Action Figure Values and Grading Guidelines

Below are the general factors that affect the estimation of an action figure’s value, and you need to understand these factors well in best utilizing any Price Guide for your own situation. Below also are the different types of values guides available for action figure collectors. Each one has different advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, having a single resource for action figure values remains a very useful thing for collectors – saving collectors countless hours of research and providing collectors with the ability to understand their collection as a whole better.

A word about “price” vs. “value.” We define a “price” as a specific dollar amount, tied to a specific item and the offer of a seller to exchange that item for that amount of money. Therefore, only the seller of an item can set the “price.” A “value” is a much rougher estimation of the general price ranges that the market is bearing. The “value” can be used as a guide for “pricing,” but the two terms are not synonymous. As shown below, there are a number of factors sellers should use in setting their prices, with the “value” shown in the “Price Guide” only being one of these factors.

Before we review the factors of affecting the value of action figures, we need to summarize two important topics – terminology and condition.

Action Figure Vocabulary & Terminology

Here is a review of some of the common terminology and abbreviations action figure collectors will see.

  • A/O - All Original. The figure comes complete with everything it came with originally. It has not been repainted or repaired.
  • Exclusive - All Original. The figure comes complete with everything it came with originally. It has not been repainted or repaired.
  • HTF - “Hard to find” This is a very subjective description, but it nonetheless is sometimes a useful description for collectors.
  • Limited edition - Again, this is a descriptor used with a wide variability of definition. It generally means a figure with a less-than-standard quantity produced. Whether that means that “only 100” or “only 100,000” depends on the circumstance.
  • Mail-in premiums - Figures only available by mailing in something to receive the figure. Often, the collector needed to clip “proofs of purchase” to redeem for the “mail-in premium” figure.
  • MIB - (No, not “Men in Black”!) This is the common abbreviation for “Mint in Box,” which implies a never-opened, factory-grade figure.
  • MIP - The common definition for “Mint in Package,” which is similar to MIB except that all accessories are in their packages.
  • Mint & complete - Used for a “loose” figure, meaning that the figure is in excellent condition and has all of its original accessories.
  • MNB - This abbreviation stands for “Mint, no box.”
  • NM - An abbreviation for collectors too lazy to use a real grading score, yet want to imply that their figure is not in perfect condition.
  • NRFB - Again, just for your information. It stands for “Never removed from box.” Likely same definition as MIB.
  • Prototype - Prototype action figures are designs that never made it to production. These were often factory-only figures to help designers and marketers develop the product.
  • Variant - A variant can occur because a mistake is made in production and the figure is pulled, fixed and reissued.
  • Chase - A Chase figure results when a manufacturer will intentionally alter the clothing, painting or pose of a figure to create a variant for the collector community. Typically, variants are defined by their appearance versus the photo on the packaging itself. 
  • Build-A-Figure (BAF) - A Build-A-Figure is a figure that is available only by assembling its constituent parts which were packaged with other figures. These figures do not have their own packaging.

Condition and Grading of Action Figures

One of the most important factors in valuing any collectible item is its condition. Since condition is a complex and subjective assignment for many collectibles (action figures being no exception), and since having a scale to quickly compare one item against another, various “grading” definitions have evolved to help collectors.

Our “C-Scale” Packaged Action Figure Grading

DASH Action Figures suggests to its users to use the “C-Scale” Packaged Action Figure Grade definitions described by Eric G. Myers. These definitions are very relevant to the particular ways packaged action figures can show wear and imperfections. Because of their relevance and specificity, these definitions provide a helpful guide for collectors.

