This interview with Steve Denny was conducted by Dan Flarida and John Wooten on November 2nd and 17th, 2013. It’s a long read, so grab your favorite beverage, sit back, and enjoy the interview!
Dan- First of all, let me just tell you how excited I am that you agreed to sit down with us for this interview. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I have always enjoyed hearing your stories and early collecting adventures. We always knew we wanted to get them on record at some point, to share them with the rest of the collecting community. The visitors to KennerCollector.com are really going to enjoy hearing about the role you played in the history of the Star Wars collecting hobby. I don’t know if you realize it or not, but the name Steve Denny is legendary in many Star Wars collecting circles. There are so many prized items in collectors hands all of the world right now because of your hard work of tracking those items down and bringing them to the market.
Let’s jump right in.
Here’s something I have always wondered. You have used the name “Slats” in your email address forever. Where does that come from?
Steve- That was my dad, he tried to hang that on me. That was his dad’s nickname. He lived down there in Elsmere Kentucky. That’s the only name he went by according to dad. He was a tall skinny guy see. Slats like bed slats. He tried to hang it on me and it never did stick. So when I did my email, I thought well, in honor of him I’ll try to keep it going. That’s it. Never did pan out though.
D- Interesting, I always thought Slats was some kind of proof card or box flat reference of some kind.
D- You have been a part of the Star Wars collecting hobby for a long time. Tell us a little bit about your history as a collector. Did you collect anything growing up? Was Star Wars the first area of collecting you got into? As a kid were you into comics, sports cards, anything?
S- No, I wasn’t into anything as a kid. No comics or anything like that. I never really read all that well. I can’t remember collecting anything. What started it all, was my boy Kyle wanted some Star Wars figures. We would always go to the Ferguson Hills Flea Market in Western Hills (Cincinnati).
D- Was this during the Kenner Star Wars era?
S- This was around 1985. There was still stuff available at the stores. We saw the Star Wars movies, and I liked them. There was something about the lettering on that logo. So I graphed out the Star Wars logo, and painted it on a sign. Took me like 20 hours. Put stars in the background, the whole nine yards. And for some reason it just stuck to me. I don’t know what it is, just the way Star Wars sits, it just caught me. I thought to myself “this is pretty cool.” Anyway, my son wanted some figures and we’d go to the flea market all the time, so we started buying figures for him. There would be one guy selling them for 50 cents, and the guy right next to him would be selling them for $5. I’d confront these guys, and say “well what’s the deal here? The guy right next to you is selling them for 50 cents, why are you charging $5.” He said, “well, they’re collectibles. These are going to be hot.” So we did a little research, I sent away for some catalogs from some guys in the Starlog magazine that were selling Star Wars. So I got their list and I am checking them and thinking man, these guys are selling these for $10-15.
D- So right away something just clicked seeing the various prices for the different characters. I never thought about the Star Wars collectibles market starting out that early.
S- Yeah, different prices for characters, ships, playsets, you know. So I thought I had always wanted to start my own little business at home, so why not a mail order thing. So I told my boy, here’s what we are going to do. We started going to Toy R Us, Children’s Palace, and I bought the best boxes I could find.
D- So these were toys still on the shelves. You were buying what are now vintage toys, new at retail?
S- Still on the shelves, or behind the shelves in the backrooms. I’d ask the manager if he had any more and he’d take me in the back. Toys R Us had like a cheap wall, and you could see stuff stacked up so high. I remember the one had Rancors stacked to the ceiling. $2.90 apiece. So I went back and got the best boxes. Got maybe 10 or 12. They must have had 50 there that day. I could have bought them all. I only bought the ones in the nice boxes. Which I regret doing. I should have bought more of them.
D- Well, everybody thinks I wish I would have. At the time I am sure you were thinking you had a fixed budget to play around with this stuff. Even though you think or know it’s going to be something valuable, you still may not have the amount of money you need to just sit on 50 Rancors. Same thing happens today to speculators.
S- Yeah, really. Well, I knew it was going to sell. After a while, I didn’t worry about it. If it was Star Wars, I just bought it if it was a decent price. Most of the prices I paid were flea market prices. I’d go in and buy a collection from somebody and get a whole table of stuff for a 100 bucks. I’d see one piece worth a $100 and that’s what I would go after. I’d think, well I can’t lose. There’s one piece I know worth the $100. I’d sell a couple of the pieces I really didn’t need or didn’t like, and eventually it started to build up. I had all this inventory.
D- How old were you when you first did that with your son? How old was your son?
S- Let’s see, Kyle was about 8 maybe. That was around 1986. My first sale was to Dawn Hughes. She sent me an $8 money order. She said “you got any more stuff?” I said yeah, and she said “well you need to make a catalog.” I was like, okay, I think I will. So I think I had just a few items in the first catalog I put out in 1988. It was stuff I started hoarding, by going to the stores.
D- Do you still have any of those for sale lists or catalogs you made?
S- Yeah, I have most of them. I called the catalog S.O.S. or Steve’s Odyssey Sales.
First issue of S.O.S. :
D- Where did that name come from?
S- I really don’t know how I came up with that. I wanted it to be something different, so I came up with Odyssey. I thought that meant different at the time. I don’t know. Haha. I’m not the smartest guy in the world. Haha. After the first issue, the name changed to Steve’s Odyssey Swaps.
Second issue of S.O.S.:
S- I made the sale lists to stay in touch with collectors, because they are where I got most of my information from. They were constantly updating me. Telling me this or that was hot. Or that they (Kenner) changed this. Or this comes in two different forms. There was a girl in New York named Tina Haynes. She helped me with a lot of information. I don’t know where she was getting it from, but she was a big collector. She was an early customer. Also Dawn Hughes. There was also a girl named Danielle Estes in Texas who bought a ton of stuff. So I would learn about these changes or variations and then knew they were collectible. So I would start watching for them. It would lead me to check things a little closer.
Third issue of S.O.S.:
D- Had you seen anybody else at this point doing what you were doing? Any collectors?
S- Just a couple guys, like the ones advertising in Starlog Magazine. There were probably a bunch of guys doing it, I just didn’t know who they were. As time went on, there were more and more guys getting in on it.
D- How did you get the word out about your catalog?
S- I had an ad in Lucasfilm Magazine for my for sale list. That was a great source man. I’d sometimes get 50 to 100 requests for the catalog.
Fourth issue of S.O.S.:
D- That’s really good.
S- Yeah, and the ad was only 10 bucks.
Steve and I look through some of the old requests for his S.O.S. mail order catalogs…
D- (looking at hand written letter requesting catalog) This is hilarious. “Going to work in special effects. Currently talking to George Lucas.”
S- Yeah, he’s going to be big time.
D- He says “I will probably want it all.”
S- Yeah, haha.
D- That is awesome, from 1993.
S- Yeah, some cool stuff.
D- Ben C****. I wonder if Ben is out there collecting still. It would be funny if he was still out there collecting and saw this. (Ben if you are reading this, we would love to hear from you!)
S- Cool if you could find him and say hey, remember writing this? Haha. Did you make it?
D- Another handwritten letter, “Here is a check for all of the money I received on my birthday.”
D- Wow, that’s going to be awesome if some of these people are still collecting.
S- It would be.
D- Twenty years ago.
S- Yeah that’s the thing, I was going to bring my old ledger book where I kept track of all the sales and stuff. Just to go back and see the names on there.
D- “I hope that by the time I am 50 years old, I will have the best Star Wars collection in the US”
S- Haha it’s clever.
D- Here is another one right around when I started. 1992 is when I started collecting.
S- I have one from you here too.
D- From me?
S- Not one of the catalog requests, but I have a printout here from when you bought a proof card.
D- No way, wow.
D- 1998. Ha, that’s awesome.
S- Yeah, it’s just uh. That’s when I started selling the proof cards. I’d put a list out.
D- 98, I was in college.
I look at the printout with the proof card I ordered.
D- You took me for $275, when I was trying to get my college education?
S- I got you didn’t I? Coming back at you now. It’s worked out pretty good. Look at this other one, eight Revenge (of the Jedi) cards for $800. I have more of these letters and orders at the house.
D- This guy even made up the postage for you.
S- Yeah, some of these guys were nice.
D- I love that you kept this stuff. There are so many things I wish I would have kept.
S- Yeah, it’s kinda neat to look back. I was looking through the ledger last night. When I first started I would make all these notes where I was giving everybody discounts, paying their postage. And I had the total of what I made. Even paying postage, I was still making money. I was happy with it you know. But just looking through the names, I was like I remember this girl. She was from Texas, and this other person was over here. You know, blah, blah, blah.
D- Here is an example. You have $2265 total, and then you gave them a discount. 10% discount. This guy bought a bunch of figures. These were all figures?
S- Uh huh.
S- I was getting a lot of figures from a lady that used to work at Kenner, she was retired. She was going to the Kenner employee store and selling to me for like a buck and a half or something. I was getting Power of the Force and everything. I was supplying a lot of people with figures. It was building up their collection man. They’d buy 10, 15, 20 at a time. It was cool. We can talk about that later.
Steve continues looking at old for sale emails and letters.
S- I don’t remember half these people. Like this guy, Bill S**** Washington. Dave W****, now this guy was big time. Look at that one..
D- Here’s one, $5400 dollars. 45 Empire proofs. Wow.
S- $5400.. he bought a ton of stuff. I think he was in Colorado or somewhere.
Steve’s proof card for sale list from around 1996 or 1997:
S- A lot of guys here I remember. Rob Amantea, Richard Cox, Steppenwolf.
S- Here’s another guy from over in Singapore. Jon Foo. I think he was in Singapore. He bought some stuff. He was getting prototypes or something over there.
D- Modern stuff?
S- He said they’d just throw them in the dump and the guys would just go out and dig them up. He sent me some. Yeah it was the new stuff. It wasn’t anything old. Current stuff, the second line.
S- I have a letter from a kid that was sent to Kenner that I got through an employee or something, and he’s looking at one of the pictures on the little Kenner booklet, you know? And he says you got the ship upside down. It was like the TIE Fighter or something. Sure enough it was photographed upside down. He picked up on it. He was telling them how to correct it. Haha. I thought it was interesting. Kid’s pretty good.
D- Yeah, I know quite a few of these people.
S- Yeah, it’s funny to see the names and know they are still in the game.
D- (Reading one of Steve’s emails about a pending sale) “sorry about the wait, my car went up in flames six months ago.” Haha.
D- Broc Walker, this guy is still active.
S- Yep, I was in touch with him for a while.
D- John Peck, he’s still around.
D- (Reading from an email to Steve about a proof card payment) “For the almighty Rancor Keeper.”
D- (looking at an email to Steve) Isn’t that the dealer? Rachfal?
