Geeky antiques from the past 35 years

From action figures and games to books and comics, we take a look at a few geeky antiques from the past decades...

In August, eBay revealed that a near-mint copy of Action Comics issue one – famously, the first time Superman made an appearance in print – had sold for an eye-watering $3.2m. One of only 50 copies said to still exist, the comic’s sale price is reportedly the highest yet – it far outstrips the $2.16m another copy sold for in 2011.

Now, it’s extremely unlikely that any of us are going to find our own copy of Action Comics issue one in our loft or in a box in the back of the cupboard, but given that most geeks usually collect one kind of object or another – whether it be comics, games, toys, posters or other treasured items – there’s still a possibility that one or two of the things we do have tucked away might be worth something one day.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of a few geeky antiques. Bear in mind that this is a far from exhaustive or scientific list. Our main criteria was simple: they had to have been produced within the past 35 years or so, to give us at least a fighting chance of either owning them, stumbling across them in a second-hand shop, or – if we feel like saving or beer money for a very long time – perhaps even buying them.

So with all this in mind, here’s our selection of valuable items. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, and if you see any of the following on sale for a couple of quid in your local junk shop, for heaven’s sake: snap the seller’s hand off…

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TOYS

The A-Team

Like us, you may have completely forgotten that toys based on The A-Team even existed. But then again, it was the 80s, and toy companies were willing to make toys based on just about anything – as we’ll see later in this collection of words and pictures. These days, the Galoob-produced toyline based on the adventures of Hannibal, B.A., Face and Murdoch are now extremely collectible – particularly if they’re in good condition or, better still, unopened.

The asking price for a still-packaged BA, still in his original packaging, is $380 on eBay. A pristine A-Team metal lunch box from 1983 will set you back $199, while a Command Chopper with Enforcer Van will set you back a relatively low $149.99.

Depressingly, your humble writer actually had both BA and the Command Chopper when he was still a youngster. The Command Chopper was magnificent: the rotor blades span round, and when you pulled the trigger at the back, the A-Team van descended from the bottom of the helicopter and whizzed off along the living room carpet. Unfortunately, those toys are now long gone, no doubt to be unearthed by archaeologists in a few centuries’ time.

MacGyver

We only discovered this fact recently thanks to this article, but yes – the 90s adventure show starring Richard Dean Anderson, favourite of The Simpsons’ Patty and Selma, had its own line of toys. Admittedly, the toys were only produced in Brazil and appeared to have been fairly short-lived, but just look at that wonderful illustration of MacGyver in his 80s pomp – who wouldn’t want to have gravity-defying hair like that?

It’s because of that incredible mullet, perhaps, that the MacGyver action figure is so popular among collectors. Last year, a boxed one sold in an eBay auction for a $801. Hilariously, the toy’s makers – a company called Glasslite – also released a range of accessories for MacGyver, each designed to mimic the character’s uncanny ability to use everyday objects to get himself out of tight situations. These accessories, although grandly described as MultiTools, were actually just a single paperclip, rubber band, map pin or drawing pin mounted onto a piece of card.

A seller on eBay is now punting these out at $87.00 per piece. The toy collecting world is a topsy-turvy one sometimes.

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Vlix – Star Wars: Droids

Among the most avid collectors of Star Wars action figures, there are certain pieces that are talked about with hushed reverence, such as Yak Face – one of the last of the Kenner line of toys released in the 1980s, or the version of Boba Fett packaged on a Star Wars backing card. But in terms of scarcity or value, few are as significant as this curious-looking figure from Star Wars: Droids.

You might dimly recall Droids, the animated TV spin-off which ran for just 13 episodes in 1985. It was a short-lived enterprise, but did enough to spawn an 8-bit videogame, some comics and a line of toys. Kenner produced the first batch of toys, before dwindling popularity led to it being sold off to Brazilian company Glasslite (makers of those stunning MacGyver toys, mentioned above).

The Glasslite run of Droids toys was itself brief, and one figure is particularly rare: Vlix, based on a Kenner mould that Kenner themselves never bothered to release, was released briefly in 1988, and many were later recalled and recycled. As such, carded versions of Vlix are infamously difficult to find – the figure on its own is said to be worth around $1,200. One on card could be worth around $6,000.

