The Golden Grail: My stream of consciousness

by Bill Cable
on 2018-05-02, 08:05:23

From the moment I first saw The Golden Grail on eBay, I began journaling my thoughts and speculations. It was all so unreal and historic. Here are my (mostly) unedited musings from the 10 days this item was up on eBay.

On Monday April 9th, 2018 the history of Vintage Star Wars collecting was rewritten.

This showed up on eBay. Image

That, my faithful readers, is an Empire Strikes Back 45-back C-3PO with removable limbs. It's that particular figure's debut cardback. Prior to April 9th, 2018, it was believed by EVERYONE not to exist. The only two USA Kenner examples confirmed to exist were sourced to the BASA toy distribution company in Peru. Only the cardbacks survive. No on-card examples. And only two of them.

I saw the auction at around 7:30am Eastern. At first, I thought "Is that a custom?" Nah - looked legit. Then I started doubting my own reality. "Wait... am I remembering right that the ESB45 doesn't exist? Am I confusing this with something else?" Then I confirmed it is indeed the ESB45 that doesn't exist.

Still in disbelief I looked over it again. "Maybe it's a REALLY good custom..." But nope. It's legit. That which has been coveted by C-3PO collectors and debut cardback collectors for at least two decades, and known not to exist for two decades, appeared out of the blue. This is a Vintage collecting miracle. And not a curing-leprosy-level miracle. This is a raising-Lazarus-from-the-dead-scale miracle. It's reality-changing. It's a seismic event akin to aliens landing on the White House lawn.

For the next 5 hours I was in a walking daze. I kept refreshing the My eBay page to make sure it didn't disappear. I tried to make the seller a very generous buy-out offer, but he declined, saying he'd let the market decide (something I can respect - I do that 99% of the time myself). I asked for his assurance that he wouldn't sell to anyone else offline, which he assured me he wouldn't. So now I'm stuck waiting 10 days until I can hope to win this thing. And I've decided to go all-out. I have a full set of Vintage MOCs hanging on my wall that I can sell off and slowly replace. And I have lots of cash in the bank to cover whatever the cost that the thing might realize (short of $10K) while I'm selling. It's no-holds-barred time.

I mean, you might not appreciate it if you haven't been collecting as long as I have. I remember 15 years ago that there were a core of guys going after this particular cardback whole-hog. People much more meticulous and dedicated than I was, and I was pretty darn enthusiastic. And after an exhaustive search of everything, none popped up. This figure was so completely believed not to exist that everyone gave up looking. One of the reasons why I spend all my efforts looking for an Anakin offer RL 3PO was because that card had a plausible possibility of existing. ESB45 - no chance at all. If it had been made, there'd be more out there. Some sort of crazy reality warp beamed the two or three they produced down to Peru.

As I write this, I'm still in disbelief. This is the kind of morning collectors dream of. Like waking up and it's 1978 and the store is stocked with Vinyl Caped Jawas. But real. I'm hoping and praying this thing stays moderately under the radar. I mean, nobody's looking for one because it doesn't exist, so there is that. But then I expect some jerk to out it on Facebook, and when that happens it's gonna be nuts. I think there's maybe a 2% chance that doesn't happen. Crap. But for now, I'm keeping quiet. Which sucks, because I'd love to share the feeling with a bunch of people. That can wait, though. Stragedy...

Discovery Day + 1.
My stress levels are off the charts. I had a hard time falling asleep last night. I'd start to doze off, then I'd remember this figure and my heart would start racing. It was like a series of panic attacks. It's really the only thing I can think about. Once the Penguins playoffs start, maybe I'll get some distractions, but those games add their own layer of stress on everything.

So far there have been two other bidders, both of them minimum bids. So they're probably placeholders, just like mine. As far as I know, I guess. The 3rd bidder could have bid $100,000 for all I know. And no social media posts that I've noticed. I expect I'd be tagged by a bunch of friends if it is posted, so that I haven't is a good sign. I still only give it a 2% chance of remaining under the radar.

I've pretty much settled on $4400 as my snipe bid. That's both outrageous and conservative. I mean hell - people have been bidding up DTs close to six-figures, and this MOC is far less common and far more consequential than any DT. But $4400 for a production toy is still nearly unfathomable. I figure I'll snipe with barely enough time left to bump it one additional time, just in case. My heart is thumping in my chest just thinking about sniping. I'm gonna need to figure out a way to chill just so I don't give myself a heart attack. My heart races when I'm getting ready to snipe any dirt-common thing I bid on. This will be rough. Gotta get into a zen mode. Gotta focus on no matter what the end price, I have plenty of common production MOCs I can sell off to cover it.

Discovery Day +2.
I've begun to calm down slightly. Fewer heart palpitations at the thought of this item. They mostly occur now when I think of the auction ending - what that's gonna be like. I've decided to increase my snipe bid even more. I've settled on $6,687.71. I'm not as superstitious as I once was, but I can't think of a better snipe right now than Lemieux-Crosby-Malkin. That total is insane - but this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I only have a handful of items in my collection that can't be replaced over time. Anything else is on the table.

