Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wrestling MarketWatch: Creepy Collectibles

Clowns, the walking dead, voodoo priests, and morticians.  Standard symbols of Halloween...and professional wrestling!  Let's face it, without these crazy characters there would be a whole legion of fans who may never have discovered wrestling.  The Undertaker, Sting, and Mankind are just a few of the masked and/or costumed superstars that have inspired both dreams and nightmares for their fans, not to mention countless pieces of memorabilia.  In the spirit of the season, this latest edition of MarketWatch takes a look at recent market values of some of the "spookier" wrestling memorabilia ever to grace the shelves.  All values listed are for unsigned examples.

*We start with a figure set that we last visited in MarketWatch about one year ago.  No doubt countless children (and adults) in the '80s and '90s went "Trick or Treating" dressed as Hawk and Animal, The Road Warriors.  The leather, spikes, mohawks, and facepaint of the Legion of Doom was enough to terrorize anyone and has left a lasting imprint on pro wrestling to this day. 

Their very first action figure set was produced by Remco for the AWA line in 1985.  Although Hawk and Animal were released in a two-pack, their manager Paul Ellering was later included as well.  Complete with collars, chaps, belts, and Ellering's shirt, the trio recently sold for $49 out of the package.  A year ago, the set in the same condition sold for $100 which even at the time I had noted was rather high.  I will forever contend that if you're going to include the Road Warriors in a figure collection, this is the set to have.

*If the nightmarish tag team list is topped by the Road Warriors, the list of singles stars can only be headed by The Undertaker.  For over two decades The Undertaker has captivated fans by taking what could have been a one-dimensional gimmick and turning it into a wrestling legacy.  Countless cosmetic changes have helped keep the character fresh over the years and those looks have translated well into memorabilia.

As part of a special FYE store exclusive set, the WWE Hell In A Cell DVD collection was packaged with mini busts of either The Undertaker or Kane.  The likenesses on these busts were incredible and quite the deal when found on clearance.  Recently the set with The Undertaker mini bust sold for $56 in the box.  Outside of the package, the bust alone went for $15. 

*In the past ten or fifteen years, it seems to be almost fashionable to announce that you're afraid of clowns.  I, personally, never understood the fear, but to each his own.  The WWF may have been a bit ahead of it's time in late-1992 when they introduced the character of Doink the Clown.  Though the character later became a fan favorite, the original Doink was an evil clown played to the hilt by the late Matt Borne.

The first action figure of Doink is also the best.  Hasbro went out of their way to make the figure unique and included rooted green hair and a completely new mold.  The figure has always been popular, but in my opinion is still undervalued.  Recently selling for $25 on the card, the figure is one of the many highlights of the Hasbro WWF collection.

*You can't talk about Halloween and professional wrestling without mentioning WCW's Halloween Havoc pay-per-view event.  The October spectacular often included special gimmick matches, themes, and even whacky wrestling stars.  Havoc is one event that I always had hoped WWE would bring back as they did The Great American Bash for a short time, but it was not to be.

Turner Home Video's WCW releases were always a bit quirky, whether it be having the wrong years printed on the box or odd composite photos of wrestlers.  The second Halloween Havoc event is a great example of this.  Halloween Havoc 1990 is called "Terror Rules The Ring" on the official video release.  The Halloween Havoc title is listed nowhere on the box.  Since the tape was, after all, released during the Jim Herd WCW regime, any crazy guess as to why this happened might be accurate.  My best theory is that since the actual video was obviously going to be released way outside of the Halloween season, the Turner execs reasoned that sales and rentals would do better without it being labeled "Halloween."  Nevertheless, many of the Halloween Havoc videos still command a large secondary market price, with 1990 recently pulling in $50.

*One of wrestling's most beloved "creepy" characters left us earlier this year, but is still with us in spirit.  Paul Bearer, forever to be remembered as The Undertaker's macabre manager, passed away this past March.  His legacy has already continued in wrestling with a controversial inclusion in the Undertaker-CM Punk feud that culminated at WrestleMania 29.  A WWE Hall of Fame induction is set to follow in 2014.