Transformers: Red Slag

Readers of a certain age may have owned a few Transformers as a youngster, and will probably be aware that, if they’d left them in their boxes instead of bashing them into each other and accidentally snapping their little arms off, they’d probably be able to sell them for enough money to pay for an expensive holiday in Cuba or something.

Collectible though the toys are, especially if they’ve been left in their boxes, some Transformers are still far more rare and collectible than others. If you’re a serious collector, names like Minerva, Soundblaster and Fortress Maximus will probably be familiar to you.

Even casual collectors, however, will probably remember the Dinobots, the most famous of which was the robot T-rex, Grimlock. Among his gang was a triceratops called Slag (stop laughing at the back). While most versions of Slag had black plastic faces, the less common edition released in Canada had a red face with matching red hands – making it look more akin to the character seen in the G1 cartoon, and also more attractive to collectors as a result.

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Although accurate values of a red-faced Slag weren’t available at the time of writing, we do know that a standard, boxed and sealed version of Slag has previously sold for around $780, so expect the red-faced version to be worth considerably more. If you have one of these tucked away in your attic, you could start thinking about booking that expensive holiday in Cuba fairly soon.

GAMES

Tetris for the Sega Mega Drive

You might think that Tetris‘ commanding presence in the videogame hall of fame would make it easy to find, which, in the case of the ubiquitous Nintendo Game Boy version, is quite true. The holy grail for many collectors of retro games, however, is a version briefly produced for the Sega Mega Drive. This was programmed and produced by Sega in the midst of an exceedingly complicated rights battle over the Tetris brand; as you’ve probably gathered, Nintendo ultimately won. Sega was therefore forced to hurriedly cancel its versions of the game (for both arcade and the Mega Drive), thus making the handful of copies of the latter vanishingly rare.

It’s currently thought that as few as 10 copies of the Sega Mega Drive Tetris actually exist, and according to the game collector site Racketboy, these could be worth anywhere from $3,000 to $16,000 per piece. In 2011, a copy of the game signed by creator Alexei Pajitnov went on eBay for $1m. Is there another copy of Tetris out there in the wild, waiting to be found by an eagle-eyed collector? Perhaps. If you’re looking for one, beware the numerous fakes cluttering eBay’s listings.

Zelda: Majora’s Mask Adventure Set

If spending the price of a second-hand family car on a 30-year-old puzzle game fills your heart with terror, how about the special edition of one of the most underrated Zelda titles released so far? Majora’s Mask was a wonderfully creepy follow-up to the classic Ocarina Of Time, and like its more famous predecessor, used the Nintendo 64’s 3D graphics to atmospheric effect. While Majora’s Mask wasn’t as big a hit as Ocarina, it still sold an estimated 3m copies.

The Majora’s Mask Adventure Set, also published in 2000, is an exceedingly rare item. Only 1,000 copies were produced, and like most special editions, comes with a range of extras: the soundtrack, a watch, t-shirt, a couple of badges, a sticker, a poster, and a certificate of authenticity. It all comes in a distinctive green box, and it’s all very handsomely put together.

When new, the Adventure Set would have set you back around £70. If you were to try to pick up a copy today, expect to pay closer to around £1000-1500. Anyone reading this who purchased the set in 2000, and now has it stashed in a cupboard somewhere, is likely to be feeling extremely pleased with themselves.

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Stadium Events for the NES

For collectors of Nintendo’s output in the 1980s, Stadium Events is one of those items that is often discussed but seldom seen. Towards the end of the decade, a peripheral was released called Family Fun Fitness (or Family Trainer in Japan), which was essentially a floor mat with pressure pads inside it. The accessory was released in Japan and then America by Bandai, along with a couple of games – Athletic World and Stadium Events.

Then, in 1988, things went a bit weird. Nintendo decided that it wanted to market and distribute the Family Fun Fitness gizmo itself, made Bandai an offer it couldn’t refuse, and released the peripheral as the Power Pad. Everything with the old Family Fun Fitness branding on it was promptly withdrawn from sale by Bandai, including Stadium Events, of which only 2,000 copies were thought to have been produced in the first place.

