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In our second installment of MEGA COLLECTORS, we jump across the pond, to speak with the best German guy I know.
I’m lucky to call him a friend. David Wollscheid, is a longtime Toy Biz collector.
His focus is finding the most pristine examples of boxed figures. Not only does he have every single release. He has an entire cabinet of releases in custom made acrylic cases.
David has been my right hand man the past few years, in tracking down the rarest of rare variants, and errors.
This guy knows his LOTR. He’s been to New Zealand, toured The Shire, WETA, and brought back many tales from the mountains.
When he's not indulging in fine German beer, he's busy being a great friend, and a father.
As David would say: "In einer Höhle in der Erde, da lebte ein Hobbit."
Donnie: What's the toughest part about collecting from Germany?
David: The toughest part was and still is the German customs office, where I always have to pick up figures shipped from outside of the EU.
You need an invoice and you always have to pay taxes based on the items value and its shipping cost. Due to the fact that nearly each shipment costs over 40$ makes it very expensive to purchase from the US.
Beside the extra money, the employees at the customs office are the most nicest human beings one can imagine, always friendly, helpful and open minded, giving you the feeling that you are some kind of a toy-drug dealer who tries to import massive packages of illegal substances.
Donnie: Do you remember the first figure you bought?
David: Of course I do. It was the red Fellowship Gift Pack in French/English language together with the Helms Deep Gift pack. As a bonus the online store put in the Frodo and Samwise with Elven Boat double pack in the box.
Donnie: What gave you the drive to collect every piece?
David: I started collecting mid of 2005, so I was not an early bird collecting from the beginning. But I loved the movies as much as the books and when I noticed in 2005 that there are action figures on the market, I wanted to have some.
However at first I just wanted to buy “a few figures” and saw a special offer of the mentioned gift packs in a German online store.
After receiving the sets, I was overwhelmed by the details of the figures and the overall appearance including the awesome packaging.
So I started to search for the figures in other online stores and of course on eBay and started to inform myself more and more.
In autumn of 2005, I saw three auctions from one seller on eBay: Helms Deep Gimli, Twilight Frodo (with golden ring variant) and the Moria Orc archer in perfect condition. To be honest, I had no clue, but the seller wrote something about “ultra rare” and “impossible to find”, so I gave it a try and bought all three figures for small money.
So after knowing that HD Gimli was the Holy Grail, I was hooked on. I bought more and more figures and started to do some research in forums and on specific websites like the Green Dragon etc. and did not stop until today.
Donnie: Did you have any challenges along the way? Like lack of a full checklist? Foreign exclusives? etc.
David: Well the biggest challenge was the missing storage space, when I moved out of home in 2008 I had a nice collection, but in my small 53 square meter apartment it was a real challenge and I slowed down collecting these figures more and more.
I had nearly all half-moon boxes and many trilogy cards plus gift packs.
When my girlfriend (my later wife) and I moved together in 2010 I stopped collecting because in our new apartment I had to store everything in boxes in the attic.
When we moved into our first house in 2015, I was able to get my own “man cave” and finally had enough space to display everything in glass cabinets. I searched for a checklist and found a list with all the regular releases.
I noticed that My collection was nice but still some regular sets were missing, so the collectors fever got me again. This was the time when I learned that beside HD Gimli, the red Arwen and Asfaloth set was the big deal and I started to search for this beautiful set.
Donnie: Can you tell us the story of how you found the TOY BIZ LOTR Grail, Arwen & Asfaloth?
David: As a German LOTR collector, I made a huge mistake when the red Arwen and Asfaloth set was released for sale in the German online store, “fantasy-toystore.de” for ridiculous €139.
I thought: “What €139? This is a re-pack. I have the green edition that was released first. I don’t need an expensive red repack”.
Well I regretted this decision a few years later.
In my opinion this set was only released in Germany and some copies in the UK, so if I would have known it better, I could have bought a set right when it was released, but I didn’t. So when I restart collecting the LOTR figures in 2015, I remembered my mistake and tried to hunt the red box finally down.
This was a very intensive search over nearly two years. Two years seems a little short for someone searching for it many many years without success, but I searched nearly every evening and wrote many many mails to online sellers.
