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Round Up the Usual Suspects! How to determine if a sample is real or fake

This is a milestone article – this is number 26.  A half of a year have articles had been posted.

During that time, I have received many very encouraging comments from posting new articles:

  • “My brother recommended I would possibly like this web site. He was totally right. This publish actually made my day.”
  • I LOVE reading these articles! Thanks for another great one!
  • “Another great article.”

I started writing the articles for the GI Joe Collector’s club. This was after a few fellow collectors suggested to “write down this information – we need do document Joe’s history.”  I designed GI Joes for about 5 years and was a collector so I could write some of that history with authority. Once the timing of the end of the Collector’s Club was announced, I wanted to keep going but push farther into other 1/6th scale figures.  When we went on our backyard adventures, we would usually say, “Do you want to play Joes?”  However, that play was never limited to GI Joe.  The Marx Best of the West Collection and Captain Action had a big part in the play mingling with all the others.  Occasionally even Big Foot from Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man would join in the action.  Big Jack, the African American friend of Mattel’s Big Jim was often on many deep African missions.  1/6th scale play never had a finite boundaries.  GI Joe was not the only 1/6th scale figure line I worked on.

While I have received very good reactions from most, one aspect the site is still lacking is reaching more people.  In order for any publisher to consider wanting to publish these stories and articles, I need more of an official following. Therefore, so I am going to reach into the dark side of my career experience with a shameless Marketing ploy:

THE FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY!

I need more people following the site, so to encourage that, I will have a non-biased person choose a name randomly from the list of people following the site on JANUARY 13th  and send that person, free of charge a preproduction GI Joe figure.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this site, there is a box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”, and you will receive an email notice just once a week noting that a new article to say a new article has been published.  I do not do any other mailings or lend/sell the names on the list to anyone.

If you have been one of my long time followers, THANK YOU! Your name is in the running for the give-away already so it is not just for new contacts.

In order to continue provided real insider information and fun stories instead of just being a marketing gimmick, the rest of this article will address the different types of samples available on the collector market and how to avoid being ripped off.

FINAL PRODUCTION SAMPLES/GREEN TAG SAMPLES – The last step before a product starts full production is the sign off a final sample.  Inside Hasbro, we call them “Green Card” samples. Other companies have other names: “Golden Samples”, “Final Aesthetic Approval Samples,” etc.  They all mean the same thing – this is the “final sample that all production needs to match”.  At Hasbro, A full master/shipping carton is sent for review so every aspect of the final shipped product can be verified.  Tags are signed and attached on final samples from the Asia team, then shipped to the US. There, appropriate representatives sign three of the samples. One signed sample goes to the factory.  One signed sample goes back to Hasbro Far East and the last signed sample stays in the US Hasbro offices. In this way, all three locations have a clear view of what the product must look like in case anyone sees a problem. An average master carton of Joes holds six.  The other three green tag samples are usually dispersed among the engineers or designers.  Quite often, that sample is opened to harvest some of the latest parts to use for new models.  In short, finding a Green Tag sample is incredibly rare. These green tags are usually taped to top or back of a package so the card can be flipped up to read any notes on the back.

However, I have seen some Green Tag samples that I expect are fakes.  In the many years I spent signing of these samples, I do not recall seeing one where the information was hand written on the green card.  It was always nicely typed on a typewriter.  So when I saw this image:

It struck me that someone had been at the factory or knew someone who gave them blank cards.  Then they wrote the information on them and sold the normal product to collectors for more money as Green tag samples.  Yes it is possible that it could be real and someone did it in a hurry at the factory, but with all the rush projects I worked on, you would think I would have seen that.  Therefore, unless you are absolutely sure of the source, I would not pay extra for a sample with a green tag that has the specific product information hand written.

Before standardizing onto Green tags, Hasbro had simple pieces of paper taped to the boxes with information hand written in.  The figure from Princess Gwenevere and Jewel Riders with a paper tag was released around 1996.

Other companies also have versions of these.  Marx had small sample tags that were tied on the product with strings or wire.  From the 1960s to the late 1980’s Mattel would melt into all its samples the same phrase “SAMPLE NOT FOR SALES”.  On fabrics they used an ink stamp that looked almost the same.

The bottom line on buying a sample that is supposed to be real Green tag sample or Production Pilot Sample, check to see what those tags really look like before accepting them a face value.

PRODUCTION PILOT SAMPLES – Production Pilot, also known as “pre-production samples”, are usually just the toy with no packaging.  The new tools get shot with the correct plastics as it can take half a day to purge an injection-molding machine to run a new color. Therefore, many new parts are often shot in odd colors.  Be sure to check the color of your suspected part next to one that is a production part to be sure. Take a look at this set of parts.