S- Yeah, Brian Rachfal. In California. For figures I think.
D- This is awesome man. There are so many things like this I wish I would have kept. I don’t know why I didn’t.
S- Yeah, I didn’t even keep them all. I just kept some of them. When I started selling the proofs again, I looked at some of the sales. I sold the first one to Mike Wolfe, guy I know over in Indiana. I saw him at the Dayton show. Showed him the proof cards and I had a couple sets of them. That was a set of 48, and I think I sold them for $50.
D- $50 for a complete set? When was that?
S- That was when I first got them. I think 92 or whatever it was. 50 bucks for a set of 48 Revenge cards. As soon as he got them, he got home and called me up that day or that week and asked “you got any more of those? I want to get another set.” And then after that, I started marking them up a little bit, and then I sold so many and I gave a set to Bob “Boba” Fisher, I gave him a set of practically everything. And then I just put them away. I didn’t fool with them.
D- Did you pretty much just automatically send Boba Fisher one of everything?
S- Yeah, I just like gave them to him you know. I may have charged him like 50 bucks for 200-300 proof cards. You know, just to cover postage or something. I let the proofs sit for a while and Fisher started looking through them. When he got the Power of the Force ones, he’s going “Steve, half of these weren’t even made!” Oh man I said, “why didn’t you tell me sooner. I already sold a bunch of them and gave them away in sets.”
D- So you didn’t even find the proof cards until that late? Early 90’s?
S- Yeah I can’t remember when it was. Probably 1990, 1992 or around there. We didn’t really start until like 86, which was maybe my first sale. When we went out and started buying stuff. But yeah, this guy that worked at Kenner called me up. I said, “how did you get my name?” He said “you send me a letter two or three years ago and I threw it in my desk drawer.” He said “they are going to tear out all of these computers, and I found all of this stuff sitting over in a corner.” That was all the proof cards. He says “I got about 1/3 of it and 2/3 was already gone in the trash.” So I went over and grabbed it. I couldn’t imagine getting that much more stuff. Haha.
D- So give me a scale of how many proof cards we are talking about, how many did you get?
S- He had about three or four large boxes full of smaller, flat boxes. They were just sticking up out of the boxes, packed and squished in. There might be 50 or more proofs to a box. Maybe a couple hundred smaller boxes. He had around 2,000 proof cards. And we just started going through them, separating them.
D- These proofs were from all the different movie titles?
S- All different titles. We separated them by movie title, and that was it. I didn’t go by backs or anything in the beginning.
D- So your original Kenner Star Wars proof card find was around 2,000 total?
S- Yes, around 2,000 proof cards. There were also other things in there that I didn’t even know were prototypes. There were large doll boxes for Empire Strikes Back. I didn’t know what was made at that time. My boy didn’t know either. I was looking through my ledger and I had sent some to a guy named Gene Rogalsky that Boba Fisher knew. He was down in South Carolina or somewhere and he had a thing called Star Pieces. It was in Toy Shop. And I sent him eighteen boxes for $100. And some of them were unproduced. And then he wanted more and I started wondering what’s going on. I also sent some to a guy in Arizona, his name was Ron Lewis. He was a big dealer. He was
cool, kinda like Fisher. I’d just send him stuff, he’d send me stuff. We wouldn’t even charge each other. I started asking around about the boxes, and Ron Lewis finally wrote me back saying “yeah, those are prototype boxes Steve.” I was like, oh thanks for telling me (sarcastic tone). But at least somebody told me.
D- How many of the 12″ Star Wars action figure box flats do you think you had?
S- I can’t remember. I had the Luke and the Leia prototype flat boxes. Pristine, brand new with the window and everything. Maybe five or six of each, maybe even up to eight. I traded some to a guy up in Dayton, Ohio or at least who I thought he was in Ohio. He told me he had all this stuff he had access to. He said there is a guy up there with a garage full of this stuff. And I’m going, “a garage, oh man I got to get this stuff.” So I sent him the boxes and he sent me a whole set of the large dolls out of the boxes. In trade for the flat boxes. As it turns out, it was Doug Cochran in Florida. He was a real shark. He was a real ..kind of a cutthroat type. So he ended up getting the boxes, and after that I slowed down on them. I saved a set for myself. I ended up selling them or Tom Derby took them. The only one I have left now is the Princess Leia Bespin. I still have that. I was trying to get the doll at one point. There was a guy out in St. Louis, he had the dolls. He had bought them from a lady that worked at Kenner. She lived up around Sharonville or maybe Indiana.
D- Was it Jane Abbott by any chance?
S- Maybe, that sounds familiar. And he got it from her and I offered him a lot of money and he wouldn’t take it. That was around 1995. The girl I first started selling stuff to. Dawn Marie Hughes up in Washington. She should know Gus maybe. She was one of my first customers. She found out about this guy having the doll, so I got ahold of him. He ended up selling it to a big collector over in England. I think I offered him $2-3000. He ended up selling it for about $5,000 or something. He got a ton of money. It just got out of my league. Just got out of hand you know. I thought well, I’m not going to blow that much money now. I wanted to put it in a nice big display. Have the box in the back and then have the doll, it would have been cool. But, the doll box is still cool.
D- Let’s talk more about when you first got started buying the toys at retail. It’s interesting to hear that the toys were already collectible, right after the line had ended. At the end, the toys are sitting on shelves unsold because kids aren’t buying them, and there is this growing network of adults who are already starting to collect them. Everyone dreams of walking in to a modern day toy store and finding the vintage items still sitting on the shelf. Like at some small mom and pop store in the middle of nowhere. That’s the collector’s dream man!
S- That’s the thing. The stuff was everywhere. We went to all of the toy stores in the area. We even went to Louisville, KY. I asked a manager there, who was really nice, if he had any and he was like “yeah, come on back here.” I went back and there was six Imperial Shuttles sitting there for like $8.90 apiece. The stuff was just sitting in the back, they didn’t know what to do with it. They had a whole wall of Rancor Keepers hanging on the wall, and I said “nah, I don’t want any of those” Haha. They were 50 cents a piece on the Return of the Jedi card. We bought all the Imperial Shuttles. There was hardly had any room in the car. They were all in the back seat. Stuff in the front seat. My son could hardly get in the car. We’d just go around and just ask. Children’s Palace finally went out of business, but I was finding a lot of stuff there.
D- Was there any sense of, I might get stuck with this stuff?
S- No, none at all. I was already starting to sell it.
D- If it said Star Wars on it, you were buying it.
S- If it said Star Wars, I just bought it. We weren’t losing. I would try to triple the price usually. Just to keep the cost of travelling around balanced out.
D- So you were tripling the price on everything equally? Did you have any sense of which toys were hot at that point? Anything selling faster than others were? Luke Stormtroopers moving faster?
S- Not really. In the beginning I didn’t even really want to fool with the figures just because there were so many of them. I remember one time of passing up a whole box of Boba Fetts on Return of the Jedi cards that some woman had. There were maybe 24 in the box. I’d never seen a box that small. It wasn’t a regular sized box. At 50 cents apiece, I passed them up! Haha. I didn’t even want them. Haha. Boba Fetts! Didn’t know why this woman had all the same ones. But that was early on you know, when we started. Well the killer was this guy I came across before I even got into Star Wars. I would just go to the flea markets with my dad, before my son was born. This guy had the action stands, the first ones. $1 apiece. He must have had 100 of them. Buck apiece! I was like “look at that dad, that’s pretty cool, it’s only a dollar.” Nah, we went on by (Steve rolls his eyes). We were looking for baseball gloves or something. And then when I got into it, I was thinking oh man, this guy was sitting there with a truckload of them. He had them in white boxes, like mail-in boxes type things. He had tons of them. He probably ripped them off or they came out of Robertson. Who knows. But just thinking back, God, $1 apiece. Haha.
D- I don’t know man, I think passing up the carded Boba Fetts for 50 cents apiece trumps that one. Haha.
D- So basically, your involvement in the Star Wars hobby all started because you were looking for a way to get something rolling, a little home business.
S- Yeah, just a way to make a little extra money. Something to do. I always wanted to do something like that. I always wanted to do a business where I could control it, and I wasn’t going to kill the customer. I did my research on these guys selling, and they were selling carded figures for around $10 apiece. So I started selling carded figures for $5. I’d undercut all of these guys just trying to get a better deal out there to the customer. I was trying to… I would get caught up with these companies sometimes. I was going to sell shirts one time. Dress shirts or something, I don’t know what it was. I checked it out, but you had to sell them at their price. I thought, man, they are killing these people. They’re paying $2 a shirt and selling them for $15. So that’s what I did with the toys. I tried to get a good price out there you know?
Now if something was real collectible, I knew it was hot and worth $500 , I wasn’t going to sell it for $500. I would sell it for maybe $350. Something like that. But I was still making good money, I might have only paid 10 bucks for it. Like with the prototype pieces. I gave away prototype pieces!! I was looking at one where I gave a guy a Mungo Baobab prototype. Just gave it to him! It was stupid. He had bought so much stuff from me. He was a really good customer. I think it was Bob Delalio I think. And I’m sure he thanked me for it. Hahaha. But yeah, I have it written down in the notes that I sent him a Mungo Baobab with the coin. With the coin!
D- Was there a point where you went from doing this as a way to make money in a business, to doing it because you wanted to get the toys as a collector? Because you now like the stuff and want to hold onto it?
S- Yeah, it kind of evolved into that over time. First it was just to make a few bucks, but I did like the Star Wars stuff. Then I got attracted to it when I started picking up prototypes and the proof cards. That really got me into it. I love things that are unique. Things that other people can’t get. That’s like anyone else, you like to have things that nobody else can get.
D- Sure, nobody wants a collection that is identical to everyone else’s.
S- Yeah. It’s not so much bragging, it’s just cool to have them. I thought it was neat. So I really got hooked on that.
D- Did you focus on any specific area of Star Wars collecting? Did you limit yourself to certain types of prototypes?
S- No, I was after all of it. I did eventually gravitate towards the artwork, but I didn’t really look for anything specific. It was just whatever was available that I could get. That I was lucky enough to get. Most of the time it was figures.
D- In the beginning stages, it sounds like the production stuff was easy to find. Flea markets, stuff still at retail, etc. But how hard was it for you to find the pre-production stuff? How hard was that to get into? What was your first realization that there was stuff out there in people’s hands that went into making the toys? And that you now had a chance to get?
S- Probably when I got the proof cards. Because that was a Kenner employee that was still working there. What I would do was when I worked at the post office, they had boxes that would come through that they couldn’t put in bags, they were called “outsides.” Might be too big, or whatever, or marked fragile. These boxes would come through, and Kenner had a special label with blue around the edge. Well I’d see that and if they had an attention somebody at the bottom, I would right that person’s name down. I would then write a letter to that person. I’d write the letter to Kenner at the Kroger building, attention so and so and just tell them I was a collector looking to find some stuff. I didn’t even know what prototypes were at that point.
