Originally created 05/16/02

Collectors get heavenly inspiration from toys



There are monsters in Tim Campbell's basement. They cuddle up next to the armada of spacecraft, an armory of plastic weaponry and legions of heroes silently waiting to save the universe.

For nearly 15 years, Mr. Campbell, technical director/stage manager at the Imperial Theatre, has scoured garage sales, toy stores and Internet collector sites for science fiction memorabilia. He has gathered an impressive assortment of toys and promotional items that run the gamut from obscure to obvious.

The shelves in his North Augusta home bristle with familiar faces from the Star Wars universe and the assorted crews of Star Trek's varied incarnations. They share space with less recognizable sci-fi celebrities - killer robots from the Disney debacle The Black Hole, the monster-as-hero Boone from the little seen horror-fantasy Nightbreed and a host of other almost-weres and also-rans.

"I started with Star Trek," he said. "I was a big Star Trek fan as a kid. In 1987, when I was in high school, I relocated an old toy, a Star Trek phaser, that I had as a kid. When I found the shell of that piece, I got really excited. I got it into my head that there were things out there that I would like to have."

At first, Mr. Campbell limited his acquisitions to Star Trek, expanding the breadth of his collecting only when he found the Trek possibilities starting to dry up.

"At the time, all the toys had either been produced in 1974 or 1979, and that was a long way from where I was," he said. "So I started looking and Star Wars was something I had enjoyed as a kid. It was also easier to collect, because it was still readily available at yard sales."

Mr. Campbell said the most difficult part of assembling a collection is learning when to say no. Because of the sheer number of items out there, and the high prices rarer items can command, setting limits becomes a necessity for those not blessed with a bottomless bank account.

"It can easily spiral out of control," Mr. Campbell said. "You have to rein yourself in. Particularly with Star Trek and Star Wars. You can find yourself spending more and more money trying to get more and more items. My grandfather once said you can't own everything. I tried to prove him wrong until the reality set in."

Paula Outler, manager of Suncoast Motion Picture Company store in Augusta Mall and a recovering collector, said that was a painful lesson to learn.

"I would go, pull a figure off the shelves, look at the back to see what else was available and then fill the buggy up. There were things I ended up with that I really shouldn't have bought, but you don't really think about that until $100 later."

Recently, Ms. Outler has begun paring down her collection, selling off pieces and keeping only a few items with sentimental value or that feature favorite characters such as Star Trek's Captain Picard or the Star Wars smuggler Han Solo.

"It's funny, because I sold a lot of stuff for three times what I paid for it," she said. "But I'll never give it up completely. There will always be things I want, or refuse to part with."

Ms. Outler said there is a fairly steady stream of like-minded collectors who frequent her store looking for action figures, posters and other memorabilia.

"People will come in looking for, say, Star Wars things," she said. "You'll see the same familiar face come in every month or, to see what is new, what is popular, what they might need."

Mr. Campbell said the sci-fi collectors quest to acquire stems from fandom for the films and television programs, the possibility of large profits from a minimal investment, and nostalgia.

"You find magazines that tell you what the worth is," Mr. Campbell said, pointing toward a Han Solo action figure valued at $200. "But the thing is, an item is really only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The prices have shot up because there is this adult collectors market out there now. Manufacturers have realized that those kids that played with the original Star Wars toys want to latch onto a piece of their childhood, only now they have the disposable income to pay for it."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.