If you spotted the lime green Vietnam era grenade launcher, you are correct. It is obviously a wrong color. Keep in mind that companies like Hasbro and Marx shipped many products with color variations in the vintage days just to use up old stock. Therefore, it is common to find brown boots instead of black boots or even Soldiers of the World heads on talking GI Joe Action Marines. If you have an injection-molded part molded in colors that were not available from on-shelf toys, then you have real preproduction part.  It is the only flawless way to tell.

Being in wrong colors is also true of fabric parts.  New uniforms have to be sewn in the correct fabrics to make sure the patterns and the construction is accurate, but may be a completely different color as it take several weeks to get a new fabric color dyed for production. Some people would think, “I can sew well, so I can fake the sewn parts.  It is harder than you think.  I have been sewing since I was about 10.  Sewing the 1/6th scale clothing is one of the hardest things to do. It requires a seam allowance of 1/8” in some places.  1/8” is the normal margin of error in sewing.  (The absolute hardest thing to sew is Barbie underwear – it literally requires sewing with a tweezers.)  There are some people good enough to sew that well so look carefully at the fabric of the piece in question to a production part. See the image of the GI Joe Tomb of the Unknowns figures.  One is a preproduction piece and the other is final shipped product.  If you have really sharp eyes you can see that the medals were shot in the wrong colors also.

In addition, many if not all the parts will lack painting. Now I know there is someone saying inside their head right now, “I can get the paint off plastic parts – that is no proof.”  It is much harder than you think to get ALL the paint off.  It is true that it works better on some plastic parts than others.  The best way is to let the part soak in one of the various forms of paint thinner for a while.  If you are doing this on a polypropylene part, you might get away with it.  If you use a styrene part, it will damage the plastic in various ways such as leaving a matte texture, a fingerprint if you touch it right after or it can also melt the part itself if it is left in too long.  On rotocast heads, it is very difficult, as paint does not like to come off.  Even if you do get most of it off, it can leave a dull tone to the part that no longer looks clean from production.

One other way to identify a pre-production sample is the lack of legal markings but it is not a perfect test.  Hasbro does not mark all of its parts so this can only be determined if you have one part with legal markings and one part without the markings. Mattel parts used to have an 8-digit code on anything that is not a small part. It is the best way to tell the difference between real Big Jim parts and knock offs.  However, I do not think they use the same standard anymore.  In addition, the legal marking may only be on one part of the product.  For instance, the Mattel Disney Classics dolls have the copy write information for the Disney on the back of the head at the neck but the body still has the Mattel copy write. (Mattel wanted to be very clear if they ever stopped using that Barbie body that Disney had no rights to it even though it was used on a Disney doll.)

One other way to check for a preproduction figure is to see if the plastic parts have any molding sprues or pins still on them.  Most toy companies (EXCEPT MARX) remove those parts.  There are occasions on very small parts like throwing stars and grenades that they leave them intact to pack out reasons.  To be sure your part is preproduction, check out your part with molding pins or runners compared to how it shows in the package or once you have opened a production item.  The below image shows the Mickey Mouse ears from the Mattel Heart Family Goes to Disneyland segment. It still has a molding pin on the side.  Leaving on runners and pins would not have been allowed by the quality control people.

PROTOTYPES, CONCEPT MODELS, PAINT MASTERS – these are much harder to authenticate.  As someone who has been paid for decades to make those, they use a variety of methods.  They could have correct parts but were painted a different color.  Many times that paint will start to chip off and it is easy to fake.  The soft goods are almost always hand made without tags and has rougher stitching.  The fabric itself could be completely different. One of the best ways to tell is if it used hard copy resin cast parts that are hand painted.  That is very typical.  If you are looking at one of these, compare it to a production part.  Quite often, there are subtle differences in the cast part from the production part.  At least one person I know of was taking production parts, sanding off the legal markings, making casts and selling the hard copies as prototype parts.  The best way to prove if a concept model, paint master or prototype is real is to check it against product photography in the catalogs.  Often there are enough subtle differences so you can see what has changed from the sample to the production part.  This is because the photography stage usually happens way before production.  Many models are created and shown at toy fair then dropped before any production tools are made.

Now that you know how to spot real preproduction samples, it is time to review the figure for FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY so you can be sure it is authentic.  The figure is the GI Joe Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement.  See if you can spot what makes it real.

If you guessed:

  • Unpainted head
  • Unpainted vest
  • Unpainted hat
  • Unpainted rifle (very subtle – you have good eyes if you caught that)
  • Unpainted upper arms (how many missed that one?)
  • Soft goods pants constructed in the wrong color

The only thing he does not have is a part molded in the wrong color.  Since none of those parts are new tools and were all used previously on other Joes in those colors, it is no surprise the colors are correct.

If you were very astute, you may have looked at the figure shown when noting Green Tag samples.

Now you have all the details so you so if you are the winner of the FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY and it sits on your shelf, you can impress people by your knowledge of it.

Did you forget to scroll down and register and add yourself to the list of the usual suspects.

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