D- So you were originally just trying to get production stuff that way?
S- I was just looking for anything. I didn’t even know about pre-production or prototype stuff. The same guy that I got all of the proof cards from, that was my first pre-production find. We made a connection and he started coming up with all kinds of stuff. He also came up with a whole box full of the Droids and Ewoks figure prototypes. Must have been 10-15 of them in there. I looked at them and went “whoa, are those prototypes?” He goes “yeah.” They were hard copy pieces. Just all thrown in the box. All in good shape though. They had coins, weapons, just all kind of mixed up.
D- So you knew at that time those characters hadn’t been made yet?
S- Well I didn’t know yet. I knew they were different or in some kind of sample form. I wasn’t really sure what they were. That’s when I started talking to guys like you and taking pictures. I’d have guys come in and say “acetate this or that” and I’d go “…oh okay.” I started getting information on the stages of the prototypes. And once you see those, the production toys ain’t nothing. This is what’s cool. And then when you can tie the protoype in with the regular toy and lay it next to it like you do here. I thought that was really neat. Haha.
D- Were you aware of anyone in the market for that stuff at that time? That there were collectors wanting these pre-production items?
S- No, I didn’t have a clue. A lot of guys didn’t even know about them either. There was probably a couple guys. This was the early 90’s, so guys like Gus Lopez and Steve Sansweet would have known about them. I sent Steve a couple pieces, so I knew those guys were looking for them. And then it just slowly started filtering out you know.
D- Did you add any of the prototype items or proof cards into your catalog?
S- Yeah, I had the proof cards in there, but I held onto the figure prototypes. Just had them sitting at the house. Some were displayed.
D- So you weren’t actively buying the prototype items in order to re-sell them? Other than the proof cards?
S- No, that stuff was the stuff I was starting to collect. I was really digging that. Loving the prototype stuff and thought it was so cool. Also keeping things like the store display signs, and stuff like that that was hard to get. I still like that kind of stuff.
D- So what started out as just a way to make some money on the side, you are now seeing this stuff starting to be displayed around you, and you are starting to like it more. You have become a collector at that point.
S- Oh yeah, I really got into it.
S- Then I started getting into the weird stuff.
D- Like what?
S- Well like the flat boxes. I liked seeing them displayed. Different things were just starting to appeal to me. Like the transparencies I got. I got a boatload of those from that same Kenner guy. Those are cool. I always thought they would be the next big thing. I thought man, there is so much you can do with these transparencies. But the ex-Kenner employee always told me “don’t you dare mention where you got them!” I’ve still never dropped his name. I heard he moved up to Rhode Island, but I’m not real sure. But I lost touch with him. I think he probably started selling to The Earth (Toy Mall), because he was right there.
D- The Earth had a great location. I really miss going in there and just browsing around.
S- This Kenner guy was kind of a flea market guy too, so he was smart enough to watch the papers and look for ads. I did get a lot of stuff from him though.
D- You mentioned other people having for sale lists, but were there any other collecting resources you were using in the late 80’s/ early 90’s?
S- Through some publications. Lenny Lee had started his toy magazine. He used to order stuff from me too. Toy Shop was probably the main source. I would check and see who was selling what and I’d price my stuff lower than them if I could. Yeah, Toy Shop was the main one. Toy Shop was the killer. I would also check the local papers for auctions and yard sales consistently every Friday and Saturday. I’d hit two or three flea markets on Sunday before church. These were all in the Cincinnati area. Ferguson Hills. Kellogg Avenue.
Ferguson Hills Drive-In was a killer flea market on Sundays. It was on Ferguson Road, just past Western Hills High School. We were up there one day and this guy pulls out these figures. Bagged figures laying on the ground. He was just setting up. People were scrambling to get a spot and set up. Me and Kyle went down there and I said “Kyle, look at this. This guy has like 30 or 40 figures laying there.” So I said what do you want for all of these? He said something like 50 cents apiece and then he asked if I wanted more. I asked him how many more he had. In the truck he had about four or five boxes of figures. He also had some carded Return of the Jedi Hoth Stormtroopers. He had two cases of those. I asked again how many he had. He said “well, I got more at the house.” I asked him what he wanted for them all. If he would have said $2,000 I would have said yes. He said $200. I told him I could give him half now and take what he had, and then I would meet him at his house. He said lets go. He had just started setting up and here he’s done for the day. $200 and he’s happy. So we went back to his place. He lived off of Eighth Street. We go up there and he has four more cases of Return of the Jedi carded figures. I give him the other $100.
D- Were they all the same Hoth Stormtrooper figure?
S- Same figure. All Jedi Hoth Stormtrooper. Every one of them! When I added up all of the bagged and carded figures. We had 2000 pieces for $200. 10 cents apiece! That was probably my best find ever. Price wise anyway. They were all mint. Some were in Kenner baggies, some were not, but he would have 20-30 figures in a bag with the weapons. They were all mint. That was amazing. It was a neat morning. We were only there like a half hour and we just left with him.
D- Is the flea market still there?
S- It’s a Walmart now. They tore the drive-in down. They had everything there. It would start at six in the morning and you would have guys out there with flashlights looking for stuff. Kyle and I would sit in the car watching and we would call them sharks. I always wanted to get a recording with a speaker and play the Jaws music while they were out there looking around with their flashlights. Da-dun da-dun da-dun, there they go! Haha. We’d just sit there and watch, but after a while we started doing the same thing because they started scarfing up the Star Wars too. So we were out there with our flashlights looking too!
D- You mentioned some of the bigger players that were around at the time. Do you remember any of the hard to find items people were hunting early on? Or do you remember thinking, this is the hot item right now. What were people after in the early days?
S- Well, I remember the TIE Bomber being a big one. We were always looking for those. One time I picked up a Darth Vader TIE Fighter thinking it was a TIE Bomber. I didn’t even know what it was. Haha. I didn’t! Everybody was talking about this TIE Bomber, I have to find some of these. That was the toy people knew about that was hard to get. Then the Jawa Sandcrawler was another one that was hard to get. I was able to get access to some of those through a buddy in Canada. We brought some of them back. Let’s see, what else was hot? People were always looking for certain figures like Luke Stormtrooper. That was a hot one. Power of the Force stuff was really hot. But once I got the proof cards, that really got me hooked on the prototype stuff.
D- You were having these big discoveries at the time, things like proof cards, hard copy prototypes, etc. Were you aware of any other big finds happening around the country, or were you at the center of all the big finds?
S- I don’t remember hearing about any other big finds at the time. I was just concentrating on getting as much stuff as I could at the time without exposing a lot of what I was doing. Like when Steve Sansweet put his first book out, he came to the house and talked to me a couple times. He told me “Steve, when this book hits the market, prices are going to go straight up.” He was exactly right.
D- It happens every time.
S- Things went from $10 to $100.
D- Any time you do a resource, and it doesn’t matter what it is, prices climb. If you put out the definitive book on Star Wars paper cup collecting, people are going to want to start hunting paper cups to complete their collection. Prices of Dixie Cups are going to shoot through the roof.
S- Ebay also became very popular and that brought down the price of everything. People thought there was only maybe 10 of something, then ebay showed people there was actually 100 or 1,000 out there. Everyone around the world now has access to it. But yeah, I was just trying to pick up as much as I could, just focusing on that and trying to keep it low key.
D- You also had a lot of the Power of the Force coins go through you. Were those from a single find?
S- I got three complete sets of coins from the art director at Kenner, who was on his way out. I used to run ads in the paper once in a while looking for Kenner items. Three lines were like 10 bucks for three days in the Enquirer. I’d run the ad once every other month. I didn’t run it consistently. I’d get a couple calls every once in a while. Anyway, I went to this guys house. I was a big, nice house. I can’t remember his name, but he was a real nice guy. He was a really good artist. He had stuff in his home he had painted from around Cincinnati. I recognized an Eden Park painting. Everything was in big beautiful frames.
It turns out he had three complete sets of the Power of the Force coins plus some extras. And then he also had a whole box of 48 Empire Strikes Back carded figures. All mint. He was looking for $200 for all of it. The coins were all thrown together in bags. My son and I got home and we got Boba Fisher’s checklist out and started checking them off. We had three complete sets.
D- Was this before you knew about any of the coin variations?
S- Yeah, I didn’t know anything about any coin variations. I knew about the gold 63rd coin, but that was it. I was just happy to have the coins for that amount. Like I was saying, for $200 you can’t go wrong. You’re not going to lose. I could sell the figures at $5 apiece and get my money back.
It’s important to remember that at the time, I didn’t know this stuff was going to be worth the kind of money it turned out to be. I was just trying to make sure I didn’t lose money by selling off the stuff I knew I could sell.
D- Was that all he had?
S- I also asked him if he had any Toy Fair catalogs. I would always ask these guys about the Toy Fair catalogs. Or any paper items at all. Anything referring to the toys, stuff like that. That kind of in-house paperwork would help verify stuff. He said “Oh man it’s strange that you asked. I had 40 or 50 of the catalogs and just threw them out in the trash yesterday.” (Steve throws both his hands up on his head and rocks back in the chair) Haha! Unreal. He was a really nice guy though. In fact I ended up selling one of the sets of coins and sent him some more money. I think I did that twice. The second time I did that he had already moved on down to Florida to retire.
D- Did you ever get any “why do you want this stuff” kind of questions from Kenner employees?
S- No, not really. I just told them I was collecting and they were happy to get rid of the stuff that was just sitting around the house. Many of them didn’t have any clue people wanted this stuff until they saw my ad. That was great timing for me.
D- Any sense of why some of these employees would have so much stuff? Did they just carry it home one day, or a little at a time?
S- Some would be in Quality Control or something like that and just carry it home as they worked on it. I never really questioned it. I do remember telling one guy if he can get some more stuff I would be interested, but not to do anything that would jeopardize his job. I told him not to get himself in trouble.
I passed out flyers one time down at Kenner’s Elsinore Place location. I got in trouble there. I just happen to be down there, just checking the place out. It was around lunch time or something. Staples was right across the street so I parked in the Staples lot and walked over to the Kenner building. I’m looking around for the dumpsters, and all of a sudden all of these guys come out of the building for a break or something. So I started handing out these flyers I had just printed up. The flyer said I was looking to buy any Star Wars stuff. So I passed them out to all of these guys and they were like “oh yeah, yeah okay.”
