Since it’s introduction in 1964, GI Joe has been one of the toy industry’s most enduring franchises. Coining the term “action figure” and starting out in 1:6 scale, GI Joe has changed over the years to reflect the world around it. In 1982 a new era of GI Joe began with the A Real American Hero line. This new GI Joe brought in a storyline and characters, hallmarks that would captivate a generation and gain the loyalty of a large fan base. As that fan base has matured, so have the products aimed at it. In addition to a re-launched comic series and toy line, fans of GI Joe: A Real American Hero have had a variety of licensed items to choose from in the past several years. There have been busts, mini busts, statues, wall plaques and other higher end collectibles available. Now, the GI Joe franchise is welcoming in a new licensee who promises to bring higher end collectibles to a whole new level. The licensee is Museum Replicas, LTD and its parent company the Atlanta Cutlery Corporation.
I recently enjoyed the opportunity to interview Dave Di Pietro of Museum Replicas / Atlanta Cutlery over the phone and speak to him about the company’s involvement with the GI Joe license. Mr. Di Pietro, Director of Sales and Marketing for Museum Replicas, was gracious enough to speak to me for the better part of 40 minutes, sharing his enthusiasm for the GI Joe license. During the interview, we spoke of the company’s plans for the GI Joe license, a bit of the company’s history and of course the upcoming Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow swords which will be the company’s premiere entry into the franchise.
Forging A Company
Atlanta Cutlery began in Georgia in 1972 as a simple cutlery company creating knives and other bladed utensils. In the early 1980s, just as GI Joe: A Real American Hero was getting it’s start, Atlanta Cutlery branched out and formed Museum Replicas, LTD. Museum Replicas began with the purpose of creating historical replicas for collectors around the world. The company’s early offerings were mostly swords from the medieval era, which have become the company’s hallmark. Over time though, Museum Replicas began to offer armor and shields as well as men’s and women’s clothing. While Museum Replicas was not the first to enter this field of merchandising, what set the company apart in the market was their dedication to delivering high quality items. While other manufacturers created items primarily for display but little else, Museum Replicas and Atlanta Cutlery created their swords and armor from high carbon spring stainless steel and their clothing from quality fabrics. Simply put, their items were as close to real as it got.
When Dave Di Pietro came to Museum Replicas, he brought with him his experience from Paramount Pictures and the motion picture industry in general. This background helped immensely as the company began to seek out licenses. During the past several years, while Museum Replicas has continued to produce merchandise for the retail market, they have also been creating items for Hollywood and other high profile institutions. Through Factory X, Museum Replicas produced items for the motion picture Gladiator. They have also produced props and costumes for various other productions. Museum Replicas holds the license for Kingdom of Heaven, which Mr. Di Pietro classified as their biggest license. Museum Replicas also holds the licenses for Lord of the Rings, Monty Python, Warhammer, Wheel of Time and Forgotten Realms. There is one single license that the company takes special pride in however. Atlanta Cutlery produces the swords the United States Marine Corps use for their dress uniforms. As Mr. Di Pietro said in our interview, “If we can make swords for the US Marine Corps, we can certainly make swords for GI Joe.”
Joining Up With GI Joe
It was another Hasbro license, the Forgotten Realms trading card game from Wizards of the Coast, that brought Museum Replicas into the GI Joe family. After seeing the company’s work on the license, and being very impressed, Hasbro approached Museum Replicas with what Dave Di Pietro referred to as “Hasbro’s most important license”: GI Joe. From the beginning it was clear what the introductory pieces for the line should be, the swords of two of the franchises most iconic characters: Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. “Hasbro demands quality” from it’s licensees, Mr. Di Pietro said and Museum Replicas was more than willing to deliver. The beginning of the swords of the Arashikage sword brothers began like all projects do: on the design table.