Now regarded as one of the rarest games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Stadium Events’ estimated value ranges from $12,000 for a boxed copy to $38,000 for a sealed, unopened one. To put that into context, the three rare games ranking below Stadium Events – the unlicensed, indie ‘erotic’ titles Peek A Boo Poker, Bubble Bath Babes and Hot Slots – are worth less than 10 per cent of that.

Bargain hunters should be aware that a copy of Stadium Events may still be found in a second-hand shop somewhere. According to one 2013 article, someone managed to find a boxed copy in a North Carolina charity shop, and promptly snapped it up for $7.99.

Air Raid for Atari 2600 – cart has weird plunger-shaped handle

From the rarest NES game to the most scarce title for the Atari 2600 now, with the exceedingly obscure shooter, Air Raid. Produced by a little-known (and presumably tiny) developer called Men-A-Vision in 1982, Air Raid has the most distinctive cartridge shape in the 2600’s library: it’s sky blue, and has what looks like a huge plunger moulded to the top. Exactly how many copies were originally produced isn’t clear, but it’s thought that it could be fewer than 10. This might explain why loose copies of that curious-looking cartridge go for four-figure sums by themselves, and why boxed copies go for upwards of $30,000.

In 2012, a boxed copy – thought to be the only one in existence still with its original manual – went for $31,600. The seller of one boxed version, a chap named Harv Bennett, was given his copy back in the early 80s by a sales rep. Harv, who owned a shop at the time, gave Air Raid a brief play, decided it was too dreadful to put on his shelves, and tried to give the game back to the rep. The rep put up both hands and said to Harv, “Keep it.”

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That sound? Only an American videogame rep screaming in anguish.

BOOKS

HP Lovecraft’s The Shunned House and its 2008 reprint

Now one of the most famous writers of weird fiction, HP Lovecraft’s work frequently appeared in the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, but the author never had a book published in his own lifetime. He did, however, come very close: in 1928, his short novel The Shunned House was due to be published by a tiny outlet called Recluse Press. But while the pages were all printed, they were never bound or sold while Lovecraft was still alive – the publisher, a friend of Lovecraft’s, had simply run out of money.

It was only after the writer’s death that one of the fellow authors in his circle of weird storytellers, August Derleth, gained possession of the pages, and began selling them in their unbound state. It’s thought that only 250 sets of The Shunned House were printed in the first place, and of them, around 100 were bound and finally sold in 1961.

Understandably, this makes both the bound and unbound copies of The Shunned House extraordinarily rare, with asking prices currently being around £6,000-9,000.

Now, while it’s unlikely that you have a copy of 1928 Shunned House sitting on your shelf, it’s slightly more likely that you had the presence of mind to buy one of the hardcover reprints, published in a limited run of 100 by Arkham House back in 2008. If you did, you’ll be pleased to know that even these recent editions are worth around £300.

First edition Harry Potter

JK Rowling’s series of fantasy books thundered out of obscurity in the late 90s, and Harry Potter is now a multimedia franchise worth billions. Unsurprisingly, some of those early edition books are now worth an awful lot of money – something that won’t be lost on Harry Potter’s legion fans and collectors.

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It’s now a well-known fact that the first-edition copies of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone were printed in small numbers, and are now exceedingly collectible. It’s said that, of the hardback copies, only 500 were printed, and that 300 of those were ferried off to libraries up and down the UK – where they were promptly left sticky and battered by the legion grubby hands that read them so avidly. This leaves just 200 copies of the first edition, first printing Philosopher’s Stone in existence, and they’re thought to be worth anywhere between £3,000-4,000 to £10,000 for a signed copy.

So how do you know whether your copy of the Philosopher’s Stone is a true first edition? Well, according to book seller Peter Harrington, it first has to state “Bloomsbury” as the publisher on the title page. The copyright page has to have an unbroken sequence of numbers counting down from 10 to one (if it has anything else it’s definitely a later printing).

Then, to make absolutely sure, turn to page 53. If “1 wand” is listed twice in the list of school equipment (something corrected in the second edition), prepare to start foaming at the mouth with glee. Or at the very least calling your insurer’s.