Well after that, I think an alert went out to keep an eye out for me because that’s also around the time I started hitting the dumpsters at Elsinore Place on Sundays. They had a setup where the dumpsters were in between two buildings. There were two dumpsters with a gate around them. So I could look in both dumpsters from the street. I’d park on the street or at Staples and walk up there. I did it maybe nine or ten times. Finally one morning, a lady comes out and says “what are you looking for?” I said I was just looking for some boxes to pack up some stuff. That’s what I would always tell them. She said “you wouldn’t be Steve Denny would you?” I asked her how she knew that?? Haha. They probably had my flyer. The flyers I handed out probably went right up to security. She told me if I left now I’d be fine and she wouldn’t say anything. I said thank you very much and got out of there.
D- Was that the last time you went there?
Steve gets a sly grin on his face
S- I might have went back one more time. Haha. I didn’t really find too much there anyway. I found a couple names. I found some Batman toys, but nothing amazing. What I wanted to do, would have been great. It was just a thought though, I didn’t really pursue it. I needed to get a pickup truck and just dump all of it in my truck to take home and sort and go through it. Or get in touch with the guy that that picks it up and ask if I can grab the bags. You know all of the best stuff went in the garbage.
D- There was just so much history that got thrown away or destroyed. It’s so sad.
D- The three coin sets you mentioned, did you sell them as complete sets?
S- Yeah, they were sold as sets. I sold one or two sets through my catalog. I had one set left and I think Derby took that one to sell.
D- Any idea what you sold the sets for?
S- It was sick. I think I sold a set for $200. I was looking in Toy Shop two months later, and I see a set selling for $400. That would happen a lot. I would sell something that was kind of weird or not that common, and the next thing you know it’s right back up for sale for more. I know a lot of guys were just buying to flip things. They did that a lot with the proof cards. But I was thinking that at the prices I am selling if they can still make money, then good for them. I’m happy. But the coin thing was funny. I know I sold it for $200, then two months later, boom $400. I thought, man those went up quick. Haha.
The coins were all in really nice shape. Like they were just made. I ended up finding the company that made them and went over and talked to them. They treated me like I was an alien. They didn’t even want to talk about it. I think they were embarrassed I found it. Little hole in the wall place over by I-75. I think they are still there. They had a display of Power of the Force coins up on the wall, and I asked them if they had any more of them laying around that you don’t want? The guy says “what are you talking about?” I said, “out there in the lobby, you have a set of Power of the Force coins.” He said “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
D- He was just trying to tell you he’ll see you after work! You were missing his signs man.
S- Haha, yeah maybe I didn’t pick up on that. I just said okay and left. I should have fished around some more and got in their dumpsters but I didn’t do it. Haha.
D- Where did all of the proof sheets come from?
S- They came from the same guy that I got the proof cards from. He came back to me maybe a dozen more times with stuff. He had the proof sheets, I got that original Jedi artwork. That art was used at Toy Fair in New York, probably as part of a Return of the Jedi display. That’s a neat piece. Somebody spent some time on it. He also had a sign with it too. It was a cheezy little sign they had with it, held together with Velcro and stuff. It fell apart, I don’t even know where it is. I doubt I even still have it. I may have given it away, I don’t know. He was a cool guy though.
D- So you hit the Kenner dumpster on Elsinore, and the coin company, was there any other vendors that you were finding out about around that time that you would hit up looking for stuff?
S- Yeah, on Sunday mornings, I would go around and hit up all of the places that I knew were doing work or I thought had done past work for Kenner. Lot of proofing places, color separation guys.
D- How did you find out about these places?
S- I must have gotten a list of names and places from one of my contacts. I was going behind these places looking for stuff every Sunday. I had a route and I was hitting them all.
D- Find anything good?
S- I found a few things. Some book cover stuff that was Star Wars. I got those. Whole box of folded proofs. Those were kind of unique. I haven’t seen any of those anywhere, but no one is really looking for that stuff either.
D- So they are for the newer books? 90’s?
S- Yeah, this place had done the covers for some of the newer Star Wars books. They threw away a whole box of the proofs, all folded. There was probably 50 to 75 of them. I looked through them and I probably threw half of them away. They had some really nice baseball ones you would like that they did for a Nabisco mail-in offer. It’s in pencil, in ink, colored, variations of it. It has Babe Ruth on it, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron. It’s got all these old guys on it. It has something to do with vintage and tied in with the new guys. I think Mark McGuire and some other guys are on it. I can’t remember. But it was all thrown away in a great big folder. I pulled that out and thought “woah, that’s neat.” I got anything that I thought was worth keeping. I got all different kinds of things. I have cigarette proof sheets at home.
D- Do you know that people think of you as the original dumpster diver in the Star Wars collecting hobby?
S- Yeah, they think I’m a bum is what they think. Haha.
D- No, no. It’s a term of endearment. Anyone that is out there hunting this stuff down, they are all hitting up contacts, looking through dumpsters and trash, and just hoping to have a fraction of the success you have had. So you are known as a dumpster diver, but did you ever find any amazing things going through the dumpsters, or did you get all of the really good stuff through your networking with ex-Kenner employees?
S- The good stuff all came from yard sales, flea markets, going straight to the house of ex-employees that I found out about through ads.
D- So the dumpster diving reputation you have was a very minor part of your success?
S- Yeah, it was an afterthought really. The dumpster diving was just an effort to try and dig up some stuff, but I found very little that way. Like when Kenner moved from the Kroger building I went down there. They had this great big dumpster there and there was only three or four boxes in there. That was it. I may have been too early or too late. The only good thing I found there was the Starting Lineup pictures of the prototypes. I did find some in-house directories there though. Those were a big source of information for me. Had everyone’s name in there.
D- Did you contact a lot of employees that way?
S- I tried a couple. One lady got all upset. A couple did take my name and said they might call me later. I didn’t pursue it any more. I started getting out of it at that point. It was becoming too competitive and prices were getting too high.
D- Any tips to share with the current collectors out there beating the bushes looking for ex-employees? Any advice to pass along?
S- The in-house directories are probably still worth going through to fish out names. Even if the employee is dead and gone, their relatives could be sitting on stuff. The thing is there is probably so many big shots and stuff still around here in town (Cincinnati) it’s sick. But you have to look for the descendants of, the spouses of, etc. They probably have stuff sitting at the house that they don’t even know what it is. They don’t have a clue and it’s going to get pitched out.
D- What would you say is your single greatest Star Wars or Kenner discovery or find that stands out the most to you? Be it monetary or sentimental, what stands out the most to you in your mind?
S- I guess the Rocket Fetts. I knew they were hot and at the time they were going for about a $1000 apiece. So I knew that was a good item to get. To me that was the ultimate toy to get.
D- So early on you knew the Rocket Fett had high demand, and that people would want it. Where did that knowledge come from that this was a high demand item?
S- I don’t know, probably just from talking with someone about it. Maybe from Sansweet or a couple others.
D- Was his Concept to Collectible book out yet?
S- No, not at this point, it wasn’t out yet. I think just from talking with other collectors at the time. They had a big auction at John Beck’s house. We just happen to be at the Ferguson Hill’s flea market one morning and a guy I bought a bunch of stuff from, asked me if I was going to the big Star Wars auction. I said “what are you talking about?” I didn’t even know about it. He said yeah, they have a Star Wars auction going on over in Western Hills, pretty close by. I thought oh man, I don’t have any money on me. I think I only had about $150 on me. So Kyle and I didn’t even go home, we found out where it was and we went straight to it. Sure enough man, they had two rings going. John Beck. I didn’t even know who John Beck was. He was a big marketing person for Kenner.
D- He started out at Rainbow Crafts (the original makers of Play-Doh) and eventually moved over to Kenner.
S- He had a garage full of toys. Stuff he had brought home. He had Star Wars, Alien, Strawberry Shortcake, just everything you could imagine. Boxes of miscellaneous stuff. Just boxes of Play-Doh and Kenner stuff. They were also selling his home furnishing stuff. They had two rings going but we just stayed in the garage. There was a guy there named Mitch Mitchell from Virginia. He was a big collector at that time. I talked to him for a while. I was trying to split the pot with him. Haha, because he was buying everything and I didn’t have any money on me. So at the end they were just selling the random stuff left over. I was getting in on that. They would have like ten carded figures, and maybe some diecast in there, and bagged figures. They were selling for like ten for $20. One I got was a little carded diecast ship, not sure which one, and one of the bagged figures was a Blue Snaggletooth. I didn’t even know what it was. Mitch said “hey, you got the Blue Snaggletooth.” I said “is that good?” He said “yeah! Real good!” Dumb me, I didn’t even know but I got it in a lot for $20. So I ended up buying a lot of loose stuff at the end.
That’s where I got all of the Play-Doh stuff you have now. They were selling a whole box for like $2, I just didn’t have any money! No one knew what that stuff was and no one cared. This was probably 88-89. The toys went pretty good though. Mitch was buying a lot of it. They had the first anniversary poster with the birthday cake. He paid a $100 for that. That was a lot of money then. That’s where I got the decal sheet from. The Star Wars logo sheet. It was all bent up and wrinkled and Mitch didn’t want it. He said “do you want that?” I said yeah I would take it. You know, flea market me, I’m going to take it. Derby ended up selling that. I wish I would have kept that. I only had one of those.
D- Didn’t you have multiple logo sheets? Different logos maybe?
S- No, I ended up getting bits and pieces recently from a kid who was a nephew of a guy that used to work over at Kenner. He had some stuff in a storage room. Wooten got one. I traded him an Empire Strikes Back sheet. And he had some bits and pieces of a Star Wars one. He had a Boba Fett picture he drew on the back of it. He said “I was a kid, I didn’t know any better.” So I gave him some bucks and he was happy with that. He also had some Toy Fair catalogs too. That was a pretty good hit.
D- When was this?
S- Maybe six or seven years ago (2006-2007)?
D- That’s pretty recent.
S- Yeah, pretty recent. He lived up off Madison Road by the Coca Cola plant. Pretty far out. I went over there and met up with him. He was a really nice guy. He was into music and trying to become a musician. So I went over there and met him and his girlfriend. I told I just wanted to see what he had and he puts all this stuff out. I told him “I’m going to give you a $1000 right now, how does that sound?” He went and talked to his girlfriend, and said “I’ll take it!” I thought those sheets were pretty cool. I think there were five complete Empire Strikes Back logo sheets and he had some Revenge sheets, but they were kind of messed up. He didn’t have any full Star Wars sheets, just bits and pieces. I haven’t sold any of them yet. I just gave one to Wooten. But that’s the last thing I found.
There was another guy and it was his nephew, or maybe his son. He did some artwork for Kenner as some freelance work on the coloring books. They took copies from the movies and tried to sketch them out. They were cool. That’s probably the very last thing I found. I haven’t really been looking lately even though I do still run and ad on craigslist. Hoping maybe I’ll get lucky. These guys are so intense now..
