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KAWS hysteria seems to have received a massive revival over the past few years. With a recent installation at the Fort Worth Modern Art Musuem, enormous lines, and a crashed website, it speaks to the popularity KAWS continues to enjoy. With such reinvigorated interest, collectors of KAWS artwork have seen great increases in the value of their collections, especially within his limited edition vinyl toy creations. But with increased demand and prices, the market for extremely well-made replica toys has exploded, something a tad ironic for fans of the OriginalFake brand.
To best arm yourself with the knowledge to navigate the extensive and at time overwhelming catalog of KAWS vinyls, we sat down with three of the top collectors of KAWS work to learn a bit more on how to not only appreciate the artist, but stay safe from replica product. Featured in this article are quotes and collection photos from John (@JohnReeper916), Jay (Jayawesum) and DJ Battle Monkey.
“Learn what KAWS has actually released.”
First, about the artist. “KAWS was OUR graffiti legend first,” says John, “KAWS kicked in the door of the art world and made people like myself that were never welcomed in that world before, feel right at home.” Collaborations in the late ’90s into the early 2000s with brands such as UNDERCOVER, Real Mad Hectic, Supreme and BAPE helped propel his name into the spotlight, building enough momentum to start the OriginalFake brand in 2006, which, up until its close in 2013, provided many of the artwork most recognized by mainstream fans of the artist.
For many collectors, KAWS’s venture into vinyl created a natural segue into their collections. “I’ve always been into NYC-based artists,” says DJ Battle Monkey. “KAWS had a style I loved and he released a lot of toys.. and I’ve always collected toys, so it was an organic transition.”
“Collect what you like,” adds Jay, “Take your time, learn what’s out there. It helps to network within the community of collectors.”
On staying away from fakes, there are a few things to look out for. “Check out the colors and details, a lot of these companies that replicate these figures always slack on something. We look for the colors, specific placement/details, all the way down to the box and the toy,” Jay adds.
“Learn what KAWS has actually released,” John suggests, adding that on Instagram most KAWS collectors are very helpful and open to helping with legit checks. “Between Instagram, Facebook groups and Kid Robot forums, you should be able to find someone to take you under their wing until you can fly on your own. Never buy anything without having someone with expertise legit check the KAWS item first.”
“If one detail is off or missing, it’s not worth taking the chance.”
In general, there are a few things to always look for to help you in your search for authenticating KAWS x Medicom Toy products. To begin with, each toy should have a hologram label of authenticity. This label is supplied by Medicom Toy and will change color depending on the angle it is held. Many replica products will have the correct sized box and packaging, but be missing this hologram.
The next thing to consider is the fonts on the packaging. Many times, fake companies miss-size or exclude elements of the font and text. In addition to the forums John mentioned, checking “sold” eBay listings can be a good place to find authentic references for ensuring your purchase matches up.
While difficult to calibrate when buying online, in-person purchases are made easier by examining the weight and feel of the plastics. As someone who purchased a replica Resting Piece, I personally learned this the hard way. Authentic KAWS toys will not feel hollow, and the density is reflected in the weight of the plastic. Authentic KAWS toys will also always be perfect. Sellers will often try to pass off “factory error” or “sample” toys as real. Such samples and errors are usually just clever ways for sellers to deflect the fact they were not created using authorized production by the artist. Moreover, in addition to proper weight and manufacturing, buyers should look to make sure colors and fonts on the toy itself are correct. Always ask for clear, well-lit photos of the toy to compare to authentic photos (Paddle8 has a great archive of authentic listings). Look for the fonts on the bottom of each toy and make sure the dates and fonts correspond to the actual year it was released. If one detail is off or missing, it’s not worth taking the chance. A true misprint or factory error would be extremely uncommon, and would fetch a significantly high price. Chances are the seller’s claims of a misprint are just a way of trying to scam the buyer.
“You aren’t competing against just fellow KAWS collectors anymore. Nowadays, you’re competing against collectors that also own paintings from Picasso, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Warhol, Basquiat, etc.”
Along these lines, use common sense when buying. If the price seems too good to be true, it most likely is. With the limited production of many of the KAWS and OriginalFake vinyl toys, the collectible artwork won’t be winding up on a sale rack, Marshalls, a or garage sale. Sellers might list “unsure of authenticity” or “given as a gift” to again reflect the fact they are replica. From experience, no one is trying to give you the deal of a lifetime on eBay selling a $1,000 piece for $50. Of course, there is a simple answer to stay safe. “I only buy them straight from the KAWS website or Medicom Toy,” DJ explains, “Unless you stick with someone trustworthy and established, its often risky to buy from other sources.”
Armed with the knowledge to start your own collection, here are some words of the wise from our collectors. “If you are looking to start a KAWS collection, then my advice is you better have DEEP pockets. Because that boat sailed a few years ago,” jokes DJ, speaking to the significant increase in prices of older pieces. “Be patient,” urges John, “this isn’t an overnight kind of journey when you begin to build your KAWS collection. You aren’t competing against just fellow KAWS collectors anymore. Nowadays, you’re competing against collectors that also own paintings from Picasso, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Warhol, Basquiat, etc. They’re building their KAWS collection as well now, ranging from paintings to massive sculptures, to vinyls and everything in between. Just don’t give up hope and learn to become as patient as a Zen master.”
Luckily for fans of the artist, the recent Fort Worth collection release signals there will be new opportunities to start collections, and with a little luck and a lot of patience, you too can start to grow your KAWS collection.