We cover quite a few horror collectibles on Daily Dead and I have a fair share of old action figures stored away from when I was young. That's why I took the opportunity to jump on a call with Jordan Hembrough to ask him about collecting and his life as a professional toy collector and hunter.
Jordan Hembrough is the owner of Hollywood Heroes and has a new show coming out called Toy Hunter, in which he searches for rare toys and collectibles. Continue reading to learn about how he got into this as a profession, his suggestions to new collectors, and the rare item he's still looking for today:
When did you start collecting toys professionally?
Jordan Hembrough: I started collecting toys when I was very, very little and had my bedroom adorned with Star Wars and superheroes and all the cool movie toys. I played with all those growing up and even have a lot of them today.
I actually got a job right when I got out of college as a buyer for a chain of retail stores; they were comic and sci-fi collectible stores. There were 13 around the country and I was the head buyer in charge of all the buying of the antiques and collectible toys and allocation of the merchandise. That’s really how I got started professionally as well.
When the company closed down, I formed Hollywood Heroes and I have been non-stop, knee-deep in toys ever since and absolutely loving every minute of it.
Besides collecting, does Hollywood Heroes offer professional services?
Jordan Hembrough: Yes, Hollywood Heroes was formed in 1995 and we started selling vintage toys and collectables, but we also do a lot of consulting in the market as well. We consult to companies and we also do appraisals.
How did you end up turning your love of collecting and your full time job into something that could work for TV?
Jordan Hembrough: That’s a great question. Travel Channel found me through a production company called Sharp Entertainment. Sharp Entertainment is out of New York City and they do a lot of fantastic shows like Best Sandwich in America from Adam Richmond, which is also on Travel Channel.
Sharp actually found me through kind of a long casting process about a year ago, a year-and-a-half ago. I came in, and they asked about my background and what I did. The one thing that they really wanted to know is, do did I do this professionally all the time? And I said, “Yes I do.” And that’s really how they knew that everything was the real deal.
Sharp pitched it to Travel and basically said, “Listen, you know, this guy goes around the country all the time and he’s meeting all these great people and visiting all the great cities and seeing America.”
Like similar collecting shows, will this have the same format every episode?
Jordan Hembrough: It’s going to change a little bit. Each show is going to be taken a little differently on a case-by-case basis. I don’t know if we are going to be addressing abating budgets as much as we did in the pilot. But we’re going to be addressing the value of a lot of these toys which a lot of people will get really excited about.
And more importantly, we’re going to be talking about the connection of the people to a lot of the stuff. I mean the show is about our toys and everything, but you’ve got to remember it’s also about the worth of a lot of the money, and it’s also about the people involved in this great journey with me; all the collectors that I meet across America, and that’s really fantastic.
What era of toys is your main focus?
Jordan Hembrough: Right now we’re concentrating on what I like to call the sweet spot of pop culture. That’s 70’s and 80’s and were trickling into the 60’s as well. Right now, nothing is off the table, though. If I find a really cool toy from the 1920’s and I think people would be really interested in hearing about it, I’ll definitely go after it as well.
What toys from the last 20 years that are becoming more valuable and hard to find?
Jordan Hembrough: Have you seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lately or Jurassic Park? The great thing about these toys is every few years the next generation starts getting more valuable.
And if I were to talk directly to the generation of 20 and 30 year olds, I’d say keep an eye on the horizon for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really going up in value because some of the toys are worth $600 today. Look for Jurassic Park because the Jurassic Park line by Kenner really has started taking off in the secondary market.
Do you feel like some of the recent figure reproductions are hurting the marketplace? I know that some of the early Star Trek figures are being reproduced and I've seen other companies who are reproducing their older figures with new packaging.
Jordan Hembrough: Well yes, that’s interesting. For anyone who doesn’t know, there was a company on the market called ENCE and they reproduced vintage Star Trek Mego dolls and they look exactly like the vintage figures of the 70’s.
Yes, they absolutely have taken a hit. I’ve seen some $1000 toys plummet to $500. I think ultimately the purest collector, the people that really want the originals, are going to buy them in the packages because these people are not recreating the vintage packaging. You know, it’s part of the market and it’s the beast I’ve got to deal with.
For someone who is younger and just getting into collecting, is it worth it for them to go after new toys with so many of them being mass produced?
Jordan Hembrough: That’s fantastic because I love talking to teens about this, and it’s questions I get asked a lot by people that are in high school and say, “I want to collect stuff.”
Here’s the thing, and again this is my opinion after being in the industry for 25 years. The new toys are never going to be worth as much as the old toys and simply because they’re making more of them and people are actually holding on to them thinking they’re going to be worth something
My best advice for a new collector would be to go after toys that are targeted as limited, and to really make sure that they’re limited. You’ve got to remember that if some companies like Hasbro or Mattel slap limited edition on a toy, it could mean they made 100,000 pieces and that’s still a lot. You’ll want to make sure that you’re looking at toys that are limited ones like 200 or 250 pieces, sometimes like exclusives at Comic-Con.
And if you’re going to really get into collecting, take the money and spend a little more to buy something that you know if going to be limited. And what I mean is, instead of spending $200 on like 20 or 30 toys, take the $200 and buy two or three toys that you know are going to be worth something. Go for the quality over the quantity.
What is your toy holy grail? What is something that you've been searching for but have yet to find?
Jordan Hembrough: You know, I would really love to find a Batman utility belt by Ideal Corporation in the 60’s. They go for about $15,000 on the market, they are extremely rare for the 60’s.
It's something I had once a long time ago and really didn’t know what it was worth and sold it too cheap. For me there’s very little left that I still want because I’ve been fortunate enough to see so much in my life and I’m really, really lucky. But that’s one of the illusive things that I can probably still go after that I’d probably hold onto for me.
I'd like to thank Jordan Hembrough for taking the time to talk with me. Toy Hunter premieres with 2 half-hour episodes tonight at 10:pm EST/PST. Regular episodes will appear after that at 9:00pm EST/PST, starting on August 22nd.