15-08-12-2203NE03A Palitoy Death Star.jpg
Three Palitoy Death Star play sets have sold at Vectis this summer. One took £4400 in May, another made £4800 in June, and a further example sold for £1500 in August.

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It will doubtless send the chat rooms into overdrive as Thornaby toy specialists Vectis confirm they have hit the motherlode.

The story of the fabled Death Star toy begins with the release of the first Star Wars movie in 1977. Ill-prepared for the demand that followed, the US toy company Kenner quickly sought a UK manufacturing partner in Palitoy.

As a general rule the Leicestershire firm made a good fist of reproducing Star Wars toys for the European market but they hit a problem with the largest toy in the range. Under pressure to keep costs low, Palitoy found it impossible to make Kenner's all-plastic Death Star within budget. Instead, in time for Christmas 1978, they created their own entirely original design.

As those of a certain age will recall, the new toy (priced in the 1978 catalogue at £6.02) comprised a sturdy cardboard hemisphere with colourful graphics. Its only plastic parts were a garbage chute, a chair and two guns.

Rarity Value

The survival rate of a cardboard toy is understandably low. To find the Death Star with its laminated graphics and pictorial box intact is difficult. Even examples with defective boxes can sell for a few hundred pounds.

However, condition is everything in the Star Wars market and the tiny percentage of toys that remain unopened in their original packaging occupy a different price space entirely.

Until recently only a handful were known but that was before Vectis happened up the garage of a former Palitoy sales rep.

Stock from the late '60s to the mid-'80s lay untouched including an enigmatic sealed trade carton. When opened, six Death Star sets were found inside. The decision was taken to drip-feed five of the sets onto the market across a series of sales, with the vendor choosing to keep one as a memento.

Already three have sold - extremely well.

An example offered on May 27 was part of the firm's first Palitoy Employees sale - a hugely popular event featuring items from three former factory staffers. Proof that Star Wars toys are the hottest area of the juvenilia marketplace, The Death Star, described as 'mint in near mint box' and estimated at £1500-2000, sold to an internet bidder at £4400.

The next offered on June 25 did better still, taking £4800 but there were a few signs of market saturation by August 12 when a third example (with an indentation to the box) took a more modest £1500. The remaining two Death Stars will be sold later this year with the last one offered with the empty trade box.