One of Bearer's first action figures was produced in the Jakks WWF Managers two-pack series.  Packaged with Mankind and the famous urn, Bearer is as ghoulish as ever with the infamous pale face and jet black hair.  These managers sets are still among the more desirable figures in the "Bone Crunching Action" collection, and Mankind and "Uncle Paul" recently sold for $20.

They're creepy, kooky, mysterious, and maybe even spooky, but any wrestling collection just isn't the same without them.  In fact, they top any pieces of candy that might fall into your treat bag.  Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Some Truly "World Class" Wrestling Memorabilia

In the past couple of years, it's almost become tradition that at some point in the last quarter the Von Erich family makes the blog.  Is it any wonder?  Despite being what was essentially one of the last great wrestling territories, World Class Championship Wrestling had an immense selection of merchandise.  It wasn't just what was sold at the arenas, either.  WCCW fans were true packrats, obtaining any photo or bit of information that they could on their favorite heroes and villains.  From the Von Erich brothers, The Fabulous Freebirds, and everybody in between, WCCW's stars were among the most visible in the early '80s wrestling world.

I'd go as far as to say that on the topic of WCCW memorabilia, the fans themselves were as big a part of it as the wrestlers.  Endless passages have been written chronicling the Von Erich "fever" that is said to have spread as far as Israel.  Many of these fans were girls, usually in the 12-24 age range, who would've followed the boys to the ends of the earth.  These fans most likely had shrines to their favorites plastered all over their bedroom walls, as is evident by the abundance of newspaper and magazine clippings that survive today.  Those lucky enough to have access to WCCW events (or knew someone who did), may have even had official promotional photos or publications from the promotion.  Some of those may have even included autographs.

Most wrestling fans know the reason why autographs of the Von Erich family and many WCCW stars may be a bit harder to obtain than other wrestling stars of the era.  It's a sad and somewhat depressing fact when collecting autographs, that death will almost always factor into desirability.  With the tragedies surrounding the Von Erich's and other WCCW stars so early in their lives, the window of opportunity was never even open for many collectors. 

I, myself, have become the lucky owner of many Von Erich family and WCCW treasures, despite not being anywhere near the age or geographic location to have originally obtained them.  The items span the full range of the Von Erich legacy, from the highest of highs to the too-frequent tragic ends.  They reflect a point where, due to the quality of the items, it seems as if WCCW almost touched the unmatched WWF merchandising machine.  They can also be a sobering reminder of how the insane rock star-esque fandom came crashing down and went ultimately six feet under.

The Official Von Erich Family World Class Championship Wrestling board game is definitely one of the highs.  The well produced, if maybe a bit complicated, game is as nice as any other wrestling company's equivalent.  With a full color box featuring the famous WCCW logo and photos of the Von Erich brothers disposing of several foes, the game itself allows you to become Kerry, Kevin, Mike, One Man Gang, Iceman King Parsons, Chris Adams, Gino Hernandez, or Kelly Kiniski. 

For an exact look at 1984, one of the most tumultuous years in Von Erich history, look no further than the Von Erich Fan Club newsletter titled "CLAWPower."  It seems that four total were issued, one for each quarter of 1984.  Even then, it is telling as to how the death of David is almost swept under the rug.  The glories of Kerry and Kevin, in "honor" of their late brother, are instead touted to further strengthen the family legacy in the eyes of the public.

And then there are the items that are extremely historical, yet almost too difficult to own.  The aforementioned Von Erich fans were obviously a dedicated bunch.  Some went as far as to clip the obituaries and news coverage of the brothers deaths.  Some fans even obtained and saved actual funeral cards.  Some collectors might find items such as these just too disturbing to own, but placing them in perspective tells the full story, beginning to end, of the family and promotion.

