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Spies on Television & Radio ~
Behind The Toys from U.N.C.L.E. – The Inside Story of a Collector’s Guide

By Paul Howley

Editor’s Note ~

As described in my introduction to Paul’s article on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic book series, posted in the Spies on Television & Radio section of this web site, Paul is the owner of the Eisner Award winning pop culture collector’s store, That’s Entertainment, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Over the past two years, Paul has been telling his story in installments e-mailed to his friends and posted at his website.

Now, Paul has told how his indispensable collector’s guide, The Toys from U.N.C.L.E., came to be and how it has become a collector’s item in its own right. I’ve owned a copy since the book came out, and remember how much I learned about the hobby of collecting spy memorabilia. For example, I was startled to see the bubblegum wrappers most of us threw away in the ‘60s were worth $35 – much more than the cards they came in. Well, this was long before anyone knew the value of saving packaging in our collections.

I want to encourage all readers to go to Paul’s website, where you can read his autobiography in full. His story is more than the history of a comic book store – as he says, it’s about family, relationships, and all the aspects of life beyond the workplace.

While you’re there, check out the listing for his comic book stock and collectibles. Paul has been in the business for over 25 years, and is a reliable and extremely trustworthy merchant of comics and related merchandise.

Wesley Britton

My Life With Comic Books – The History of a Comic Shop – Part 71

Cover – The Toys of U.N.C.L.E.

I had attended a convention called “Spy-Con” in the late 1980’s to promote The Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic book series that I was publishing.

This convention was a gathering place for fans of spy-related movies and television shows including James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, The Avengers, and many more. Dealers and fans from around the United States set up booths to buy, sell, and trade many spy-related collectibles. I hoped that I’d be able to locate some of the rare U.N.C.L.E. toys that I was missing in my collection. I was disappointed to find out that most of the dealers only stocked the paperback books, magazines, and fan-produced fiction. There were very few toys offered for sale at this show.

One collector displayed a small notebook that contained photographs of many of his favorite Man from U.N.C.L.E. collectibles and this was of great interest to most of the U.N.C.L.E. collectors. Many of these items were rarely seen by collectors. A group of us discussed the need for a complete listing of everything that was made about The Man from U.N.C.L.E..

When I returned home, I got together with my friend, Brian Paquette, and we came up with the idea of publishing a book about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. collectibles. I had published the official Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic books in 1988 so I figured that I could handle publishing a “real” book.

Brian was an artist and I knew he’d be great with the entire creative end. Between the two of us, we had almost every item ever made about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. television show. We would use our collections as the main part of this new book project.

We began photographing the hundreds of items using colorful backgrounds and began to write detailed descriptions of everything. We wanted this book to be different from most of the memorabilia guides based on other television shows so we made sure that the photographs were large and clear and the descriptions were detailed and accurate. We also carefully researched the current values and actual selling prices of these collectibles by attending toy conventions and monitoring dealers’ catalogs and auction results.

Since this project began before home computers were commonplace, the whole book was done by “hand”. The photos were taken using a film camera and then developed at a local photo studio. If the photos came out okay, we matted them with a black paper border. We designed each page and pasted the written descriptions underneath the photos.

We got together at my house to combine our collections in order to create a photograph for the front cover of our new book. Brian designed our chapter title pages and was mostly responsible for the professional “look” of this project.

We decided to title this project The Toys from U.N.C.L.E. Memorabilia and Collectors Guide. My good friend, Michael Warshaw, a very talented writer, wrote the introduction for this book as a favor to me.

After a few months of work, we sent the pages to Associated Printers of North Dakota (my favorite printer) and they “screened” all of the photos so the photographs would reproduce quite clearly. The cost to produce this project in full color, as we had wanted, would have been outrageously high. A cover price of almost $30 would have been required. Brian and I wanted collectors to be able to buy the book for less than ten dollars so the book was printed in black and white with full color front and back covers. Most of the books were sold through Diamond Comic Distributors at fifty percent of the cover price of nearly ten dollars.

Although it was a lot of work to put the book together, Brian and I enjoyed this experience.

Over the years following the publication of The Toys from U.N.C.L.E., this book has become recognized as an important reference work and a valuable “checklist” for every collector of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Ironically, this book now sells on Ebay for as much as $55!