This time around Hillary DePiano shares her collection of My Little Ponies with the VintageMeld. Hillary has not only collected these since they first hit the toy store shelves, but she she is also an experienced dealer of My Little Ponies and other vintage items.
I came to know Hillary through Twitter a little more than a year ago as one of my "e-commerce buddies," and she blogs regularly and candidly about e-commerce on her blog, The Whine Seller, but over time I've been most impressed by the variety of her interests and accomplishments, including published and award-winning fiction. To learn more about Hillary DePiano see her personal website at HillaryDePiano.com.
Hillary DePiano recently stopped by the VintageMeld as part of a blog tour where she's sharing nuggets of information from all of her various areas of interest. We stuck to My Little Pony here on the Meld. Following are my questions and her well-detailed answers:
Q: I can recall my sister collecting My Little Ponies back in the early 80's when she was quite young. Were they a new item at that time? Did you start back then yourself?
Hillary: I received my first pony in 1983 which was right around when they first hit stores. I was 4 years old. Since I played with them as a child, the line of when I actually became a collector and not just a kid with toys is a little blurred. My mother collected dolls back then and I remember finding some ponies at one of the doll shows I attended with her and thinking to myself, even though I was still pretty young, “OK, I guess I am a collector now.” That simple act of seeing those My Little Pony figures there amongst all those antique dolls was the first thing that really put the idea in my head. It is a little funny because my mom bought me all these collectible dolls when I was young that I couldn’t have cared less about and they aren’t worth a dime now. But those $3 ponies I always loved and now some of them are worth a fortune. It’s funny how that turned out. But I think having the idea of collecting in front of me through my mom’s hobby was definitely a part of it.
But what really planted the seeds of the collector in me was something else. As you say, there were hundreds of ponies, many sets and 4 or more per set so there were so many varieties which is what made them so collectible as there were just so many. What happened in my house was that my mother put a cap on how many ponies I could get as it started to get ridiculous. I was limited to one pony from each set so every time a new set came out, I would sit there in the toy store picking out a favorite, the one I would ask for from the set. But, of course, that process became all about the ones I had to leave behind, the other ponies from the set I had to put down and leave in the store. It bothered the heck out of me to leave them behind, even though I rationally knew that my mom was right and that the madness needed to be tempered. I suppose all collecting is some form of insanity but for me, that was the obsession. As a kid, I resented having to leave those other ponies behind and I promised myself I would have them someday.
Why My Little Pony and not another toy? I am not sure I can say. I have talked to other collectors about this at conventions and I think it is the strange combination of the over-the-top sweetness of the toys combined with the very dark fantasy of the cartoon series that appealed to so many girls my age. That and if you get bored half-way through dressing a pony, you can just leave her undressed and it’s fine. If you leave a naked Barbie lying around it seems wrong, somehow.
Q: Do you still collect now, or just deal? And as a dealer do you sell items that were once part of your collection or are you buying separate inventory for resale?
Hillary: Oh I still collect. Sometimes I feel like the reselling is all just a front to support my pony habit. I purchase big lots and clean them up to resell but I always comb through them first. If any ponies in the batch are ones I didn’t have or are in better shape than the ones in my collection, I switch them out. There are parts of my personal collection I have sold off, however. There are many elements of My Little Pony that most people don’t even know about: Plush, Petite Ponies, Dream Beauties, My Little Puppy, Kitty and Bunny, etc. I decided a while ago as I found myself in a spacing crisis that I needed to prioritize and decided that the normal ponies were all I really cared about so I sold off all those other sets. I have also been selling off my mint in box collection bit by bit. It isn’t that I don’t want them but I honestly prefer the ponies loose so if I can only keep one version for myself, I’ll keep the loose one as it takes up much less room. That and the mint in box ponies are worth a few hundred each so it’s some nice extra change.
I actually also used to keep two of every pony on hand until I realized one day that was insane a basically sold off one entire set.
I only rarely just straight buy a pony I am missing these days. If I cannot get it in a lot for resale, I usually just wait until the next convention comes along where I can trade for it or at least touch it and check it out before I buy. I did however blow my whole $100 eBay Mastercard voucher on a rare UK exclusive Mountain Boy the other day so I do sometimes outright buy the stuff I am after.
Q: Just before we did this you'd pointed out a new line of My Little Ponies on Twitter, which caught me by surprise. Have they been issuing them all this time, or did they disappear for awhile and only come back recently? Are these new Ponies something collectors would want, or do they tend to stick to the earlier releases?
