Remembering John Kellerman

by Bill Cable
on 2021-04-21, 09:00:46

Last month the collecting hobby lost a legend. John Kellerman, author of "Star Wars Vintage Action Figures" passed away, age 81.

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I'm a bit hesitant to write this. I didn't know John Kellerman all that well. I met him a handful of times at various collector gatherings, and bounced emails with him from time to time. I know there are others out there who are far more qualified to memorialize the man. But we always had good conversations when we crossed paths, and he seemed to appreciate my place in the hobby nearly as much as I appreciated his, so I feel compelled to share a little story.

I first heard of John after a strange eBay auction I won. This was February, 2001. The auction was for two Empire Strikes Back offerless figures - C-3PO and R2-D2. I didn't have an offerless ESB fixed-limbs 3PO at the time, and I won the auction for $70, so I was happy to add an R2 to my collection as well. When I received them, I noticed something strange. Instead of a Proof-of-Purchase on the backs, there was a white circle marked "Price". And the backs were ESB48, which didn't make any sense since that should have been Removable Limbs 3PO and Sensorscope R2. And they had an address for New Zealand.

I reached out on the forums, and people told me immediately I needed to contact John Kellerman. John was on a mission to collect every Vintage Star Wars figure on every different cardback. He was the preeminent authority on cardback variations, and could certainly tell me what I had. I emailed him some photos, and he quickly replied.

Bill,

Sorry about not leaving my email address.

The two carded figures you are a real good find!! I have never seen this Toltoys NZ printed label at the bottom. I would like to find an example of this card for my collection. If you know of another available please let me know.

I was pretty excited to luck into a brand new discovery, and John was excited to add one to his collection. I reached out to the guy who listed the auction to see if he had anything else. Turned out he grew up in New Zealand, and had a few more figures. He coincidentally also lived near Harrisburg, PA, so we met at the airport and I bought the rest from him. I put them all up for sale on CreatureCantina after offering the R2 to John first, which he happily purchased. Sadly my original photos of the 3PO and R2 were lost when moving servers, but I did recover the pics of the other NZ figures from the find.

After that transaction I emailed John a few times, looking for information on the cardbacks I needed for my C-3PO run (he told me SW20 Fett Offer and ESB45 probably didn't exist), and I helped him track down a few variants he needed, including a ROTJ79 3PO. A year later and he'd given up trying to get every figure on every cardback. He also told me the book he'd been working on, which was set to feature the R2 I'd sold him, wasn't going to be published due to a dispute with his publisher - Krause Publications. I was sad, as it would have been pretty cool to have contributed to a book on Star Wars collecting.

Things turned around quickly, though! John decided to self-publish his book, and just a few months later pre-orders went live! The book was published in 2003, to universal acclaim. John Kellerman, already a paragon in the hobby, became a legend. And on page 113, my small contribution.

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Now, nearly 20 years later, Kellerman's book is still considered the definitive resource on Vintage cardbacks. While there have been new discoveries since it's been published, it laid the groundwork that focus collectors of all stripes rely on to this day. John made an indelible mark on the Star Wars collecting hobby. He will be missed, but never forgotten.





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