In looking at these items, I rarely feel sadness.  Certainly Beatles collectors don't feel sadness every time that they view a John Lennon item.  Instead, collecting and preserving these pieces should keep alive what was an exciting and interesting era in professional wrestling.  It didn't last as long as it may have had certain events not occurred, but we can always hold onto what was.  After all, keeping memories alive is what collecting is all about.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Memorabilia That Takes You Into The Ring...

Putting the action figures, video games, and other toys aside, there are some wrestling items that can truly make you feel as if you're a part of the action.  These toys and collectibles can best be classified as "role playing" items.  In the same vein as replica championship belts, holding or wearing these trinkets can transport you into the boots of the superstars of the ring.  A sampling of this style of collectible from various eras is what we'll be looking at today.

The most famous "role playing" toy in the wrestling world is without a doubt the Wrestling Buddy.  The "buddy" phenomenon began in 1990 with Tonka Toys picking up the WWF license.  These printed pillow people were designed for children to be able to "wrestle" with their favorite World Wrestling Federation heroes and villains.  The first series included Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, and Ted DiBiase followed by a second series of Jake Roberts, the Big Boss Man, and the Legion of Doom.  WCW and Mexico's CMLL followed suit with Wrestling Buddy-styled toys of their own, but the WWF characters remain the most remembered.

1990 also saw another classic WWF role playing toy produced, although not quite as well remembered as the Wrestling Buddies.  A company called PlayTime Products introduced an official WWF Microphone toy.  While there have been other WWF and WWE microphone toys produced since, this is still the only one to pattern itself after the classic WWF mic held by Mean Gene Okerlund, Howard Finkel, and so many others in the '80s and '90s.  Several wrestling sounds and a voice amplifier can be utilized when a nine-volt battery is attached, but it's the look of this toy that really makes it something special.  The box, featuring a classic "Let Me Tell Ya Somethin', Mean Gene!" photo of Okerlund and Hogan, only adds to the fun.

The boom of wrestling toys of the early '90s produced yet another such item, this time as an extension of the popular Hasbro WWF line.  It is not uncommon for manufacturers of action figure lines to branch out into other toys utilizing the same license.  Hasbro did this with Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior dress-up kits, but a less remembered item is the Jake "The Snake" Roberts Snake toy.  Hitting shelves in late 1991-early 1992, the snake was packaged in a squarish box featuring Jake and one of his snakes.  Inside was a green drawstring bag that resembled Jake's ring-used bag aside from being much smaller and including the "Jake The Snake" logo.

The snake itself was tan with brown spots and didn't really closely resemble any of Jake's snakes.  Was it Damien?  Perhaps Lucifer?  It's any one's guess really, as no specific name is mentioned on the packaging.  The item was probably designed roughly around the time of the on-screen "death" of Damien and subsequent debut of Lucifer.  The toy didn't last long on shelves, as Jake departed the company shortly after its release.

If the snake didn't creep you out, fast forward to the present day and the most recent role playing items released by WWE.  There's no doubt that among the WWE debuts of 2013, no superstars garnered more interest than the Wyatt Family.  Led by Bray Wyatt, this band of backwoods brawlers are sure to receive some interesting action figures in the coming year, but their first pieces of merchandise include several role playing items.

Wyatt, the bearded spokesman of the group, is known for his fedora.  One of his underlings, Erick Rowan, strikes fear into the hearts of many WWE Universe youngsters with a mask of a sheep's head.  Both of these items are now available from WWE and appear to be exact replicas of both.  Although the Wyatt Family aren't exactly heroes, it once again proves that merchandise of either heels or faces is desired by fans as long as it's interesting.  These two items fit that description perfectly.

Role playing items are fun, but just a small example of some of the great wrestling memorabilia out there.  If you're new to the blog, you may not be aware of our Facebook Fanpage.  Join the page for frequent updates, hundreds of photos of memorabilia, and much more.  It's a great supplement to the blog!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

That's Funky! That's The American Dream!

