A new series on the Travel Channel is TOY HUNTER with Jordan Hembrough. The series follows Jordan as he travels around the country looking for some of the most sought after toys! The founder of the New Jersey based HOLLYWOOD HEROES; they specialize in vintage and modern collectables.
Taking viewers on the road, Jordan lets us all experience what its like to go treasure hunting as well as see some of the toys a lot of us haven’t seen in years. The best part, find out what they are worth now so we can groan realizing what we had so many years ago.
Recently we got to speak with Jordan about the series and how he feels about the toys he finds and what people should keep there eye out for:
Thanks for talking to us today Jordan, we so appreciate it!
Tell us about you and the show.
We are so excited about TOY HUNTER. I have been a self-professed toy hunting and collecting geek since I was young. I started collecting toys when I was very, very little and had the 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. When I got into college I actually got a job right when I got out 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 actually the head buyer. I was in charge of all the buying of antiques and collectible toys and allocations of the merchandise. That’s really how I got started professionally as well. After that 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. So that should give you my background.
Why do you think it took this long for a toy-finder show to come out?
That’s a very good question. First of all, toys are universal – the sort of universal denominator; everyone was a child once and everyone has this real emotional connection with the toys. You know, there are a lot of what I call antique shows, you know, whether it be the storage shows or the auctions shows or whatever, and a lot of them have to deal with, you know, the cool stuff that we all find and we all covet. But every now and then a toy trickles in and people get really, really excited about it. I think the timing was just right; people understand that, you know, all these beloved toys from the 80’s are coming back in vogue right now. I really think a big push on all this is a lot of the companies now – the new toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel and Gentle Giant and all the new companies on the market, are reintroducing a lot of these old brands back into the market again. They’re changing them up a little bit, they’re reintroducing them as TV shows, a lot of them are movies now. I think, you know, a lot of people are embracing it. They’re saying, “Look, this is my childhood all over again.” And, you know, the time is right.
How did you prep for the show?
This is my first TV series. I did acting as a child, I was a child actor and I did a lot of College Theater and stuff like that, commercials and stuff like that. What really made it easy for the show is I just talked about what I love and I talk about really what I know. I’ve got to be honest with you, once you see how excited I get talking about this stuff on TV, you’re going to basically join in with me and get all excited about it. I feel very comfortable in front of a camera. I feel comfortable in front of people and more importantly I feel comfortable talking about what I know and more importantly what I love. You guys are going to see me on a great journey. I’m going to go around the country and I’m going to meet with great collectors; everybody from former Kenner designers in Ohio to flea market pickers in Asheville, North Carolina and vintage toy store owners in Austin, Texas. I’m going to talk about the toys they grew up with, and I’m going to hunt out some of the rare and really cool toys that these guys have stashes away in their attics or basements or everything like that, even if it’s something like going to a Batman Collector in Biloxi, Mississippi, a guy who only collects Batman. I’m going to hunt out for the really rare Batman toys. Really just sit and share a moment with these people about their childhood and why they love what they love. People ask me all the time what this show is about and how can I sum up TOY HUNTER. I just say, “I really think Toy Hunter as a really happy childhood memory.” TOY HUNTER is going to bring back a lot of those warm and fuzzy memories. Everyone all across America is going to take the journey with me; they are going to travel across the country with me as my copilot. America is going to be my copilot on the great toy hunt, and I couldn’t be happier, I tell you.
You say some toys are going to come back – is there any in particular?
Oh yes! Have you seen TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES lately or JURASSIC PARK? It’s out there and I promise you the great thing about these toys is every few years the next generation starts getting more valuable. If I were to talk directly to the generation of 20 and 20 years olds, I’d 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 line by Kenner really has started taking off in the secondary market.
Tell us the story about the woman who you helped please?
Oh, okay. I was at a garage sale and a woman – a woman was at a garage sale and I came across basically a cigar box filled with vintage Hot Wheels toys – cars. They were from the 60s and 70s. You know she said give me, like something cheap – 20 bucks for the lot. I took it and there were some cars in there that were extremely, extremely valuable. I was able to come back and flip the deal for a few thousand. I went back to her and gave the money back to her and essentially said, “You know you didn’t know what you had but this is what was in our cigar box – take the money.” Her son was there at the time, so it was wonderful.
You have shot a few episodes in Cincinnati?
We’ve been there a couple of times. We did the pilot out there and I think we’re going to come back and visit. Cincinnati is my second home, I absolutely love the people, I love the food of Cincinnati.
And the toys as well?
