This will mark the second time I’ve written a non-review, non-info-dump piece for this site. In less than a week no less. Sorry guys, I’ve got a lot on my mind apparently…
Today, I’ll be discussing yet another thing that plagues the action figure collector. Perhaps the greatest foe. If action figure collectors were super heroes, this would be there super villain. In the Star Wars universe, they would be at home in Mos Eisly, a place for vile scum and villainy. I speak of THE SCALPER.
For the uniformed, a scalper is a term to refer to someone who purchases an item they don’t intend to use with the intent of later re-selling it to someone who actually wants it for a profit. In the main stream, it was common for a long time to see people buying block of tickets to baseball or football game that they knew would be popular, and then selling them at several times the retail price. The US government actually declared this particular practice illegal. However, this was solely in regards to sports events, so no luck to the action figure collector when the scalpers eventually turned up there.
It’s hard to say exactly when the scalpers first showed up on the toy scene. It’s generally considered to be somewhere in the early to mid-90s. The original Star Wars figures had become quite a commodity, particularly because finding a packaged sample of many of the early figures was very difficult. No one had forseen the popularity, so nobody really bought any to keep preserved. But, there was a demand, which leads to a higher value. So, when Kenner brought back the Star Wars line with Power of the Force II, people went mad trying to get ahold of as many extras as possible, hoping to get in while the getting was good, so to speak. That’s when I, as a 3 or 4 year old toy collector, first encountered the scalper.
My parents had just recently shown me the Star Wars movies, and I had just gotten into the toys, thanks to one Dagobah Training Luke Skywalker. Luke wasn’t enough for me, I had to have all the main characters! It’s important to note that I was different from the usual little boy who collected action figures in that I didn’t have an issue with toys of girls. They were just as valid to the collection as the guys. So, I wanted a Princess Leia figure, darn it! Problem was, Princess Leia was the short-pack, which meant finding her was no simple feat.
One day, my dad took me to the mall, and more importantly, the KB Toys in said mall. We walked back to the action figure aisle to see what there was to see, and there it was! An entire rack of Princess Leia action figures! I was so excited! I ran, I mean literally ran, to the rack, intent on getting that Princess Leia figure I so desperately wanted. Just as I reached the rack, an arm moved in front of me, the hand going to the back of the rack. The arm scooped the entire racks worth of figures into a shopping basket. This was the arm of the dreaded scalper.
He turned away from the now empty rack. My excitement was thouroughly squashed. But my dad, being who he was wasn’t going to just let this guy walk off. He got the man’s attention and politely asked if he’d be willing to spare one of the Leia figures so that I might have one. The guy looked at me and said I was welcome to buy one from him at his dealer’s table at the next local convention, for his marked up price. My dad kept his calm and asked the man’s name, which the man provided. My dad then asked the name of the convention the man was planning to be a dealer at. The man said “Farpoint.” My dad, the chairman of Farpoint at the time, responded with “No you won’t” and walked away with me in tow.
Don’t worry dear reader, I got a Princess Leia at a reasonable price not too long after. However, that doesn’t change the encounter. This guy looked down at me, a little kid, all wide-eyed and innocent, and told me I couldn’t have that toy. For a profit a couple of dollars, this man practically took the figure from my hands. I’m sorry, but where does one get off doing something like that?
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up now, I’ll get to that in just a second. See, scalpers have kinda gone on to become like my sitcom arch-nemesis. That foe that I always seem to run into, but never directly. I would frequently find the aftermath of a scalper. All the short-packed figures would be gone, or I’d see an item listed on ebay or at a convention for several times its original price. But after that initial encounter, I’d never run into one, face to face. Until two days ago.
I was at a nearby Toys R Us, looking for a gift for someone. However, it being me, I figured I’d also look around to see if I could find any figures I’d been looking for. I was heading down the Marvel aisle, towards the rack of Marvel Legends when a guy stepped into the aisle from the other side, and started going through the rack. I stepped back to give the guy his space, as I don’t like to be over bearing. Generally, I don’t jump to the scalper conclusion, but this guy was heavy set, un-shaven, and wearing a baseball cap and an ill-fitting football jersey. That’s like the scalper uniform. Anyway, I kept my distance, and let him finish looking through the rack. He pulled out two figures, Black Cat and Carnage, which I had actually been looking for. They’re rather difficult to find, and they go for quite a pretty penny on the aftermarket. But maybe this guy was just a fellow collector. Maybe he too had been looking for these figures. I could deal with that. And then, with a smug look, he turned to his companion and said “I can’t believe they still have these. I can get like over a hundred bucks for these on ebay!”
And there it was. The illusion was shattered. The guy walked off, the victor in his own mind I suppose. Take that geeks! He can make money selling something meant to be fun for over five times its retail value! What a winner!
Perhaps I’m just too nice a guy, but I for the life of me can’t wrap my head around the mentality that makes these guys do this. It’s not a legitimate career. The only service they provide is ripping off someone who really wanted the item. Someone who would have been fine going to the store and getting it themselves, were they given the opportunity. To add insult to injury, every scalper I’ve ever run into seems to get pleasure out of getting an item someone else wants. They don’t want it for themselves, they just want the money. I’m sorry, but there’s much easier, much less despicable ways to get a hundred bucks. The scalper is the blight of the toy collecting hobby, effectively eliminating any fun to be had acquiring the items, and instead leaving the people actually doing the collecting to have to choose between not having the item they want or paying through the nose to get it. Where’s the fun in that?