In our search to un-bend our wookies, Nerd Bastards caught up with Jordan Hembrough, the host of Travel Channel’s Toy Hunters. The show premiers this Sunday (Jan. 15th) at 11:00pm on Travel Channel and it’s totally worth checking out. I know finder-type shows, like American Pickers, Storage Wars, Pawn Stars and so on are becoming a dime a dozen, but this one is for nerds, toy freaks and anyone susceptible to nostalgia. Having seen an early screening of the show, I can tell you seeing Jordan and his team search for rare and valuable plastic treasures, talking about their history and geeking out along the way will put a big dumb nerdy smile on your face. It’s fascinating and fun! I also may have shit my pants when I saw an un-produced rocket-firing Boba Fett from Star Wars sell for $17,000. These maybe toys, but this ain’t child’s play.
So, Jordan, the toy hunter himself, found some time in-between swimming in his vault of toys( like Scrooge Mcduck) to answer a few interview questions…
Starting off with a vital question. Your giant, city destroying lizard of choice-
Reptar or Godzilla?
I have to go with Godzilla on that one. I mean, the guy has longevity… you have to respect that in a lizard. He has spawned like 29 spin off films and television movies. Plus, he has a son, who also kicks ass. I have watched them all, and really get a kick out of them.
What was the first toy you remember owning?
You know its funny, I would normally have said Star Wars figures but as I got ready for this show.. I started looking through childhood photos. I found dozens of pictures of me and my brother with our Mego Supeheroes. The “Worlds Greatest Superheroes” line was a huge seller in the 70’s… and we had them all. As I was looking through the pictures, all
these memories came back to me about the dolls. I really loved them.
Favorite toy growing up?
Star Wars action figures. Without a doubt. I saw the movie while on vacation in Maine with my family. It changed my life. I was a die-hard fan after that and collected everything from the movie. Toys, Books, Sheets… I had them all.
When did you make that switch from fan to collector, and/or collector to seller?
Well, I will always be a fanboy.. and proud of it. But I would say the defining moment came when I was moving out of my parent’s house and found many of my old toys. I was saving for furniture for my apartment and found that selling the toys at local shows was easy, and enjoyable. I really knew a lot about the history of the toys, and was able to pass along some of that to the customers… along with stories of how I used to play with them as a kid.
Looking back, I think people enjoyed that. I think they liked knowing where the toy collectible came from… and that it was loved by its owner.
What are you thoughts on toys and gender-specific marketing?
I think it will always be there, no matter what we do. While society as a whole has somewhat leveled the playing field in the workforce and home environment, toy manufacturers tend to hold true to their cookie cutter marketing.
In other words, we’re seeing more of the gender roles reversed these days. Women are in the workforce, running companies and becoming executives. They are viewed as equals in the workplace. Men too are staying home… whether it be working from home or being “stay at home dads.” The gender lines are blurred. It’s okay to break away from the normal “Mom stays home, Dad goes to work” philosophy.
Toy companies have yet to catch up. I think that to an extent, there will always be the marketing of the “Barbie” dolls to girls, and the action toys to boys. It’s safe, it’s proven, and it’s trusted. I would love to see the day when a company showcases a boy playing with a doll on the package… but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Not anytime soon
Thinking back to the little girl who threw a tantrum over pink and princessesy stuff being used in marketing for girls, how would you advise toy manufacturers to respond?
My answer is simple: Good for her. I applaud her for knowing what she wants at such a young age, and truly sticking up for herself. This should have been a “wake up call” to some toy manufactures. You would think that perhaps someone in marketing would have said, “hey guys… I think we’re doing it wrong”
It’s cases like this that hopefully will ring in a new era of advertising and marketing for a younger generation. Simply put, kids are smarter now than they were years ago. They have their own views, and know what they like. I think we should embrace the change and tailor the antiquted marketing strategies a bit.
Are there such things as girl toys or boy toys?
Well, yes and no. Getting back to my answer a little earlier…I think, at their core, girls and boys generally like the same thing in a toy. They like things that inspire creativity and imagination, have a prolonged playability, and overall make them feel good.
Society and marketing has deemed the gender roles for us, particularly when it comes to the younger generation. Little girls play with dolls and dress up. Little boys play with action figures and trucks. It’s all set in motion at a young age through the marketing of the companies. In essence, one could argue that they [toy companies] are determining the “norm” in our child’s lives.
