Star of Quest TV’s Toy Hunter, Jordan Hembrough tells Billy Langsworthy about the current toys set to be worth something in years to come, his very own ‘one that got away’ and why the toy sector’s love of retro licences could actually be damaging the industry.
Jordan Hembrough is the Toy Hunter.
It’s an enviable job title, but rather than taking a rifle to a family of Hungry Hungry Hippos, Hembrough’s hunting sees him make a living from buying and selling rare toys.
This will come as no suprise to Quest TV viewers. Toy Hunter has aired on the channel in the UK since 2012 and the latest series is now on screens. But Hembrough was a toy dealer way before TV producers came calling.
“Out of college I got a job as a buyer for a chain of comic and retail stores in the US,” Hembrough tells ToyNews.
“I was a buyer for 13 stores so when that company went out of business, I bought the entire inventory out and started my company, Hollywood Heroes. We buy and sell antique and vintage toys.”
The company has become one of the largest of its kind in the US and four years ago TV came a knocking looking for a Toy Hunter. He’s made a living out of it ever since, and Hembrough believes the UK is a perfect base for a budding toy hunter.
He adds: “One of the most expensive items I have discovered here in the UK during season three of Toy Hunter. It was a 1966 Batman equipment set. There are only known to be four of them in the world. It sold for $20,000. It’s super rare.”
When comparing a toy that’s never been played with versus a rare toy that has been opened, he claims it’s complicated as to which would sell for more.
“If you’re compared apples to apples, with an unopened toy versus an opened one, the unopened toy is going to be worth two or three times more,” states Hembrough.
“But sometimes if you do have an extremely rare toy that’s been played with, you’ve got to take it on a case-by-case basis.”
It’s impossible to chat to Hembrough and not be simultaneously scanning your mind for potential toy goldmines that may be laying about the attic. But for consumers swamping the aisles now, Hembrough believes one current toy line looks set to be a worthwhile investment: Hot Toys.
“The craftsmanship is second to none and the good thing about Hot Toys is that when they tell you they are making a certain number of figures, they stick to that number, thereby preserving the collectability,” he adds.
“Big companies like Hasbro or Mattel will tell you something is limited but it will show up a year later in a pack assortment, leaving collectors a little bummed out.
“The term ‘limited edition’ is a marketing thing now. ‘Limited’ to a large company means 150,000 pieces. You have to put it all into perspective.”
And when it comes to properties, Hembrough claims that brands boasting longevity have the best chance of being valuable in years to come.
He advises: “Go for a licence that will still be around. Look at stuff around now and think was it viable 50 years ago. Look at the likes of Star Wars and Batman.”
There is a thirst for retro toys amongst consumers at the moment, be it nostalgia-inducing properties like Thunderbirds or Clangers or firm’s like Funko launching ReAction figures designed to look like the 1980s originals. Hembrough believes it points to a fear of the new from toy firms.
“Everyone loves the nostalgia factor and there’s nothing new coming out anymore,” he says.
“Toy companies are afraid to go out and invest in a new property right now, so they are staying safe with licences that are winners.
“I give Mattel credit though for coming out with Monster High. It was a huge hit and they had the balls to try something new. It’s what you’re supposed to do.
“Inventors should be inventing toys for the younger generation. Stop sitting on your butt trying to reinvent the old brands that someone else put all the work into. Do something new.”
In a life of buying and selling some of the most loved toys of all time, there has be a few regrets. And Hembrough’s very own ‘one that got away’ comes from a galaxy, far, far away.
“It was a prototype wax sculpting, the only one in the world, of Boba Fett from the Kenner line of action figures,” he reveals.
“I bought it from the designer and I sold it 15 years ago for $55,000. It’s worth well over $120,000 today. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that.”
After that particular punch to the gut, is there anything the Toy Hunter will never part with?
“As I get older I’m starting to hold onto more things because I kind of miss them when they go,” he concludes.
“I’ll never get rid of my Star Wars figures from when I was a kid. They’re not worth a lot but they’re mine. It’s why toys are so much more than just toys. They’re a piece of who we are.”
Toy Hunter can be seen on Wednesday evenings on Quest TV.