COMICS

TNMT issue one from 1984

When Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the offbeat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series in 1984, they certainly couldn’t have imagined that it would become a colossally lucrative franchise by the end of the decade, or that it would still be a success in the next millennium.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was first published by Mirage Studios, the independent company Eastman and Laird set up in 1983, and was intended as a parody of several Marvel comic books of the day. Because the comic was essentially self-published, the first few issues were printed in black and white and on a limited run of 3,275 copies.

As a result, copies of issue number one are now rare and extremely sought-after by collectors. While the value of a copy can vary wildly depending on its condition, mint editions can go for thousands – the highest recorded price for a TMNT issue one is $15,000, or a shade under £10,000. Cowabunga, and so forth.

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The Walking Dead issue one

In comic book terms, The Walking Dead is relatively new, having first appeared in October 2003. Since then, of course, the Walking Dead name has blown up in popularity, having spawned a hit television show, videogames, and all manner of other merchandise. This in term led to an explosion in comic book sales, with Walking Dead’s 100th issue reportedly selling 375,000 copies in a single day – a record for the medium.

As a result, the market values for Walking Dead issue one were at one stage climbing all the time. In 2011, a near-mint copy was sold for $2,500. One year later, a similarly pristine copy sold for $7,000. In November 2012, another clean (9.9 rated) copy sold for $10,100. Things seem to have cooled a fraction more recently, with sellers now asking for around $1,600 -$2,349 for copies at the time of writing. But if you were collecting Walking Dead comics when they first came out, you can still rest assured that your investment was a wise one.

POSTERS

Revenge Of The Jedi

Like all ephemera, the price of film posters can vary wildly, from just a few quid for a reprinted Grease poster to a frightening $1.2m – the price paid for an original Metropolis poster at auction in 2012.

For those with the space to hang them, though, there are original and quite beautiful posters available for just about every budget. Around £200 will buy you an original E.T. poster from 1982, for example, or a double-sided preview poster for The Dark Knight.

The one most Star Wars fans would really like hanging on their walls, though, is surely the one-sheet preview poster for Revenge Of The Jedi from 1983. As you’ll probably already know, Revenge Of The Jedi was George Lucas’ original title for the film, before he had second thoughts and decided that revenge isn’t really a hobby befitting a good-hearted Jedi. At any rate, that late title change made these teaser posters a rare item, and particularly pleasant to look at thanks to the typically evocative art courtesy of Drew Struzan.

A few thousand of these posters were apparently printed, many were recalled and destroyed by Lucasfilm, and they’re now quite expensive to come by. Expect to pay around £1,000 for a mint one, and if it’s the even more scarce version that lacks the May 1983 release date at the bottom, you’ll have to pay even more. Inevitably, fake reprints have since appeared on the market, and while there are ways of spotting them (this website provides a few handy things to look out for), be sure to buy your poster from a reliable source. Assuming you have the best part of a grand to spend on a poster, of course.

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Pulp Fiction – Lucky Strikes

Here’s another recent poster that is now rare and collectible. When Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was first released in theatres in 1994, Miramax released the above poster to accompany it. Like the film itself, it’s a memorable one, and if you were a student in the early 90s, it’s possible you had a copy of this on your wall. So if it’s such a familiar poster, why are certain copies so incredibly valuable?

Because the version most of us had on our walls was a later, edited version. Look closely, and you’ll see subtle differences between the one Miramax put out in 94, and the later one – for one thing, there’s the pack of Lucky Strikes cigarettes sitting just in front of Uma Thurman’s right elbow. When the makers of the cigarettes caught wind of this, they threatened to take Miramax to court, and the film company was forced to withdraw all the posters from theatres.

Just to make doubly sure there were no Pulp Fiction posters left to be found in public, Miramax even threatened to charge cinemas $10 for every poster they didn’t send back. Miramax edited the Lucky Strikes packaging out of subsequent issues of the poster, along with the Harlot In The Heart book cover, which they’d also used without permission.

Remarkably, some of those recalled posters do still survive, and as a result, are quite valuable – prices can range from anywhere between $500-1,500. Again, there are fakes lurking for the unwary, but the website Movie Poster Collectors has a guide to spotting them.