Action figure collecting can be very profitable when you know what you're looking for and, more importantly, what you have. For those collectors who look to their collections as a financial investment, knowing the value of each action figure is extremely important. If you hope to one day resell your figures on the collectible market, you must determine its value according to the demand for the figure and the condition (or grading) it's in.
How much a figure is worth depends greatly on how pristine or how beat up it is. The six basic grades of condition are as follows:
C10: Mint Condition: The figure has no discoloration, paint loss, dirt or grime, has tight joints and includes all of its original accessories. If the figure is still packaged, the package itself must be in equally pristine condition without tears, creases, or damage from torn-off price tags.
C8-9: Near Mint Condition: The figure must be as close to original condition as possible with the allowance of any minor issues, such a single loose joint or one or two missing accessories. Dirt, discoloration or paint loss is still not allowed in this grade.
C6-7: Fine Condition: The figure must still be complete (no missing limbs or broken parts) but may lack most of its original accessories, have some minor wear, discoloration or paint loss. You may often find this grade described as "played with condition".
C4-5: Good Condition: The figure probably has none of its original accessories and clearly shows excessive wear, including noticeable discoloration, some loose joints, and paint loss. Most collectors would still consider this figure to be easily repairable.
C2-3: Poor Condition: The figure is in noticeably bad shape, with very loose joints, major paint loss, and extreme discoloration. A figure in this condition may also show some minor breaks, such as the thumbs being broken off. Most collectors tend to leave figures in this condition alone.
C1: Very Poor Condition: The figure is an absolute mess, with limbs broken off, major paint loss, bite marks from dogs, burn marks from firecrackers, you name it. A figure in this condition is generally considered trash.
Finding the Going Rate
Once you've determined the condition of your figure you can start researching just how much it's worth. But first, keep this in mind; the prices for anything on the collectible market are not set in stone and can fluctuate over time and from one venue to another. (The going price for a figure in a tiny collectibles shop in a small town will be vastly different than its going rate at a large toy convention in a big city.) So once you determine the value of your figure, know that it is simply a rough estimate of the current going rate.
Where to Find Values
Online: A quick search on online auction sites like eBay will give you an excellent idea of the current value of a figure. When searching for a figure, be specific. Searching for "Batman figure" will not give you a narrow enough sampling nor accurate pricing as searching for "1984 Super Powers Batman Near Mint Complete" will. Once you have found a few, get a good average of what the going prices are and stick with that for your figure.
Books: There are dozens of action figure price guides available at your local bookstores and online at Amazon. When buying a price guide, always try to get the latest edition in order to get the most accurate and up-to-date pricing. These books can generally be trusted and are used all over the country by collectors. One excellent price guide comes in an inexpensive 3-volume set called Tomart's Encyclopedia & Price Guide to Action Figure Collectibles.
Magazines: There are a couple of different magazines that focus solely on action figures such as Lee's Toy Review, which contains articles on the latest figures on the market and an extensive price guide for dozens of action figure lines. The benefit of magazines is that you get a month-to-month accurate update of the current market values and with a subscription, it comes right to your door.
Pitfalls of Pricing:
One thing to watch out for in collecting for a financial investment is that an action figure's prices can rise and fall dramatically. So even though you've found a price for a figure last year, you should check again to see if the current market value has risen or fallen. Also, keep up with trends and beware of fads. Some figures simply fall out of fashion and others have a meteoric rise, only to fall just as quickly and stay at the bottom.
When the first Harry Potter movie was released, the action figures were being snatched up from the stores and resold online for hundreds of dollars. Now they can be found at toy conventions, mint in package, for less than their original retail price. Also, keep in mind that the value of a figure is how much a collector could be willing to pay for it, but not at all how much a dealer will be willing to pay for it. So if you decide to sell a figure that's valued at $100, a dealer, who needs to make a profit and can only sell it for its current value, will only offer you $50, possibly less.
But no matter what an action figure's current market value may be, never forget how much it's worth to you.