Hillary: My Little Pony is apparently a remarkably hard toyline to kill. They debuted in 1982 as My Pretty Pony under Hasbro’s Romper Room brand, were later redubbed as Hasbro’s My Little Pony and went strong until 1992 when they celebrated their 10th anniversary and stopped production at the same time. But they came back in 1997 and have been in production since that time. Collectors refer to My Little Pony in three generations. Ponies released before 1997 are the first generation (G1), ponies released between 1997 and 2003 are G2 and 2003 into today are G3. The second generation is distinguished from the third because they look totally different and were also branded under Kenner instead of Hasbro.
The first generation is the most collectible with some of those ponies being worth hundreds of dollars on their own. The second generation was unpopular when it first came out because the ponies are very thin, more like deer than horses, so collectors are only recently warming to them. The third generation was highly collectible but, as I touched on the other night on Twitter, Hasbro has recently made some changes that alienated collectors.
The first change they made last year when they decided, instead of every new pony being a new character as the toys had traditionally been released, they were only going to make the same Core Seven characters over and over again in the same poses. When you consider that what made these so collectible was the wide variety of characters and poses, collectors were not pleased with this change, though Hasbro insists it tests well with their young demographic. This change has made a lot of collectors stop collecting because you would literally end up with dozens of the exact same pony in the exact same pose which takes some of the fun out of it. Then this year they changed the style of the ponies entirely enlarging their heads to mimic the Littlest Pet Shop toys and making the ponies stand on their hind legs as people do instead of on all fours as a horse. Collectors are not loving the change so it is decreasing the collectability of the current ponies.
On the plus side, however, the more people get annoyed with the new ponies, the more they are willing to pay for the older generations so, as a collectible seller, it is good for me. But Hasbro is trying to embrace the collecting community with exclusives and limited editions like their Art Pony and Comic Con ponies so there are still some sought after pieces in stores now.
Q: Despite all the changes in recent years to eBay I still find it is the best place for me to buy and sell within the niches I handle. Would eBay be the best place to buy and/or sell My Little Ponies? Are there other places that collectors, or dealers, should know about?
Hillary: If you want the best price on a single pony, your best bets are the collecting community message boards. That said, the collecting community sites don’t have the security and guarantees that eBay has, so sometimes it is worth it to pay a little more on eBay to make sure you aren’t cheated. Also, My Little Pony conventions and local events are great because you can do trades. I was after a 2007 Comic Con Superhero pony for ages but I wasn’t willing to pay the eBay rates for her but at the convention I was able to trade a few ponies totaling less than $5 in value for her. I’m not entirely comfortable with doing trading online, though many people are, but in live meet-ups you can get some great deals. The pony you have 30 of may be the one someone else has been after for years so it works out sometimes.
eBay is definitely the best place to sell ponies, especially if you have something rare. Bidding wars are your friend. On average, sale prices for ponies on eBay are higher than anywhere else and the MLP community hasn’t really embraced any other site quite like eBay.
Q: Would your book, "The My Little Pony Collector's Inventory" be accurately described as primarily as checklist? Does it include a price guide as well? What are some other resources for collectors of Ponies?
Hillary: The My Little Pony Collector’s Inventory was the first in a series of My Little Pony collecting books published by Priced Nostalgia. It was a checklist of accessories coupled with info about the pony sets. It was actually just something I created for my own use that I started selling on eBay that just took on a life of its own. In the end, it was basically just an experiment to test out the market for a full MLP guide. My MLP book went out of print about a year ago and was replaced by Summer Hayes’ The My Little Pony G1 Collector's Inventory which is an amazing book. Summer’s book is a huge, full color tome that has a price guide, trivia, collecting tips, individual pictures of every single pony, accessory, play set, sticker. . .you name it, it is in her book. Summer’s book is exactly what I, as a collector, want in an MLP guide so it was fine by me that it replaced my book. I actually have a copy of it on my desk at all times because when I am selling ponies on eBay I sometimes need to reference it several times a day.
Summer Hayes actually has guides to the other generations of My Little Pony as well and she and I both blog over at http://www.mylittleponycollecting.com which is a great resource of current MLP news as well as tips for collectors or newbies alike. You can also buy any of her books there as well so it is worth a bookmark if you are an MLP fan.
Q: What's the Grail item in the hobby? In other words, what is the priciest or rarest of the Ponies?