The toys too! There are a lot of them out there kicking around from Kenner. Kenner is truly important in this show. I mean I don’t want to say Kenner is any more important than any other toy company because everyone is really, really important. The interesting thing about Kenner is Kenner toys are actually based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, which you know. When the company shot down, a lot of the company – a lot of the employees moved to Hasbro, which is in Rhode Island because Hasbro purchased Kenner. A lot of them stayed in Cincinnati working at other companies. A lot of these former Kenner designers and sculptors, they saved a lot of their old toys because they got the company store and just working with them. So over the years I’ve been working with many, many of them, hundreds to be, you know, to really be truthful. They have a whole hotbed of great toys out there. I mean I call Cincinnati Toy Country USA because it’s always out there and I get phone calls from everyone all the time saying, “I’ve got all these Star Wars toys in my attic. Can you help me sell them? Are they worth anything? Really great thing going to Cincinnati.
One episode with the Jurassic Park Nation you went to a barn somewhere?
Yes, we went out there to Traders’ World which is a stable out there and we got a hot lead. We followed up on a couple of leads, but you know what? To really, really, you know get excited about the show and to really understand what happened, you got to tune in and watch because you will be very, very excited. There are a lot of twists in that episode, its really great. I don’t want to give away anything yet, but you’ll be happy.
You have found people and places with stashes of Kenner stuff?
Yes, that’s correct. People saved a lot of stuff, former employees. I mean there was a company store giving away a lot of stuff like this. You know we’re talking about people that worked for Kenner maybe ten, fifteen years ago and just accumulated so much stuff, which is great. It’s like a little toy pit for me, I love it.
Do you have a certain amount of money you set for yourself?
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. I’m hopeful, you know, I’m hopeful that they’re going to be really surprised how much this stuff is worth. More importantly, we’re going to be talking about the connection of toys to people. 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 money and it’s also about the people involved in this great journey with me; you know, all the collectors that I meet across American. That’s really fantastic.
How did you get the show?
That’s a great question. Travel Channel found me through the production company. The production company is a company called Sharp Entertainment, which is out of New York City. They have a lot of fantastic shows like BEST SANDWICH IN AMERICA FROM ADAM RICHMAN, which is also on Travel Channel. They do a lot of other great shows that are on cable right now. It seemed like a perfect fit for The Travel Channel. I’m really proud to be with the great people over there, they’ve been wonderful.
Tell us about HOLLYWOOD HEROES?
HOLLYWOOD HEROES was formed in 1995. We started selling vintage toys and collectables seeing all the toys from former sales people and outlet toy companies coming to me saying, “I’ve got all my old toys…” I was selling al the toys for the sales reps that would come and visit me when I was at the corporate office for the retail. They started talking to everyone else; it was kind of word-of-mouth that caught on like wildfire. If I were to describe my business model to you, we buy and sell vintage toys and collectables but we also do a lot of consulting in the market as well. We also do appraisals and stuff like that.
How far back do you have to go before its vintage?
Right now we’re concentrating on what I like to call the spot of pop culture and that’s 70s and 80s and we are trickling into the 60s as well. I f I find a really cool toy from the 1920s and I think people would be really interested in hearing about it; I’ll definitely go after it as well. Someone emailed me and said they have one of the only first teddy bears that were done for Teddy Roosevelt and it should be in the Smithsonian and they contacted me. So I’ll follow up on that and we’ll see where that leads.
What else do you consider vintage from the 80s?
From the 1980s there is the Masters of the Universe line for boys, we’ve got Gem from Hasbro and the Gem dolls are worth a lot of money right now. We’ve got some great Strawberry Shortcake dolls that can be worth $200-300 if you can get the right ones. I mean the 80s were such a great time for toys as well. It’s not just limited to boys’ toys; there are a lot of really good girl toys out there that are valuable in the market.
Would Cabbage Patch Dolls be in there?
You know, it’s funny with Cabbage Patch Dolls; they really haven’t maintained their secondary value on the market like everyone thought they would. There are so many out there. A lot of people aren’t really collecting them now. Unless they are extremely limited like they were made as a limited edition, you are really not going to see Cabbage Patch Dolls top maybe one hundred bucks. They’re not the $500 or $600 people thought they would be worth. Cabbage Patch Dolls are still great, great dolls. They’re great for what they were at the time; it was a fantastic marketing opportunity and the guy was a genius.
How about MY LITTLE PONIES?
MY LITTLE PONIES, some of them can get quite valuable yes.
But more things like JURASSIC PARK?
Yes, kids love dinosaurs. JURASSIC PARK was great with the cutting technology. I mean JURASSIC PARK was almost like STAR WARS for its time. It was all brand new CGI stuff and no one had ever seen it before. People love dinosaurs. It’s just something about the dinos. It was really one of the last great toy lines. In my opinion okay – this is all my opinion – it was one of the last great toy lines before Kenner toys shut down. Some of them are worth a lot of money. I mean some of the dinosaurs can be for four or five hundred dollars.
Is it because they were so well made?
