As you read these articles, one thing may seem very strange. You may even ask yourself, “He keeps telling all these stories — but without mentioning any names. Is he just making this all up?”
As this post publishes, I am just starting my thirty-fifth year in the Toy Industry. It is a small industry and if you do not know a particular someone in the Toy Industry, chances are you work with someone who does. In my case, most people tend to remember me; either for either my enthusiasm, my child-like joy of making toys or my peculiar propensity for purple suits. It was a blast watching the Netflix series “The Toys That Made Us.” The first four episodes, felt like “old home week” for me. Half of the people in the episodes I had worked with through the years.
So, why not give out people’s names? There are a couple of good stories will clearly illustrate the point.
Some seasoned Toy Industry professionals have learned the hard way to keep their heads low. One of the finest designers, who worked on Hot Wheels, thought it would be fun to use his real first name and phone number on a toy tow truck. The first call he received was from a young boy in the wee hours of Christmas Eve. The boy had snuck out of bed and opened a few gifts while the family was asleep. Upon opening the Hot Wheels vehicle and viewing all its detailed printed artwork, he called the number and woke up the designer. Of course, the designer, being the wonderful person he was, answered the boy graciously and suggested he put it back in its wrapping and sneak back to bed before it was noticed. As you might guess, eventually, the phone number had to be changed… after over eight hundred more calls were received.
Other stories were less amusing. A seasoned toy engineer had quite a collection of old, rare items. A collector/dealer somehow found his name and number. The collector kept calling and pestering the engineer to buy his old stuff for big money. When the engineer finally gave-in and consented to a meeting, a group of three collectors showed up. They were not at all polite and just wanted some deals. To get rid of the arrogant buyers, he consented to sell them a large pile for the low prices they offered. Not long after, they resold the items with a markup of 400% or more. Understandably, the engineer felt used and refused to talk to another collector ever again. (If you are a Toy Industry professional – be careful about using the phrases “Worked at Kenner” and “Star Wars” in the same sentence. It can bring out the worst in some people.) Profit is not a bad thing, but collectors who misrepresent values to line their pockets are obviously the offspring of Vogans mating with Ferengi. Humans would have established a rapport with the engineer and received gold nuggets of information. Instead, these selfish fiends were only seeking cold hard cash.
Many toy professionals were properly scared straight as employees lost their jobs after improper interaction with collectors. There was a Cincinnati toy company where model makers were creating extra hard copies of new figures in development. When a studio located in Marin County California found out, several people lost their jobs. Later, they installed a grinder for any trashed plastic parts. Gone were the days of fun finds found while dumpster diving.
Ironically, while collectors love toys, not many toy professionals care about collecting. (A professional with a huge pile of toys that they made, has professional pride — not a collecting hobby.) In my own case, I never really stopped buying toys so the line between Toy Designer and Toy Collector is very blurry. During my many years, I have only met a very small handful of other Toy Professional who are also Toy Collectors. We have enabled each other over the years. We swapped Major Matt Masons for Captain Actions; an odd troll changed hands for an Oddjob. My collection of 1/6th scale figures grew while other collector’s collections of funky 60s toys grew. One professional still has an Ideal Mera doll in package from 1967 that makes me drool each time I look at – but I have never been able to find something valuable enough to release his understandably tight grip on it.
Therefore, we can have fun sharing the stories, but unless a professional publishes their name or gives me permission to divulge, the other toy people will remain part of The Anonymity Club.
What was the best trade you ever made for a figure?