I’ve met a former collector from the UK on eBay selling his whole collection when I bought the all green cloth cape Gift Pack from him. He owned the red box, but sold in on eBay for €350 something two weeks ago. I was quite disappointed, but didn’t give up.
I asked many sellers on eBay if they owned the red Arwen and Asfaloth set and a few months after my first failure, I found a British seller. He told me that he owned this set, but stored it in his warehouse, so he asked for some days to search for it.
One week later, he replied and told me that he found it. I asked for some pictures and indeed, it was the holy grail.
Unfortunately, he displayed this set in his local store a few days before writing me and within three days he got so many offers by local collectors that visited his store, that he now was aware of what kind of rare item he owned.
At the end he was a nice guy telling his potential customers that he made a reservation and he offered me the set first. For €800.
I would have paid this amount, but after watching the pictures, I noticed that Frodo was kind of loose, hanging around like a completely hammered hobbit on Asfaloth’s back. This was a blemish and I was not in the mood to pay this amount of money.
This was very disappointing for me, because I missed two chances. However I did not stop my daily research for this set and finally after a year later I read in an action figure collector group on Facebook that a German member was going to sell his whole collection.
This seller mentioned this just in an answer to another comment, but I just wrote this guy a message and asked if he owned the red box.
This was the case and this guy was irritated that I was specifically asking for this copy, because he owned two copies of this rare piece of toy history.
After a few evenings of hard negotiations he accepted my offer. He lived in a city not far away from my dad’s home, but still 4h by car away from my home. I organized a road trip with my wife and daughter (in the meantime, I was married and became a father afterwards ;-)) to pick the red box up by my own at the sellers home.
I was not in the mood to risk, that someone might damage this beauty during shipping. I was so nervous, that I have found a copy and during the 4h trip, It felt like Christmas, as a little boy.
I only bought one copy, because the price was high enough and my wife would have killed me, If I bought two of them.
Well at the end this was the chance for my collector friend Milos from Belgium, but that’s his story.
Donnie: What is your favorite Toy Biz figure?
David: I love the red Arwen and Asfaloth set of course and my copy of the blue carded Hama figure as well as the blue Spanish Cave Troll.
I also have multiple factory error packs that I really love, but when I have to choose one among them, it is Helms Deep Gimli.
I love Gimli as a character in the movies and therefore his figure. It was the figure that made me collecting all the others.
Donnie: What are your thoughts on the new Amazon series?
David: My first idea was "Oh God please don’t. Don’t ruin this".
Without Peter Jackson, it will not be the same. I’m glad that they decided to make the series in New Zealand so I have some hope, that Peter Jackson will join.
I’m afraid that there will be new action figures, but I don’t think they will be the same like the ones from Toy Biz for LOTR.
I’m expecting more figures like the ones from Game of Thrones with some SDCC exclusives. If they are going to make awesome figures of the new Amazon series, I will have some serious capacity issues.
I have a “complete“ collection with every regular figure and many many errors plus other rarities of the Toy Biz LOTR figures.
I’m still missing some variants and this keeps my spirit for collecting alive.
Beside that I have a complete NECA Sin City figured collection and because of that, I’m running out of space. Although we moved into our own house and I have a bigger Man Cave, I’m still not able to display even the LOTR trilogy figures, except a handful of them.
Starting a completely new action figure line, would lead to serious problems. However, I hope that Amazon will produce an awesome series, but I’m expecting nothing, because I don’t want to be disappointed at the end. (Thank God, I did not buy a Game of Thrones action figure :)
Donnie: What do you think of the current, and future state of LOTR collecting?
David: Well I think only the die hard collectors are still collecting.
The prices on eBay for the “normal” figures are lower compared to the time between 2005-2010. The market is very calm in my opinion.
There might be a few new young collectors, but I think that the big hype is over.
I hoped that the Hobbit and the action figures will give the LOTR action figures a new boost, but this was not the case unfortunately.
For us die hard collectors, only the foreign exclusives are a nearly unknown area to explore. We learned a lot of new things regarding Spanish exclusives boxes and the blue Walmart secrets, recently. Beside that, the variant census will also be a nice area for more research.