Prototype for G.I. Joe to be billeted in Timonium

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He's a real American hero and that doesn't come cheap. The 1963 G.I. Joe action figure prototype sold for $200,000 to a private buyer last June after failing to fetch the $250,000 minimum bid at a San Diego comic book auction.

"When I saw there was an opportunity to buy it post-sale, I jumped all over it," said the buyer, Steve Geppi, publisher of Baltimore magazine and owner of Diamond Comic Distributors in Timonium.

"When you consider it's not just only the first G.I. Joe, but it's the first action figure prototype - this is kind of the Mona Lisa of toys."

Inspired by the 1945 Robert Mitchum film Story of G.I. Joe, Hasbro executives created G.I. Joe to compete with Mattel's Barbie, the 5-year-old phenom who had a "kung-fu grip" on the toy market at the time.

In 1964 Hasbro rolled out four versions of the 11 1/2 inch G.I. Joe. Each figure represented a branch of the U.S. military and contained 21 moving parts, thus ushering in the age of the action figure. (Please, don't call it a doll).

Soon the hero infiltrated living rooms and the imaginations of boys nationwide. Two million G.I. Joes sold that first year and since then, Hasbro has moved more than 375 million units worldwide.

"G.I. Joe has stood the test of time - he's still as relevant today as he was when he first came on the scene. Especially now after 9/11," said Geppi. "G.I. Joe still stands guard."

Geppi plans to display the prototype at his private museum in Timonium and he's looking for a larger venue for next year, to commemorate Joe's 40th anniversary.

For more information on the history of G.I. Joe go to www.hasbro.com/gijoe or www.mastercollector.com.

Sun news researcher Shelia Jackson contributed to this article.

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