowing if he was the only owner of any of the toys. They came from a variety of sources with no clear record of their history prior to his acquisition, in many cases.

 

What was the previous record for any singly-packaged production action figure? By how much did this Obi-Wan figure exceed the record?

I don’t have exact results, but there have been others in the $30,000 to $50,000 range at auction for single-figure carded production pieces. I’m not sure by how much, but it is established that no production action figure has ever sold for more at auction.

 

I understand that Hake’s has never had a physical sale room–it initially took bids by phone and mail, and now takes online bids, too. How does that change the experience of watching as a world auction record is set? We’re online three weeks before the auction closes. Most of the bidding, in general, is done in the last couple of hours, but what’s a little different about key Star Wars pieces is there’s constant action through the three-week process and heavy hitting before the close.

 

 

Did you have a notion, prior to the auction, that this toy could beat the record for a production action figure? We promoted this figure, and the entire collection, many months prior to the inaugural Branton offerings. Early reaction from the collecting community let us know we were most likely going to set a record. We got the collection in March 2017 and between March and November we did comics conventions and toy shows. The excitement was building, and dealers told us, ‘You’re going to be surprised.’ Originally we were going to put a $25,000 to $50,000 estimate on the Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure. In the end, we did raise the estimate to $75,000 to $100,000 based on word-of-mouth. We thought it had a chance to hit $100,000. We weren’t disappointed with $76,000, but we knew early on that it was going to set a record.

 

How many bidders were there initially? How long did it take for the bidding to narrow to two people? We had eight bidders in total, including three once the figure reached the $50,000 range.

 

How long do you think this world auction record will stand? That’s impossible to predict, as this is still a relatively new area in the hobby, especially the graded aspect. Hake’s is really setting a precedent with the Branton sale, but who knows what is to come? Star Wars remains as popular today as when it debuted in 1977, so I don’t see any downside to Star Wars collectibles anytime soon.

 

What effect do you think the sale of the Branton collection will have on the Star Wars market? I think it’s going to change in a positive way. The value is going to go up. We have six, eight, ten, twelve bidders on any given piece, and four or five can be at a very high level. Star Wars has a deep, passionate field of collectors, and they have the funds to take action figures to a level not thought of a decade ago.

 

What else is out there that could credibly challenge the auction record set by the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure? I think it would take the same figure in a higher AFA grade. This Ben is impressive, but it’s only an 80. If a DT [double-telescoping] shows up in an AFA 95 grade, it’d certainly bring six figures. Maybe even a 90. A 90 or higher, Ben or Darth Vader. It’s hard to say that wouldn’t get six figures based on our sale.

 

More Star Wars material from the collection of Russell Branton is in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles current auction, which opened online on June 19 and closes between July 10 and 12, 2018.

 

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Hake’s Americana & Collectibles is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Hake’s.

 

Alex Winter last spoke to The Hot Bid about a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

 

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YES! Bertoia Auctions Sold the Tremendous Mike Japanese Robot Toy for $11,000

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Update: Bertoia Auctions sold the Tremendous Mike robot toy with box for $11,000.

 

What you see: A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

 

Why was this robot toy called Tremendous Mike? Lots of Japanese toys used goofy names. There was Magnificent Mike, a few different Mikes, a few American names. Arguably, it was made for the American market–that’s why the language on the box is in English.

 

Do we know how many Tremendous Mike toys were made, and how many survive? We can’t even take a guess at how many were made. How many are around–that’s easier to take a stab at. I know of at least a dozen in circulation, and that doesn’t include those that are tied up in collections. It’s important to note that what makes the difference between being worth $2,000 or $3,000 versus being worth $10,000, what makes it swing, is its condition, if it has its box, and if the original antenna is still on the top of its head. This guy is fresh, in stellar condition. That’s why it’s so valuable. It might even be old store stock.

 

And the fact that the original box survives too–does that point to it possibly being old store stock? Exactly. What’s helpful on this box compared to other toy boxes are the graphics. Its a pretty, colorful box. The artwork is not just a sticker on the front of the box. It’s on the sides, too.

 

How rare is it to see a Tremendous Mike with its original box? In the last decade, I’ve only seen a few box examples. In general, a robot with its box is harder to come by than a loose example. I know of one Tremendous Mike with box offered through an auction. There was one on eBay a few years ago as well. Those are the only two aside from this one. That said, there’s a little more than a handful of these robot toys without their boxes that have surfaced in the last few years.

 

What’s the condition of the box? Does its condition matter, given how rare it is for a box to survive at all? In the high-dollar collectors’ market, every scratch matters. The condition of all the pieces and parts are relevant. This box is in really impressive condition. It has a little tear on a flap. The robot is in better shape than the box. The toy doesn’t look like it’s had much play.

 

How did the toy and its box survive in such good condition? I often joke that maybe a really bad child had it, because it wasn’t played with often. It’s possible that the robot had several homes throughout its life. It’s hard to believe it would survive years of children playing with it. Maybe the child had a lot of toys and didn’t play with this one much. Often when you see a toy this crisp, and the box is complete, not folded or crushed, that’s an assumption that can be made.

 

Tremendous Mike is a wind-up toy. What does he do when you turn his key? The wind-up mechanism is pretty cool. Tremendous Mike had action–he was not a simple forward-and-back moving toy. The red glass window in his chest sparkles as he rolls. The satellite dish on his head spins and changes direction after he rolls for a certain distance.

 

Tremendous Mike came in two body colors–red-orange, and grey. Are they equally desirable, or do collectors like one color more than the other? They have the same red accents on both. Red pops a lot more strongly off the grey. It’s a better visual than the red-orange.

 

How many times has Bertoia handled a Tremendous Mike? This is the first time in a decade.

 

What’s the auction record for a Tremendous Mike with box? It belongs to a red-orange version of the toy sold by Morphy’s in May 2015 that commanded $13,200. (Scroll down to see it.)

 

Could this Tremendous Mike with box beat the auction record, do you think? It certainly could. It certainly deserves it. The underbidder [at the Morphy’s 2015 auction] would be satisfied to acquire this example. It’ll take two to make the numbers.

 

Why will this toy stick in your memory? Other than my appreciation of the fine name of Mike, it’s very seldom, given the quantity and volumes of toys we handle on a regular basis, that we have to look at one for a long time and research it. If it stumps us, it stands out, because it’s a challenge. I appreciate the challenge. I like to be stumped.

 

How to bid: The Tremendous Mike with original box is lot 0050 in Bertoia‘s Signature Sale on April 27 and 28, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

 

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