Beginning with one of Museum Replica’s armorers, designs began to be developed for the Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow swords. The Snake Eyes sword is loosely inspired by the mini bust Palisades created of the character several years back. Hasbro was very involved in the design stages. Once a design was finished, it would be sent to the GI Joe team at Hasbro for approval and suggestions. Any suggested changes were sent back and the design was refined. The reason for this high level of involvement on the behalf of both companies was not only to produce the highest quality items possible but to assist in the cross marketing of the swords.
Hasbro’s GI Joe team was so impressed with early designs of the GI Joe swords that the decision was made to integrate them into the modern mythos. New Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes action figures will carry their respective swords soon while Devil’s Due Publishing will integrate the designs into their artwork. There are also plans to carry these designs over into any new GI Joe animation. While it’s clearly too late to include them into the first mini series of GI Joe: Sigma Six, future episodes may very well use the designs.
The GI Joe swords, like the rest of Museum Replica’s products, are planned to be created from high carbon spring stainless steel. The swords fall into a category known as “wall hangers” which are primarily meant for display, but are still crafted to the high standards the company is known for. In addition to the high carbon spring construction these swords will be “full tang”. Full tang is a term that means the blade will span the length of the hilt and attach to the pommel, the bottom of the sword’s handle. This is what pulls the sword together and provides it’s strength and durability. Many other replicas simply attach the blade to the hilt.
The Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow swords will be a limited production run, although Mr. Di Pietro said that he is not sure what that exact numbers will be yet. Museum Replicas wants the items to be collectible, but not impossible to obtain. The production run will most likely be “lower end” in terms of numbers, but Mr. Di Pietro is confident the products will have great sales. Each sword will come in a full color box and will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity sighed by two members of Hasbro’s GI Joe team. Additionally, each sword comes with it’s own katana stand. There are two different stands, one taller than the other so that the two swords can be displayed together. Not only does this save space, but it represents the conflict of “good vs. evil” as Mr. Di Pietro said in our conversation. As of now, it has not been decided which sword will get which stand.
Currently, Museum Replicas is awaiting the arrival of their second prototypes of the swords, which should arrive in mid October. A refinement was made to the designs after they were not pleased with the results of the first prototypes. The Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow swords are scheduled to be ready for a first quarter 2006 release. The price point of the swords still have not been finalized and most likely will not until production numbers are decided upon. Mr. Di Pietro mentioned in our conversation that they are looking at a price under $200 each, perhaps closer to the $170 price range. Those buying both swords can expect a lower price point than if the two swords were bought separately.
Like most licenses, Museum Replicas and Atlanta Cutlery hold the GI Joe license for two years. Based on sales, there is always the option to renew the license and continue making GI Joe themed products. So what may the future hold for GI Joe? Given that the license takes them into 2007, the 25th anniversary of GI Joe: A Real American Hero, Mr. Di Pietro mentioned the possibility of a commemorative knife “down the road”. The knife is not all though that Museum Replicas could offer the GI Joe fan base.
Museum Replicas is as known for it’s costuming products as it is for it’s armor. During our phone interview several ideas were mentioned, including Cobra Trooper costumes, masks and other GI Joe related props. If the license does well for the company, almost anything may be possible if there is market to support it. Mr. Di Pietro emphasized time and again that anything Museum Replicas produces for the GI Joe license will live up to the company’s reputation as being high quality and affordable.
Right now though, the focus is on the Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow swords, the company’s initial offering to GI Joe fans. Museum Replicas has set up a special website, http://www.gijoeswords.com, where people interested in the product can keep updated for news on these items. Interested parties can fill out the form at the bottom of the page and will be alerted when there is a firm release date and pictures available. When the swords are released in the first quarter of 2006, they will be available for sale at Museum Replicas website (http://www.museumreplicas.com) and other select retailers.
I would like to thank Mr. Dave Di Pietro for taking the time out of his busy day to talk with me about Museum Replicas, Atlanta Cutlery and the GI Joe license. It was a very enjoyable conversation and it left me with the feeling that another great licensee has joined the GI Joe family. These will be wonderful pieces for people who just like cool swords and especially for fans of GI Joe who want to have a piece of their childhood.