  • C10 (Mint) - Card is flat with bright, clear colors. Depending on original condition, most cards have a noticeable sheen. No stains, tears, holes, or writing (with the possible exception of autographs) Card may be punched or unpunched, though some collectors view an unpunched card with no other flaws as the pinnacle of "mintness." Edges are tight, no fraying or separation allowed. No corner curl, creases, price tags, or card surface tears allowed. Bubble is Clear, completely attached, no yellowing, no crushing, no dents, dings, malformations or cracks of any size.
  • C8-9 (Near Mint) - Card is flat (or nearly flat) with bright, clear colors. Depending on original condition, most cards have a noticeable sheen. No stains, tears, holes, or writing (with the possible exception of autographs). Card may be punched or unpunched. Edges are tight, no fraying or separation allowed. No corner curl, creases, price tags, or card surface tears allowed. Bubble is Clear, completely attached, no yellowing, no crushing, no dents, dings, malformations or cracks of any size.
  • C6-7 (Fine) - Card may be curled and/or creased to some degree (no cracking of ink/print). Colors are still reasonably bright though some of the original sheen may have faded. Card has no major tears, stains, holes or writing (with the possible exception of autographs. See above). Card may be punched or unpunched. Edges are mostly tight. May have some minor fraying or separation (section[s] less than 1 inch in length total). Corner curl may be more pronounced with minor permanent creasing/cracking of print and/or fraying of card at corners (1-2 corners). Minor creases allowed. No cracking of print or ink allowed along creases. Small tears (less than 1/8 inch) permitted. Some bubble yellowing may have occurred. Bubble may appear light tan or yellowish, but not dark tan or brown. Bubble is not opaque. Bubble is still primarily attached (i.e., there is no possibility that the figure could have been removed), though may have detached sections smaller than 1/2 inch without tears to any other part of the card front. Bubble may show some signs of damage or crushing if reformed. Minor dents or dings are allowable. Cracks less than 1/8 inch are allowed.
  • C4-5 (Good) - Card may be curled or creased permanently including cracked print/ink. Original sheen may have almost completed faded to a flat, dull finish though colors remain. Card may have small tears (less than 1/2 inch). Card may also have some stains/dirt and/or writing (including autographs). Small holes may also be present (1-3 pinholes or one large hole less than 1/4 inch in diameter). Edges may have some minor fraying or separation (section[s] less than 3 inches in length total). Corner curl may be severe with permanent creasing/cracking of print with severe fraying of card corners (1-4 corners). More severe creases that may include cracking of print or ink. Larger tears (less than 1/4 inch) permitted. Bubble may be medium tan, but not completely brown. Bubble is not completely opaque. Bubble is still primarily attached (i.e., there is no possibility that the figure could have been removed), though it may have detached sections smaller than 1 inch. This detachment may involve other parts of the card front including tears to the print/ink. Bubble may have cracks less than 1/4 inch. May have pronounced bubble damage such as crushing or large dents without any reformation
  • C2-3 (Poor) - Card may be almost completely folded over or severely curled/creased including cracked print/ink. Original sheen may have completely faded to a flat, dull finish and colors/inks themselves may have also faded/discolored. Card may also have more pronounced stains (such as water stains) or dirt. Card may have more pronounced tears or holes. Edges may have pronounced fraying and separation (greater than 3 inches total). May be severe with permanent creasing/cracking of print with severe fraying of card corners (2-4 corners). Card may be permanently creased with cracked print/ink. Card can be almost completely folded over. Severe yellowing may be present. Card may be completely brown or opaque in sections. Bubble is still attached, though it may be detached on up to two complete sides. Although unlikely, it may be possible that the figure could have been removed and re-inserted into bubble. Detached areas may involve the card front surface including pronounced tears in the print/ink. Bubble may be completely crushed (if figure is undamaged) and contain major dents/dings without any reformation. Bubble may have cracks up to inch in length.
  • C1 (Very Poor) - Card may be completely ripped or curled with permanent crease. One or more prominent holes may be present. Water stains (or other stains) and similar damage may also be present. Card may have writing (including autographs). Print colors may have faded completely in spots. Card front and back may be completely unattached (two separate sheets of cardboard) or may be severely frayed. Corners may be severely curled or torn with permanent creasing/cracking (< 2 corners). Card may be permanently creased with cracked print/ink. Card can be completely folded. Large tears (over 1 inch) due to price tag or other removal may be present. Bubble may be cloudy or opaque totally or in part. Large cracks (larger than 2 inches) may be present. Bubble may be detached from card to the point which the figure may have been removed. Major crushing or other bubble damage may be present.

Alternative “C-Scale” Grading

Some other online sites use a similar but more generalized (and therefore less useful) “C-Scale” grading scheme. The definitions of this grading are:

  • C10 - The C10 rating represents perfection and is incredibly rare
  • C9 - Figures have minimal defects and are excellent collector-quality toys
  • C8.5 - Figures are in very good condition
  • C8 - Figures with the lowest collector-grade rating, have visible flaws, but do not look worn
  • C6-7 - Figures have rips and apparent flaws
  • C5 - Figures with very poor quality. They often have large parts missing and well-worn features

NOTE: Collectors need to understand the exact definitions of the grading scales in use at different sites/publications, since the seemingly similar C-Scale definitions have significant differences.

