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Saturday, 6 April 2013

Collecting Who


Items connected with many ‘cult’ television programs can become collectible, but the trick is knowing what to look for. The general adage of ‘the older it is, the more valuable it is’ doesn’t always hold true, although as a general rule, it’s pretty good.

With a show like DOCTOR WHO, there is a thirty-six year history to call upon. It started in November 1963 and the first items were released in 1964. Because DOCTOR WHO was such a hit with audiences, there were a large number of different types of item associated with it, so collectors can specialise in, say, just the books, or the records, or the Dalek-related items.

One of the first things to do is to make sure you know your market. There are, so far, no books which give an accurate and complete picture of DOCTOR WHO merchandising. I am actually writing one myself (HOWE’S TRANSCENDENTAL TOYBOX) which won’t be available until 2000. Before then, try and find copies of DOCTOR WHO: THE SIXTIES, DOCTOR WHO: THE SEVENTIES and DOCTOR WHO: THE EIGHTIES (all by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker, published by Virgin Publishing Ltd). These contained fairly detailed listings and overviews of the items released in each decade.

Items like the World Distributors hardbacked annuals can generally be picked up at jumble sales, charity shops, boot sales and the like, but the first annual (1965) is only worth about £10 in mint condition, whereas the subsequent 3 books (1966, 1967 and 1968) are worth £25 or so. Other books to watch out for are those which, by their normal use, would be defaced: colouring books, sticker books, activity books and the like. Mint condition copies of these from the sixties can fetch up to £100 each.

It can be hard to know where to sell these, but there are several on-line auction houses, like E-bay, which feature a wide variety of individual DOCTOR WHO items. Alternatively, try posting something on the main DOCTOR WHO newsgroup rec.arts.drwho. There are usually people there willing to buy. Another option is to approach some of the DOCTOR WHO dealers – like John Fitton or The Who Shop, but be aware that they will want to re-sell at the market price and so will offer you less for the items.

If you are collecting books now, then you may wish to get them autographed, but this will not increase the value in the short term. Some autographs are more valuable than others – if the signee is now dead, for example – and rarest of all are those who died before DOCTOR WHO fandom really took off: William Hartnell and Roger Delgado being the prime candidates. However, if you had, for example, a set of all 61 Virgin New Adventures novels, then if they were all signed by their respective authors, this would be worth more than the basic set, which is itself fairly valuable even though Virgin only stopped publishing them in 1997. Also, items signed, for example, ‘Best Wishes: Tom Baker’ will be more valuable than those signed ‘To Dave: Tom Baker’, as they are more attractive to potential buyers.

As with any area of collecting, there are some fakes and con-artistes to watch out for. Surprisingly not many DOCTOR WHO fakes have come to light: most often you see items advertising in local press, or in exchange magazines, and, once you make contact, the person wants the money before he’ll send the goods. Be warned. Another scam is to offer video copies of certain DOCTOR WHO stories or episodes no longer held by the BBC – this dupes people into parting with five pounds for a copy, and, of course, the item never arrives.

The only actual fake item known about (aside from fake props which is a whole different area of collecting) is a DOCTOR WHO egg-cup which purports to be from 1965. It has a ‘© BBC 1965’ roughly stamped on the bottom, and pictures of a dalek and William Hartnell as the Doctor on the sides. These items are also yellowing and old-looking, with grime on the inside. Aside from the fact that no record can be found of their licensing in 1965, nor any mention of them at all in any contemporary documentation held by the BBC, careful examination shows that the pictures are hand painted, and not transfers if they had been a genuine mass-market item, and the glaze is not crazed as you would expect from an item of this age. As far as can be told, these items were made in the 1980s by someone hoping to cash in on the popularity of the show, and sold, singly, through certain toy and memorabilia dealers (but not DOCTOR WHO dealers). The examples known about appear to have originated through dealers at Covent Garden Market in London.