D- What is your favorite non-Star Wars toy line?
S- I don’t know. I have seen so many picking up stuff. Has got to be something science fiction I guess. I haven’t really given that very much thought. I don’t have a whole lot of stuff I display other than Star Wars. Star Wars was it other than some Star Trek maybe. But no, Star wars was it for me.
D- It’s obvious you have had a lot of “wins” when it came to finding things and holding onto things that have value. Were there any collectibles or toys you invested in heavily that tanked? Anything that turned out being a waste of money to buy and keep? Everyone has the thought that if I had the money, I would buy it all and sit on it. But at the time did you ever think, do I really want to hold onto this stuff all this time and have it not be worth anything? Any duds?
S- I bought a lot of the second line of figures they put out, the newer ones around 1997. Power of the Force 2 figures. I tried to speculate on a lot of those and they ended up being worthless.
D- A lot of people did.
S- Any of that new stuff, it’s all trash to me now. I probably still have 20 cases of those figures, just sitting on them.
D- Out of all those cases, you’ll have three or four gems in there and that’s it. There are goofy paint op differences or lightsaber length changes that people still care about. Other than that, you won’t be able to give the rest away.
S- If I could sell them all at cost right now I would. I wouldn’t even worry about the variations. I tried to sell them once and just couldn’t get anything for them. That’s the only thing I really regret buying, the newer stuff. But the old stuff? Nothing. No regrets on any of it. If it said Star Wars on it I picked it up. I was also picking that older stuff up at great prices. I wasn’t spending a lot of money on most of it.
D- You hit it at just the right time. There was still enough left around from the line dying off, but right before the popularity of collecting really took off. You were getting all of the good stuff.
S- Yeah, I didn’t have to mess with the newer stuff coming out, tons of licensees, fake stuff. You had the Blue Harvest stuff, but other than that there wasn’t really a lot of fakes you had to worry about. It was great. I am very fortunate.
J- Did you have any deals that didn’t work out the way you wanted, or that fell through?
S- There was one time where I thought we had a deal closed, and it ended up costing me more than I wanted. This was the employee I got all of the small prototype Luke Skywalker Power of the Force coins and one of the Rocket Fetts. Anyway, this guy contacted me from an ad I ran in the paper. He was a Kenner employee. Not sure if he was still working there or not. Kyle and I go over to his house and he has all of this cool stuff laying on a ping pong table. His wife is in the kitchen kinda eavesdropping. I could see her sticking her head in as we talked. So we closed the deal and I said “how does $800 sound?” He hem hawed around said “yeah, I think that’s pretty good.” The next thing I know, his wife comes running in and saying “I think we can get more money for that! We can get at least a thousand.” Haha, I’m thinking whatever, I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t really want to pay another $200 for it, but I did. Then he was happy.
J- What all was there?
S- He had a nice selection of stuff. Some carded figures. He had it all laid out on the table. Nice group of stuff. All I was really looking at was the Rocket Fett though. He had a little boy that was over to the side shooting the missile. I’m sitting there thinking “oh my God, don’t break it. Don’t break it.” Haha. My boy was the same way. When we first walked in, he looked at it and was pointing to the Fett. I was like, yeah I saw it. Haha.
J- Haha, you can’t go wrong there.
S- There was another time I met up with a student that was co-oping with Kenner. He had a really nice house. He had a ton of stuff. He decided not to sell though. He had hard copies and everything. He had a large doll hard copy of Chewbacca. He wouldn’t sell it though.
J- Second thoughts once you got there or what?
S- I guess. He called me and we went over there. He was a real young guy. We never even came up with a price. He probably just changed his mind. That’s the thing, they when they call you up you have to close the deal as quickly as you can. You want to have the money right there. You can’t walk to your car or anything. They’ll change their mind instantly. Maybe thinking they sold it too quick, or too low, or whatever. By the time he made the phone call and we got there the next day, he probably did more research. He just decided not to sell. He seemed like he was into Star Wars also. His mom was also there, and she might have been the one that worked at Kenner. He had a ton of stuff. A TIE Bomber in the box, all kinds of good stuff. I told him to give me a call when he was ready to sell, but I never heard from him. All about the timing.
J- You ever see anything like that later? You go to someone’s house and see stuff, but you can’t get a deal done. Later on years later you see it again in collector’s hands?
S- Not that I can remember. Nothing that I missed out on. Now seeing the proof cards that are out there circulating around is fun.
D- Let’s talk about the Steve Denny art contest that you held. How did that come about?
S- That was fun. I liked art and just thought it would be fun to do it. I was hopeful that with enough time and some other people involved I could turn it into a project of some kind. Maybe like activity books or coloring books using peoples original art. I thought it would be pretty cool. That way the artists would be featured. A fan-based coloring book. It could still be done with a little bit of work. Of course now with the Internet, we could scan that stuff in, black and white it, and make it a lot easier. The hardest part would be trying to locate all of these guys to get their permission. I have their names on most all of this stuff, but no idea if they are still around or not.
D- The grand prize in the contest was pretty impressive. A Star Wars 12 back Luke Skywalker proof card.
S- I know, it was sick! Haha.
D- Do you remember who won it?
S- Yes, the grand prize winner was Richard Cox. There were also different age categories and prizes. Somehow a guy up in Canada I think it was, contacted me and asked if I wanted to set up a webpage for the art. I asked him “well how are you going to do that way up there?” Haha. He said “well you know, if I get the images, no problem.” He did it. I can’t remember his name, but he set up the webpage. It was really cool. The site stayed up there for a while. You could go into each category and see the art and the names.
D- Shawn Bryan? I found the site still archived here:
D- I also have the link to your post on the newsgroups announcing the winners:
D- Still love that winning image. Pretty much every vintage Star Wars collector has seen this piece. It’s used on the New Acquisitions page on the Star Wars Collector’s Archive.
S- Yeah, Gus stole that image. Haha. Richard Cox won the Luke 12 back Star Wars proof card with that piece.
S- The whole idea was to have fun with it. I think I had around 50 entries. I think I ran it during the winter to give people something to do. I got entries from all over. Some from Finland, Sweden.
S- I also did a second contest but it didn’t go over well at all. Hardly anyone entered it.
D- In 1999, you sold a large portion of your collection through Tom Derby. A lot of people remember that as one of the first times a large collection of prototypes and hard to find items went on the open market. There was a lot of excitement about it at the time. “Denny’s selling his stuff!” I remember when it happened. There was a huge buzz.
What made that the right time for you to sell? How did all of that go down? Was there something in your mind that said you wanted to sell at that time?
S- Well, it was really just luck. I had no idea I was going to sell at that time. Tom Derby just kept bugging me about stuff. He had sold a couple pieces for me already. I think he had sold one of my Rocket Fetts and he was trying to get more to sell so he could make some money. He got 10%. He just kept talking about it and finally I said if you can get that kind of money for this stuff, come on up. So he came up from Atlanta and basically took back a station wagon load of stuff back. Small items like prototypes, proof cards. He took a lot of the proof cards. Some of the proof sheets. He started selling them. We drew up a contract and went across the street to the bank to get it notarized. I trusted him but it was kind of a risk. I didn’t really know him all that well.
D- No money up front?
S- No money up front. He just left my house with all my good stuff. I mean he could have had a wreck, everything burned up. He was reputable at the time and I took him at his word and trusted him. Like I said, he had sold a couple pieces for me already, and we just went with it. It all went really well. Took a while but it worked out. Without Tom Derby, I wouldn’t have made the money I made on the stuff. I couldn’t have done it by myself.
D- So it wasn’t so much an I’m ready to sell my stuff, moment in time for you…
S- It was a little pressure from Tom. I was amazed at how much money he was talking about that he could get for me. That he was able to get. He had contacts all over the world. He had a contact in South Africa. So many contacts it blew me away. So yeah, I was like come on up.
D- So you gave him a tour, showed him everything.
S- Yeah we went down in the basement and showed him everything. He just started picking things off the shelves. He started boxing things up. He had a guy with him helping, can’t think of his name. They were both up front and really professional about it.
D- In your mind at the time, did you picture the sale as I’m now cashing out of this hobby, or did you just see it as just another phase of what you have been doing all along. You’ve been selling since the beginning, was this just another larger part of that collecting journey you had been on? Or were you thinking I’m getting out, I’m done with it all.
S- Might have been a bit of both. I had stopped doing the catalog at that point. I couldn’t pick up anything out of the paper any more because of The Earth. He (Darren Murrer) would go in right behind me, looking at the exact same stuff. People would even tell me, I have Darren Murrer coming in. I just couldn’t compete with him, so I just had to step down. I couldn’t compete with the money that was being thrown around. I wasn’t about to take the money I had already made and saved, and try to compete with him. So, I was just happy with what I had.
D- You have had collectors over to your place before, pictures were posted on the Star Wars Collectors Archive, so it was common knowledge that you had a lot of good stuff. You were sharing it with the collecting community, but you really didn’t have any plan of selling it all off at that point?
S- No, hadn’t really planned on selling it. Tom just came up and started telling me the kind of prices he could get.
D- Here was one of the ads from Toy Shop that has a lot of your items in it.
S- Oh yeah, I remember that.
D- This is probably your white Darth Vader case here in the ad.
S- I had a white one and a gold one. I got the white one at a flea market for $5 or $10. The guy knew it was different. He lived over by Highland Avenue and knew where the Kenner warehouse was. He would pick up stuff because he knew I would buy from him. I was looking through the stuff and saw the white case and was like “woah look at that.” Asked him where he got it and said some lady had it, probably a Kenner employee. I asked him what he wanted for it and he said $5.
D- What about some of these other items? Recognize any of these? Was this your Kez Iban sculpt?
S- Yeah, I think it was. Look at those prices. He’s sick. Holy cow. Those box flats are probably all mine.
D- The issue is from September 1999.
S- Had some of these triple packs. I gave one to Sansweet. He needed one. I said “here, take it.” Haha.
D- That your carded Mon Julpa?
S- I think so. Man, there was this guy at the flea market that had a bunch of these loose in Kenner bags. They were all unproduced. To get to them I had to dig through a bunch of Starting Lineup ones to get to them. When I think back, I bet those were all unproduced prototypes as well. Didn’t even know it. Got them all for a buck a piece.
D- Wait a minute, you bought unproduced Droids figures for a buck a piece?
S- Yep, buck a piece at the flea market. Bought 10 or 12 that day. Guy probably worked at Kenner or had a relative that did. Probably just brought them home one day. They were all in a single box.