It's been awhile since I've made a "Coming next week..." promise here on the blog.  Aside from a few consecutive ongoing series entries, the last real promise that I can remember came around four years ago.  For whatever reason at the time, the entry never took place.  Most likely it was just lost in the shuffle in favor of other topics.  The "lost" entry was to have focused on my favorite pieces of merchandise featuring one of my all-time favorite stars.  Seeing as that his PWI debut issue cover mate, Mil Mascaras, was the focus of an entry just a few weeks ago, I figured that it was finally time to show some of my favorite pieces of memorabilia of the "son of a plumber," "the bull of da woods," "the common man," "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.

Dusty appealed to me from the first time that I saw him.  If there was ever a living breathing superhero that didn't LOOK like a superhero, it's "The American Dream."  It's possible that the look is part of what captivated me.  It was easy to see why Hulk Hogan was a hero to millions.  He not only had the charisma but he looked the part as well.  Dusty admitted in many promos that he didn't look like a star athlete, but it ultimately didn't matter.  Even upon his return to the WWF in 1989, a far different place than the WWWF he had left a decade earlier, Dusty was embraced by the fans with open arms.  These were the same fans who were used to the Godlike physiques of Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, yet roly poly Dusty was just as believable as a hero to them.

It's fitting that Dusty did indeed grace that first PWI cover with Mascaras in September 1979.  Two of the most popular stars of the decade closing it out on the first issue of the wrestling magazine that would end up lasting longest on the newsstand.  In fact, as soon as Dusty stopped being an "Outlaw" and became "The American Dream" in the mid-1970's, he immediately graced the cover of a large percentage of the Apter/Weston family of wrestling titles.  With his large array of outfits from a t-shirt and jeans to some of the most outlandish robes ever created, Rhodes was an amazing hybrid of cowboy and disco star.  In some shots from the decade you can even see "The Dream" in polka dots, a style that many mistakenly believe only became synonymous with Dusty after 1989.

Now that all fans are aware of Dusty's true position within Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s, it's no surprise that "The Dream" appeared on most of the merchandise put out for the company.  T-shirts, trading cards, bandannas, and of course programs all saw the presence of Rhodes, with the highlight possibly being the 1988 Bunkhouse Stampede event program.  While the cover is simply a white cowboy hat with the NWA logo (the confusing one that looked more like it said AWA) on it, you know who it is meant to represent.

Of course, it's the merchandise marking Dusty's 1989-1991 WWF run that is probably most remembered today.  Some look upon the era as if it's a dark spot in Dusty's career, but true fans and "The Dream" himself will tell you otherwise.  A little bit of each of Dusty's persona's were captured in the stint which ran just under two years.   1989 was largely Dusty feuding with his old foe the Big Boss Man as well as others in the company who liked to "boogie" such as the Honky Tonk Man and Akeem.  1990 saw "The Dream" in his two highest profile WWF feuds against "Macho King" Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase.  In a move that to this day largely goes unnoticed, "The Common Man" took a dark turn following SummerSlam 1990 where his beloved Sweet Sapphire was "bought" by DiBiase.  Rhodes stopped dancing, the yellow polka dots turned to a dark red, and two pieces of his attire from years earlier made a return: his black ring jacket and that creepy hat with a chicken leg sticking out.

Seeing as how popular he was during this time, Dusty finally met with the magic of the WWF merchandising machine.  Dusty Rhodes post cards, promo photos, folders, and notepads were available as was the famous first action figure of "The American Dream."  The figure has always been one of the most sought after from the Hasbro line.  It is still popular with collectors, although thanks to Jakks and Mattel we now have many others to choose from.

My all-time favorite Dusty item?  Not a magazine cover, photo, card, or action figure.  It's a piece that ensures that "The American Dream" will stand tall and proud for generations to come.  It has the United States championship belt, the aforementioned ring jacket, and a million dollar smile to boot.  It is a larger-than-life cardboard Dusty Rhodes that was used in the 1988 Mello Yello-NWA tie in.  Dusty made a live action commercial as part of the promotion as well.  An NWA-Mello Yello logo hat was produced, as were several series of Mello Yello cans that featured various NWA stars.  Dusty is "holding" a variety of those cans in his cardboard counterpart, and although "The Dream" has told me that he has another piece from the Mello Yello campaign, he did not remember this one at all.

