Want to make money collecting action figures?
You may think that action figures are just for kids, but not only is there a huge adult following, there’s also big money to be made from them. Serious collectors can and will pay a lot for rare collectables and memorabilia that you might have just lying around in your home.
A dusty figurine of Captain Kirk from the ’80s? You could be sitting on a gold mine!
- Selling your action figure ‘junk’
- Collecting action figures as an investment
- Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter v Star Wars & Batman
- What to look out for
- How much can I make?
From selling what looks like junk, to starting a potentially profitable collection yourself. Here’s how to get started:
The first way to make money from collecting action figures is to sell the ones you’ve got in your house to collectors.
Action Figure Insider and ToyNews have two of the most popular forums for discussing action figures and are good places to pick up the buzz on the latest news. Plus there are also sections where you can advertise you.
If you’re listing on Amazon or eBay (which have a wider audience), look for similar products and their pricings to get a general idea of what your item’s worth. Read on below for info on how to determine how valuable your item is. Plus take a look at our guide to selling on eBay for more tips.
No matter where you’re selling (including at second-hand shops), doing your research beforehand is vital.
The general rule of thumb is that ‘rare = valuable’ isn’t always the case when it comes to action figures. There’s a fine line between being relatively rare but not in demand. So always do your research, and stick to the three rules of action figure selling:
Generally, the older the item, the rarer it is and hence more valuable. This is because the older the item, the fewer are likely to have survived.
You’d be surprised what sells, so don’t just chuck something out in your spring cleaning just because you think it’s rubbish.
An item may not be particularly rare, but could increase in popularity because of a number of factors:
- A surge of interest generated by a new movie
- Death or retirement of actor
- For example, Spider-man merchandise enjoyed an increase in popularity after the release of the recent blockbuster movies.
The death of key actors can also affect the price of action figures. For example, the death of Heath Ledger in 2008 pushed up the price of the Joker merchandise. You may even have bought a Joker action figure for your child for Christmas. Keep it safe and well; there’s a very good chance you may be cackling in glee in a few years time.
So think before you throw away things because they’re no longer in fashion. Fashion is cyclical – you never know when it’ll be back in.
Collectors value condition almost as much as rarity. If your item’s terribly defaced or unrecognisable, it’s not going to fetch much.
Faulty editions can also still fetch a good price. But be wary of the difference between a flaw in the condition of the figure, and a flaw within the figure itself. A flaw in the condition means the item is scuffed, dented or faded, making it less valuable. But a flaw within the figure could be a manufacturing boo-boo – for example if the face is the wrong colour, or the label on the packaging is wrong.
If the casement on your action figure is in good condition it can boost the item’s resale value. The packaging (also referred to as the bubble and card) is evaluated for flaws – look out for dents, scratches, creases, rips and overall appearance. The figure itself is judged on things like paint wear, scratches, loose joints and missing pieces.
The Action Figure Authority issues the recognised standards on action figure grading. The categories are split into the AFA Gold Standard, the AFA Silver Standard and the AFA Bronze Standard. See Toygrader for more information.
As with anything else, be careful of scams, false descriptions, non-delivery or non-payment. If you’re planning to be a serious collector/seller, always be scrupulous and always be completely honest about what you’re selling.
The negative feedback you get on sites like eBay can completely ruin your reputation, and there are sections on forums to warn about dodgy dealers. Word gets around, even on the web.
There’s also money to be made by buying action figures that are on sale now and selling them off in the future for big profits.
Obviously, you should derive some pleasure from having a collection of your own. If you don’t, it’s more difficult to be in tune with what collectors will be wanting in the future and therefore to make as much profit.
So if you hate action figures, but thought you could count on them to make you a pretty penny in the future, you might be severely disappointed.
That being said, we do have a couple of tips for buying to sell in the future:
- Snap up limited runs or special editions
Anything that is likely to become rare in the future will make you more cash – it’s a no-brainer. But a word of warning: with mass production of action figures nowadays, a ‘limited run’, ‘special edition’ or ‘extra features’ means pretty much nothing. Manufacturers are seeking to maximise profits NOW, which means selling as many copies as they can.
Be that as it may, it’s a good bet to get your hands on first editions, limited runs or ‘specials’, just on the off-chance.
- Film paraphernalia is a safe bet
It’s so difficult to tell what will become popular in 20 or 30 years’ time. A good safe bet is a popular film franchise. A recent example is Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter merchandise, which is readily available now, but will be sought after in the future. See Forbidden Planet or, for official merchandise, the LotR shop and the Harry Potter Shop.
As a quick taster, you can buy an Arwen Butterfly Brooch for $149.95, a Hedwig owl figure for $14.95 and a 7 inch Deathly Hallows Harry Potter figure for £11.99.
For a time, short admittedly, it looked like both the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings franchise had run their course. With less future interest, the value of some of the collectibles might have been lessened because of less future interest (although it could be argued that LotR/HP merchandise would appreciate in value as time goes by, as both the Tolkien estate and J.K. Rowling keep a firm hold on their merchandising and commercialisation.)
