During the summer before eighth grade, I was at a family picnic where an uncle asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I didn’t know. Then he asked what I liked in school. When I said, “Numbers,” he said, “You need to become a CPA.” I had never heard of that occupation before, but once he explained it to me, it sounded perfect; my future was set; and the rest, as they say, is history. I obtained my CPA in 1996, and I specialize in advising small businesses in financial matters and technology.
When I made my decision as a kid to become a CPA, I never dreamed I would put my skills to work in my own weekend “hobby business” as a toy dealer. The movie Star Wars debuted in May 1977. I didn’t see it once; I saw the movie at least a dozen times. When they started selling Star Wars action figures, I had to have them. Every Christmas, from 1977 to 1984, that’s all I wanted, and that’s all I played with. Unlike other kids, when I was done playing, I put them back in their original boxes. I didn’t know I was making them collectors’ items!
My friend and business partner, Jason Greene, had had a similar experience. When I met Jason in 1992 during college and learned we each had boxes full of Star Wars toys in our attics, we decided they might be valuable. Together with another friend, we went to our first toy show. We sold some, bought more; and we still had money left over for gas. We became hooked on toy dealing.
We now travel to four or five toy shows a year, mostly within a six-hour drive from home. The rest of the year we’re looking for deals on eBay and acquiring new collections. We buy toys in bulk; we like to buy entire collections. That way we may get a few choice pieces we can resell right away to collectors and sell off the more mediocre pieces over a period of time. We also find loose small pieces—swords, capes, guns—in those collections, which we match to other pieces to increase their value.
The temptation to collect is always with us, but after we had been in business for about a year, we realized that everything has a price and everything can be replaced. Once we got over that hump and even let go of our “personal collections,” we knew we were dealers, not collectors. We’ve accumulated thousands of Star Wars, G.I. Joe and Mego action figures and accessories, which we store in a 10-by-20 building until the next toy show.
Occasionally, we get lucky and come across some rare stuff—for instance, Power of the Force figures on their card [original packing]. However, we’ve never been so lucky to come across a super-rare vinyl-caped Jawa figure on its card. Later versions of the Jawas (the short brown, caped scavengers that sold droids in the desert in Star Wars) came with cloth capes, which made the vinyl ones rare—so rare that one recently sold on eBay for $6,400. As you can imagine, the vinyl cape is also a favorite object of counterfeiters.
Some of the most expensive things we sell are boxed G.I. Joe vehicles from the 1960s and 1970s. Boxes are hard to come by because they were usually trashed. We might spend from $40 to $100 on a box, but once we put a loose vehicle in them, the boxed vehicle is worth from $200 to $400.
As a partner in Cosmic Collectibles, I am a small businessperson, and I’ve found that this has given me a closer connection to my CPA clients. I have a greater understanding of the challenges they face each day. Even using QuickBooks in my business helps me relate better to them, since I encounter firsthand the issues they have in recording their transactions.
I love toys, and I admit I’ve gone a little crazy when it comes to buying some, especially Lincoln Logs and Legos for my daughters, who are now 14 and 6. When I was a kid, I only had one box of Lincoln Logs, which wasn’t enough to build much. So, I’ve bought the logs and Legos by the pound, and at least once a year we build an entire town complete with a shopping mall. The only rule I have about toys is to save the box and instructions. You never know when those toys will become collectors’ items.
—As told to Linda Segall, email@example.com,
freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.