Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weirdest collectibles of the 1970s

Weirdest collectibles of the 1970s

Weirdest collectibles of the 1970s, Are These '70s Collectibles Worth Anything Today? The Pet Rock, Billy Beer & 'Star Wars' figures were all the rage in the 1970s. What's their value now?

That '70s glow
Every generation has its own cultural icons that grow into collectibles over time.

Yet the 1970s were a stranger time than most, and some of the artifacts of that decade are indeed bizarre.

There are, of course, the legions of Star Wars-related items that remain in demand.
If you happen to have one of those Boba Fett dolls that came free with UPC symbols, you may be able to add an extra $2,000 to your bank account (especially if it's the version with a spring-loaded missile).

There were also fads a-plenty, such as the mood ring, a plastic, heat-activated bauble that would change colors, allegedly in sync with the wearer's emotions. The rings are still sold by various makers, but cognoscenti, we are told, have ways of telling an authentic '70s artifact.

Taste wasn't always an issue when it came to flash-in-the-pan fads of that decade. Amid the sexual revolution and a growing gay rights movement, advertising executive Harvey Rosenberg brought America Gay Bob, a doll that hit stores in 1977 and created buzz -- and denouncements -- as "the world's first openly gay doll."

Dressed in tight jeans and a flannel shirt, Bob differed from Barbie's pal Ken in one striking way: The doll was anatomically correct. Today, the dolls appear regularly on auction sites such as eBay.

Click ahead for a look at some more of the weirdest collectibles the 1970s have left us with.
Pet Rocks
It took stones.

Operating on the assumption that folks will buy just about anything (perhaps even more of a truism in the 1970s), California advertising executive Gary Dahl introduced the Pet Rock to the world in 1975.

Dahl said he was inspired after listening to friends complain about their pets' cost and mess.
What the world needed, he argued, was the easiest-to-care-for pet ever.

The rocks were, obviously, easy enough to procure (a builder's supply store in San Jose, Calif., provided them for a penny each). Dahl sweetened the $3.99 sale price by crafting a "Pet Rock Training Manual" and creating a carrying case (complete with superfluous breathing holes and a straw nest). Among the nuggets of advice the manual offered: "Place it on some old newspapers. The rock will never know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction." Tricks included the easy-to-achieve feats of "sit" and "stay."

Each rock also came with its own name (our aunt, we recall, was the proud owner of "Brutus").

What happened next is the kind of snowball effect entrepreneurs dream of. Neiman-Marcus ordered 500 of them at a local gift show, and word-of-mouth led to a feature story in Newsweek, after which demand soared. An appearance with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show continued the Pet Rock avalanche.

In less than a year, nearly three tons of rocks, more than 1 million units, had been shipped. Dahl, an instant millionaire, went on to open his own bar and tour the country as a motivational speaker.

People still seek out Pet Rocks (in the original carrying case, and either the original version or later "breeds" with glued-on googly eyes). For less than $10, a complete Pet Rock kit can be found on eBay, similar auction sites and the occasional specialty shop.

The Pet Rock also lives on. ThinkGeek has modernized the stone-faced pet by offering a "USB Pet Rock" that comes with a cable and is guaranteed compatibility with either Windows or Mac. "Simply plug the USB cable into a free port and let the fun begin," the site says, touting the novelties as "the greenest USB products ever created, as they draw absolutely no electricity." A USB Pet Rock sells for $9.99.

In 2009, a new generation of Pet Rocks was unveiled by a company called I-STAR Entertainment at New York City's annual Toy Fair; they were sold shortly thereafter at Toys 'R' Us.

"We believe that natural disasters -- earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, etc. -- created geological changes that disturbed these dormant creatures, forcing them to surface," said Marty Abrams, CEO of I-STAR Entertainment, in a press release. "When our field investigators reported back that the Pet Rocks were real, we decided to reintroduce them to the world again. Since we have greater access to millions more people across the globe through mass communications that didn't exist in the 1970s, we predict the Pet Rocks will become an instant fad and a big hit with those active in the collectibles market."

Alas, the new breed -- names included Chip, Fracture, Granite, Hard Luck, Mica, Pebbles, Rocky and Stoner -- failed to generate the same buzz its predecessors did.
Billy Beer
In the 1970s, Billy Carter was the political equivalent of Stephen Baldwin -- a ne'er-do-well brother who gained a measure of unwanted notoriety for his more respected sibling, President Jimmy Carter.

The introduction of Billy Beer proved to be a sad coda for Falls City Brewing, a Kentucky brewer that dated back to the Prohibition era.
The Falstaff beer fan website details the company's history and the unfortunate launch: "Billy Carter was the Pabst-swigging brother of then President Jimmy Carter . . . a redneck folk hero of sorts, and Falls City convinced him to launch his own brand of beer."

The beer launch was accompanied by a national marketing blitz that garnered massive media buzz.

It all fell apart, thanks to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Billy Carter and Gadhafi had apparently agreed to an arrangement that made the Georgia gas station owner a registered foreign agent of the Libyan government in exchange for a $220,000 "loan" (allegations arose, but were never proved, that the amount offered in "Billygate" was far more).

An embarrassed president was forced to vehemently deny that his brother held any foreign policy sway. Amid the scandal, in 1978, Falls City went belly up.

