Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hasbro Keeps On Keepin' On

In keeping up with the trends in wrestling memorabilia collecting, it seems as if I'm writing about the Hasbro WWF figure line at least once a year.  The line, celebrating it's 22nd anniversary this year, is riding a tidal wave of popularity with no end in sight.  From collectors re-amassing their long lost childhood collections to new collectors discovering the line for the first time, there certainly is a lot to be on the hunt for...and write about.

As I've previously discussed, Hasbro is experiencing the same rediscovery period that the LJN WWF line went through about a decade ago.  While the Remco AWA and Galoob WCW collections have their unabashed fans, I would argue that those lines have never reached quite the same heights in popularity due to a lack of scope.  While they are great figures with an impressive array of names, Remco and Galoob's total of around 20-30 different characters is doubled by the lineups of LJN and Hasbro.

The Hasbro WWF figures do pack a lot of charm into a small package.  The likenesses are close to the wrestlers and the colorful look of the figures place them right into the 1990-1994 WWF time frame in which they were produced.  The "Real Wrestling Action" included in each of the figures is as welcomed by collectors today as it was by kids of the era, making moves "come to life" even if they did not always match the moves done by the respective wrestlers.

What has been interesting to watch is how secondary market values on many of the figures have changed.  Figures like Andre the Giant and Dusty Rhodes were deemed "rare" even while the line was still in production.  Carded examples of those figures still see high prices and have been joined by the likes of Ax, Smash, the second Brutus Beefcake (black, white, and red tights), the third Ultimate Warrior (purple), and more that were much more frequently found at retail than Andre and Rhodes yet still have climbed in demand.

The infamous final series, aka the "green carded" series, remains highly valued as well.  Not only did the series feature members of the WWF's "New Generation" which had been long awaited such as The 1-2-3 Kid and The Smoking Gunns, the series had just made it to Hills Department Stores and a few other regional retailers before the entire line ended.  The initial shipments included Kid, The Gunns, Ludvig Borga, and Adam Bomb with repaints of Yokozuna and Crush added a few weeks later.

Like with any toy line, collectors will often wonder, discuss, and debate just what could have been had the line lasted longer.  I've previously visited the long-standing and controversial rumor of an "orange carded" series that would've followed the "green cards."  Existing evidence validating that these figures were indeed in Hasbro's plans is talked about to this day but has yet to surface.  Fans have also continually speculated about the "canal" under the ring ropes of the Hasbro WWF ring toy.  Could this have been a future spot for a steel cage accessory?

My personal speculation begins and ends with the Hasbro King of the Ring ring that saw limited release in 1994.  The ring base is molded in yellow plastic while the ring posts are red.  While the colors aren't totally out of the King of the Ring theme under which they were released, I still tend to think that the item may have started out as a Hulk Hogan-themed ring.  Considering that the Hulkster was in the midst of his brief WWF title-winning return when this item would've been planned in 1993, the time frame matches up.  Again, this theory is only fact-fueled speculation on my behalf and no evidence has ever been presented to back it up.

The King of the Ring ring seemed to mark the end of Hasbro truly caring about the line.  With a wealth of non-action figure toys such as Damien the snake, dress-up kits, and the legendary Royal Rumble mini-ring being produced in the early years, Hasbro almost seemed to know that they would not have the license beyond 1994.  With the wrestling industry suffering as a whole, ending their WWF association was a business move that Hasbro most likely did not regret at the time.

With the trend of Hasbro collecting in full force, Mattel hinted last year about a new WWE line that would bring fans back to the days of past figures.  This, of course, turned out to be Mattel's WWE Brawlin' Buddie line.  The line, though heavily promoted by WWE, has been a disappointment to collectors due to being quite smaller than the real Tonka WWF Wrestling Buddies and because of wishful thinking for a new Hasbro-style line.

Will we ever see Hasbro-style WWE figures again?  I'd wager against it, although most wrestling fans know to never say never.  Just like in the actual wrestling business, nostalgia is usually delivered in small doses.  After the success of Jakks Classic Superstars line, I have a feeling that we will frequently see the "Legends" in merchandising for years to come.  To me, that is as comforting as it will get.

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