Obsessed Much: Toys

From investment to nostalgia, it’s human to collect. This is how we expand our knowledge and our visual literacy. Even in a country with high humidity and where space is scarce, we continue to accumulate. In this edit, meet toy collector: Jeffrey Koh
Published: 9 April 2024

Jeffrey Koh is well known in the local toy scene, maybe even in the world, for his extensive collection of toys. His Instagram account is a visual archive of the man’s seemingly endless line-up of figurines, statues and pop culture accoutrements.

Just before COVID hit, Koh had mentioned that he managed to clean up the front space at his office. “I was so happy. But during COVID, when staff couldn’t come into the office, I filled it up with boxes and stocks. It bugs the [crap] out of me every day I come into the office because I really wanted to clear that area and run, like, a little guerrilla pop-up.”

He’s not kidding. In fact, in our humble opinion, it might even be an understatement. Step into his foyer and you’re met with brown cardboard boxes, stacked floor-to-ceiling, to your right. To your left, are a hint of what he has—his toys, all black, arranged like tiny idols. You’ll have to leave your shoes at the front and enter through the narrow path into his main office where more of his toys are kept. Many of them loose from their packaging, some, still in their boxes. It’s a hoarder’s dream and a relative-of-said-hoarder-who-is-crushed-under-felled-boxes’ nightmare.

Almost every bit of nook and cranny of his office is taken up by a figurine or a pop culture artefact. So mountainous is his trove that you’d fail to notice his staff at their desk if it weren’t for the sounds of mouse and keyboard clicks.

1. BOBA FETT (2014)

“In the early ’80s, my dad’s friend from Malaysia bought a 12-inch Boba Fett toy. Boba Fett was this super cool guy, so badass and then he had such a lame death [in Return of the Jedi]. I did this piece with Luke [Chueh], which was based on his artwork. It was a brilliant idea. He knows that I’m crazy about Boba Fett so when he came to Singapore, he asked if I’d be interested in making the toy. I immediately jumped at it. To date, we’ve done seven colourways; all sold out. We could put out different colourways every year but money was never the aim. When we do a colourway, it has to feel right.”


“I was on a lot of the Star Wars bulletin boards and there was this guy who posted pictures of packaging prototypes that he found in a dumpster outside the Kenner offices in Ohio. I had to sell some stuff to buy [this prototype cardback]. Think I paid a lot for it and I believe it to be one of a kind. At least, I haven’t seen any replication of this prototype till now.”


“It was known to be rare in the 90s. One day, I saw it being auctioned on eBay. Nobody really knew what it was during that time. I put in a bid and got it for a steal. To others, it’s just a piece of plastic but this is one of the rarer display pieces from that era and in that condition, it can go for up to USD2,000. It’s not a lot of money but finding this online and getting it for a reasonable price… that’s the thrill.”

Here’s the kicker: despite the cornucopia that we have witnessed here, he still has a storage space where more toys are stored. “I just keep running out of storage space,” Koh says. “I’m considering renting a small warehouse. Maybe about 500 square feet.”

It’s a constant struggle, he tells us. Something that many collectors will contend with. The overflow of material joy and the scarcity of space. This will be Koh’s bugbear but he has always lived for the moment; that’s why he collects.

In a way, Koh opines, collecting for him is most collectors’ raison d’etre: reliving their childhood; buying stuff that they didn’t have back then. Nostalgia: it's a hell of a drug.

“It’s never about having the biggest collection in Singapore. I’m just lucky to have a space and the means to buy these toys.”

While it feels like there’s no rhyme nor reason to his purchases, Koh boils it down to “stuff that catches his fancy”. Regret never comes into play. “It sounds a little snobbish to say but I’ve never cared about the investment value of the toys I get,” Koh says. “People ask what my favourite toy is and I’d answer that it’s the one I haven’t bought. Just buy whatever makes you happy.”

And that joy of acquisition, perhaps is collecting at its purest. He still keeps the boxes the toys come in but not because the packaging has more value if he resells his toys, rather he rotates out the toys that are displayed for the ones in the boxes. “Without the boxes, it’ll be difficult to store them.”

He adds that people, with the intention to resell the toys, often will not make much profit. “Here’s the thing with Star Wars... the toys from the ’70s or ’80s fetch a lot of money on the reseller markers as not many people bought them at the time. When Hasbro [the American toy company] released ‘The Power of the Force’ line, people started hoarding them but now they can’t sell them for five bucks.”

3. PAPA (2013)

“We were making stuff on Lee Kuan Yew’s likeness way before he died. We did one with Budi Nugroho and the idea is that LKY is dispensing advice like candy; each piece has a quote he made over the years. So, we put his head on Pez candy dispensers. All of us like sweets but too many are bad for our health. It’s the idea of taking things in moderation.”


“Kozik is a visionary. Way ahead of his time. I wouldn’t put myself at his level but I do see some similarities between the two of us in that we don’t care what other people think. But, I think, he’s actually very kind. I’ve seen his softer side. The idea of a soft fruit being translated into something hard with rivets appealed to me. It’s punk. I bought this piece from Kozik’s wife.”

Koh points to a moment when he had a chance to purchase a rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype. The action figure prototype was shown at the New York Toy Fair in 1979 but it was never mass-produced due to concerns that the missile was a safety hazard to children. There was a chance to buy it for USD7,000. “But I was in my early 20s and that amount at that age was too much for me,” Koh adds, “a graded version went for USD200K.”

He puts out his own toys as well under the arm of FLABSLAB, the acronym for Muhammad Ali’s quote “Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. FLABSLAB isn’t about making money. No, that responsibility belongs to his creative agency Nerf Creative. FLABSLAB is a passion project, a platform for Koh to take his ideas and make them real.

The toys created through FLABSLAB are things that Koh would buy for himself. “In a way, it’s a little bit of a dictatorship,” Koh says, “of course, I’ll listen to input—it is a collaboration—but the toys produced are just stuff that I like.

“A lot of people say that I’m an artist. I feel kind of insulted on behalf of actual artists who dedicate their lives to the craft. I just have stupid ideas [and I need artists to help make it a reality].”

“This was by Kevin Gosselin and it was from his Kickstarter project. He made this in the style of Kozik’s celebrity busts. This one is a custom, showing Kozik in half his human form and the other as a skull. This is the only one in the world.”

Koh is realistic about his toy collection when he dies. He knows that he can’t take it with him. He tells us about images that he reposted on his IG account about a toy collector who passed away two years ago. A man who had so many toys that it took his friends and relatives that long to unpack everything. “It’s a burden, a burden that’s left for the family to deal with. I don’t want that for my own family so the plan is to liquidate everything and have them split the money among themselves.”

Patience isn’t his strongest suit. He bristles at the thought of cataloguing his toys and dealing with—in his own words—”stupid” buyers. “I long for the day when someone would appear at my doorstep and just buy everything. Everything, including the office, and I’ll walk away.”

When that day comes, it’ll feel like an empire has come to an end. But to Jeffrey Koh, the enfant terrible of the toy world, maybe it might feel that he finally has the much-needed space to breathe in.

And who knows, maybe he’ll feel the need to fill it up once again.

Photography: Jaya Khidir

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