I used to have a cool job. The pay sucked, but the job was pretty sweet. I worked in an animation art gallery. We sold t-shirts and knick-knacks, original and reproduction animation art. The original art was the cool part. Original production cels from Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Drawings of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Daffy Duck. Every couple of weeks something new.
How cool is that? Seriously, it’s f**king cool. Trust me.
I was there when people paid, and made, good money on animation art. Every major auction (Sotheby’s and Christie’s) did better than the one before it. Prices jumped by leaps and bounds. It was easy to understand (cartoons!!) and it was easy to sell. Don’t you want to be surrounded by art that makes you smile? Of course you do. We take MasterCard, American Express and Discover. Also we finance.
On the downside, such as it was, we were often besieged by arm-chair art experts. These were people who read one article on animation art and decided that that thing they found in the attic, or at a garage sale, or simply hanging in the baby’s room was worth 25,000 dollars. You know, just like the picture in the article they just read. Or maybe more, because, as you can see, their ‘pitcher’ was bigger.
And now the let down.
Nope. Never was anything someone brought in ever worth 25,000 dollars. Most of the time, less than $500. They’d bring in their treasure with a copy of the article they just read and half an hour later storm out because they couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept that a pristine, full-figure, eyes-open, Mickey Mouse cel from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence in Fantasia was way more desirable than the eyes-closed, half-faced, paint-peeling crow from Dumbo that they brought in. Couldn’t see the difference. A cel is a cel is a cel. It’s all the same Why couldn’t we understand THAT! Just spitballing, but maybe because we knew what we were talking about and they didn’t. In the end, we were always accused of trying to cheat them. Always. You know, because the market for shit is so, so lucrative.
Just because things are the same, doesn’t mean they aren’t different.
How much is that proto you won at the Fugitive party?
Probably not as much as you think. Let’s discuss.
First thing first. What is a proto? Proto is short for ‘prototype’ and completely not what they are. Protos are part of the process that Funko uses to test molds and get licensor approval. In every other facet of vinyl toy collecting these pieces are called ‘test shots’ or ‘test pulls’. Funko has always called them protos and there’s no real reason to change it at this point. Protos, by and large, are limited to 4-6 color protos and 2 or three white ones. It used to be a much smaller number during the Becker days, but that was then, this is now. They also used to be a lot cheaper.
I always seize up whenever someone asks why protos cost so much (‘much’ being relative). In part due to gallery flashbacks, but mostly because it’s only a matter of posts before some shit-for-brains spouts off about ‘supply and demand’. It’s a stupid answer. Just f**king awful. It’s insulting, especially to anyone who went to high school or college and was forced to take a Free Enterprise/Intro to Econ class. Or anyone who’s grown up in a capitalistic society. You know, basically everyone. We don’t need the ‘know it all’ post with the implied eyeroll. We understand how markets work. You and the invisible hand can back to your corner and play with yourselves.
Secondly, I don’t think it answers the question people are really asking, which is ‘Why are you willing to pay so much for an unpainted pop?’ Most of the time, that’s the second or third post following ‘supply and demand’. If you don’t understand what a proto is (see: First things First), you usually don’t understand dropping a couple hundred dollars on something that doesn’t come with a box or a sticker. I get it. It’s an unpainted pop. You could make them in your basement (especially if you’re a certain Chinese seller on Ebay). Except that you really can’t. Trust me, I know. I customize from time to time and I strip the paint off of my ‘donors’. Paint sticks in the groves and joints and stains the plastic. Also, the stripper damages the plastic and your toy smells like acetone. Most of the time people ‘get it’ once they’ve had protos explained to them. They probably won’t collect them because they don’t want to spend the money, but at least they’re no longer ‘the only one who thinks that protos are a waste of money’. And on a side note…being the ‘only one who thinks’ something doesn’t really make you the ‘only one who thinks’ something. It just makes you a turd in the punchbowl. Go sit in the corner with the supply side collectors. Circle jerks are more fun when there’s a crowd.