Bid increased to $106. 4th distinct bidder. All very high feedback, so I assume all know what this is. Still no social media chatter, which is fantastic. Means the other three bidders are smart enough to keep their traps shut. Part of me wishes someone would spill the beans to eliminate the "maybe it'll go really cheap" stress factor. A very small, stupid part of me.

The biggest mystery of this piece is the big black X on the bubble. Could be some dumb kid made a big X on it. But why? I can't think of a good reason to mark it and never open it. So I wonder if maybe it's from the factory. Maybe the entire run of ESB45 3POs was marked with these Xs so they wouldn't be distributed. They were recalled and recarded onto ESB47s. And this sole survivor somehow made it out. That's why it being in Hong Kong makes sense - smuggled out by some factory worker. Figure I'll ask whether there are other examples of such a mark once the auction is over.

Also gotta ask the seller how he acquired the thing.

Snipe Day - 1:
And now the hallucinations have started.

Just kidding! I thought that might get a chuckle. I've had a crazy busy few days, and THANK GOODNESS because it's been a distraction to keep my mind from obsessing on this auction. I absolutely CANNOT BELIEVE, with 36 hours remaining, that this auction hasn't been outed of Facebook. That means there's still a chance that this won't go to the guy with the biggest wallet who only cares that this thing is "the only known example" and wants something rare to brag about. That it hasn't been exposed is nearly inconceivable to me. But I hate to get excited, because that shoe could drop at any moment, and the past 8 days would be meaningless.

I do have one regret. A couple Vintage guys came over my house over the weekend, and though it would have been a wonderful opportunity to geek out over this thing together, I didn't share it. And I feel terrible about it. I mean, both were agog over my Basa cardback. We discussed it and the ESB45 mystery in depth. It would have been amazing to share this revelation. But I decided not to. It wasn't because I didn't trust the guys... but I just couldn't risk being the one who spilled the beans. If I shared, and then a day later it was posted on Facebook, I'd feel terrible and suspicious of the guys I'd sworn to silence. I sacrificed an opportunity for true bonding to protect myself from grief. I doubt I'd have done it differently given the chance, but it still feels crappy.

11am. Price still sits at $106. Zero mentions on Facebook. My worst fear at this point is that the seller pulls it despite his reassurances. I mean, he's got over 1000 feedback, but with no activity and who knows how many buy-out offers, he's gotta be tempted. But then, he knows how many watchers and views he's gotten and I don't. Could be 100 people watching with intentions to snipe. But if that were the case, this would have shown up on social media. And I'd have been tagged by dozens of friends. So maybe it has actually flown under the radar.

I considered upping my buy-out offer, but I don't want to come across as pushy. And the only risk of not doing it would be if he accepted a different buy out. And he said he's not gonna do it. And I wanna be on his good side, since I'm gonna have some high-maintenance packing and shipping requests if I win this. So I decided against it. Since I'm refreshing the link for the auction every few minutes, I'll know pretty quickly if he ends it and I can reply through eBay saying I was prepping an outrageous snipe bin and see if I can skunk whoever he agree'd to end the auction for. So risks are minimal I won't at least get a chance to snipe it.

I figure I'll set myself to snipe on both my phone and my PC when the time comes. My PC has rebooted twice over the last week with some unspecified driver error. Windows 10 Blue Screen of Death with the little QR code to scan. I would die if that happened at the last minute tonight or if the power went out. The key word tonight is "redundancy." Maybe I should snipe on my laptop instead...

This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy.

Snipe + 9 minutes:
HOLY F@&% HOLY F@&% HOLY F@&% HOLY F@&% HOLY F@&% Image

This is unbelievable! I won it. I won it for $255. I bid over SIX GRAND when I sniped, and I won it for $255. I don't even know how to process this. I absolutely could not IMAGINE that this auction wouldn't get outed. After that I could not IMAGINE that that the three other high-feedback bidders wouldn't snipe the ever-living shit out of this thing. Only one bothered to snipe it. Only three other bidders altogether. NOT ONE OF THEM HAD ANY IDEA WHAT THIS WAS!

And I just spilled whiskey all over myself. Poured myself a glass because I know I'm gonna need help falling asleep tonight. This stuff evaporates cold...

I paid and contacted the seller immediately, asking him to double-box it and offering to pay him $50 + any extra incurred shipping. He replied back that he "will do it in good" and have it posted in two days. I really can't wait for that tracking number...

OK - it's almost 1am, and the whiskey is starting to kick in a bit. Here's to hoping I get something that resembles sleep tonight!

Snipe + 12 hours.
Next day. Still on cloud 9. Eagerly awaiting the tracking number. I think I'm gonna write up a more formal article to announce the existence of this piece, rather than using this journal. The journal will make for a nice follow-up piece. But I don't think the journal works real well as an introduction. It's kinda long and scattershot. Image Image

Snipe + 36 hours.
Tracking number received. Now we play... the waiting game. Image

Awwwww... the waiting game SUCKS! Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

April 25th, 2019: The package arrives!! Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

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