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I had the pleasure to speak to another Australian from our MEGA COLLECTORS club, Alex Katsoulis about his collecting experience.
His collection spans decades, and many toy lines.
You probably remember him from his Toy Biz FULL CASE videos he posted here.
Alex also collects PROTOTYPES, and owns the 2-UP PAINT-MASTER resin Legolas.
Donnie: When did you start collecting toys?
Alex: I have always been interested in toys, and collected from a very young age.
Growing up in the 1980’s I had great exposure to the popular toy lines, including Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, GiJoe and Super Powers.
I was always very careful with my toys and kept the majority of them, particularly Star Wars, Transformers and GiJoe.
It wasn’t until 1990 that I went back and began buying them in mint in package from a local collectibles store, and then from the Toy Shop newspaper that I had to pre-order through a local comic shop.
You can pretty much say I’m a toy collector at heart.
My enjoyment comes from the hunt. Hunting for elusive pieces, meeting and networking with like-minded collectors. It’s about building knowledge, being committed to a hobby and knowing that some items may take decades to track down and obtain.
Donnie: When did you get started collecting Toy Biz figures?
Alex: My first foray into Toy Biz figure that I purchased was a 1991 Marvel Venom with ‘Living Skin Slime Pores’. I purchased it when I attended my first comic con here in Australia.
I then branched out to collecting the 1991 Uncanny X-Men figures after being hooked on the cartoon. This then led me to Spider-man and Fantastic Four.
By the mid 1990’s I ceased collecting the Marvel lines in favor of the relaunch Star Wars POTF2 line.
Donnie: What was your first figure?
Alex: My first Toy Biz figure was a 1991 Marvel Venom with ‘Living Skin Slime Pores’.
I’m not able to say what my first Toy biz LOTR figure was, because as soon as they hit retail I picked up as many of the first series as I could. The one I desired the most was the Prologue Elf, and that was a tough piece to find initially.
Donnie: Do you have a favorite?
Alex: Toy Biz released so many beautifully crafted figures for the LOTR line. The detail is a credit to the workmanship of the artists, and obviously the love they also had for the license.
I am particularly partial to package design, and as a result I am very much drawn to the original FOTR green moon box pieces.
My favorite would still have to be the Prologue Elf, followed by Elrond. I just loved the intricacy of detail these two particular pieces showed.
However as the line evolved we got many more beautiful looking pieces, and some of the gift sets released were stunning sets.
Donnie: Are you a MINT in BOX or LOOSE collector or both?
Alex: Ever since I began re-collecting my childhood toys (Star Wars, GiJoe, and others) in the early 1990’s, I would focus on being a mint in package collector.
The same is true of my Toy Biz LOTR figures. All are still in the package.
I do however have a small amount of loose Toy Biz LOTR figures that I acquired from a collector who would simply open and display them as they still retained the rubber bands holding their weapons to their hands. But this collection only amounts to a dozen or so pieces.
Donnie: Do you collect with the aim of collecting them all?
Alex: I have never been able to commit to collecting them all. As much as I love the idea of being a completionist, I find it personally difficult to achieve.
Primarily it’s because I started out collecting multiple toy lines. For instance I was collecting both Toy Biz LOTR and also the Sideshow Weta LOTR statues. As a result storage, and displaying becomes critical.
So with the Toy Biz LOTR line I own nearly a complete set of the packaged US release figures and most of the gift sets and deluxe pieces (Cave Troll, Sauron etc).
Donnie: Are there any pieces your chasing now?
Alex: I am always on the look-out for pieces to compliment my collection. But today I am mainly focusing my attention towards pre-production. As those opportunities do not present themselves often it becomes enjoyable playing the long game.
Donnie: What was it like collecting from Australia?
Alex: Australian collectors were very fortunate with the Toy Biz LOTR line receiving to my knowledge almost the entire US product release.
The only exception was the Red moon box Twilight Frodo and the Red moon box Moria Orc. These two pieces I had to source from eBay as I never found them locally.
We also were fortunate enough to receive the Red moon box versions of Helms Deep Gimli and Boromir which are probably the key pieces to the entire series.
With regards to the multi-packs, most were released locally. However I am certain some variations of the packs were not released within the Australian market.
Speaking from personal experience, I was lucky enough to have had a variety of local stores at that particular time to frequent.
These included Toy Kingdom, Toy World, Big W, Toys R US to name a few. Between them I was able to find almost all the figures released within the local market.