And finally, it’s not true. If supply and demand were the only thing driving price, they’d cost thousands of dollars because there are only seven or eight of them. There are plenty of large edition pops out there that you could trade for a butt-load of protos. Check out ‘Top Ten Tuesday’ and see for yourself. Someone always posts the really expensive shit. Or did. I don’t know anymore. I hide Top Ten posts immediately and If I see people posting more than one, I block them. Why? Because they’re meaningless. Sorry to be a killjoy, but saying your goal is to get you Top Ten up to a dollar value means what exactly? Are they your favorites? Did you work really hard to get them? Oh, they got vaulted and the price shot up….nice job doing nothing. Savvy.
So why do people pay big bucks for some protos? Pretty much because they want to. Proto collecting is a niche. There aren’t a lot of people who collect them so they’re not as expensive as some people want to believe. I can hear the supply siders saying ‘See supply and demand’. And to them I say, ‘Go back to overpaying for recently released chase pieces and exclusives that’ll drop in value next week.’ Ever wonder why people will blow 100 bucks on a new release, but scoff at a proto? ‘Hype and gratification’. They want it now and will pay through the nose. They don’t care if there will be 10,000 of them, they’re paying top dollar today (insert Futurama Fry meme saying ‘Take my money’). If you missed the second semester of Econ and Free Enterprise, that’s called ‘irrational exuberance’. Look it up.
Where was I? Oh yeah, protos. Like original animation art, people collect them because of the limited quantity and their use in the production process, but that only takes the value so far. With production cels, pricing was ultimately determined by the character (Mickey > Dumbo), condition (mint > damaged) and the quality of the image (full figure > half figure, pleasing expression > stupid expression). Proto pricing is pretty much the same way, except that condition isn’t usually an issue and quality of image has been replaced by the coolness of the sculpt. This means that big license characters like Marvel, DC, Disney and Star Wars will cost you more than other licenses no matter how much more YOU like the other license. I like Moon Knight, but he’s never going to be as popular, or expensive, as Deadpool. Batman is more expensive than Robin. Superman more than Lois Lane. Harry more than Ron. Pops more than Dorbz. Get the picture?
If you need a rule of thumb on pricing, use mine. These are for what I call ‘typical’ protos, which is most everything not Marvel, Disney, Game of Thrones, DC, Walking Dead, Star Wars or Harry Potter.
Also understand that I’m kind of cheap.
Pop Protos: 75-150
Dorbz, Rock Candy, Vinyl Idolz: 50-125
Mystery Minis, Keychains, Pint Sized Heroes, MyMojis : 25-50 – although I think they should give away Moji protos for free with the purchase of a pack of gum.
Wobblers: 100-200, unfortunately people only collect them when a pop of the same character is released.
Again, these are my price ranges and they’re based on what things actually sell for on Ebay, or on Gemini during blow out week. Protos cost more than pops, but you’re not making bank on Superbad or Riverdale protos. You just aren’t. Give up and lower the price. When you get into big licenses, expect prices for secondary and shitty characters to start at the high end of my price ranges and go up from there. Main characters from popular lines easily fall in the 300-500 range, sometimes more. Freddy protos….low end - 300, high end - who knows. I didn’t use to think they’d top a thousand, but I was wrong and paid off my car with a couple of them. Right now, I think prices on protos are a little high, which typically follows any event (ECCC, Fundays) where a lot of protos get released to the public. That’s when everyone thinks that their Blizzard mini proto is worth 200 dollars, until it sits on Ebay for 6 months and eventually sells for 35.
Still think your Fugitive proto is going to pay for your trip to Seattle?
Back when I worked at the art gallery, we were often asked to authenticate Disney autographs. The problem was that there were several Disney employees that signed Walt’s name on stuff besides Walt, and he signed very little. I saw a lot of Disney autographs while working at the gallery, and except for one, none of them were signed by the man himself. All of those items were worth something, but only one was worth a lot more.
Just because things are the same, doesn’t mean they aren’t different.
Enjoy the hobby for what it is not a buck.