The most interesting find though, was by my son Kyle. We are walking out, leaving the flea market. Walking between dealers that are eight to ten feet apart from us and he looks over and sees three little prongs sticking out of a bicycle basket laying on the ground. All he sees is three little feet and says “dad, I think that’s a prototype.” I said well who is it? He said “it’s Morag the witch.” And it was! I asked the guy how much he wanted for it and he says “50 cents.” We got it and went on home. I told Kyle when I sell it you get the money. He got the money.
No way I would have seen that. I was always amazed about how he remembered all of the figures and what weapons go with what. He said mainly just from watching the commercials on tv. I never had a clue what went with what. Finally someone made up a list of what weapons went with what figures. They didn’t have a list like that at the time unless you looked at the card and even then you couldn’t really tell. Nobody had a list, that was way back. He knew what parts went with every ship too. I didn’t have a clue. We would set up assembly lines for the Speeder Bike. I would just buy parts not really knowing what was complete or not and just throw them in a box. We would start building them up piece by piece and build up a dozen or so then I would sell them. Haha. It was crazy.
D- You know, you are the reason I’m an A-Wing collector.
S- Haha. You have a lot of A-Wing stuff.
D- I didn’t even care about the A-Wing at the time. I got the for sale list from Tom Derby, saw a nice group of A-Wing stuff and thought that sounds like a cool set. It kind of just turned into a thing.
S- Just like with the Celebration 2 proof card sale later, Derby selling off that large chunk of stuff exposed a lot of people to the prototype market.
D- Oh yeah, I had maybe one or two pre-production pieces at that point. Your sale really opened up the prototype hobby to a lot of collectors in my opinion. I know you are humble about it, but it’s crazy when you look at just how much stuff has been brought to the market because you saved it. It’s a crazy amount of stuff.
S- I was just lucky to get it really. And getting it out there when Derby sold it all. It was just good timing. Someone said “Steve, you timed that just right.” I didn’t really time it, I wasn’t even really thinking about it. It just ended up being a good time to sell.
D- Speaking of the proof card sale. Let’s talk a little about the Star Wars Celebration 2 (C2) proof card sale.
S- That was fun. That was the first time I had been to a show.
D- What was the idea behind the big proof card blowout sale at C2?
S- Tom Derby couldn’t sell the remainder of the proof cards and box flats. He was just sitting on them. He was coming up to the show in Indianapolis and I told him to go ahead and bring the rest up with him. Chris Georgoulias found out about it or something, and suggested we blow them out. Chris got with you, or I asked you to sell them for me, I can’t remember which.
The velvet rope proof card sale at Celebration 2 in 2002, really opened up the market to a lot of collectors. A lot of guys didn’t even know what the proof cards were. And we were selling them for basically, I think it was Georgoulious who said “why don’t you get rid of the rest of those. Sell them three for $100.” I was like, yeah, we’ll do that. Haha. We didn’t sell everything for that, but the commons were cheap. You were sitting right there. I was constantly asking you “How much is this Dan?” Haha. But it created a lot of exposure right there. The same way with Derby selling all that stuff, it exposed it to a lot of people.
D- I don’t remember exactly how it all started either, but you and I talked about blowing them out, and I picked the stuff up from Tom Derby while he was setting up his booth before the show had started.
S- Yeah, I told him you were going to do something with them. You did something with them all right. That was crazy. That was fun. I had a good time with that. I was already satisfied with what Tom had done. That stuff was kind of like leftovers. I got a kick out of meeting and talking with the guys coming in to buy the stuff. The line was wrapped all the way down the hall that night. At least during the short time we had before the security came and busted us. Then you took the rest to the show the next day trying to sell them. I couldn’t believe how many proof cards and box flats were sold that night. A lot of people got some great deals. It really opened it up to a lot of different collectors. I was glad to see that.
D- I think we sold the Star Wars and Power of the Force proof cards for around $200 each. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi proof cards were like $40-50 each. They were even cheaper if you bought multiples.
D- There was a fear among some collectors that the sale was going to flood the market, and hurt the prices on proofs that were already out there. That it would hurt the people that had been buying from you one or two at a time over the years. There was some legitimate concern there.
S- I can understand that.
D- Some prices did drop immediately following the sale, but it didn’t take long for the prices to go right back up though the roof. Now look at what some of them are selling for. We also continued to sell the proof cards for a while after Celebration 2, including several damaged ones.
S- Yeah, now there are people out there trying to track down who bought what from that sale. Cause that’s it, it’s all out there now. The most of any one proof card I had was 12 cards.
D- I get questions all the time from people asking me if I know how many exist or if I sold a certain one at the sale.
S- Now Sansweet also had some proof cards that he found. I don’t know how many he had at one point. Maybe 400 cards? I know mine was around 2,000. Sansweet had a group of cards he had bought from a Kenner employee. So he was selling some and there were a couple other guys that also found a couple small groups of cards. So at the most, there was maybe 3,000-4,000 total? Just a guess. I know what I had though, right around 2,000.
D- Here’s a less fun question. We all have collectible toys or items we regret selling or letting go of for some reason. What’s the one thing you regret not keeping?
S- The only thing I should have kept is the custom made Power of the Force coin frame that Boba Fisher made. He made it specifically for me and even had it numbered. He numbered all of the frames. When he started making them, it took him a while to make because it was a funny dimension he had to cut out and had to get them all centered. So he made it for me and when Tom came in it was one of the things he grabbed. I shouldn’t have let it go, because you are not supposed to sell your gifts. A lot of the stuff Fisher gave me, I still have at home. All the goofy stuff he sent me over the years.
D- Do you remember what the number was on your frame? Maybe we can track it down for you.
S- No, I don’t. Of course it would cost you $10,000 now. Haha.
D- We’ll get it without the coins in it. Haha. I bet we can find out what the number was and where it is now.
S- It’s just like with the replica mausers he made me, he put my initials on the gun. He made replicas of the Han Solo gun and put S.W.D. on the bottom of this one. That’s me, Stevie-Wan Denobi. I started calling him Boba-san. He made a few guns and we sold them through my catalog for $44. The $44 price just like the 44 magnum gun. He sold a few and had some left over so I bought the rest of them from him. Just a cool fan-made prop gun.
But yeah, the coin frame was the one thing I should have kept. Tom came in and grabbed things so quick and I was like “yeah, go ahead.” He sold it as the Boba Fisher fan made frame.
D- Oh definitely. That frame has its own collectible following now.
S- I like to see Boba get a lot of recognition and a following for the things he did. I have some really neat artwork that he and the boys did.
D- It’s really cool that Boba Fisher will always be remembered in this hobby because of that frame. That’s the one thing people will always remember about him. That and maybe how much time and detail he put into the art that he would add to envelopes and things like that.
S- He was a natural when it came to the art. His boys were the same way.
D- Is there any particular collecting goal that you were particularly proud of completing? Like a full set of something you had worked on while collecting?
S- I think the one thing I was most proud of was having the Star Wars Power of the Force proof cards. Nobody else had them. I was keeping them all and wasn’t planning on selling any of them. I think one time we put them for sale on Gus’ site as a joke. I think I had a 103 card set for $50,000 as a joke. Gus he wrote on there “that’s right folks, five zeros” or something like that. Realistically, if you priced them out when I started selling them, it wasn’t too far off!
That link is still active. Check it out here: Rare power of the Force Proof Cards
D- But early on you didn’t really want to sell the Power of the Force proof cards?
S- No, early on I didn’t because I really liked those. They were neat. Especially when I found out that many of them were unproduced characters. As far as I know, I was the only one that had them and I was really proud of that. I had always wanted to display them on a wall or something, but you just can’t with the sunlight. It would ruin them.
D- Is there anything you regret not being able to complete as a collector?
S- Not really. Maybe the Bespin Leia 12” doll to go with the unproduced box I had. That was probably the only thing I was actively going after and just couldn’t get it. I would have liked to have had that. I had the word out and even a couple of people looking for me. But I was really lucky and satisfied with the stuff I was able to get. How many people ever get a chance and are lucky enough to fall into something like I did where a guy calls you up wanting to sell.
D- Are you still involved in the Star Wars collecting hobby?
S- I still pursue it some when I am thinking about it. Most of my time is spend taking aviation pictures. I’m into photography pretty big now. But yeah, if I see something Star Wars related that’s a good price I will pick it up. Most of the good stuff now is all going direct to different people hitting up employees. If I see something at a yard sale I’ll pick it up.
D- Anything you have picked up recently to keep as a collectible? Because you liked it?
S- Probably some coloring book stuff I picked up not too long ago. I still run an ad on craigslist and was contacted by a guy on there. Wasn’t anything too great. About 3-4 years ago.
D- You mentioned you are still selling some Star Wars Power of the Force coins.
S- Yeah, Jeremy Clark sold some for me not too long ago. I’ll commission guys to sell for me now and then. I also sold some proof cards through John Wooten lately too. He sold some Droids proof cards on Rebelscum.com. One of them was the Droids Boba Fett proof card.
One point to clarify, the Star Wars logo proof cards did not come from the same guy at Kenner as the other proof cards. They all came from a contact at LPK. I can’t remember how I got his name, but he was a real nice guy. My son and I went over a few times to buy. We bought some Xerox copied stuff one time, spent way too much on those but I was just trying to stay in contact with him. He had a really nice set of Revenge proof cards too. He didn’t want to sell those to me though. I offered to sell them for him and he was okay with that. But he had some Star Wars proof cards without any backs. I didn’t know what they were at the time. He had the whole set of twelve, or maybe he was missing one. I asked him if I sold the Revenge proofs for him, would he deal with me on the Star Wars ones. He said “oh, I’ll give you those.” Those Star Wars proofs turned out to be some of the best ones.
D- Do you still have any of the Star Wars proof cards?
S- I think I have three or four left.
D- Are they for sale?
S- Sure I guess. It still blows me away that he didn’t want to deal on the Revenge proof cards, but didn’t care about the Star Wars proof cards. I think in his mind he placed a lot more value on the Revenge ones because of the name of the movie getting changed from Revenge to Return.
S- I think I sold the set of Revenge proof cards for him for about $500. A set of 40 Revenge of the Jedi cards for $400-500, somewhere around there. He was happy with that and he gave me the Star Wars proof cards. I lost touch with him after that.
D- Is there anything you are currently looking for as a collector? Anything you are collecting now?
S- No toys. I look for aviation related stuff now. I used to collect what they call “kiddie wings”, those little wings they would give to kids when they got on the airplanes. I was finding those while I was looking for toys. I would see them laying there and just really liked them. So I started picking them up and got into it. Then after I retired from the Post Office, I started getting into the aviation photography so it all kind of tied in together. I also have some pilot hats. Stuff like that. But I have enough of it now that I’m not even really looking for that. If I fall into something cool, I’ll get it.
