Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy Percival R. Lugue
Despite becoming a “serious collector of fast-food toys” in the 80s, Percival R. Lugue did not think that his hobby would get him international recognition, until a friend visited his house and saw his impressive collection. “My goodness, these are just enormous,” Lugue recalled his friend saying. “They’re one for the books.”
This inspired him to reach out to the Guinness World Records for a shot at world-class fame. And that’s how, in 2014, Lugue became the first person to set the record for the largest collection of fast-food restaurant toys, with a whopping 10,000 pieces.
Nearly seven years later, he told VICE that his collection has likely doubled. “I’m confident to say that I have more than 20,000 in my collection right now,” he said, though he has not kept a precise tally. His fervor for collecting fast-food toys has not waned. “I don’t think I can pass on an experience in a fast-food restaurant without me buying a fast-food toy. That’s a non-negotiable,” Lugue said with a laugh.Over the years, he has developed an efficient way to acquire toys that is easy on both his diet and wallet. “I invite my friends to go out,” he said. “For example, we would go out for lunch and then in one sitting we would be able to complete the whole set, without me necessarily eating all the fast-food.”While Lugue noted that some fast-food restaurants in the Philippines do not give out toys as often as they used to, McDonald’s and local chain Jollibee regularly release new toys every month, which he never fails to add to his collection.
The 50-year-old who lives in Pampanga, a province north of Manila, is a longtime toy enthusiast; he began collecting them when he was 5 years old. The oldest item in Lugue’s fast-food toy collection is a set of Popeye figurines from the 1980s, when chain restaurants were sprouting up around his province. “I remember I was having a dilemma as to whether to continue with my toy collection,” he said, adding that even the more affordable fast-food toys were a strain on his budget as a student. “After buying that set of Popeye toys from Jollibee, the rest, as they say, is history.”
As his fast-food toy collection grew rapidly, it became increasingly tricky for him and his large family—including his parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews—to continue living in their house.“The house was basically packed to the brim, so every nook and [cranny] seemed to have all these fast-food toys,” he said. “It became almost impossible for us to tread a path in that house; they were sprawling everywhere.”
So in January 2014, Lugue and his family decided to build a separate house for his toy collection. When construction of the new house was complete, he saw in the fresh architecture a familiar silhouette—a McDonald’s Happy Meal box. He now refers to the building endearingly as the Happy Meal House.
“The house was basically packed to the brim, so every nook and [cranny] seemed to have all these fast-food toys.”
“It’s a stone's throw away from our house, and I love going there because it really brings back a lot of fond memories,” said Lugue.Inside the three-story Happy Meal House, Lugue’s toys line the walls and are piled up in almost every corner and surface. But being in the Happy Meal House never fails to make him happy. “It’s just like going to [Willy Wonka’s] chocolate factory,” he said.
“It’s basically like a tapestry of my life. Each toy speaks volumes about a particular experience that I have,” he said.
“It’s basically like a tapestry of my life. Each toy speaks volumes about a particular experience that I have.”
“I just love cartoons and I thought that these characters have somehow impacted so much of my life. They’ve been able to dispense a lot of value. They're not just animated characters… I consider them as best friends.” The majority of Lugue’s toys are from the Philippines but he has a fast-growing collection of items from around the world, thanks to friends who bring back gifts from their travels. So, which ones stand out?He got his most interesting toy “when [he] forayed into eBay” and paid over 2,000 Philippine pesos ($42) for some Dennis the Menace figurines from France. He bought them despite the hefty price tag because they looked significantly different from the Dennis the Menace characters he was familiar with.
Lugue is also intrigued by the slight differences in Happy Meal boxes from around the world, and even dedicated a wall to display them in his Happy Meal House.
The biggest fast-food toy in his collection is a stuffed cow from Chick-fil-A that’s about 4 feet tall.
But the most special one, he said, is a small Hetty Spaghetti figurine that he bought with his mother when he was younger. Lugue fondly remembers pestering his mother to go to Jollibee with him so he could get his hands on one. Despite saying that he had too many toys, Lugue’s mother relented because she knew how passionate he was about his collection. They had a meal as Lugue held onto his new toy with a big smile plastered across his face. “I saw in her eyes the happiness, that genuine happiness, seeing that I [was] actually happy,” Lugue said. “That specific toy has always been a testament to how my mother has been very supportive of me.”
The Hetty Spaghetti figurine brought comfort to Lugue when his mother passed away a couple of years ago. “When I saw the Hetty toy, and upon touching it, it was like I was instantaneously transported to that pleasant time where both of us were really happy,” he said. Lugue’s immense love for toys also overlaps with his professional life. He now works as a graphic artist in a national newspaper, where he creates daily comic strips about a child with enormous toys that come to life. He also runs a blog where he regularly shares the stories behind some of his toys.
Even the raging pandemic has not stopped his collection from growing. He’s made the best out of the situation by getting fast-food delivered to his office to enjoy with his colleagues. Of course, he insists that they all get toys along with their orders.He described the toys he bought in the past year as a “testament” to the pandemic, another chapter in the toy collection he called the “journal” of his life. “Despite this abnormal situation that we have, I have a wonderful experience sharing this most unusual way of breaking bread,” he said.Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.