Ram Man collector Jamie Moakes hopes for gold prices
- 16 December 2011
- From the section Business
Can Jamie Moakes transform the mass-produced 1980s action figure Ram Man into a valuable commodity by buying as many of them as he can?
In Jamie Moakes' flat in Colchester a battalion of armoured men stands at the end of his bed all facing to the side because he says the sight of them all peering at him in the morning is very unnerving.
This figure, according to Jamie, is a new commodity, one to replace gold, silver and copper.
This is Ram Man, a minor character in the 1980s television show He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe.
Mr Moakes is trying to buy as many as possible in order to make them rare.
Homes versus gold
His fascination with the character started after he became annoyed at the seemingly imagined value that we give to commodities.
"Everyone was saying 'stop investing in a home and invest in gold', but the only reason [people say that] is because everyone agrees that gold is worth money," he says.
He thought that if he could convince the public that something was the new gold then he could prove that anyone could create a new commodity and play their own part in the economy.
The problem is Jamie is no economist. In fact he has no knowledge of economics at all. So he called in Professor Eric Smith, head of economics at the University of Essex.
Prof Smith thought Jamie had a point. "Gold has certain properties as a commodity that made it pretty useful and Ram Man doesn't necessarily have that, but Jamie's initial idea about the fact that gold has more value than its pure utilitarian or material usages was quite a good insight."
Buy low, sell high
And of course, Jamie is not the first to try to monopolise a particular commodity in this way.
"The tradition of cornering the market is to get sufficient control of the market and get hold of enough of it to manipulate the price. Once the price gets high you can sell high," adds Prof Smith.
So how much is Jamie paying for his Ram Man figures?
"There is no consistency at all. I've bought ones for 20p, up to £192.50, that was a mint Ram Man in a box."
It gets worse too. He sold it - he will not say how much for, but admits it was not for a profit.
There is a second plank of Jamie's plan to push up the price of Ram Man. He is a performance artist, and has a show where he tries to convince people that Ram Man is the new gold.
He then sells one of the toys from his collection at the end.
It may seem like a good idea, but Prof Smith says this may be his second mistake.
"He's publicly announcing that he's trying to corner the market. If you were trying to corner the market you would want to buy slowly and carefully. If people think you're going to buy a lot they will perhaps hold out for a higher price."
And his problems do not end there. He currently has 151 Ram Man figures and has already spent about £1,500 building the collection.
To truly corner the market he needs to collect as many as possible. The makers Mattel will not say how many there are but some estimate that about two million were produced.
However, Jamie is undeterred:
"I have noticed the price going up very slowly, but Ram Man didn't sell, and no-one considered him to be worth that much money, and slowly me buying them looks like they're selling more."
But the problem with this may be that although the price may be rising, he is the only person buying the figures.
Jamie may be on a hiding to nothing with Ram Man, but had he chosen something a little more sought-after, he might have had more success - initially at least.
It has been tried before and one notable example was that of Yasuo Hamanaka or Mr Copper as he became known.
"He systematically tried to corner the world market in copper by buying up not only futures but the physical substance itself," says John Gapper of the Financial Times who has recently written about Hamanaka.
"At one point he controlled 5% of the world copper market and it was sitting in warehouses around the world.
"For a long time it actually worked out pretty well for him.
"Every time people tried to trade against him he bought more and more and squeezed them out and made consistently a lot of profits."
But then in 1995 the whole thing collapsed.
"He drove up the price [which] made it more economical to mine the stuff, and then of course China started doing it. As more and more copper came onto the market, he found it harder and harder to control the market and in the end prices fell, and Sumitomo removed him from his job."
Given what happened to Hamanaka, John Gapper says that, in one way at least, Jamie has made a wise decision: "I think he's got a good target in a physical product that nobody can expand the supply of, but it's still a very tricky business.
"The trick though is once you've actually controlled all of this supply, you've got to start selling it in order to make a profit, and if people know what you're doing they can sell against you."
Of course what it all may come down to, is as much as Jamie loves his Ram Man figures, and as much as he might succeed in putting the prices up, he might discover no-one else is willing to buy.