GI Joe Sells For $200,000

John Petty, the director of auctions for Heritage Comics, holds the original prototype G.I. Joe doll at the auction center at the San Diego Convention Center Tuesday, July 15, 2003. The prototype, designed by Don Levine for Hasbro Toys and released in 1964, is expected to bring approximately $600,000.00 at an auction Friday.
His face may be battle-weary, but the 1963 G.I. Joe prototype is no longer an auction-block refugee, an auction house said Thursday.

The handmade 11 1/2-inch figure ended up capturing $200,000 in a private sale to comic book distributor Stephen Geppi, despite Joe's failure to bring a minimum $250,000 bid at auction last month.

"When this thing didn't sell at auction, I got another bite at the apple, and I thought: 'My God. I can't believe this. This is like a precious item,"' Geppi said in a Thursday interview.

Joe failed to sell even after the minimum bid was cut from $600,000 to $250,000 at the auction in San Diego.

But at $200,000, the comic book tycoon said he was thrilled to acquire the one-of-a-kind item.

"I remember playing with G.I. Joe when I was a kid, and who'd have thought some 40 years later I'd would be buying the actual prototype for this action figure," he said. "It's just a great coup for me."

John Petty, of Dallas-based Heritage Comics Auctions, which handled the sale, said the prototype was "the most valuable action figure ever sold."

A 1904 Steiff Teddy Girl bear was purchased for $158,000 in a 1994 auction, according to Heritage. An original late 1940s Howdy Doody marionette (the stringless model known as "Photo Doody") also sold that year for $113,431.

The auction house said a 1916 French doll by Albert Marque once went for $215,000.

Geppi, 53, bought the G.I. Joe figure from Don Levine, a Korean War veteran and former Hasbro executive involved in the toy's creation. Hasbro set out 40 years ago to develop a toy that would do for boys what rival Mattel's Barbie had done for girls five years earlier.

The result was a huge success. Hasbro sold an estimated 375 million G.I Joe action figures.

The figure wears a hand-stitched sergeant's uniform and has a hand-painted, battle-weary expression. Its name was inspired by the 1945 movie "Story of G.I. Joe," starring Robert Mitchum.

For decades, the prototype spent its days in a cardboard box at Levine's Rhode Island home.

Geppi, who owns Diamond Comic Distributors, of Timonium, Md., and is a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles, said he plans to make the figure very visible to celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.

"This is a piece of Americana that belongs in a museum," he said.