|The first dozen Star Wars action figures from Kenner|
Thirty-six years ago this week, thousands of American children received an empty box for Christmas.
It wasn't that they had displeased Santa. It was just that the year's hottest toys – Star Wars action figures – hadn't been manufactured yet.
Before the film's release, George Lucas and his marketing man Charles Lippincott had persuaded
to buy the licence to produce Star Wars toys
– but action figures had not originally
formed part of 's
plan. That May, the company had unexpectedly found itself holding just about
the most lucrative toy licensing deal in history. But producing action figures was a lengthy
process and Kenner could not get them into the shops in time for Christmas, seven
months after the film's release. Instead,
it hit on the idea of selling an "early bird collector's pack", which
contained nothing but a display stand and a certificate guaranteeing that the
figures would be sent out by mail a couple of months later. Such was the power of Star Wars that plenty of people were still happy to hand over their
money. And for anyone who has held onto
it for the intervening 36 years, it must be the most valuable empty box ever. Kenner
|The most valuable empty box in the world? |
The Star Wars early bird collector's pack from 1977
Despite being a madly enthusiastic first generation Star Wars fan, I have to admit that I never owned a Star Wars figure. And I didn't feel bad about it at the time.
Why didn't I own any? Well, for one thing, they were expensive, retailing at 99 pence when released on the
by Palitoy. It would have taken
me forty weeks' pocket money to just to collect the principal good guys, and I
wouldn't have been able to get much of a space battle going before a year was
|The Palitoy Princess Leia figure from |
the valuable collection of that
in Flintshire, Wales
What's more, I just wasn't impressed by them. For one thing, they were not exactly dead ringers for the characters we had seen on screen. Artoo didn't have a middle leg, Princess Leia wore some sort of trouser suit, Obi-Wan Kenobi had a stiff cape, and they all looked sort of arthritic.
I also thought they were too small. I was used to 12-inch figures like Action Man, the 1970s Lone Ranger toys or the Six Million Dollar
But the Star Wars figures were only four inches
tall. As it
turned out, their smallness was a key factor in their subsequent success,
because they were easy to take to school and swap, and the accompanying
spaceships and vehicles could be kept to manageable dimensions. Not for the first time, I had failed to spot a runaway success when I saw one. Man.
Those of us who of us who didn’t buy the action figures were, of course, unaware that we were passing up a great investment opportunity. The value of Star Wars collectibles has long since parted company with sanity.
As an example of how vastly the prices of Star Wars figures were to inflate, consider the stories published in 2003 about a grandmother from Flintshire,
. She had bought all the figures for her
grandson in 1978 but kept a complete spare set.
Those perfectly preserved boxed figures sold at auction for just over
£10,000. Luke and Chewbacca fetched
£1,162 each. Wales
Of course, it was the fact that they were still in the packaging that made all the difference. The key point about toys is that, apparently, you're not supposed to take them out and play with them. A shop near me has been selling a 1978 Chewbacca, without the packaging, for £8 – which suggests that while the toy is worth £8, the box is worth £1,154.