DENVER, Pa. – Compared to modern film depictions of time-traveling space explorers who effortlessly venture to galaxies where no man has gone before, the early 20th-century spaceman Buck Rogers looks positively primitive.
The invention of artist Philip Francis Nowlan, Buck Rogers was introduced in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories and later evolved into a star of syndicated comic strips, movies, radio and television. Along the way, a Buck Rogers franchise developed and became a money machine through an array of licensed products, especially toys. Some say the Buck Rogers “raygun” of 1934 was the item that launched the era of pop-culture merchandising.
Although Buck Rogers’ swashbuckling adventures might seem almost comical today, the demand for early toys associated with Buck, his companion Wilma Deering and their various sidekicks, is stronger than ever. A collection of Buck Rogers toys amassed over 40 years by a Chicago collector, the late Wayne Jagielski, brought in more than $103,500 (all prices quoted include 15% buyer’s premium) at Morphy’s Jan. 29 auction in Denver, Pa. The overall total for the sale of antique and vintage toys was $420,000.
Jagielski’s collection also included articles related to Buck Rogers contemporaries and followers, like Tom Corbett, and spanned the space toy spectrum, from spaceships and spaceports to maps, guns, rings, watches, skates and books. In most cases, the toys retained their original boxes and accompanying instructions or sales literature, extras that sometimes can double the price of a collectible at auction.
Measuring only 3 inches in diameter, a 1936 woven Buck Rogers Solar Scout patch originally obtained by sending in 15 cents and a box top from Cream of Wheat cereal was a hotly pursued lot. Considered the rarest of all Buck Rogers premiums, it met its presale estimate range of $4,000-$8,000 with a winning bid of $4,300.
A few lots in the sale had come from other consignors, including a set of English-made Johillco die-cast space figures still attached to the original cardboard insert. The set’s colorful original box even bore a partial F.A.O. Schwarz price sticker. Estimated at $1,000-$2,000, the set flew to $8,625. According to Morphy, a space toy expert who attended the sale said the figures in the Johillco set weren’t particularly rare, but the box and insert were “unbelievably rare…He had never seen the set in a complete state.”
Most of the top lots in the Jagielski collection went to U.S. buyers, but the remainder found new owners worldwide. Less than 10 percent of the collection sold to bidders in the gallery; 90 percent sold through the Internet and phones.
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