When the first wave of Kenner Star Wars action figures began arriving on the market in 1978, the Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker figures came with 'double telescoping' light sabres. Early in the production process, the design was simplified making these 'double telescoping' figures among the rarest of all Star Wars production figures.
Typically, Luke is the easiest to find because he was part of the ‘early bird’ mail-away promotion. Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi are much scarcer
‘Carded and sealed’ examples of both of these figures from the well-known Russell Branton collection have set new price levels for Star Wars production figures in sales at Hake’s Americana of York, Pennsylvania.
Branton, who first saw the movie at the drive-in when he was five years old, retained the Star Wars toys he played with as a child and began collecting seriously in 2003. His vast collection of vintage Kenner toys created from 1977 to 1986, chosen for condition and rarity across a decade, is now being dispersed across a series of sales.
Hake’s November 2017 auction had included one of only a few 'double telescoping' Obi-Wan Kenobi to have survived with its original ‘unpunched’ card. The instructions to the back illustrate the different elements of the lightsabre mechanism. Like all figures in the collection it had been authenticated and graded by the US-based Action Figure Authority who awarded it 80/100 Near Mint. It sold a little short of an eye-watering $75,000-$100,000 estimate but at $65,000 (plus 18% buyer's premium) it set an auction record for any Star Wars production figure.
The Force returned for Hake’s March 13-15 sale when a 1978 Darth Vader double-telescoping figure reached $55,000 (£39,300) against a $35,000-$50,000 estimate.
Remarkable sums were achieved for Branton’s peerless figures from the original 1978 Kenner ‘12-back’ series. Both Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa were unpunched and graded by the AFA at 95/100 Mint, the highest rated examples known. The winning bids were $42,900 (£17,800) and $25,000 (£17,900) respectively.
Original packaging is all-important in Star Wars collecting but there are exceptions. A figure that has assumed legendary status among Star Wars collectors is the Rocket Firing Boba Fett. Modelled in grey-blue plastic in advance of mass production – one was displayed at the 1979 Toy Fair in New York City - it would forever remain a prototype figure. Fears that children could potentially choke on the small red rocket led to its demise. There are two types - known as L-slot or J-slot, referencing the shape of the firing mechanism to the back – with a total of perhaps 75-100 figures estimated to have survived.
The example in this collection was the L-slot firing type and had been graded by the Action Figure Association at 85/100 Near Mint-plus. The winning hammer price was $73,000 (£52,300).
The first example of this figure to appear for sale in the UK – again an unpainted model with an 'L-slot' firing mechanism – sold for £15,000 at Stockton-on-Tees toy specialists Vectis in July 2017. At the time a painted and carded example – said to be the item originally shown on display at the Kenner booth in New York in 1979 – had been offered for sale on eBay with a price tag of $150,000.
The carded production figure of Boba Fett, the memorable bit-part character in The Empire Strikes Back, is itself a very desirable item. The figure was initially available only as a mail order freebie for those who had bought other models.
When Vectis sold the Craig Stevens collection in 2013, the Palitoy version of this figure, preserved in mint condition on its un-punched card back took £15,000 followed in July last year by a French issue Boba sold for £21,000 – then a record for a Star Wars production figure.