Donnie: Can you tell us about how you acquired your full cases of figures?
Alex: The full cases which I briefly showed within the group via a video post were all purchased locally and at retail.
They were released locally by Funtastic which was the distributor of Toy Biz LOTR within Australia and probably the local region.
I did also acquire two additional cases of FOTR 3-Packs that were sourced from overseas (Singapore) at the time, as those combinations I could not find locally at the time.
As I was buying regularly from some of the smaller stores, I began to build a rapport and in turn whenever they ordered an assortment they would set aside a full case for me. It was a fun way to get what I wanted in one purchase, while also being able to cherry pick from their open assortments.
I know very well from other toy lines that I collect that a hobby has many dimensions to it. It is not always the figures or the toys themselves that are collected, and the shipper cases add character to a toy line. For me personally it is nice to see what these toys came in and adds extra depth to my collection.
Donnie: You have an incredible 2-UP PROTOTYPE paint-master of Legolas. Can you tell us how you found it, and what made you decide to jump into the pre-production community.
Alex: I have been interested in prototypes or pre-production as I like to also call them for many years. However I predominately focus on vintage Star Wars.
My love for the Toy Biz LOTR line began as soon as the figures began hitting the stores.
My desire to attain prototype or pre-production pieces therefore started early on. One of the biggest disadvantages of being an overseas collector is the added difficulty of tracking these down, making the necessary contacts and getting the leads.
So my efforts therefore relied on finding them on the secondary market. Mainly eBay, but add in forums and Facebook to the mix as well. However as you can attest these seldom come up for sale.
I was fortunate to grab two amazing Mock-ups in the early 2000’s to start me off on my journey. They being a Red moon box Legolas first shot, and the Red moon box Easterling mock-up.
My real desire was to always find a 2-UP example for the line. I had first seen the Marvel Toy biz 1990’s pieces in magazines like Lee’s Action Figure News and Toy Review, and Tomarts picture some amazing Toy Biz marvel 2-UPs, and knowing that this is the form that the Toy Biz artists used for the LOTR figures became a real goal or grail chase for me to add one or more into my personal collection.
With regards to the Legolas paint-master, I think I really got lucky on that piece. In the scheme of things, this was a relatively recent purchase. I chanced upon it on an eBay auction in May 2017. Here was a real 2-UP paint master of a major character.
The piece is in amazing condition and included his accessories. To this day I am not entirely sure why it wasn’t snapped up, but I certainly couldn’t let such an opportunity to pass by. It’s definitely my most favorite LOTR piece that I own.
Donnie: How do you view the future of the Toy Biz LOTR line?
Alex: I am very positive about the Toy Biz LOTR line as a hobby.
The beautiful thing about this line is how accessible and affordable it is. It is nearly 20 years now that we were graced first by the movies, and then the toy line. A person entering this hobby today is able to begin a collection with relative ease and do this even with a strict budget.
I have no doubt we will see the community grow larger as the years roll on by. As new people are introduced to the movies, and with the release of the TV series I feel people will either discover for the first time, or rediscover the Toy Biz toy line that accompanied this great series.
It is only a matter of time that the hobby takes the next step forward. It really began with this incredible group, but will no doubt continue with a future collectibles book dedicated to the Toy biz line. Who knows, maybe one day there may even be a Toy Biz LOTR fan convention organized.
Donnie: What would you like to see our museum cover next?
Alex: The museum is incredible and definitely on the right track. Knowledge is power and being able to educate the community is incredibly empowering.
While some like rudimentary knowledge, there is no doubt others would love to learn all the ins and outs of this toy line.
Some areas of expansion that I would like to see, and perhaps would enhance peoples collecting experience may be (in no particular order):
1. Check lists (US, and International). What was released, packaging and variation.
2. Ranking system. Ranking packaged figures by rarity and scarcity.
3. Case assortment list. The figure break down in each assortment that was released.
4. Price guide.
5. Prototypes / Preproduction.
6. More interviews from those who worked so hard to bring these toys to life.
7. Prototypes. I would love to see an artist sculpt association, so I can better understand the people behind each piece produced.
Donnie: What other things do you collect?
Alex: Vintage Star Wars was what kicked off my toy collecting love all those years ago. This still and always will remain the core of my collecting.
I have a large but incomplete collection of Weta Sideshow LOTR statues (1/6th scale). I began to collect these when Sideshow originally launched the line in the early 2000’s. Funny fact is that I was able to land a couple random artist proofs from this line by chance.