You never know what you might stumble across…
(Written in January 2018, this article shares an experience that happened in July 2017.)
It’s amazing what you can find right in your own back yard.
First and foremost, before I go any further, please note this isn’t meant to be a bragging session in any way shape or form. In fact, the only reason I am taking the time to type and share this story is to set the record straight, and to give credit where credit is due. Up to this point there has been little to no information on what is known as the four-foot tall, life size Mario statue, and what info could be found was mostly rumor and innuendo.
In the summer of last year (2017) I was browsing Craigslist on my phone and stumbled upon a rather unusual ad. The title read; Mario Nintendo Merchant Store Display Figure NIB. It looked to be made out of plastic, and depicted Mario smiling and holding his finger up in the air as if to say, “Look at me! Ima numba one!” In the photo the author used you could also see a Fox Mccloud statue of the same size. He had made a separate ad for this and had just used one picture for both. My initial reaction to seeing the Mario was, “Wow that’s really cool, and would look great as part of a Start Over Games display!”. This excitement was soon dashed however, when I saw how much he was asking for each one. Even though the Fox was a little cheaper, it was still what I thought at the time to be a little on the pricey side. I responded to his ad, and asked him if I would buy both, could he lower the price? I quickly received a response letting me know that his prices were firm and no discount would be given. Slightly frustrated I looked at the ad again, and even though I had no idea what it really was, I sent an email back saying I would buy it for the asking price.
The Mario army drying. Looks like red was the first color applied.
After confirming everything with the gentleman, and setting up a time and place to meet the next day, I began to do some research on what I had just blindly committed to buying. Info on this thing was scarce to say the least. In one forum I found someone saying it was a common store display piece, and that they must have made a ton, because a store near him still had one on display. The next forum stated that the statues were rare, because after being used in stores Nintendo had them shipped back to Japan. Finally, I did an image search on the Google machine, only to end up seeing a picture of the Mario statue in Nintendo’s Museum in New York. What the heck was this thing?
After getting a mixed bag of misinformation on the interwebs, I decided to turn to the source, and see what the owner could tell me about the statue. I sent another email letting him know that I was really excited about the statue, which I was (both in good and bad ways). In the email I also asked him where he got it from, hoping it would help shed some light on the subject. I received no response which usually raises some flags when it comes to buying and selling on Craigslist, but since he had given me his home address and I really wanted that statue, I decided to proceed with the sale as planned.
The next day I found myself driving south of Fond Du Lac. Sleep deprived and filled with the excitement of what could only be described of that which a child feels on Christmas morning, I still had no clue what I would be walking into. I turned onto a long gravel driveway. Behind a huge steel building was the address which I was given. I put my car in park, and had no more than opened my door when a gentleman named Bob came out of the house to greet me. After making our introductions, Bob asked me to drive back up to the steel building where he told me the Mario Statue was. I moved my car as instructed, and met him at the entrance of the building. It was at this point that my anticipation had overwhelmed me, and I blurted out, “So where did you get this thing from?” His response was something which I was not prepared for, and was only four short words; “Well, I made it!” Not expecting to hear that, my mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was nothing more than a fan-made statue and probably, other than for the likeness, had nothing to do with Nintendo. Luckily for me, I was wrong.
Bob working on a single Mario. A process that would be repeated another 401 times…
And here is the true story about the mysterious Mario statues…
In the early '90s Bob, an engineer by trade, decided to go into business for himself. He did this because of a technique he developed that allowed paint to be bonded to polyethylene. For those of you unfamiliar, polyethylene is just a fancy word for common plastic. The technique he used to create the bond between the two was to burn the paint after it was applied. This caused the oil in the paint to rise to the surface, get burned off, and allow the remaining paint to be bonded to the plastic. Bob’s new business was a success, and he had worked on projects from Disney all the way to McDonalds. (He cited the Ronald McDonald sitting on a park bench as an example of something he did, making a point to tell me that Ronald’s hand was actually a mold of his.) Then one day Nintendo rang…
The story continues, and Bob tells me that Nintendo wanted to commission him to paint some Mario statues for them. These statues were to be used in stores to help promote Nintendo’s new system, the Nintendo 64. Bob was actually referred to by Nintendo by the company that would be molding the statues, Dutchland plastics. Located in Oostburg, Wisconsin, Dutchland Plastics is still in business today, and was only short drive away from where I was standing and where Bob’s business was located. Bob said Nintendo chose him for logistical reasons, which when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. These Mario statues where to be used for displays in Best Buy stores. With Best Buy being headquartered in Minnesota, Nintendo picked Bob and Dutchland Plastics for a reason. Instead of Nintendo making and painting the statues in Japan and then having them shipped over here, they had everything done right here in Wisconsin, which made for faster distribution to the stores. (I should make a note here that Bob did say the Marios went mainly to Best Buy stores. However, the number of statues Nintendo ordered was 400, which exceeded the number of Best Buys open at that time. This meant other retailers would have received statues as well.)
I’m not going to lie, my jaw was pretty much dragging on the ground at this point, and I was having a hard time believing this was happening…
The instructions and hardware to set up the display. There was also a metal plate in the box that acted as a base.
Bob went on to tell me the process used to get the Marios made. It began with Dutchland Plastics sending a prototype mold to Kyoto, Japan (Nintendo’s Headquarters). Once Nintendo was happy with the mold, they painted one there, and then sent it to Bob. This was done so he could match the colors Nintendo used. He said Nintendo was very strict about this, and wanted the colors matched exactly. With Nintendo giving the final okay, production began. Dutchland Plastics would mold the statues in batches of around 50. From there they were shipped to Bob and painted. He started with the colors used the most, red and blue. Once those colors were done, Bob hired helpers to tape off certain parts of each statue so he could spray on the other remaining colors. He made mention that back at the house he might have had pictures of this process. After the statues were finished, Bob would then box them up, and help load them on a big delivery truck that would take them to the proper distribution centers. Bob told me that Nintendo’s order was for 400 statues, but he asked Dutchland Plastics to make him two extra, in case one broke while he was painting it. It was one of these two that I was buying. I asked Bob how much he thought Nintendo spent on the statues. He figured with everything that went into getting the statues made, it was around $500 a piece. (So, a little Rob math here: $500 x 400 = $200,000. $200,000 of which Nintendo would not see one dime of return on…wow!) After his Mario project, Nintendo would also use Bob’s services for Fox Mccloud and Pikachu statues, hence the Fox he was selling.
And that was it. Bob helped me load the Mario into the car, and then went back in his house where he emerged a few minutes later with two photographs. The first showed Bob spraying paint on a single Mario statue, while the other showed what I like to describe as an army of Marios with paint drying on them. (Included in the comments section you will find both pictures Bob gave me, as well as the assembly instructions that were found in the box.) I humbly asked Bob to sign one of the photos, paid him, and began my trip home.
So now the world knows the story behind the four-foot tall life size Mario statues. Like I said in the beginning, this story wasn’t meant to brag or rub something in anyone’s face, but rather to let other collectors know what these things really are, and the story behind them. I’ve since been asked multiple times what I thought todays value would be on the statue, and my response is always the same. The value of something is as much as someone will pay for it. I will say this though, if I knew the story behind what I was buying beforehand, I would have paid more.
It’s amazing what you can find right in your own back yard.
Mario next to the box he was shipped to stores in.