Meeting "The Dream" is always an experience.  He definitely has the ego that even he admits is a big part of Dusty Rhodes.  On the other hand, Rhodes usually also showcases the charm that you would expect to come with all of that blue-eyed soul.  He also has probably ten different variations of his signature which he will randomly sign.  Upon request, he may even given you one of those classic million dollar smiles.  I wouldn't deem Dusty to be a "hero" of mine, but I do think he has traits that are worthy enough to emulate.  That famous Dusty ego comes from a confidence and true belief in all of his actions.  If that isn't a key attitude to follow in the pursuit of "The American Dream," I don't know what is. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Signature Moves: Signing The Best Of The Ring

If you're an autograph collector with any kind of love and respect for the genre that you collect, you know that each and every signature is priceless to you.  Whether it's on a glossy photo or an index card, a magazine or a napkin, that autograph has a story and meaning to you, the fan and collector.  That being said, there are some items that simply scream "autograph" as if they were produced specifically to be signed.  With the amount of wrestling merchandise out there, it's no surprise that many items fall into this category.

Magazines, programs, and photos are almost a given.  You can't go wrong with a classic promotional shot or glorious magazine cover from the days when the publications were a prime source of wrestling action and info for fans.  Programs from major events or even pay-per-views can become "projects" of sorts enabling the collector to add as many signatures of individuals involved in the event as possible.  The darker solid covers of many of these programs add to the effect.

Wrestling collectors who are into the merchandise but are not necessarily familiar to autographs often ask which action figures are the the best to be signed.  The answer to that would be those that come out the nicest after the fact.  My answer to this has always been the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line.  With dozens and dozens of stars from all eras to choose from, a favorite star of any collector is bound to have been produced.  The window "bubble" of the packaging also provides the perfect area for the wrestler to sign.

While many collectors want to have the LJN WWF figures from their childhood signed, they simply don't offer the same benefits that the Classic Superstars do.  The colorful cardbacks can make it hard for the wrestler to find a solid place on which to sign.  The large "bubbles" holding the figures onto the card can also make it difficult for the wrestler to sign at a decent angle.  A nice alternative can be the Hasbro WWF line, which feature a large portrait photo of the star.  A recent craze of these figures has driven market prices sky high, making them a little less than ideal to purchase at this time.

Trading cards are a long standing favorite of autograph collectors.  Very few wrestlers haven't had at least one card over the past twenty-five years or so, and many remain at afford prices.  Cards are easy to carry, easy to store, and more often than not provide an excellent photo of the star.  Newer cards can be somewhat tricky, as most new card product is produced with a glossy finish.  This can sometimes cause the autograph to "bubble" and become a mess as soon as it's been signed.  Many collectors (and even some of the stars) know that it's advisable to "rub" these glossy cards before they're signed.  A light rub with a pencil eraser can help create a smoother surface in which to sign, and I've ever seen certain female stars rub the cards on their leg before signing since the oils in skin will have a similar effect.  All in all, the "glossy" issue makes me love the Topps Heritage releases all the more, since they're produced on non-gloss stock similar to vintage cards.

One trend that I've found myself partaking in over the past few years are 4x6 photos.  Whether purchased or printed yourself, 4x6s are easier to handle and store than 8x10s.  Lower quality photos easily found on the Internet can be whipped into easy and attractive custom creations that are often appreciated by the wrestler featured while signing due to the extra effort of the collector.  4x6 reprints of expensive 8x10 official promo photos are also an affordable alternative to scouring the Internet for originals. 

Still, sometimes the best item to be signed is one that no one ever would've thought of.  Not only do the wrestlers themselves get a kick out of signing these items, but it provides you with a unique conversation piece.  Occasionally it can transform an otherwise pedestrian item into a collection centerpiece.  Collecting is all about obtaining what you like.  Customization and thinking outside the box will make that collection all the more your own.