AFA Grading

The last important grading scheme popularly used within the action figure community is by a company called the Action Figure Authority (AFA). For a fee, the collector physically mails their figure to the AFA who examines it and applies their own grading to it. The collector receives their figure back in a special case with a certificate and sticker that displays the AFA Grading for that figure. AFA-graded figures typically have a higher resale value and are better preserved for collectors.

Collectors should consult for more information about the AFA services, but for packaged action figures, there are two scales. The AFA “Modern Grading Scale” is for figures produced from 1995 to the present. It is a 10-point scale that helps the AFA graders “better assess an item’s relative condition to that of other similar items with small production and packaging flaws.” The AFA “Standard, Qualified, & Loose” grading scale ranges from 10 to 100. Depending on the particular figure (how packaged, loose, etc.), the AFA graders may apply sub-grades for the card, plastic window, mailer box, etc when using this scale.

Main Factors Affecting Values

Supply/Demand: The definition of an action figure’s “value” to DASH Action Figures is relative to how much another collector would pay for that figure. The biggest factors are of course supply and demand for the specific figure itself. Rarity matters a lot. If the production run of the figure was very limited or if the figure was lightly collected at the time of its production (for example, sometimes “free” Happy Meal figures are valued higher than standard retail issue figures), the value may be higher. Conversely, even if the supply is low, if the demand for a figure is low, then so too will its value. For example, the release of a major motion picture for a brand will sometimes elevate the value of all figures for that brand.

General Economic Conditions: As with most collectible items, the overall price of action figures has declined recently. Based on a survey covering the sale of 50,000 action figures in 2009 versus the sale of 50,000 action figures in 2010, the average sales price of action figures has declined by about 4.5%.

Location: While not an obvious factor, the location of your figures may impact their overall value. For example, figures in major metropolitan areas will likely net a higher sales price due to the easier (and cheaper) access to more potential buyers than if you are located in a more remote part of the country or world.

How It's Sold: There are several different ways to sell action figures, each with varying elements of cost, convenience and reach. The prices for action figures is typically different for these sales channels.

  • Online  - Due to the vast global reach of the Internet, the majority of collectible action figures is sold via online marketplaces, such as DASH Action Figures, eBay, Amazon, and others. Because all of the sellers virtually compete with each other even across these marketplaces and pricing is transparent, the online marketplaces tend to be more “market efficient” – meaning that the competition across sellers makes pricing competitive. Likewise, buyers like the convenience of having the figures shipped to their doorstep. However, because shipping tends to be expensive relative to the overall cost of the figure, the total price for a figure bought online may be higher than one bought at retail. And because online sellers also need to compete with retail outlets, it puts even more price pressure on sellers in online marketplaces. Therefore, sellers online need to be very attentive to the costs of listing and selling in various marketplaces – there can be substantial differences. For example, Amazon is typically one of the most expensive marketplaces, charging more than 20% on the sale of a typical action figure. Conversely, DASH Action Figures charges less than 5%. (eBay is between 15-20% typically.)
  • Retail / Local – The total price paid for an action figure is usually less when purchased locally. “Cash-and-carry” too is appealing because the buyer can assess the condition of the figure he is purchasing by physically inspecting it, rather than relying on photos or written descriptions. However, the selection at retail outlets or shows is much more limited that with online marketplaces.
  • Wholesale – Collectors can sell action figures to retail or online dealers at “wholesale” prices. While perhaps the most convenient and fastest way to sell action figures, the prices realized by selling wholesale can be 50% less than if the action figure is sold online or locally.

Condition: As discussed previously, the condition of your action figure is a major determining factor of the pricing between two specific figures. Figures in their original packaging command a higher price for most action figures, though if the demand for the figure is primarily from “loose” action figure collectors (for kit-bashing or customizing, for example), then the price variation for packaged vs. loose will not be substantial. Nevertheless, for many action figures, excellent condition, AFA-graded figures will typically be the most valued. Next, well-photographed, excellent condition non-AFA-graded figures will command the next highest price, with a fairly large drop in value for packaged figures below C7.

Identification: Of course, an often overlooked issue for collectors in assessing an action figure’s value is simply being sure of the identification of what figure they actually have. Without this knowledge, collectors may end up selling a rare variant figure for the price of the common version of that figure. Only by consulting comprehensive resources like DASH Action Figures’ Universe or having the advice of experts in that brand of figure will collectors be able to be sure which figure they actually have.

As an example of this, consider the Marvel Legends Series 2 (Face Off) action figure, Jigsaw vs. Punisher. Most marketplaces and listings will show the standard figure which has a market value of $30 - $40. However, if you have the variant of this figure (with Jigsaw in a white suit), the market value is much higher (around $80). Without consulting a comprehensive action figure resource, you might never even know that the variant even exists.

