Packaging and A Collector

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Tricia Trozzi  Production Manager

With apologies to William Shakespeare: “To M-I-B* or not to M-I-B? That is the question.” (*M-I-B meaning “Mint-in-Box”  — a common phrase in the collecting world.)

I am a Collector. In fact, I am afflicted with Multiple Hobby Disorder, which causes me to collect on all of my interests, from my favorite movies and TV shows to the sports teams I root for. It seems appropriate for me to be in the packaging field when saving and appreciating packaging is a big part of my hobby.

My first, largest, and most expensive collection is Star Wars, which I started in 1977. As a young teen, I did open and play with all of my early action figures, but I never threw away any of the boxes of my original Star Wars toys. I even kept all of the different wax paper wrappers for the 1970s Topps trading cards with my complete sets of cards (the infamous horrible slab of gum, however, did not survive). I wouldn’t trade my original set of loose Star Wars figures, with their cut backer cards, for a M-O-M-C (Mint-On-Mint-Card) set. As a kid, I bought toys that I liked and enjoyed playing with them.

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some of Tricia’s 1978 Kenner Action Figures and their cut-up, damaged cardbacks
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1970s complete sets of Topps trading cards and wrappers

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it was standard practice for kids to open and play with their toys. Touching them and playing with them was how I was going to emotionally connect with my love for Star Wars. By the 1980s, I had modified my technique of opening action figures to partially slitting the plastic bubble with an X-Acto knife so I could remove the figure and then put it back. Even a rare and valuable figure such as the 1985 Tri-Logo version of Yak Face was not immune to my desire to have the loose figure standing on my bedroom shelf for a while. However, I never considered throwing out the opened, beat-up boxes or cut blister cards. I saved the packaging back then because I felt that the toy would be incomplete without its “home.” I stored everything back in its original package. It was simply my preference; I wasn’t ever thinking of possible future monetary value.

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Blasphemy! An opened 1985 Yak Face!

Things changed for the collecting “industry” in the 1990s. Toys stopped being just “toys;” they could now be valuable limited-edition commodities to be hoarded by adults hoping to make a pricey re-sale to other adults on the secondary market. The advent of online auctions like eBay and TV shows like “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” suggested that there was financial value to popular culture items. A major rule in collecting is “condition is everything,” ESPECIALLY the box/packaging.

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example of neatly-opened, but resealable, 1990s boxed toy

It became the new standard to keep everything unopened and M-I-B, and vintage Star Wars items that had miraculously never been opened began to command huge re-sale prices. The package became the collectible. I know some collectors for whom the box is more important than the item inside; i.e., they are not as concerned with a bad paint job on an action figure’s face and more concerned with a dented corner of the blister card.

In the 1990s, I saw first-hand in the aisles of my local Toys-R-Us when parents were buying a toy and telling their child that they were not going to open it because “someday it’s going to be worth something.” But will that child have an emotional attachment to that toy that he’s never played with, or even seen? Might it just as well be an empty box if you don’t get SOME fun out of seeing and playing with the toy? Is that unnecessarily encouraging the mercenary aspect to collecting — that you are buying it for eventual re-sale — rather than buying what you like and enjoying what you buy?

I’m not sure if kids now will have the emotional attachment to their toys as kids growing up in the 1970s did, when almost everybody took their toys out of package and actually played with them. A person is going to have more of an attachment to the toys that he/she played with as a child, than any ones that remain unopened. If you spend $100+ on a toy in a closed box that you’re never going to even see, that’s an expensive piece of cardboard.

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“Try Me”? Well, if you say so, C-3PO…

By the early 2000s, packaging for toys and collectibles had recognized a shift in the way kids and collectors approached buying and saving their items. New trends in package design addressed this: larger clear blisters for action figures, larger windows in boxes, and lots and lots of “Try-Me’s.” Packaging design in the toy/collectible category became more creative and innovative. These packaging trends could be seen for all licensed brands; not just for Star Wars.

With these new packaging styles, you didn’t have to take your item out of the box; it could be seen and displayed right in the package! You didn’t have as much mental trauma of whether to open or not to open. The item itself was presented in its own showcase. All of those window boxes stacked on top of each other could make for a display of their own. The visual enjoyment of the item was restored while the perceived future value of the product was protected. It wasn’t quite the same as having your little mitts on the toy and playing with it, but admiring the item within its well-designed package was the next best thing.

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comparison of 1978 Kenner original X-Wing vehicle in a closed box with 2006 Hasbro large window box which even has printed insert backdrops to complete the scene
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a bobblehead in closed box, compared to a 2008 box that’s almost all window

My personal approach to collecting, now that I’m in my second and prolonged childhood, is to open MOST of the items I get, even if I don’t assemble the entire toy. At least I can experience and appreciate the art of the toy design before putting it back in the box. Sometimes I will take something out of the box, put in on display for a while so I can see and experience it, then it goes back into the box and regretfully back to wherever it was stored in my house.

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one of the corners of my home attic that is full of empty boxes from items that are on display

Fortunately, not everything remains trapped in its box forever. High-quality, expensive Items like Gentle Giant’s statues and mini-busts, Master Replicas’ prop replicas, and Sideshow Collectibles’ statues are on permanent display in my house. But I don’t throw out those boxes, and the unfortunate by-product of this practice is a serious storage space issue — the attic in my home is filled with empty boxes!

As important as packaging is to the collectibles market, there is no right-or-wrong answer to the dilemma of opening collectible items. Each collector has to weigh the re-sale value vs. the emotional value of playing with the toy/item. But even if you choose to not open your collectible, there is a recent online trend to experience the vicarious thrill of playing with the toy — “unboxing videos,” where a host opens a collectible toy and demonstrates its features. There you can watch all the fun while your item stays pristinely M-I-B.

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2000s-era M-I-B toys in a re-purposed Kellogg’s promotional store display

Whether M-I-B or loose, the best result is a collection which makes the collector happy.

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