D- Let’s talk more about Bob Fisher. “Boba” Fisher. What are some of your favorite memories about Boba?
S- There is a lot. Well, I had the catalog going at the time I first met him. He had built a collection for himself and one of his boys, but then the boy got out of it. He had all this extra stuff he wanted to trade off or get rid of. He saw my catalog and he saw some stuff in there so we started trading. This was early 90’s. He would send me envelopes with really cool art on it and he just had a neat style. We just hit it off right away. I asked him if he wanted to do some art work for the cover of my catalog. He said “Oh yeah, I would love to.” Then he started sending me pictures of all this stuff he has and it was all set up really nice in a basement like yours. It was all showcased really nice. I thought man, I have got to see this place. I had never seen anything like it. Kyle and I went up two or three times to his house. He lived in Pittsburgh, PA. Little area called Monroeville on the East side of Pittsburgh. Getting up there was fun. On the turnpike. Man that was skinny.
We went up the first time and his wife was really nice. The first time we drove up, we stayed about three hours and drove back. It was five and a half hours up, stayed three to four hours, and drove right back the same day. The second time we stayed over in a hotel. The next time we went we also went to a show they had up there in Monroeville. They had a great big expo center up there.
He was just a really cool guy. We hit it off right away. He was kind of like a second dad to me. My dad had died in 1992 so I think I kind of took to Bob because he was a little bit older than me. We hit it off and I loved his artwork. We did a lot of trading and we just became good buddies. All the proof cards I got. He got them all for free. Then he ended up having to sell them when he got divorced. His wife took off on him and left him. He had to settle up with her so fortunately he had the proof cards to sell and made money. It was good for him. It kind of bailed him out which was good, because he was hurting. If he would have lived closer, we would have been doing all kinds of stuff together. We would have been dumpster diving and everything. He would have been my right hand man. My brother.
He was so talented. His house was set up perfect. Nothing out of place and clean as a whistle. He had a little workshop in the basement with all of the tools hanging up there. Just everything perfect.
Boba just had so many problems, but he was able to keep his head up and keep a good attitude about most things. Didn’t let many things get to him. Lot of bad luck though. He got hit by a drunk driver and had a prosthetic leg. Then his wife left him. Got divorced. He called me up a couple of times, and he was about ready to kill himself man. But he tried to stay positive. We got along well, we both really like Star Wars. One time Kyle and I went up and met a couple buddies of his. Couple dealers up there. Guy named Glen Ridenour was a big dealer up that way. We just had a good time going to shows. I just wish he had been in better health though. He had that COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
He was a good friend, someone you could share you collecting finds with. I would show him stuff and he would do some research and help me with that. Like with the coins he would make a list for me. Also helped me learn more about the proof cards.
D- I think I remember seeing a video that you sent him, or he sent you? What was that about?
S- Oh yeah, I made a video and sent him one time. I tried to be real formal and had a sports coat on looking all nice. I had the camera running but I wasn’t relaxed. I need to be a jokester type guy. So I went down into the basement and I am sitting there and I am going to make a little video for him showing the stuff I have. So I am acting really stupid in it. I have a white prototype Darth Vader carrying case and said “look at this Bob, look at this junk. It’s the wrong color. You put a Stormtrooper in here and you couldn’t even see him” I then threw it in the garbage can on tape. I made a copy of that but it’s on a VHS cassette. It’s going to be lousy quality. I might still have it on the original high-8 video tape. I even put music to it. It was only like six to seven minutes long. Someone may have bought it at his sale.
D- Hopefully someone out there has a copy and will contact us.
D- Do you see the Star Wars hobby today as being better, worse, or just different than before the Internet? Has the internet been a good thing or bad thing for the hobby in your opinion?
S- I like to think it was better before the Internet. It was much easier to pick stuff up. For a collector finding stuff, it seems like it was easier to get good deals on things. There’s just so much exposure now. Everything feels like it’s about making a buck now. A lot of people are flipping stuff left and right now, many making a living off of doing it. It is kind of cool in a way, as that is what I was trying to do early on. But as a collector, I think it was more fun the other way, before the Internet. For me it was the hunt. I always had more fun hunting for toys than anything else. It was all about walking up on a box of toys and finding cool stuff sitting there. Or at a yard sale where you could find ships laying there on a table for a buck a piece or something like that. It’s just harder to find stuff now for a good deal. There’s just so much exposure. Price guides, ebay, etc.
Collecting is definitely more personal now with the Internet. Collectors can easily share information all over the world. You have the Rebelscum forums, Facebook, and places like that. It’s really helpful for the guys just starting out and getting into it. There is all this archived information available now for people to read. We didn’t have anything like that when I started. Everything was on paper at that time. That is one of the reasons I kept all of the old Kenner toy fair catalogs, as reference. I didn’t really get into the Internet until around 1995. That was also around the time The Earth started up and I kind of dropped out of it.
You never stop learning though. I just recently found out something with the coins. I had some variation Power of the Force coins that I didn’t even know I had. I’m sure they came from that guy I got all the coins from. I got a hold of Jarrod Clark up in New Hampshire and he sent me the Coining a Galaxy book. He’s real nice. I had sent him some stuff, so he sent me the book. I asked him if there were any coins he needed and he said yeah there’s a couple he needed. I grabbed the book and checked and found out that I had two variations I didn’t even know I had. If he hadn’t of told me and sent me the book, I never would have known.
D- What is the first thing that pops into your mind when I say “the good old days of Star Wars collecting?”
S- Probably going to the toy stores. Finding stuff that was still on the shelves at toy stores and traveling around hunting for them. It was all about the hunt, and finding stuff still at retail was a real rush.
D- You were doing what collectors today call “toy runs” except you were hitting the stores for vintage toys. When collectors today say they are going on a “toy run,” they are going to Target, Walmart, or Toy R Us looking for the latest Hasbro figures. You did it looking for vintage toys. That’s the dream we all have man.
S- Yeah, we went everywhere. Thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, toy stores, everywhere. We’d drive anywhere looking. That’s how I found one lady that worked at Kenner. Down in Latonia. She had a little storefront she rented. It was down on Madison Avenue. I looked in the window and saw all these toys. I went in there and saw back in the corner she had all this Star Wars. Diecast with the cards cut for 50 cents each. I took them all and asked if she had any more. She said “oh yeah, I have access to the store.”
D- This was a current Kenner employee?
S- No, she was a former Kenner employee that had retired, but was still buying out of the employee toy store. I was getting a lot of stuff from her. That’s where I was getting most of my carded figures in the beginning. That was until I made the mistake of saying something one time about a specific carded figure. I asked her “are you getting full value for that?” What an idiot I was. Haha. I should have kept my mouth shut. She had said something about selling figures to other people, and I thought she meant selling to other collectors. She had the Luke Stormtrooper, and I told her that’s a good figure now. I made the mistake of telling her she needed to be getting more money for the figure than some of the others. I didn’t mean to sell it for more to me! Just if she was selling it to other people, she should sell it for more. Haha. I’m an idiot.
Well she picked up on that, and I didn’t get any more figures. Now she knew they were worth money. The first toy show I set up at, she was at a table right next to me. I thought that was so funny. Haha. I even took pictures of her sitting there. She had boxes and boxes of figures. She must have went over to the employee store and loaded up on cases of figures. That’s when her and some other employees got in trouble. Kenner found out that these employees were selling the toys. They weren’t supposed to be selling the toys they bought there. It was for employees and their family. Well, her and some other folks were going in there wanting cases of this stuff. That’s when they got in trouble. I think the lady working in the Kenner store was trying to be friendly to her or she knew her, because they weren’t supposed to be selling more than about ten figures at a time. Well she was going in there buying 48 at a time. Other employees were doing the same thing and almost got fired over it.
D- Let’s talk about a topic today’s collectors are dealing with. A lot of newer collectors see action figure recards, where someone re-attaches an action figure bubble back on the card, or repairing the bubble to make it sealed and look new again, or things like reproduction cards and bubbles as a serious threat to the hobby. Do you remember anything like that happening in the early days? People worried about fakes and things like this.
S- It was going on sure, but I think people were more upfront about it than they are today. People would re-glue the bubble or repair the card but there wasn’t a lot of it going on. I think it was more to repair it and make it look nicer as opposed to trying to fake something. As long as it was upfront it was fine. There were some guys making fake Rocket Fetts. It made sense because it was a high dollar item everyone wanted.
D- The Earth used to make nice fake Rocket Fetts.
S- Right. As long as people were upfront with it, it’s not a big deal. The problem is that when it’s originally sold, the seller can be all upfront and honest about it, but then when it starts changing hands it gets messy. The story doesn’t always travel with the piece. You need to keep any documentation with it. Have to keep the history with it.
I was lucky in that the majority of the stuff I was buying was directly from the Kenner employees. I was able to match their names up to internal directories and know who I was dealing with.
D- Plus there wasn’t as much incentive to try and pass off the fake stuff. The value of the items weren’t through the roof like they are now. When you can sell a resin hard copy figure for $5,000+, the incentive and risk is there.
S- We did have the Blue Harvest stuff early on. I looked at some of that stuff when it first came available.
S- This guy called me up and I went over to take a look at what he had. It started out he wanted $800 for the lot when we talked on the phone. So I went over to check it out and he had a whole floor covered with the stuff. 20, maybe 30-40 of these blue things. The majority of it was Star Wars Micro 4ups. They all looked brand new. I went over there thinking they might be fake to begin with.
D– What made you think that?
S- I talked with another contact of mine who was a sculptor at Kenner. I asked him if they molded any of the 4ups in blue. He told me none of the early Star Wars prototypes were molded in the blue resin. It was only used in the 90’s. The pieces also had a lot of flashing on them around the edges where the resin leaked out of the molds. Knowing what I knew going in and after seeing them, I didn’t want any part of them. I asked him how much he wanted anyway. He told me $2000 takes it all. I told him I would go home and think about it. I really just wanted to get out of the house.
D- What’s funny is, that would have probably been a good investment knowing that some people do look at the Blue Harvest pieces as a collectible in their own right. They do have some value now.
S- Yeah, no doubt. At the time though, I was only interested in legit stuff. I didn’t want any fake stuff. By the time I got home, the price he told me already jumped up to $4000. Someone ended up buying them for even more than that. It was crazy.
I was afraid this stuff was going to be out there being passed off as real, so when I was sending out my catalog orders, I put a flyer in there telling people not to get ripped off by this stuff because it’s fake. My thought was to get the knowledge out there to the collectors to help them from being ripped off.
D- I seem to remember you having a large storage bag full of Blue Snaggletooth figures in Kenner baggies. That true? Where did all of those come from?
