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Between the Lines: The Game's Afoot
By David Pitt (November 2004)

Oh, come on, admit it: secretly, in that small part of yourself you keep to yourself, you're still a child. And children like to play with toys 'n' stuff, don't they?

Let's start with Lunchbox: From Comic Books to Cult TV and Beyond (HarperCollins), by Jack Mingo and Erin Barrett. I swear, if you're a collector, this book'll have you droolin'. Here are lunchboxes made out of metal, vinyl, plastic. Here's a Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox, a buncha Bonanza boxes, Charlie's Angels, James Bond, Underdog, Star Wars, Star Trek, Peanuts (a whole page!), and on and on -- hundreds of full-color photographs, with text explaining what the lunchboxes are, how rare they are, and what they're worth.

There's even a chapter, entitled 'What Were They Thinking?', with some, shall we say, offbeat lunchboxes, like the tie-in to the Gentle Ben television series with an illustration that makes it look like a young boy is getting waaaay too friendly with a bear, if you catch my drift. Oh, and the lunchbox that looks like a loaf of bread, let's not forget that little bit of weirdness.

Miller's Toys & GamesSpeaking of lunchboxes, check out page 211 of Miller's Toys and Games Buyer's Guide (Miller's Publications). There's a picture of a Lost in Space lunchbox, from 1998, worth about $40 to $45. (Mingo and Barrett feature an identical -- but original -- Lost in Space box, from '67, worth somewhere around a thousand bucks.) Also on page 211: a Captain Scarlet doll, in the original packaging, signed by the actor who voiced the character; a Buck Rogers action figure; a recent collectors-edition Planet of the Apes figure; and some other stuff.

This is a splendid book, chock full of stuff you wished you had when you were a kid and, admit it now, some of it you still wish you had. (I found pictures of mint-condition versions of some toys I've managed to preserve, and oh how I wish I'd treated my toys better when I was a young'un.) The text is minimal, but who cares? The pictures, of robots and Dinkies and board games and trains and Snoopies, tell the story.

Also from Miller's Publications is Miller's Collectables Price Guide (general editor: Madeline Marsh), which is pretty much the same as the toys and games guide, only more broad in its scope. As well as the kids' stuff, this one's got glassware, ceramics, luggage, tennis miscellany, books, and other more adult-oriented material. But who's kidding who? Whether we're talking about toys or trains or textiles or telephones, we're still talking about the same thing: the adrenaline rush that comes from collecting, the dreamy-eyed fantasizing that comes from remembering the things we had, but didn't realize we had.

Antiques Roadshow CollectiblesSimilarly, here's Antiques Roadshow Collectibles (Workman Publishing), by Carol Prisant. Subtitled 'the complete guide to collecting 20th-century toys, glassware. costume jewelry, memorabilia, ceramics & more from the most watched series on PBS,' the book features hundreds of photographs (mostly in black and white, that's a shame), and lots of text. Of all the books featured here, this one's got the most description, the most explanation about what's collectible, and why, and by whom. Pity it's not in full color, though.

Let's get back on track, here. We were talking about toys and, at the risk of sounding like a shill for Miller's Publications, I wanna tell you about Miller's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Collectibles by Phil Ellis (apparently this publisher hasn't yet decided whether it's 'collectables' or 'collectibles'). Just the cover of the book is enough to take your breath away: a 1970s Captain Kirk action figures in its original packaging; what appears to be a mint-condition Dalek (they were the villains of the Dr. Who series, in case you're wondering); and, if you can believe it, an R2-D2 made out of soap(!).

The book has fewer photos than the other Miller's books, but more explanatory text. There are also very informative chapters about bubble gum cards; posters; books; and movie props, like a Darth Vader head that was apparently used in the movies, a set of Mr. Spock's ears (certified by Leonard Nimoy), and an umbrella from Blade Runner.

If you're interested in props, by the way, then you absolutely must check out The Incredible World of Spy-Fi (coming in November from Chronicle Books), written by Danny Biederman and featuring more than 200 photos from his personal collection.

Incredible World of Spy-FiThis book is way cool. Where else are you going to find rifles that were used on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a missile that was actually shot out of James Bond's Aston Martin, Austin Powers' glasses, and John Steed's bowler hat, all in one place? Biederman's been a fan of 'spy-fi' (spy fiction) for almost all his life, and now we get to reap the rewards. Now if there were only some way to reach inside the book, and pick up these wondrous, glorious objects ...
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