The beer, however, once bought up by collectors, enjoyed a speculative bubble worthy of tulips and mortgage-backed securities. In the late 1990s, cans started selling for as much as $600 each, and folks who tucked a six-pack or two in their basement as a keepsake thought they had struck it rich -- liquid gold, as it were.

No such luck. It seems that some collectors had snookered media outlets into running pieces that greatly exaggerated the value. As quickly as prices shot up, they crashed back down. Today a five-spot will get you a six-pack and change.
Remember Cowmumble?
Cereal box toys always make sought-after collectibles for a combination of nostalgia, value and kitsch.

If you grew up in the 1970s, you may recall the breakfast cereal Freakies. While Tony the Tiger growled about Frosted Flakes and Lucky chased after Lucky Charms, Freakies featured a collective of seven freakish creatures that lived in a magical tree.
BossMoss, Hamhose, Gargle, Cowmumble, Grumble, Goody-Goody and Snorkeldorf may no longer be Saturday-morning staples, but their legacy lives on in the paraphernalia they inspired -- among them small plastic dolls, T-shirts, race cars (propelled by a squeeze of a tiny plunger bulb) and, most famous of all, refrigerator magnets (the last of which even inspired a print publication dedicated to cereal collectibles).

In the interest of preserving our childhood memories, the less said about a 1978 reboot that made them aliens and switched around genders, the better.
What child wouldn't want a tiny naked creature with a distended belly and rainbow-colored hair?

Troll dolls were created in 1959 by a Danish woodcutter, gained popularity in Europe and hit the U.S. a few years later. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s they were ubiquitous in toy boxes and on car dashboards.
The variation of the Danish "Dam dolls," (named for creator Thomas Dam) distinguished by glass eyes and hair made of wool, is a particularly desired collectible. With one of those you'll have little or no trouble finding a collector willing to shell out several hundred dollars.

That particular troll may be the most collectible, but all of the various iterations (and lawsuits were waged to determine who had manufacturing rights in various countries) retain some value. A guide to what to look for in collectibles can be found here and here.
May the Force be with you
In terms of value, monetary and emotional, it is hard to beat anything related to "Star Wars."

The original film, later squeezed unceremoniously into the middle of George Lucas' six-movie boondoggle, birthed the geeky thirst for "action figures."
Smaller and more boy-friendly than traditional dolls such as Barbie, the action figures had fans split into two camps -- those who played with them and obsessive collectors who never dared open the packages lest their contents lose their pristine glory.

Here's our theory as to a major reason the more-recent films are so reviled by fanboys. Long before "The Empire Strikes Back" hit theaters, it was teased by a related offer for those buying the figures. Collect enough UPC symbols and toy company Kenner would send you a free Boba Fett doll. The armored, missile-launcher-equipped character was truly mysterious, and every kid had his or her own mental image as to what the galactic bounty hunter looked like under the helmet and what his story might be. Was he a hero or villain? That all depended on your imagination.

The Boba Fett of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" lived up to the mystique, but Lucas robbed that ambiguity when the bounty hunter was revealed in the prequels to be no more than a typical, human-looking actor with a New Zealand accent and a mask. So much for the enigma.

Still, over the years the wide universe of Star Wars action figures have become prized collectibles, especially among the nerds who kept the packages intact.

If you happen to have one of those Boba Fett dolls that came free with UPC symbols, you may be able to add $2,000 to your bank account (the tell here is that it came with a spring-loaded missile that the manufacturer tried, unsuccessfully, to claim never existed).

A 1978 Darth Vader action figure with a "telescoping" light saber extending beyond the usual length of in-arm weapons -- among the last to have that feature -- can fetch as much as $6,000 from collectors.

Have a tiny Jawa figure that came with a vinyl, rather than a cloth, cape and you'll be able to add several hundred dollars to your bank account.

Beyond dolls, there are even bigger pieces of Star Wars memorabilia fetching record prices at auction.

Obi-Wan Kenobi's cape from the movie fetched $104,000 in 2007, and a miniature tie fighter used by the special effects team sold for $402,500 in 2008.
Men of action
Before action toys were shrunk to the size of a palm, not only were G.I. Joes tall (by doll standards), but they even sported fuzzy hair and beards.

Hasbro, amid controversy over the Vietnam War, actually downplayed the military aspects of these dolls -- portraying them more as adventurers.
In another sign of the times, the "Adventure Team" was multiracial and sported a mix of bearded and clean-shaven looks.

Many kids of the early 1970s may remember another beloved innovation: the Kung Fu Grip. Capitalizing on the martial arts craze led by action star Bruce Lee, the dolls' rubbery hands were (with limited success) able to grip items.

Decades later, and long since G.I. Joe was shrunk down, collectors are even more rabid about collecting them, and there is even an annual convention sanctioned by Hasbro.

Also ready for action was a line of dolls based on the hit TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man." Rebuilt cyborg astronaut Steve Austin came with "bionic vision" (at least that's what they called the peephole in the back of his head) and you could open a panel on his arm to access "circuitry" and even a scuba mask. His boss, government agent Oscar Goodman, also came in doll form and carried an "exploding briefcase."

Real-life adventurer and serial bone breaker Evel Knievel also inspired a line of toys collectors fondly recall and bid for. The rubbery doll came with, of course, a "stunt cycle" that could be revved up and released to crash into ramps and loops.

A survey of online auctions found Knievel's toy line selling for anywhere from $11 (doll only) to $500 for a complete set, depending on condition, accessories and packaging.
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