The lines are blurred and transparent at older ages. You don’t see anyone saying there are iPods or Laptops for girls or boys. I see my 11 yr daughter playing basketball with my 13yr old son… and nobody thinks twice about it.
What is the most unexpected place you found a toy you wanted desperately?
I was at a garage sale about eight years ago in Florida. This elderly woman was moving. Her husband had died and kids had moved away. She was really in dire straights financially and was getting all the money together to downsize and move into a small apt.
Anyway, I come across this cigar box filled with vintage Hot Wheels, the old Red Lines from the 70’s. I purchased the entire box for something like $10. As I was leaving, she came following me down the street and asked if I wanted some packaged ones for an additional $30. I of course agreed and she proceeded to hand me a box with about 40
carded vintage Hot Wheels from the late 60’s.
We flipped the entire lot for something like $2,000 to a collector. I went back to the woman’s house the following week and gave her the money. She cried for something like 20 mins.
I didn’t make any money, but I felt good about the deal. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing.. and pay it forward. It’s what I call “Good Toy Karma.”
What has been the rarest toy you’ve ever come across?
That’s tough. I have seen some many. I guess it would have to be one of the prototypes Icame across over my career. It was the wax sculpt for the vintage Boba Fett 3 ¾ actionfigure. They only did one, and this was the original… that all the others were cast from. It was a work of art. It even have a small block of plastic molded into its back, to replicatethe backpack.
It’s the one toy that I regret selling, and I wish I could get back. But I know it went to a loving home and is in very good hands.
What’s the toy you’ve sold for the most?
Oh man, I can’t remember really. I can tell you that over my career we have sold toys upwards of $18,000 but I name any specifics. There have been a few. While it may initially seem high, those were commission sales so we got a percentage. Still… they do add up.
How has the Internet effected pricing and availability of items for collectors?
It’s been a double-edged sword to be honest. The Internet has become an incredible tool for collectors. In the past, many collectors would frequent shows and local comic or toy shops to find the items they were looking for. Now, they can log on to an auction site, or Web retailer and find it generally with a great amount of ease.
Unfortunately, with the influx of all these new toys now on the Internet, pricing has become diminished to a degree. No longer is something “rare” or “hard to find.” It’s tough to pitch a toy or collectible as “rare” when there are five more like on Ebay.
You travel the Con circuit with your company ‘Hollywood Heroes’, what would you like people to know about being a booth dealer/seller?
I guess the main thing is that despite the way some of the media portrays dealers…we’re not all in this business for the money. We actually love collecting, and have a deep appreciation for the hobby and collectors. Sometimes people hear the word “dealer” and think all we care about is dollar signs $$$ and profit. Its simply not true. I know many toy
dealers that are actually selling toys, as a means to fund their own private collections.
When we grow up aren’t we supposed to put away childish things?
Who said toys were childish? (wink wink) I say…“collect what makes you happy”. If having something from your childhood that makes you feel good… hang onto it. Show it off. I can think of lots of people who say, “things were so much easier when I was a kid.” Having some of those toys from our youth tends to bring back many of those “soft and fuzzy” memories. For many, it’s a great stress reliever to sit in their room and just go through their collections.
With a number of finder-type shows on the air already (Auction Hunters, American
Pickers, Pawn Stars, Storage Wars) what makes ‘Toy Hunters’ different?
First off, let me say those are all great shows, and I do watch them.
While those shows put an emphasis on the monetary value associated with the things they find… we put the importance on the history and backstory of the toy. We give some background on these toys, and actually share our personal feelings about owning them as kids.
Toy Hunters is going to be a new kind of “finder-type” show. Toys are something we can all relate to, since we all had them when we were kids. We can all relate to playing with them, and how they made us feel. That’s the important determining factor.
The show is great. It’s fun, fast paced and informative. It’s produced by SHARP Entertainment, the wizards that brought you Man V Food, Extreme Couponing, and Call of the Wildman. If you want to up the Geek Factor some more… they also do Pumpkin Chunkin, which I find brilliant. It’s always great when you can find a production company that has a history of successful shows… but SHARP also believed in the concept and stories on the show. The people I worked with all shared their stories about their favorite toys as well. It was just a great experience and I am honored and very lucky
to have worked with them.
If it wasn’t evident in the interview, Jordan is a cool cat. His show is pretty rad too. It’s truly a show for all the collectors and fanboys. Be sure to check it out this Sunday (Jan 15th) at 11pm (check your local listings). And don’t DVR it either. If you want to see this show go to series it needs the ratings.