Not long ago, I stumbled across a phenomenon in the AFOL community previously unknown to me: the secret world of sig fig swapping. There is a whole subset of the AFOL community who trade their personalized Minifigures all over the world. As it turns out, a friend of mine is big into the trading scene. Many of you know her as the Instagram sensation, @HeathersBricks. Heather Davis and I sat down one evening for a chat about her LEGO® experiences and how she got involved in trading minifigs. Additionally, she gave me insights and pointers into sig fig design with the aim of trading. It is not as simple as you might think!
For those who do not know Heather, she is an avid AFOL and active member in the LEGO® community. She is best known for posting amazing shots of her custom LEGO® city on Instagram, as well as her phenomenal Minifigure collection. Heather owns every character from all the collectible series, including Mr. Gold. Each series hangs masterfully displayed in a frame on her Minifigure wall. Her LEGO® love story is a long one. “I started collecting LEGO® in about the mid ‘90s,” Heather recalls. “I started buying LEGO® sets for myself with the Western sets. Fort Legoredo was my favorite, and it went from there. I bought most of the Western sets, and I purchased a few Islanders sets. But it was kind of sporadic. I don’t know why, but I thought I should keep some of them sealed. I still have some of them in the original packaging.”
Heather’s favorite set from the ’90s was Fort Legoredo.
Like many parents, Heather’s own LEGO® collection went on hold for a time while her children were growing and building throughout the early ‘00s. During those years, the family LEGO® collection focused on her kids’ interests. However, everything changed in 2007. “My collection kind of got a reboot when we were in Chicago visiting a LEGO® Store,” says Heather. “I saw the Café Corner, which was just released at the time. I really wanted to buy the set right then, but I knew that my family would probably disapprove. So, I went home, and I contemplated for a while. Later, I bought it from 1-800-LEGO. So, LEGO® caught my eye again in 2007, and it has just gone from there.”
However, Heather’s epic city and Instagram profile did not come around until much later. In fact, the city that many of us know from her social media pages did not start coming together for another decade. “I always had dreams of creating a city,” Heather recounts. “So, I started buying up sets that had a lot of pieces in them, so that I could create buildings of my own and try to make a city. Things like Harry Potter castles. I even purchased the original Diagon Alley way back when. It is in the original box. I wanted to modify it to make it more like the modular buildings. I wasn’t ever courageous enough to open it and do it (laughs).”
Heather has many classic sets still sealed in the original box 😮
“I also collected the winter village sets. I would put them together and then I would store them in a box. Every Christmas we would just get them out and put them on a bookcase or something. So, the winter village took off easier, I should say, than a main street or something like a city,” says Heather.
Apart from her seasonal winter village, Heather’s city got underway shortly after joining Instagram. She recalls: “I started following accounts of people who built LEGO® and displayed it on Instagram several years ago. It sparked my interest. I was really excited that other people were building cities. I really thought that I was the only one (laughs). In the fall of 2016, I started asking people about their set-ups and what tables they used. I asked over a dozen people on Instagram. I got one response. That was from Mark Segedie, @MrBookieBoo on Instagram. He talked to me about IKEA tables. He told me which tables, and which legs he was using. Also, how easily the baseplates fit, and how the tables work modularly like the city does. He encouraged me to get a few tables and just try it out. So, my city began in about June of 2017.”
In the early days, Heather received guidance from @MrBookieBoo on Instagram.
According to Heather, the AFOL community was instrumental in encouraging her to continue and share her experiences. “I remember getting a few messages here and there from Mark asking how it was going. I would send him some pictures of some sparsely decorated tables. It was really good to have that encouragement. I noticed that the community is like that. At the time, I hadn’t posted or anything. But I remember sharing pictures with him and a few others that I became friends with. He was just the type of person who was very encouraging to me. So, I thank him all the time for my account and for getting me out of the closet (laughs).”