Meanwhile the Star Wars and Batman franchises are only limited to the imagination of their creators George Lucas and DC Comics respectively. Future films would boost the popularity and value of the current merchandise among younger collectors in the future. Indeed a new Star Wars film will be out at the end of 2015 and Batman will be taking on the Man of Steel in Batman vs Superman in 2016.
Yet these examples show how unpredictable the market is. The Hobbit trilogy has since began its time in the cinemas, with only the third film left to go, and has kept interest alive in Middle Earth, and the new movie Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, set in the world of Harry Potter, will undoubtedly spark interest again in everyone’s favourite wizard. Meanwhile the merchandise for the new Star Wars movies will probably be mass produced and more people will be wise to the potential profits of that franchise (in fact, a far easier way to make profits from the Star Wars franchise is by collecting LEGO Star Wars. Read more about collecting Lego here.)
The real reason the original Star Wars merchandise made so much is because most people didn’t buy it expecting to make a profit, they bought it because they loved the franchise. A more recent example is Toy Story merchandise. Whilst first edition Woody and Buzz might not fetch a fortune yet, in a few decades time there is no doubt that boxed toys will be worth a lot, but most people originally bought these toys just to make their children happy. Ultimately to make big returns you have to take a risk and you have to buy figures that you’ll enjoy; there are no guaranteed returns so get as much enjoyment out of the figures as you can.
To increase your chances of a profit:
- Keep your receipts
Where possible, keep your receipts or proof of purchase. In these days of cheap pirated knock-offs from China, it’s imperative that you have proof that what you bought is original.
- Go underground
Trawl internet forums and chatrooms to see what the underground buzz is. The Next Big Thing depends on the people, fans and consumers making it The Next Big Thing. Ride the wave and you may possibly see it pay off.
- Keep your stuff safe
Keep your things in mint condition. This means bubble wrap, boxes and a dry storage area. A leg missing on Superman or Wonder Woman is going to render it virtually worthless, so if you’re buying it as an investment, it makes sense to protect your products.
Don’t go running back to the shop’s complaints department just because there’s a slight defect on your action figure. Collectors value these ‘flaws’. Remember it’s all about one-up-manship. If they can boast about having something that no one else has, they’re willing to pay good money for it.
Good looks aren’t everything
When it comes to Star Wars toys, the hideous, puffing, overweight Jabba the Hutt could be worth more to collectors than a Han Solo. This is because manufacturers know the attractive, exciting characters will be the more popular sellers so they make more of them. They don’t produce as many of the less attractive ones – making them rarer and more valuable.
Don’t ignore the supporting characters
Sidekicks are less popular than main characters when the toys are originally made and so there are fewer manufactured. Again, this means they’re rarer and more highly valued.
Alfred the butler could therefore potentially be worth more than his boss, Batman.
If you collect merchandise from the television series Xena Warrior Princess, leave Xena on the shelf and snap up Joxer, her geeky hanger-on. His drop kick might not be as spectacular but he’ll pack more of a punch as an investment.
Look out for any special characters which will be produced in smaller numbers and so will be worth more in the future. Snap them up while you can.
The characters need not necessarily appear in a ‘special edition’ as they will be valuable regardless. It’s key to know your subject matter, so you can make a better guess as to what’ll sell in the future.
This market is a largely underground one, driven by fans and collectors. It still revolves around the internet, car boot sales and fan conventions, rather than huge auction houses and massive publicity.
The limited market means that you probably won’t be making a steady income from selling action figuress in the future, especially if what you have is a generic bog-standard edition.
It works both ways though; the compulsive nature of the fandom means that certain prized items go for top dollar, and even casual collectors may be willing to pay for a relatively known piece.
- With a quick search on eBay, a 1985 Obi Wan Kenobi action figure is going for £2,450, while a Cho Chang at the Yule Ball doll (Harry Potter) is going for £1,945. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
- Top dollar: 1985 Star Wars Yak Face – boxed, mint (£57,500 February 2012)
- Don’t bother: 1977 Star Wars Chewbacca – unboxed, used (£1.90 March 2012)
Collector – Dom White
Dom White was born in 1980 and has been collecting toys and action figures for the last twenty years. Dom does most of his trading through online forums and fan sites and uses eBay only as a last resort because of the huge amount of fake merchandise there. Dom says you should buy in person for peace of mind as you can check the item and know that it’s the genuine article.
Dom scours boot sales every weekend, but finds older toys harder to come by. He’s now concentrating on collecting newer items, having finally got his hands on his most treasured toy – a Transformers Soundwave from 1987. (One of these recently sold for over £450 on eBay.) Dom desperately wanted a Soundwave as a boy and even wrote to makers Hasbro asking if they could send him one. This, he says, is one of the main pleasures in collecting as an adult – owning items you once had or always wanted to have but couldn’t afford.
Dom has sold toys all over the world and once received over £700 for 63 Kinder Egg toys and is amazed at the prices some items go for. He believes this is down to eBay and the way bidding wars start, with people not wanting to give up on an item.
Dom’s number one tip for aspiring collectors is: do your research. He says if there’s a fan forum for the item you’re after, get involved in it and benefit from the knowledge and experience of others.
If you’ve had success buying and selling action figures, tell us all about it below – we always love hearing from you!