HOW A VINTAGE TOY COLLECTOR KEEPS HIS INNER CHILD ALIVE

by SEA Wave
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By: Sharmaine Padua

Over at Stall 2 and 3 at the TOYCON 2024 held last month, Pueblo Hobbies looked like all the other stalls at the convention. From a distance, it blended in among the 300 other exhibitors, displaying X-Men, Transformers, and GI Joe toys. 

I walked up to the stall by chance, looking for a toy, but coming away with a story.

Gray Pueblo, the owner of the store, shared that his hobby story started way back before he was born. His father had his own fascination with toys, but was unable to get toys of his own. Thus, the senior Pueblo set out to ensure that his children never ended up in the similar circumstances. As an overseas Filipino worker, he always came home with a variety of toys from different corners of the world for his children.

Gray’s earliest memory was that of playing with a battery-operated tin toy airplane that his father brought home from Japan. Along with other toys his father bought, his mother would lock them up in a stante (standing glass door cabinet) and only let him and his siblings play with their toys after they’ve completed their chores. 

But it wasn’t until his father gifted him his first-ever G.I. Joe toy that his penchant for collecting toys started. Much like many boys of his generation, Gray was fascinated by the action figure that took over the 1980s. 

G.I. Joe was a toy that was modeled after the soldiers of the U.S. armed forces during the Cold War. Hasbro, its manufacturer, hoped that the toy would appeal to boys whose fathers, uncles, and neighbors fought in the Korean War or World War II. Since its inception in 1959, G.I. Joe have had different series of designs, comic books, and movie franchises.

However, the toys that Gray holds dear are the 1980s miniature G.I. Joe models. Smaller than the size of one’s hand, these models were Gray’s childhood. Today, he not only collects these miniatures, he also collects all types of G.I. Joe memorabilia. And with his background in modeling remote control drones and helicopters working for a company in Kuwait, he has also taught himself how to repair models that are no longer manufactured by Hasbro.

He states that, “I like the challenge of fixing toys. I like making them playable again. It gives me a sense of personal satisfaction whenever I display them.”

Gray not only collects models in mint condition, he also buys damaged ones and sacks of G.I. Joe toy parts. Toy collecting is Gray’s life and it was only a matter of time before his friends in and out of the toy collecting community encouraged him to start selling some of his collection.

Eventually, he ended up selling parts of his collection at his first-ever TOYCON as an exhibitor in 2015. Since then, he has established himself in G.I. Joe circles and has never missed a TOYCON, barring the pandemic.

At TOYCONs, he lets his vintage G.I. Joes shine. In my brief time at his stall, there was no shortage of toy enthusiasts approaching his booth and asking about them. With his hands carefully holding the small soldier toy wrapped in zip plastic storage bags, Gray would tell each buyer the story and origin of the toy they were interested in. Some left empty handed but delighted with his collection, most left with wallet’s a little lighter but with a little piece of Gray’s hard work in their palms. 

Although I am not particularly someone who is drawn to action figures, I could not help but be drawn to the contagious enthusiasm that each customer expresses. An unopened box of a miniature toy with red cardboard backing could make a grown man smile from ear-to-ear and a repaired toy could make people stare in wonder.

TOYCON is special. It’s a place where Filipinos get to relive their childhood through these amazing toys that represent wonder and creativity. It’s an annual event that brings together people from all ages to bask in the nostalgia and excitement of the convention’s every nook and corner.

As Gray states, “Toys are the cheapest time machine that you can get. It makes you remember things. When you’re tired and you get your old toys, it sends you back to your old memories.”

To this day, his mother’s stante still stands firm at his childhood home. It holds pieces of his old toys, preserving not only the tangible parts his youth but the memories they represent.

If you’re looking for a G.I. Joe toy and a story of your own, check out Pueblo Hobbies on Facebook and Instagram.

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