S- I did have a bunch of Blue Snaggletooths at one point, but they weren’t all in Kenner baggies though. I would pick them up at yard sales or wherever. I held onto those for a while. I kept saving them and maybe had 20 or so at one point. I picked up three from one lady that called me. She said “I heard these were good.” I told her yeah, you might not want to sell them. She wanted to trade them for other figures for her son. I went over there and gave her four or five figures for each Blue Snaggletooth. They were some good figures too, like Luke Skywalker original. She was happy with the deal.
Then I found some at a yard sale over in Anderson. Lady had some figures laying there and I saw two Blue Snaggletooths there. They were brand new. Really nice. I looked at them and she was charging a buck a piece. I asked her if she had any more Star Wars figures and she went over and was talking with her friend. She came back and said “no, I don’t think I have any more.” I think she got smart really quick when she saw I was wanting to buy them all. I bought all she had.
D- Sometimes collectors can get territorial or possessive about finding toys or trying to buy toys from a Kenner source. Did you ever have a bad run-in with someone or have some serious direct competition with another collector? Any awkward moments?
S- Well that’s basically what Darren at The Earth was doing. I would get leads from ads I placed in the newspaper, and he was doing the same thing. Anyone that was calling me, was also calling him. He would make sure he came in last, and he just had too much money. I couldn’t compete with him. I went to one place and the guy had a house full of stuff. He could have filled this entire room up. I had never seen so much stuff. He had a lot of loose toys and stuff. Then he had a lot of Chomalins. Real nice stuff in an album. I told him I wasn’t interested in any of the toys, and I was only interested in the stuff in the album. I asked him if he wanted to sell those. He said “not until the other guy gets here.” He had an original Princess Leia Star Wars Chromalin in there. This was a while back, and I told him I would give him $1,000 for that right now. He said no, he wouldn’t do it. I told him “nice talking to you.” All I accomplished there was probably set a price for what he asked Darren for. I just couldn’t compete with him, or at least I wasn’t willing to compete at the time.
He was really the only one I consistently ran up against. He started his business and I talked to him a couple times. He had set up at a small show here in Cincinnati. He had a Landspeeder prototype piece and he wanted $4,000 for it! I looked at my son and said “this guy is crazy.” But that was how he was, he was a high shooter. But you know, he ended with that nice big store. People were walking in just bringing him all kinds of stuff. He turned up a lot of stuff.
When they had that show in town, he had some of the cast and crew from the movie in the store.
D- It was december 1997 at the Men Behind the Mask Sci-Fi convention in Cincinnati.
S- I talked to him a little bit then. There weren’t any bad feelings, I just wasn’t willing to pay what he would. I had heard from some other collectors that he was upset I was running an ad too. He felt I was moving in on his territory, when in reality I was the one that was doing it first. He invaded me, but in the end it’s free enterprise. I just didn’t like his tactics, it was nothing personal against him.
D- What are your thoughts on third party grading companies like AFA?
S- I’m not a big fan of it. I know they provide a service by authenticating the item, and as a seller it ups the price on the item. I just never really liked it all that much. Always felt like a money making scheme.
D- I kind of look at it as if you are someone who is new to the hobby or not as informed, and you want to buy something, it gives you some piece of mind. The buyer can at least be relatively sure they are buying a real item. Of course, we’ve seen that they are not perfect, but for the most part, it adds a layer of insurance for the buyer.
S- Yeah, that’s what’s good about it. If you aren’t willing to do the leg work on a piece it can help. I’ve used it a few times when someone has asked me to get it graded as part of a deal. I have sent proof cards and coins down to them for the buyer, which has actually saved me on postage. I don’t mind doing that. Getting the proof cards into the acrylic cases is also good so they don’t get damaged as they change hands. Those are some good things about AFA.
D- For the record, how many Rocket Firing Boba Fetts have you owned?
S- I have owned six of them. Three of the lighter gray, and three of the darker bluish “steel” gray. They didn’t all have rockets with them when I got them. All of mine were L slots. I didn’t have any J slots. Some of the rockets came with them, and then I picked up some rockets later from another find.
D- Where did the six Rocket Fetts come from?
S- They came from three different guys. All ex-Kenner employees. Three of them came from the same guy. Two from another guy, and one from an engineer.
D- So you physically owned six at one time.
S- Yes, I had all six at once. I should have taken a picture of them all together. That would have been cool. Those were the prized possession that everyone was looking for. Tom Derby sold the first one for me.
D- I was with you when you sold another one at Celebration 2.
S- Yeah, I put together a letter of authentication with that one. I was happy to do it. I told him if you find out it’s fake, you get your money back no problem. I knew they were all good.
D- Do you remember how many sides the rockets had?
S- I had both four and eight sided versions. That’s all I know.
D- Crazy to imagine having six Rocket Fetts at one time.
S- It was all luck. It happened so quick too. I got all six within maybe a year’s time. I ran across the first guy that had one and I was like “oh, I know what that is!” That first guy had a bunch of stuff and one of the things was the Rocket Fett. Now that I think about it, he may have had two. The next guy I got a hold of was an engineer, and he just had a couple pieces. Some figure variations. He had the little figures that went into the diecast landspeeder, and he had half of the mold.
D- Like a steel mold?
S- No, it was like an acetate piece. It was sculpted. The toy fit right in it, and matched up as a perfect fit. Set right in there. He then brought out one more piece, and I was “woah woah look at that.” It was a Rocket Fett. I asked him how much he wanted for all of it and it was a little pricey. I paid a little bit of money that day. I think I paid $400 or $500 for all of it. But I was like, no problem.
I asked him if he knew anybody else, and he said “yeah, I have a friend that may have some stuff.” He gave me his name and I got a hold of him. This was the guy that I got a bunch of stuff from. He had three Rocket Fetts and a whole bunch of other stuff. He was asking $3500 for the lot. The Fetts were going for about $1,000 at the time. I was thinking well if I can get this group for $3,000, then I’ll be happy. He had all kinds of stuff. Crazy stuff. Lots of partial pieces all boxed up. He was an engineer and he had tons of bits and pieces. It was a lot of good stuff too. He had a gold Darth Vader case. I asked him if he would take $3,000 for the lot and he said “let me think about it…yeah I can do that. That will work.” I helped him box it all up and headed home.
D- So three Rocket Fetts, gold Darth Vader case, what all else was in there?
S- Here is the complete list of things I got from him:
S- I got a lot of stuff from that guy. That was nice. That was the most money I had ever spent. That was my biggest find of goofy stuff. Just tons of prototype pieces.
D- I’m looking at this list and I’m speechless. Tell me you did not get three Rocket Fetts for $10 each. Gold Vader case for $30! Just, wow. So up until now. this is the most you had spent on a collection, but you couldn’t have been worried about overpaying with the Rocket Fetts in there.
S- No, not all. I wasn’t worried at all because of the three Rocket Fetts laying there. At the time they were a $1000 each and I knew I could sell them. I just looked at it as getting all that other stuff for nothing. But remembering back, I didn’t really market any of this stuff. I just kinda put most of it away or displayed it and enjoyed it. He had some common stuff in there. A few coins. He did have four extra Rocket Fett rockets too.
D- Looking at these two Rocket Fetts laying on the table in front of us now, what goes through your mind when you think “there’s a huge chunk of money sitting right there on the table.”
S- I thinking I hope I don’t damage or lose them. Haha.
D- Doesn’t it boggle you mind though.
S- Yeah it does. I told my wife the other day when I walked in the house with these two Rocket Fetts in my coat pocket. I keep everything I have left of value in a safe deposit box at the bank. I pulled them out and told her “this bag is worth a lot of money.”
D- For some plastic.
S- What gets me is how the level goes up. Like we talked about the coins. I would sell them for $200, and the next thing I know I see them selling for $400. So when you have something that is unique, or very few of, these guys can set any price they want on them. That’s what Tom Derby and these other guys did. They were setting their own prices. They take an item that has never been shown, or maybe one or two exist, and all of a sudden they are making up a price. That becomes the said price. That has now just become the price this item goes for. You can negotiate or whatever, but for the most part, the price has been set.
D- It takes a special person to have the audacity to ask some of the prices that they ask. I could never do that.
S- I could never do that either. It’s hard for me to do that. When Tom Derby told me he could get that kind of money, and it was stuff that was just sitting there, I was like eh, okay go ahead. If you can get that, fine. I didn’t really want to do it myself. Like with the Rocket Fett. Tom said “Steve, I think I can get you a good price for that.” I was like, if you can, I will let one go. So I let one go. Then another one. Then I ended up selling four of them. Without Tom, I wouldn’t have made anywhere near that.
D- There’s no question that the name Steve Denny will always be a part of Star Wars collecting history. What is the one thing that you hope fellow toy collectors remember when they read about you or hear your name in conversations?
S- I was just trying to get quality stuff out there to people at a good price so they could build their collection. I’ve always been a kind of rebel, anti-establishment type person. I was just trying to do, and take it one step better than what anyone else was out there doing. I was probably one of the first guys that would ship stuff in one day. Nobody did that. They would always ship one day out of the week. I would always get people saying “how are you getting this stuff to me so fast?” I would say well I shipped it out the same day I got your order. You paid for it and you want it now kind of thing. I tried to do everything just a little better than the average mail order company. I was just trying to do one step better, and get a good product out to them. That’s what I would like the collectors I dealt with over the years to remember. I had a lot of return customers because of that.
I was kind of hoping that would set the standard. That a lot of others would start shipping that quick. Most people would ship one day out of the week. Maybe make a mail run on Friday, and just make you wait. I went down there to ship every night. Sometimes I would take the orders to the post office when I went to work. Back then the post office came out with a two pounds, two days, two bucks deal. Couldn’t beat that man, that was great. So I was shipping a lot of stuff priority mail US post office. But most of it went through UPS. But I could get home, pack up my orders, and still get down to UPS that night and ship them out.
D- So even though you worked at the post office, you were shipping UPS?
S- Well, UPS got it there a little quicker. They could get it there overnight somehow if it was close. Like to Detroit, Chicago, Lexington. The customer could get it the next morning. It was great. I loved that. They would call me up and say “man, I just ordered that, how on earth did you get it here so fast?” I got a kick out of that. Good price, good product, good service, attention to detail. I gave discounts. I threw in extra stuff. Nobody gave you extra stuff that I knew of.
I was just trying to start a little business, but then I got involved with the hobby. It became a real collector to collector kind of experience, and I loved everything about it. I still love it.
D- Steve, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to sit down with us and reminisce about your collecting adventures!
This interview is dedicated to the memory of Bob “Boba” Fisher. Bob passed away on 9/20/2010 from complications with COPD.