Toy Story

Len Gannon and his son, Aaron Gannon, got an early Christmas present last Friday during a visit from Jordan Hembrough, host of the Travel Channel television show, “Toy Hunters.”

Hembrough came to Tiffin to examine the Gannons’ collection of Masters of the Universe toys, made by Mattel in the 1980s. After seeing them, Hembrough wanted the toys.

The central hero character in the story line is He-Man, whose magic sword gives him superhuman powers. A television cartoon series and a 1987 live-action film were based on Masters of the Universe characters. Len had stored the toys in his barn for a number of years before moving them into his basement. He had kept the figures, vehicles and other items in their original boxes except for some loose duplicates Aaron had been allowed to play with.

It was Aaron who suggested selling the collection.

“I started collecting it when Aaron was about 2 years old. He’ll be 30 in March,” Len said. “I think one thing that surprised Jordan when he contacted Aaron is, it’s a complete set.”

“It’s literally every piece from the original He-Man,” Aaron added. “My favorite was the prizefighter.”

That figure’s chest could be dented when it was punched. Len said whenever a new Masters of the Universe piece came out, he tried to buy it. The collection includes about 40 items. Many of the boxes had stickers on them from Hill’s department stores.

“I think everything was from Hill’s,” Aaron said.

“A lot of my stuff was bought from the old Hill’s. I got most of it from Findlay or Sandusky,” Len said. “The City of Eternia was the hardest to get because, when it came out, it disappeared, it was so hot. I finally found one and got smart and put it on layaway until I could buy it. That way, I had it.”

Visual impairment and other health issues forced Len to give up his job as a truck driver and go on disability in 2011. When Hembrough told him the Masters of the Universe toys would be worth about $10,000, Len considered selling them.

“Aaron contacted me about six months ago and he had quite the impressive toy collection … so I talked to Aaron and we were able to come to a meeting of the minds that I would come out and take a look at the collection, because when you have something this big, you want to see it up close,” Hembrough said.

He and his film crew arrived at the Gannon home late Friday morning and spent about 10 hours examining, photographing and packing all the boxed pieces. Hembrough said he plans to

sell them in his New Jersey gallery.

As the group was finishing its work, Hembrough explained how he got interested in collecting and selling toys.

“I was a buyer for a chain of retail stores back in the 1990s that specialized in sci-fi and comics. I was the main buyer for all 13 stores around the world. When the company shut down, I bought up the inventory for 10 cents on the dollar. That’s really what started my company,” he said.

From Tiffin, the crew’s next stop was to be Detroit. Hembrough said they are on the road about 20 days out of the month with plans to keep filming until July 2014. Season three for “Toy Hunters” is to premiere Jan. 29. The segment documenting the Gannons’ toys is likely to be aired in March or April.

“The show is basically a trip down memory lane for everybody. We’re exploring all the toys from yesteryear and everyone’s childhood, and I think people are going to be amazed what some of this stuff is worth. This season, we’re filming with a lot of celebrities. We’re doing a lot of high-end toys that are worth $10,000 and higher, which is incredible,” Hembrough said.

Len said he plans to use funds from the sale to catch up on bills and make some home improvements. Hembrough left the unboxed pieces with Aaron and his dad.

“I had more trouble parting with them than Aaron did. They’ve never really been Aaron’s,” Len said. “If he wouldn’t have got started on this, I’d probably still have them. I really was in no hurry to get rid of them. But now that it’s all said and done, I’m happy with the outcome.”