Sources of Action Figure Pricing Information

Traditionally, expert collectors would compile books called Price Guides. These books served as both a good resource for collectors, but they also would give collectors a feel for the value of the different action figures. Since the widespread adoption of the internet and the emergence of large collector communities and marketplaces however, the demand for these printed Price Guides has waned. Simply put, the time it took to compile, lay out, publish and distribute a printed book made it incomplete and dated by the time of its publication. Consequently, there are few up-to-date printed Price Guides today.

To respond to this challenge, magazine publishers created action figure price guide magazines. These magazines could be printed and distributed cheaper and therefore could be updated more quickly. Lee’s Toy Review, Tomart’s Action Figure Digest, and Wizard World’s ToyFare magazines began publication with some part or all of the issue devoted to action figure pricing.

Increasingly though, collectors have turned to online sources for values guidance for action figures. A commonly used tool for collectors is searching eBay’s “Completed Listings.” By looking at a number of actual sales, collectors can get a good perspective for a figure’s current market value. There are several problems with this approach nonetheless. First, it is a manual process. A good bit of the time in doing this research is to perfect your search query well enough to be sure you are looking at the right figure. (See the issues above about Identification.) Additionally, there is very little information about the actual transactions you are looking at. For example, sometimes stock packaged figure photos are used, but the actual figure purchased was a loose figure. No condition information is available, and there is no assurance that the seller even knew the correct name or criteria for assessing that figure’s condition. So, while eBay “Completed Listings” remains a good source for “spot-checking” the value of an action figure, it has inherent weaknesses and limitations.

Another online resource is the values associated with more than 60,000 action figures in the DASH Action Figures Catalog. Because each value is specifically associated with uniquely identified figures (each of which typically have a photo, manufacturer, year, UPC, series, height or other useful data for positive identification), collectors can be assured they are looking up the “right” figure. There are convenient links to the DASH Marketplace where collectors can see the asking price of similar figures. Finally, because DASH encourages community involvement, it makes it easy for collectors to give feedback about the values for each figure. This values feedback insures that the values published in DASH remain accurate and up-to-date, as the Collector-ActionFigures team takes this feedback from collectors and evaluates to see if the values published in DASH should be revised.

Benefits of the DASH Action Figure Price Guide

The DASH action figure price guide is uniquely valuable for several reasons. It is a consolidated price guide across many brands. It is community-maintained. And, it is integrated as an online resource for collectors.

Consolidated: We have seen that the vast majority of action figure collectors collect a range of different types of action figures. For example, based on the Collector-ActionFigures collecting community:

  • 44% of Star Wars collectors also have Transformers in their collections
  • 30% of Star Wars collectors also have G.I. Joe in their collections
  • 26% of G.I. Joe collectors also have Transformers in their collections
  • 55% of DC collectors also have Marvel figures in their collections

Let’s face it, collectors get passionate about certain types of figures, and they join forums and visit web sites that have in-depth information about particular brands and figures, etc. But, if the price guides for these brands were separated into these “silos”, the guidelines would undoubtedly be inconsistent.

Furthermore, if the values for the diverse set of figures most collectors have are spread out across multiple sources or sites, aggregating this information across a collector’s full collection becomes inordinately difficult. Because Collector-ActionFigures has the so many values for the full spectrum of action figures (about 700 brands represented now!), the members of Collector-ActionFigures can get interesting and useful reports such as their My Collection Report.

Community-Maintained: Values change -- period. They change in time based on a number of factors previously discussed. With so many to keep track of, how can one site manage it? Clearly, with a large-enough sales history over time that is tied carefully to the specific identification of figures and a consistent definition of condition, the sales histories of specific items can help automate the updating of the values. DASH has started doing this, and continues to accrue more values every day, but we also use community resources to help. 

DASH solicits feedback from its members. With a simple “Too High” or “Too Low” feedback form, collectors can alert the expert team to review the values of specific figures and make targeted updates. DASH does not allow members to directly change the values of figures since we don’t want to allow the seller of a figure to use the “value” to justify the price for the figure they are selling.

Online: This one’s pretty obvious. Given the scope, dynamics, and utility of having the values tied to a collector’s collection, printed price guides fail. With a searchable database of figures too, online catalogs are more convenient than paging through a book or magazine. With the availability of this information on a mobile phone too, Collector-ActionFigures also provides the “access anywhere” benefits of printed guides.