Not long after Heather’s Instagram journey began, she stumbled upon a new avenue in the LEGO® community. She found other AFOLs discussing how they used to trade Minifigures through the mail. Intrigued, Heather pursued the topic, and may even have played a role in bringing the trend back into full swing. However, before she could trade, Heather needed a sig-fig. “How long ago did I make my sig fig?” Heather contemplates, “I don’t know. The hardest part about making a sig fig for me was knowing that once I made it and put it out there, it was forever [laughs]. I did ask a few other people, and of course my friend Mark helped me decide.”
Heather took the design of her sig fig seriously.
Heather is now a veteran trader of Minifigures. Through swaps with people all over the world, she has seen it all. Incidentally, there are many different avenues to take when creating a sig fig. Some choose a design featuring rare minifig parts. Others opt to frequently change the look of their character. Others still send out unique minifigs each time with only a common accessory linking them all together. On top of that, some people want to trade Minifigures through the mail, while others want to build each other’s characters simultaneously from parts they already own. All of this factored into Heather’s final sig fig.
“I just wanted one simple character,” says Heather. “I originally thought that if other people wanted to have me visit their city, I should use more common parts so that it wasn’t expensive for someone to be able to add me to their town. So, I chose common dark blue legs, a common torso, and just a long ponytail. I don’t ever really wear ponytails, but the straight hair options weren’t my favorite. Her face is pretty common too. According to Bricklink, she was in 3000 sets or something. Also, I don’t care for ‘fleshies’ [minifigs with more natural skin tones]. My favorites are yellow figs [laughs]. I feel like the yellow minifigure is kind of generic. It’s like everyone in LEGO® form. So, it doesn’t matter what you look like, or what your skin looks like. In the end, that’s how I came up with her.”
Heather has a box of Heathers ready for sig fig swapping.
Despite having designed a figure that others can easily build, Heather likes to actually trade. “It’s more fun, I think, if you send a package to each other,” she says. “A lot of times, I get a letter. I keep them on a bulletin board in my LEGO® room, and that’s sort of fun. Sometimes they’re typed up, sometimes they’re handwritten. I think other people are better than I am at that, because I might just send a little post-it note [laughs]. Sometimes characters travel with other things too.”
In fact, Heather’s own sig-fig travels with accessories. I was keen to try out a trade, so Heather and I made a swap. I was impressed to receive a custom engraved brick, and the parts to build a tree. “When I send mine out,” Heather explains, “I try to send a little plant because I love to build trees. I’ve done some YouTube videos that I call “Treetorials”. I don’t know whether that is something that I am known for, or want to be known for, but I thought it was an easier way to recognize my sig-fig.”
Heather does not travel light… she packed her own tree!
How did my own sig-fig journey fare? I fell into a few of the pitfalls Heather later warned me of. First off, my sig fig was not easy to reproduce. I went about it thinking that I wanted a character that was “me”. I selected a torso only available in one set. This caused problems already on my first trade because I had to order copies of the torso from Bricklink. When the set retires, that print will be hard to get. Heather is facing a similar problem now. Though her torso print was common, the LEGO® Group changes which prints are available from time to time. She notes: “My sig fig’s torso is not so common anymore. It’s kind of hard to buy. The last time I went to order, LEGO® sold out of them. I may have to upgrade (laughs).”
Luckily for Heather, after our interview her sig fig torso appeared in a 2021 set. However, if I delve deeper into the secret world of sig fig swapping, I may have to rethink my own character. It might be that Heather got an exclusive. I think a personal version for my own city and a trade version that is easily reproducible may be in order. Then there is also trading etiquette to consider. Even if someone has a reproducible character, you should not just copy it. Heather cautions, “if you build and tag another LEGO® friend, its okay. But if you tag somebody who is not a close friend and you’ve used their likeness or their type of artistry, you should ask them if its okay first. I think if you welcome someone to your city and you post about it on social media, you need to ask permission before.”
Heather’s sig fig swapping adventures have grown quite the collection!
Overall, I have to say that the experience was a positive one. Luckily, my first trade was with expert @HeathersBricks. While messaging through snail-mail is not that common anymore, I enjoyed getting a little package and note from a friend the old-fashioned way. I might be persuaded to try trading again. How about you? Have you taken part in the secret world of sig fig swapping before? How many times and to where? Reach out in the comments below or on social media to let me know.
Until next time,
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