Original G.I. Joe a no-sale at auction

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2003

SAN DIEGO (AP) G.I. Joe has had his share of conquests, launching a revolution in the toy industry and entering the hearts of countless children.

But on Friday, he suffered an embarrassing defeat: At an auction, no one made a bid for the original prototype.

Even cutting the minimum bid from $600,000 to $250,000 failed to interest the approximately 30 people who attended the auction at the Comic-Con International convention.

''I'd be dishonest to say I'm not disappointed, but tomorrow is another day,'' said John Petty, director of auctions for Heritage Comics, which organized the event.

The 11 1/2-inch figure, locked inside a glass case, was returned to owner Don Levine, who said he would entertain private offers for the next several days.

He and Petty entered the auction with hopes that G.I Joe would become the most expensive toy ever auctioned, had even the minimum bid been met.

Rare Barbie dolls can fetch as much as $10,000, and a ''Yellow Kid'' bowling set once sold for $26,000, Petty said.

For decades, the handmade figure and his detailed gear have been kept in a cardboard box in the Rhode Island home of Levine, a Korean War veteran and former Hasbro executive who was involved in his creation.

Now 75, Levine said it was simply time to sell the figure, and several other early G.I. Joe items, and share the proceeds with his children and grandchildren.

It was in 1963 that Levine and others set out to develop a toy that would do for boys what rival Mattel's Barbie had done for girls five years earlier. The innovation for G.I. Joe a name inspired by a 1945 war movie was that he was movable and could be posed to crouch in backyard foxholes and tote toy weapons.

The concept was radical at the time. Skeptics doubted whether boys would play with what was, in essence, a doll. That prompted Levine to coin the now ubiquitous term ''action figure.''

The result was a smashing success, with Hasbro selling an estimated 375 million G.I Joe action figures.

''G.I. Joe has saved the world a million times over, one backyard at a time,'' says Brian Savage, director of the Hasbro G.I. Joe Collec-tors' Club.

Petty agreed.

''This is more than a toy,'' he said. ''There's not a boy alive that grew up in the 1960s and '70s that didn't have a G.I. Joe ... and that's what makes it so incredibly valuable: its unique place in American cultural history.''

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