Toys and dolls are serious stuff to these collectors

Ken Reul, 27, toy collector and co-owner of the Toy Consortium in the Millhopper Shopping Center became interested in collectable toys at the age of 8 when he went looking for replacements for toys given to him by older relatives.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 12:21 a.m.


Show arrives Monday

  • What: A display of collectable toys from the Baby Boomer era, vintage Barbie dolls, GI Joes, Hot Wheels, robots, trains and more. Also, toy experts will appraise and buy local residents' old toys.
  • When: Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Where: Sears Court, Oaks Mall In the shop, Ken has about 20 Megos on display. Batman and Robin, Starsky and Hutch, and characters from the Star Trek cartoon are all replicated as action figures. These are worlds away from the plastic action figures that are sold today. The clothes are actual cloth, and the figures are about an inch and a half larger than the normal G.I. Joe figure of today.
    Mego made a bad business mistake and passed on the license to make Star Wars figures when the movie was released. That mistake basically ended the company, and they stopped producing figures shortly after that. The scarcity of the Mego figures is what makes them so valuable.
    Action figures have evolved a lot since G.I. Joe. In Ken's store, there are ultra-realistic military figures depicting the World War II era. These have realistic facial expressions and contain much more detailed weaponry, like a miniature weathered M-16 and a small canteen that looks old and scuffed with age.
    Even though collectable figures are available through trading online, Ken says the Internet hasn't slowed his business down at all.
    "There are people out there who have tried online stuff and just don't care for it," he says. "You're paying for something you might not get, and you're not sure if you'll get that exact item."
    Also, the advantage actual shops have over Internet stores is that the buyer and seller can reminisce and talk about the toys that they love.
    "I'm always up for a conversation about toys," Ken says.

  • From behind a glass case, 160 eyes peer out in a sideways glance - the eyes of 80 vintage Barbies, each wearing fashions from the '60s and '70s.
    The way these dolls look off to the side distinguishes them from Barbies of today. All 80 are displayed proudly in Carol Kirk's Gainesville home, in a bedroom cabinet her husband constructed expressly for her Barbies.
    It's a collection that used to be much more massive; she got rid of many Barbies she had kept in their original packaging.
    Kirk is but one of many in Gainesville who takes this toy and doll collecting seriously. Beginning Monday, collectors both serious and casual will get the chance to have their old dolls and toys appraised when the FX Toy Show spends three days at the Oaks Mall.
    For Kirk, the interest in vintage dolls came almost by chance. After all, her family is chock full of young boys. Besides her son, Jamie, she has five nephews, not a single niece. So in recent years she has spent little time going down the pink aisle at Toys R Us.
    But while attending her 20-year high school reunion in 1995, she was reunited with an old Barbie she used to play with when she was 6.
    "I have a younger sister, who's now about 30, who used to play with her," Kirk says.
    Soon after, while Christmas shopping, she said to her husband, Bill, "I wonder what Barbie looks like today?"
    When Kirk saw a version of today's Barbie, she remembers exclaiming, "Oh, my God, she's beautiful!" She left the store that day with six new Barbies, and the rest is history.
    Kirk also found her interest in Barbies could be profitable. She started buying and trading Barbies online, and in 1999 she took out a $35,000 loan to buy an extensive collection.
    The bank was skeptical, she recalls, but Kirk says she repaid the loan in just three months, thanks to her wheeling and dealing.
    Of all her collection, Kirk's treasure is her original Barbie, a Platinum Bubble Cut from 1963. Dressed in a red bathing suit with white sunglasses clipped to the front, Bubble Cut Barbie's eyes stare sideways underneath her '60s-style round haircut.
    Kirk isn't as big into Barbies as she used to be. She has sold about $10,000 of her collection, using the money to put toward her son's college education.
    Still, her love of collecting has rubbed off on her son who displays his collection of 19 Star Wars vehicles proudly on his wooden desk.
    'Lots of nostalgia' A red sports car about a foot and a half long, "AJ" emblazoned on the side, sits on the bottom of a shelf among action figures and toys.
    The car is worth more than a semester's tuition at UF.
    The "Action Jackson" race car, the type you pull back and release, is one of maybe 10 such models in existence; thus it's worth some $1,200. It may be the most expensive item in Ken Ruel's store, the Toy Consortium, which he and his business partner, Michelle Yonke, started out of a mutual love of toys.
    Ruel has a large personal collection of toys from the 1980s, from GI Joes and Transformer action figures to Dungeons and Dragons toys.
    "Basically, if I had it as a child, I have since reacquired it," Ruel says.
    He started collecting toys as a child, ever since the day he was playing with toys that he borrowed from one of his cousins.
    "I was just a kid playing with them, and I broke one," Ruel remembers. "I went to the toy store and tried to replace it and they said, 'Hey kid, this hasn't been sold for 15 years.' "
    Thus began his interest in collecting.
    Ruel works at the Toy Consortium in the Millhopper Shopping Center - a store that has been in Gainesville since 1998. The shop, he says, isn't just a way to make money - it's an extension of his pure love of toys.
    "There's lots of nostalgia in them," Ruel says. "They take you back to an innocent time when you don't have to worry about rent or things like that."
    Ruel collects Megos, a brand of TV action figures made between 1972-82 that included everything from Marvel and DC Comics characters to characters from "Happy Days" and "Planet of the Apes."
    "It was neat because they were all compatible, so you could have this one universe with all of these characters in it," Ruel says.
    Mego produced 150 figures; Ruel has many duplicates and custom pieces, so his total collection numbers around 600.
    Ruel's personal favorite: Thor, the Marvel comic book superhero.
    His rarest pieces: Thor's alter egos, including Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, which were only available for one year in a Montgomery Ward catalog, according to Ruel.
    "They came in a little bag. You got a head and a uniform. You didn't even get a body," Ruel recalls. "You just swapped the clothes and the head from your original Mego."
    The pieces, not packaged, can sell for as much as $600, he says. When packaged, the pieces can sell for $2,000.
    Yonke, meantime, collects action figures from the British TV series "Dr. Who."
    She fell in love with "Dr. Who" while watching reruns of the show in the late '70s, but never realized there were action figures until she happened upon one at a toy show.
    Today, Yonke proudly possesses a collection of six mint-condition pieces, which may not sound overly impressive to the untrained ear.
    When you consider these pieces aren't even produced in the United States, her collection becomes more credible.
    "I don't have a very large collection, but every piece I have is complete," Yonke says.
    Yonke's friends have gone to great lengths to obtain these figures for her. Before Internet trading was popular, her friends called people in England, trying to find pieces.
    As a child, Yonke says she used to collect Briar Horses, but stopped because she thought she should do more "grown-up" things. She has since changed her mind.
    "I've gotten beyond thinking I have to be a grown up all the time," Yonke says. "I do things that I like."

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