Nowadays, the bulk of DOCTOR WHO merchandise tends to be aimed at the collectors market. Items like the MBI chess set, Aidee’s pottery tankards, MBI’s pewter models and Dapol’s commemorative plinths cannot be sold for more than they were bought for at the time, and in many cases they can only be sold for considerably less – this is because the manufactures priced them based on what they believed the market could take – very high. This resulted in few sold (so they’re relatively rare) but fewer still people who actually wanted them. In addition, any limitation tended to be ‘however many they sold’, making the limitation itself worthless.

Another ploy has been used by the BBC on some of their videos. They claim that a given video is ‘limited edition’. So it is – limited to the same number as they would normally produce of a video. Things like the TARDIS tin edition of THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD, or the Dalek tin boxed set could be picked up for less than half of their original price within months of their first release. The BBC will not release details of what the limitation is, making these a hopeless collectors item, as they are easily available to anyone who wants them at knock down prices.

One of the more recent collectibles is the Dalek stamp issued by the Royal Mail in June. While the stamp itself is generally available, look out for the accompanying postcard. Some post offices have run out of that card that demand has been so high. Genuine First Day Covers will also be valuable in the future, as will the special commemorative and BBC licensed cover issued by the Stamp Centre in London’s Strand, which was also signed by Tom Baker. Be warned, though. There was a licensed first day cover issued for the programme’s twenty fifth anniversary in 1988, which featured a printed colour cover, the 22p ‘Isaac Newton’ stamp from the then-current set, and a special ‘TARDIS console’ post mark. This post mark later turned up on a selection of far more basic covers issued by Arlington Supplies ltd. These, however, featured different stamps (from a set featuring Gerald Scarfe’s paintings of comets and meteors) and, as far as can be determined, were not produced in 1988 at all. One assumes that the brass for the post mark was sold on and someone decided to try and capitalise on it. The Arlington Supplies covers were also signed by Sylvester McCoy or Tom Baker, but, as with the Tom Baker-signed covers issued in 1999 by the Stamp Centre, as so many were signed, this adds little to the resale value.

A genuine limited edition will always be more collectible: like the 500 gold fob watches issued by Aqua Janeiro in 1988. These sold out very quickly indeed and the company did a further run of 500 chrome watches to try and capitalise on the demand. Anything with a certificate of limitation, and which features a number (and which also shows the total number) will be collectible in the future, with lower numbers going for more money.

In terms of other collectible items, worth more are perishables, items which, by their use, would be destroyed: Easter Eggs, sweets, chocolate bars, and especially ice creams and boxes of breakfast cereal. There are, for example, no known examples of a sixties Dalek Firework known to exist today, nor any of the Walls’ Dalek Death Ray ice lolly.

Some things which you might expect to be collectible are not: copies of DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE, running since 1979, are seldom worth more than a pound or two each, and the TARGET range of paperbacks are also only worth 50 pence or a pound each. Despite this, some of the dealers will sell them for upwards of ten pounds, playing on fans’ ignorance of the items, and of their relative availability: almost every charity shop and jumble sale in the country will have copies of these books for sale, in varying condition.

So what should you look out for? You may have to buy a lot of items to find the few that genuine collectors want. Generally items from the sixties are worth more, although a Palitoy talking Dalek from the seventies is worth £250 mint and boxed, as are the 1976 range of Denys Fisher action figures. The better condition they are in, the more they’ll be worth. Any damaged boxes, chips in paintwork, missing components (like Dalek arm and eye-stalks, Tom Baker dolls minus hat, scarf and sonic screwdriver) will reduce the price. A good condition item will always be worth something as many fans may want to replace their damaged items with better quality ones.

As there is such a wide range of material available, it’s worth specialising in something that you yourself like. Collecting this sort of merchandise can be prone to disappointment if all you’re looking at doing is turning a profit. If you collect because you love the items or the show, then you may find that amongst your collection in the future are a few gems. A genuine collector, however, will love all the items, regardless of how much they are potentially worth.

David J Howe