recently met Irving Santiago at the 2012 Joelanta GIjOE Show in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the unofficial “Lobby Swap” and he was presiding over a large rack of vintage 12″ GIjOEs, many in their original boxes. I asked him if he had a Bulletman for sale and he quickly replied, “Oh, sure. I’ve got two of those.” Hoo-yeah. Paydirt!
After chatting a while, I learned that Irving is in sales in Miami, and has been a die-hard GIjOE fan and collector for over 35 years. You might even call him a “Super Collector,” because during that long period, he’d gathered together what is now surely, one of the world’s largest GIjOE collections ever assembled by one individual. A huge fan of all sizes and incarnations of GIjOE, Irving told me…
“At the height of my collecting, I had over 14,000 of the smaller figures and over 3,000 vehicles. I even owned TWELVE of the giant USS Flagg Aircraft Carriers. Whether it was big or small, vintage or new, if it was GIjOE-related—I wanted it, collected it and owned it!”
Over those years, Irving’s collection grew so large that eventually, Hasbro’s Vice-President of Boys Toys Marketing, Kirk Bozigian heard about it and rewarded Irving for his fanatical customer loyalty by giving him a unique class ring with the words “GIjOE Special Forces” engraved in a circle around a blue jewel. Irving proudly wears that ring to this day.
Somewhat stunned by the huge numbers in his collection, I snapped a few more photos, thanked him politely for his time and continued on my way. The next day, I saw Irving again. This time, he had set up the LARGEST dealer area at Joelanta. I call it an “area” because his merchandise racks literally lined up “wall-to-wall” in the main dealer’s room. He had hundreds and hundreds of GIjOEs for sale.
Sadly, I couldn’t afford Irving’s Bulletman this year, so I just watched helplessly while other fans approached his astounding “Joe Bazaar.” We all stood there, mouths agape, literally overwhelmed by the sheer number of vintage 12″ boxed figures in front of us. It was quite a breathtaking display. Congratulations on your special ring, Irving. And best wishes, my fellow fanatic! (Hopefully, Bulletman played it smart and kept his head down so I can snag him next time. HA!)