Not only well made, they had great playability. I mean you could take a dinosaur and you could put it anywhere and play with them. The vehicles were fantastic because they have a lot of play features and play action. They were wonderful. The packaging was great and it was all bright, had great artwork and was just really a cool toy line to collect.
Can you give us one highlight of a toy you found?
We found some really cool Jurassic Park toys and I know I keep talking about JURASSIC PARK. We found some great STAR WARS toys. I don’t want to give too much away because I don’t want to steal my own thunder. Tune in Wednesday nights and you won’t be disappointed.
In the pilot you had the Mad Bubbler, did you sell it?
The Mad Bubbler did get sold. In the pilot we had a rare Thunder Cats toy that we actually put out on the market for $15,000 and it did get sold. It didn’t get sold during the series but right after Comic Con.
Is there a toy line you’d like to see return?
A toy line that I would want to return on the mainstream market? You know, a lot of them are actually coming back right now. You know, I want to see the vintage Kenner Alien toys return because they were never made. A company called Super7 out of Japan is reissuing and making all these old toys.
What do you think about the new art toys or designer toys or urban vinyl toys?
A lot of stuff is coming out of Japan. It’s fantastic and I do love it. I love all the designer art toys, and these are the out-of-the-box, artsy kind of figures and caricatures of just whether they’re bears or rabbits or whatever, they’re in kind of weird poses. We don’t address too many of those because it really is a specialized niche market. I personally love them. What we’re really trying to do and really trying to accomplish on TOY HUNTER on Travel is to really go back and bring a lot of the memories from the 70s and from our childhood. Everyone that was a child in the 70s and 80s and even the 60s are in there too. I really want folks to sit in front of the TV every week and basically just have a happy memory. You know, we don’t really bring in too much of the urban vinyl right now because it’s just too new.
How do you keep from keeping everything you find?
It’s tough. You want to know how I manage it? It’s called a mortgage! It’s got to be paid every month. I love to collect and I’d love to keep everything I find. But I made a decision a long time ago, this is a business. This is what pays my way through life from the house to the phone to the car. This is what I do to sustain a living. So it does become very, very difficult at times and I do break a few rules and keep some stuff for myself because you have to have fun in life. But what I do is I do the next best thing. If I can’t keep it for myself I find a really, really, really good buyer who is going to love it.
Do you think women will like the show and why?
It’s not just action figures, we’re talking dolls and all the great stuff from the 60s and 70s that are female oriented too. I am so fortunate to do what I do and deal with great people at toy shows and conventions – a lot of those are women. It’s a toy lover’s playing field and everyone loves to do it. Some of my biggest collectors are women by the way. I’ve got two women collectors on the west cost and love what they do.
What is your favorite era of toy?
I’m a child of the 70s when I was a kid it was STAR WARS and MEGO. Remember the old Mego dolls, Batman, Superman and that type stuff? When you’re still a child and the world is your oyster and you know everything is real; everything comes to life in a toy. I mean I could be their holding Luke Skywalker in my basement and I’m in a galaxy far, far away – I’m a kid again.
Do you prefer them in the package or out?
First of all collect what you love and love what you collect. If you’ve got a toy and it’s from the 70s or 80s and you really love it and it’s all ready opened then take it out and display it nicely. Save all the packaging, all the inserts and that type of stuff. But if it’s all ready sealed and has the original manufacture’s tape on it, don’t break it open.
How do you find the rare and valuable items?
Finding rare items is hunting for toys like you hunt for gold. Sometimes you’ve just got to get lucky. As to what makes them valuable? Usually when something’s valuable I try to make sure its still in pristine condition. That’s very, very important that the toy is in the packaging. More often than not, if a toy is attached to a major license like Batman or Star Wars, it has a lot of longevity on the market for stuff that’s valuable.
Do you have any advice for new collectors?
Here’s the thing and again its my opinion, the new toys are never going to be worth as much as the old toys simply because they’re making more of them and people are actually holding on to them thinking they will 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 are limited. You’ve got to remember when some companies like Hasbro or Mattel if they slap limited edition on a toy, it could mean they made 100,000 pieces and that’s still a lot. Make sure you are looking at toys that are limited to 200 or so, sometimes like exclusives at Comic-Con. Go for the quality over the quantity. Also, leave no stone unturned; check everywhere. Some of the best finds are at the flea markets and garage sales because you start talking to people. I mean I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a garage sale and they say, “You know what? I don’t collect that but my cousin Earl has one.”
With that I’m already rummaging through the boxes my grown kids have left with me. I’m sure there’s a HE-MAN or MY LITTLE PONY in there somewhere. Truth be told I have a few STAR WARS pieces but they have sentimental value and have already been tagged to be given to the new grandbaby coming in Februrary!
But its good to know that by watching TOY HUNTER on The Travel Channel audiences can not only see toys they had forgotten about from their childhood but see what they still have and what it could be worth!
TOY HUNTER on The Travel Channel!