One of the nerdier hobbies this writer partakes in is toy collecting. I have an entire room in my house dedicated to my collection of action figures, from Transformers to GI Joe to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and beyond. And before you ask, yes, I have a girlfriend.
Though toy collecting has been stigmatized in recent years by things like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the hobby is enjoyed by enough people to spawn a reality series on The Travel Channel. “Toy Hunter” follows toy collector/expert Jordan Hembrough on his search across the country for rare and valuable toys, sort of an “American Pickers” for the Comic-Con set. I had a chance to speak with Jordan about whether he likes to keep his toys packaged up and how collecting toys can bridge generational gaps in families.
“Toy Hunter” airs Wednesday nights at 8:00pm Central on The Travel Channel.
Do you personally have a favorite era of toy. Is there an era you prefer?
I’m a child of the ’70s, you know? I was born in  and I grew up during the ’70s. When I was a kid, it was Star Wars and Mego. Remember the old Mego dolls? Batman and Superman and that type of stuff. That’s the type of stuff I grew up with. By the ’80s I was like 10, 11, 12. I kind of got into motorcycles. I was driving motorcycles and I kind of discovered girls. So, the ’70s are really my sweet spot. And, you know, if I really have to pick an era, I’m talking ’76 through ’79, maybe ’80. Because that’s really when you’re still a child and the world is your oyster, and you know everything is real; everything comes to life in a toy. I mean I could be there, you know, holding a Luke Skywalker figure in my basement and to me I’m in a galaxy far, far away, because it’s all about playing and all about being a kid again.
Okay, and a huge debate among my fellow toy collectors and I. In the package or out of the package?
In the package. And if you watch the show I’m going to tell you why.
Personally, I have a giant collection of toys in the package, but I have a lot of friends that berate me for trapping my toys away.
Well, and here’s the thing. Here’s what I tell people all the time. First of all, collect what you love and love what you collect. If you’ve got a toy from the ’70s or ’80s and you really, really love it and it’s all ready opened, the seal is broken, sure, take it out. Take it out, display it nicely and everything like that. Save all the packaging. Save all the inserts. But if it’s already sealed and has the original manufacturer’s tape on it, don’t break it open. Find a loose one.
I definitely agree with you there. What are your thoughts on the new market of “instant collectibles” with stores like MattyCollector and Hasbro Toy Shop offering these super limited runs of toys at comic cons like San Diego and New York?
You know, that’s a very, very good question because I actually worked in the past with both of those companies. So I don’t chose over the other. But the thing is, it’s ultimately good for the hobby as a whole because it’s bringing awareness to the hobby as a whole as collectibles and stuff being limited. And I’m all for it because in the long run, it’s going to bring more collectors into the hobby looking for toys, saving stuff and just to get people talking. And it’s what you and I are doing right now. We’re talking about stuff like that. That’s what you want. You want the buzz in the industry. And if we’re doing it all about toys, it’s better for everyone. It’s going to trickle to the new toy lines as well. You’ll buy a limited edition Hasbro doll and then you’ll go and buy new stuff as well in a Walmart or Toys R Us.
Is there any toy line on the shelves right now that you’re really excited about? Anything new?
You know, I’m not, to be honest with you. I’m kind of happy with everything coming out. The toy industry right now is a very fragile industry. It always has been. You know, not a lot of people know this but the estimated shelf life of a toy is just two weeks on a toy shelf before something else is the next big thing. So everyone has very, very short windows. I like the fact that manufacturers are bringing back old toy lines because it’s that retro feeling a lot of people like. And I’ll even get more specific on that: I like the fact that parents like myself are able to bring their children into the toy stores and say, “I had that when I was a kid.” And they’re able to share that feeling with the next generation. To me that’s very, very important. And that’s sort of bridges that generational gap and gets families into collecting. I think that’s fantastic for the hobby.