Tripping Out in Toyland with Caleb Zammit, AUSTIN TOY MUSEUM [Interview]

Caleb Zammit Interview - Austin Toy Museum

“In the land of toys, the kid with the most is king.” —Ancient Eternian Proverb

If this historic and totally not made up quote is true, then Caleb Zammit – toy collector and Austin Toy Museum Director – is a king ten times over. In fact, Zammit’s got so many toys, video game consoles and comics in his collection that he’s currently trying to find a space to fit them all! However, rather than keeping them all to himself Zammit and a group of likeminded toy lovers have set their sites on founding a museum – where anyone can come in, see the collection and say those magic words: “I had that!”

While a Kickstarter campaign is currently underway to help raise funds for the museum, Zammit was kind enough to offer us a personal sneak peek at some of the action figure gold he’s got stored away as well as share his thoughts on why this project means so much to him. Plus… we get scientific (sorta) with quantum theory physics related to dilithium crystals, flux capacitors and other science-y stuff… just keep reading.

IMG_4402You know, Caleb, it’s not every day I crawl out of my clubhouse to visit a museum. They tend to be really stuffy and boring and they don’t let me take my Cheetos Cracker Trax in with me… what makes this one any different?

CALEB ZAMMIT: The key difference about this museum (besides it being full of toys) is that it will be very interactive and bring back your childhood memories not just from looking at toys but also from being able to touch, smell, and play with examples of the toys while you explore the museum. So while you are looking at Stretch Armstrong you’ll be able to pull on a Stretch Armstrong that sits outside the case and while you’re looking at Transformers will be able to transform a few Transformers.

So will I be able to bring my bag of Cracker Trax with me?

CALEB: Cheeto fingers?? Uhhhh you’re gonna have to let me let me check your kickstarter pledge amount before I answer that question.

Damn. Well, that’s okay I guess. So this museum of yours, it’s like a time machine for toys?

CALEB: Yup, the Delorean, phone booth… oh you said time machine for toys, not which toy time machines do you have. Well, yes, it will be like stepping back into your bedroom from the 80s, 70s or 60s, walking over to you NES and playing some Zelda or yelling in your best Skeletor voice as you make him hit Prince Adam with his ram staff. I know I personally will be in the arcade section playing Dragon’s Lair as if I’m still in that airport in the 80s waiting for my mom to come home from a long business trip.

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This museum will be very interactive… not just from looking at toys [but] being able to touch, smell, and play with [them].

Seems like such an awesome idea – why do you think more toy museums don’t exist?

CALEB: I think owning, maintaining, and building a collection is a huge dedication. I’ve been working on mine for over 20 years. But the hardest part about running or starting a museum is keeping the community engaged. The best part about this Museum is everyone loves toys. We’ve already seen lots people becoming engaged by volunteering, giving to the Kickstarter or by donating toys (which we totally love).

Are all these your personal collection or is there a secret cabal of collectors who have contributed to the museum?

CALEB: About half the collection so far belongs to me, we also have a group of about 11 other collectors who have pledged to display their collections with the museum as well. For example we have a collector who has a house full of boardgames, a collector with a garage full of G.I. Joe’s and we keep on getting more and more collectors who want to display at the museum. We will also have two cases which are solely dedicated to rotating displays which any collector who wishes can display in.

IMG_4477How did you manage to bring so many of them together and, more importantly, get them to give up their collections?

CALEB: *laughs* Well, no one is giving up their collections, I think I’d have a few shotguns pulled on me if I asked that. Everything is being promised on loan temporarily for periods that the collectors can decide on. Most collectors who are working with us have either read about us somewhere and decided to display or they have talked us in person and decided they wanted to display with us also.

It’s more than just action figures, though, right? You mentioned an arcade section and there’s also comics… are you sure you’re not building a time machine? Maybe you’ve got some dilithium crystals in the back somewhere.

CALEB: Yep – we have a top 10 of all-time arcade games, over 50 video game systems, some of the most awesome key comic books ever and so much more from the “nerdaverse.” I mean we even have a working R2-D2 which will be displayed in the museum. Sadly, our dilithium has run dry but our flux capacitor is working well.

Oh. Right. I guess those would just take you to outer space, not travel back in time… my quantum physics is a little fuzzy.

CALEB: Well that depends if you sling shot around the sun or not.

Touché. So tell us more about these dioramas, are they similar to those massive store displays from back in the 80s? Remember those?

CALEB: Very similar because were using a lot of the old pictures of the store displays and advertisements from various toy lines to make the dioramas. We looked at a bajillion G.I. Joe pamphlets and commercials just to make our very first 4 x 8 Joe diorama. And our He-man diorama was very similar because we also watched about 12 episodes of the cartoon to get just the right scenes to correctly represent Eternia.

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…the weirdest thing we have so far would be Growing Up Skipper which is a doll from the 70s that grows boobs and becomes taller when you spin her arm.

We’ve only made 4 dioramas so far and we’re saving some of the best ones for last, I mean we haven’t even touched Star Wars yet, and we have some really awesome marketing examples and commercials to work from.

What’s one of the most unique items in the Austin Toy Museum collection so far?

CALEB: Well, the most unique item as far as collectibles go would be our Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-man) but the weirdest thing we have so far would be Growing Up Skipper which is a doll from the 70s that grows boobs and becomes taller when you spin her arm.

We also have just tons tons of rare toys like the Robotech playset, Captain Action and his many costumes, which are some of the first superhero action figures, and lots of prototypes and production materials from toy companies that were used while the figures were in development including one of the very first examples of Lion-O from Thundercats.

Awesome! It sounds like you’ve got enough to fill a museum, you’re just missing… the museum. Is that what your Kickstarter is for, to find a home for all this cool stuff?

CALEB: Yep! We need the money to start off renting a nice big building where we can build some cases and show everybody some really cool toys.

About half of our Kickstarter 20,000 dollar goal will just be towards building the cases to display all the Toys which is a lot more expensive than you would think. And then a portion of it will also go towards setting up the nonprofit status for the museum… which is a lot more expensive than you would think.

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Okay, before you go: what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

CALEB: That’s a hard question because I was known as a very strange child and I did a lot of very strange things. From training my pet roosters to follow me everywhere I went to building a hover board out of a broken skateboard and some computer fans (let’s just say it didn’t work out). But looking back the absolute strangest thing I ever did was run around the neighborhood in a foot soldier from Ninja Turtles costume I made, fully hooded in 100° weather… it’s a wonder I made it out of childhood alive.

We’re glad you did, buddy. We’re glad you did.


If you’re interested in learning more or to see how you can help support this project, be sure to stop by The Austin Toy Museum Kickstarter page.

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Written by Rondal

Rondal is the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Kids Club and a creative instigator who tackles each day with Red Bull-induced enthusiasm and a mind for adventure. Rondal has written for other sites including Rue Morgue, Fuel Your Illustration and Bloodsprayer. His obsession with horror movies, 80s animation and action figures is considered unhealthy by medical professionals.

2223 posts
  • TheGreatSwami

    Thumbs-up! I pledged some bucks, and I hope you will, too. Let’s make this happen!