Wales

Rugby superfan amasses £100k Groggs figure collection

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Media caption"They've become part of our culture, cherished and hugely collectable"

Giving up smoking was the spur for a rugby fan to amass a collection of sports figures worth £100,000.

Andy South spent his money that would have gone on cigarettes on Groggs, with his 400 models thought to be one of the most valuable collections assembled.

The caricatures are made by one man in Pontypridd, but old, second-hand versions can sell for hundreds on eBay.

A unique Shane Williams is believed to be one of the most expensive, selling for £1,500 in a charity auction.

As the autumn internationals kick off, with Wales taking on Australia, fans talk about players immortalised in Grogg form after past matches.

It was in 1965 that John Hughes began making the models in his garden shed with stars such as Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams some of the first to be depicted.

In 1976, his son Richard got involved, sculpting the faces - with many of the rarest, one-off figures produced before this date.

Richard Hughes said it was "impossible" to tell how many of these were made by his dad, who died in 2013, and how many still exist.

Image caption It takes Richard Hughes six to eight weeks to craft each Grogg

But the most sought-after are Groggs made in limited numbers before the shop's popularity soared in the past 10 years.

"We would do a run of just 10 of a player in a (club) strip as that is all we thought we would sell," Mr Hughes said.

"But, as our clientele increased, customers didn't want to miss out, so we increased the numbers we made."

This meant when they stopped making a certain Grogg, its value rocketed, and he added: "People realised they couldn't get it anywhere else.

"Even so, it's a bit weird seeing them go up in value so much after we've sold them."

Despite offers from companies to mass produce the Groggs, it is a small, family business, with five painters colouring each model it takes Mr Hughes eight weeks to sculpt.

High demand therefore dictates they can only now produce a select range of figures, predominantly in international kit, making those sold in small numbers in the past increasingly rare and valuable.

Image copyright Andrew South
Image caption Andy South estimates his collection is worth more than £80,000 but it is insured for £100,000

"They pop up on eBay, people selling collections on the internet, car boot sales and all weird and wonderful places," said Mr South, 41, a collector from Newport.

"One of my most-valuable is one of (former Wales back row) Jonathan Thomas in his Ospreys kit that I bought for £5 in a charity shop and is worth about £500."

Mr South, who now lives in Swindon, had always liked the models but had not been able to afford them.

But when he gave up smoking in 2007, his wife suggested he started spending the money he saved on them - and his collection soon snowballed.

"I started with Adam and Duncan (Jones) and soon I had ten. It is so addictive, like a drug. First of all I wanted to have the entire Wales Grand Slam team from 2005," he said.

"Then I wanted any player in Wales kit. To make my collection more colourful, (then) it was players in club strips. It was never-ending."

Image caption Groggs are made in six inch and nine inch sizes, with the most ever paid for one thought to be £1,500 for a large Shane Williams (centre) in his Japanese club kit

Some of his most prized are that of his hero, John Dawes, in a Barbarians kit and Shane Howarth in a Newport RFC strip, while he owns the only Groggs of Ceri Sweeney and Gareth Cooper in Newport Gwent Dragons shirts.

The most he has paid is £350 for a one-off model of former Wales footballer Craig Bellamy at a charity auction.

Many unique Groggs are made to raise funds for good causes - and Anne Danks, from Portskewett, Monmouthshire, paid £1,500 for a Shane Williams Grogg in his kit for Japanese side Mitsubishi Dynaboars.

"I got sick of the bidding creeping up and up and just decided to put in an offer that would get it," she said.

However, it is Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny with whom she is "obsessed"; she has a unique model of him in a Barbarians kit as well in Blues, Wales and Lions strips.

Putting a price on second-hand Groggs is not always easy - with the amount people are willing to pay on auction site eBay increasing massively over the past few years.

Image copyright Llewellyn Layton
Image caption There was only one Dragons Revenge Grogg made after complaints from England fans meant production was stopped

One of the hardest to value is owned by Llewellyn Layton of Presteigne, Powys, who said: "It is of a dragon killing St George.

"There were going to be 99 in all, but after complaints from England fans, they didn't make any more, so it is the only one.

"They were planning to put it in the (Groggs) museum, but my wife convinced them to sell it to us."

In total, his collection of 107 Groggs is worth £30,000, while Mark Baldwin's 293 figures are insured for £40,000.

Mr Baldwin, 56, happened upon the Grogg Shop in the 1970s when he was a student nearby at what is now the University of South Wales.

Image copyright Anne Danks
Image caption Seeing double....or quadruple. Anne Danks collects Leigh Halfpenny Groggs in different strips

"I was walking around and just discovered it," he said.

"I've always played rugby and been a fan, but being a poor student at the time, all I could afford was a little Graham Price."

Originally from Porthcawl, he now lives in Solihull, where his collection has taken over three rooms of his house.

While putting a value on many figures can be difficult, there is one that is priceless to him but may not be worth too much to anybody else.

It is a Grogg of him, made when he was a 21-year-old Porthcawl RFC player.

Image copyright Mark Baldwin
Image caption A Grogg of Mark Baldwin during his rugby-playing heyday is one of his favourites
Image copyright Mark Baldwin
Image copyright Mark Baldwin
Image caption Mark Baldwin with some of his collection
Image copyright Andrew South

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