Hillary: Pony collectors use the term “grail” to mean whatever pony they are currently hunting but there are some crazy international variants that only surface once every few years and those can go for ridiculous amounts. The one sort of infamous pony is Rapunzel. She was released as a mail order exclusive item so there aren’t many of her. She is infamous because at the dawn of eBay she was selling for $500 and, while the rest of the market calmed down, she went up to $800 in a few years and has sold for $1,500 or more in the recent past. She is the one most people usually refer to when they talk about high value ponies but it is the unusual international variations that often reach astronomical prices. Anytime something surfaces that the collecting community has never even seen before, everyone tends to go a little nuts.
Q: Do collectors invest as they would in baseball cards. Do you ever add to your own collection based on any such speculation?
Hillary: I do not, but I cannot speak for everyone. I didn’t pay anything for my Rapunzel because I got her as a child but even if I didn’t have her, I would never pay that much for a pony. To me, the fun in collecting is the thrill of the hunt, getting the items I want for the price I want to pay. I don’t purchase anything with the assumption of future value because I have been working as a collectibles seller for far too long too not be realistic on that. I love getting what I wanted for a deal more than I like getting what I wanted.
The one exception is short sales. If I am purchasing a lot, I am looking at currently trends in expectation of how much I can make reselling it. There is some speculation in that game for sure but, long term, I don’t focus on that.
Q: Are there sub-niches within the My Little Pony collecting community, such as specific series collected or specific types?
Hillary: Definitely! There are some people who collect only a single pony, for instance, so they have every known variation of that pony. Some people obsessively only collect the stickers that came with the ponies or only the pony clothing. It is almost impossible to collect every single MLP thing so many people specialize.
Customizing is also a huge subsection. These are (mostly) very talented artists that take damaged ponies and repaint them into amazing creations. You usually only see the pop culture ones (like Pony Stark, the Iron Man Pony or the Star Wars ponies) but there are all sorts of amazing original creations as well. These are just amazing artists whose chosen media is pony.
The re-release of MLP in 2003 really ushered in a renaissance of pony customization. Previously, customizers had to wait for just the right damaged pony (called custom bait) to come their way. Now they can just buy ponies in the store for usually less than $5 and start customizing right away. Hasbro also released a “decorate your own” pony that was entirely blank and that helped as well.
Q: How do you display you collection? And since you deal, how do you store inventory? I deal in all flats myself, so my first question as a dealer would be, are they tricky to ship?
Hillary: Sadly, most of my ponies are not on display. I have a few favorites, usually whatever I last acquired, on my desk but the rest are packed away in Tupperware containers.
Luckily, MLP are largely pretty durable so they aren’t bad to ship. There are a few notoriously delicate ones that need extra care but, luckily, rubbing is pretty reliable.
Q: Do you see yourself retaining interest in My Little Ponies for a long time to come? Do you think other collectors will continue to pursue these?
Hillary: The neat thing about the fact that MLP has been for sale on and off for the last 25 years is that the toys have been a part of the lives of little girls for all that time. In turn, the oldest collectors, girls my age and older, have had children and passed the love of collecting them down. You’d be amazed how many little kids are at the convention bartering with you over a G1 Sea Pony that was released a good 10 years before they were born. But as each generation grows up, they get nostalgic for the ponies they grew up with and the cycle continues.
I don’t know if MLP prices will continue to stay where they are forever but I know that I have no plans to stop collecting. I may sometimes decide to let one section of my herd loose if I am running out of space but collecting ponies is different than collecting cars or something else very large. I can keep hundreds of ponies in a very small space so I see no reason not to keep doing what I enjoy. I am also a pretty thrifty collector so while I may regret to see the hypothetical value of my collection fluctuate with the times, I didn’t pay anything near what any of them are worth so, in the end, it’s all profit no matter what.
The one odd thing about being a seller is that you do lose a certain amount of wonder that a normal collector has. I am constantly thinking about the value of certain pieces and there are some common ponies I have literally sold hundreds of times so I am a little sick of them. But there is something magical when you do get your hands on that one piece you have been after or you find a really rare item you didn’t have before in a pile of absolute junk.
Thanks so much, Hillary! I know you were trying to limit us to 5 questions each on your tour, but when it comes down to the collecting of anything I think there are a few basics which need to be asked. So glad you gave us that and more in each of your answers!
Collectors, and dealers, reading this have surely learned quite about about the specifics of collecting My Little Ponies, but at the same time I hope when you read this you noticed the general references to collecting--you could plug in just about whatever you collect in place of Ponies and find that what Hillary said does in fact hold true in your collecting arena as well. Though I must say, I can't think of any other collectible which better adapts to the phrase letting one section of my herd loose than My Little Ponies!
Note: For more about Hillary and My Little Pony collecting please see My Little Pony — No, MY Little Pony! by Deanna Dahlsad over on Collectors' Quest.