Collecting Tips

Collecting Tips

Current collecting tip: (scroll down for new info)

Since people ask me pretty regularly for advice on what's out, what to look for, and so on, I thought I'd make a place to share information that might help someone else out. If you have any info that you think other people could use, don't hesitate to let me know. As I'm sure you can tell from reading this site, I'll never give advice on what's going to be "hot" or "valuable". Just what's really great, newly out there, rereleased and so on. Recently spotted on sale: The TRU sales blitz continues, with ToyBiz lines especially clearanced (including Famous Covers at $8 each!). Unfortunately this seems to be part of their new policies which will include carrying a lot less figures in the future, but for now, grab what you want for cheap!

Let the buyer beware

(I'd have put that in Latin but I didn't feel like looking it up...) One of the great things about the internet is that if you want to buy or sell toys, you have access to dealers or customers all over the world, and through tons of places online. So there's all kinds of new ways to find the toys you're looking for. Unfortunately, the internet also encourages some sellers who are not worried about establishing a good name and long-term business like traditional mail-order houses. When you can't see the item in person and you have to depend on someone's description you've got to be careful. I, and other people I know, have seens tons of items online in the past year that were being misrepresented, often purposefully. Let me first say that sometimes people honestly don't know the truth about an item they have, or what it comes with -- and if you contact them with questions they're always happy to work things out and find out more about what they're selling. Wrong information does not necessarily equal scumbag. Unfortunately, though, sometimes it does. Here's some things you can do to protect yourself. 1. Before you shop, learn about the items you're looking for. Sometimes it's not easy, or the information you can find isn't the best...but find out what you can. (See below for more information on finding reference.) 2. Check the actual going price -- not the "guide" price, but some actual selling prices you can see for yourself (doing a completed auction search on ebay is one good way to see what people are actually paying for a particular item). 3. Ask the seller questions, and if you for any reason feel uncomfortable, just back off. There will always be another Figure X, and you may end up glad you waited. 4. Don't fall for typical seller nonsense like "HOT" or "HTF" especially on toys less than a few years old. And definitely don't fall into the "possible rare variation" trap, because that pretty much equals "probably messed up toy". Package misprints and variations are only valuable to a person who actually collects those (and there are some). But as a rule, misprints, accidental paint variations, factory-swapped heads or whatever are going to be worth a lot less to any serious collector. Be a smart shopper -- and you'll have more fun!!

Hey, where'd the pictures go?

I used to have a smattering of images on this site, but I've gone and gotten rid of them, for a number of reasons. One, I ran out of room on the server, and needed to get rid of something or stop adding new stuff. Two, the selection of images I had was so scattershot it was pretty pointless. And three, better images of most of the figures I had images of are readily available online, either on the manufacturer's site, or on one of the great toy sites out there -- you'll find a great selection of images on the sites listed on the links page. I've only kept a very few images, because they were of figures so weird or obscure you probably aren't going to be able to find them anywhere else. Hopefully, now that I'm not bothering with pics of common figs, I can get some images of more weird stuff up.

Help using this site:

I often get letters from people asking why I didn't list a particular figure, only to receive a follow up note shortly, along the lines of "Oops, just found it." If you can't find a figure that you are sure exists, before checking with me about it, try searching through the two main index pages first. Use the "Find" or "Search" function (in Netscape, it's called "Find" and it's in the Edit menu), type in the character you're looking for and check both lists. Chances are you've been looking in the wrong place. For example -- the 8" Mego dolls were in a line called "World's Greatest Super Heroes/Heroines", so Batgirl will be listed there, not under "Batgirl". The only exception to this rule on my lists are the Marvel and Star Trek figures -- as I think it's ridiculous to have a new name for every five figures they put out, I've listed them simply under "Marvel" and "Star Trek". Also make sure it's a US-released figure you're looking for (if not, it may be listed on the foreign figure list). It is of course possible that I don't know about the figure you're looking for -- once you're sure I haven't got it listed, feel free to ask! (Finally -- it is also possible that you are remembering something that didn't exist -- if I don't know about a figure I will research it [I certainly won't assume there's no such thing], but I've had a several reports of figures that someone "remembered having" which I was later able to confirm never actually existed!)

Finding more information:

A lot of the information people ask me for is readily available from other sources. While I don't mind answering people's questions, I can only answer so many inquiries, so please see what you can do on your own before contacting me. The easiest way to find more info is to look for more web pages. Use your favorite search engine (I'm partial to AltaVista Digital myself) and type in whatever you know about the figure you're trying to find out about. There are many in-depth pages on single toy lines that can give you much more information on a figure than I'll ever be able to. Also try: official company sites for current figure lines; pages for the property the figure is based on (show, movie, comic etc); lists of toys for sale (often such lists are very informative and will include photos); and of course, the sites listed in my links page. If your question has been prompted by something from another web site -- check that site thoroughly before asking me about it. I recently got a question from someone who could have had their answer much faster if they'd only continued reading the page they were on for 5 more paragraphs!

Ask me a question:

I am more than happy to help people when I can. If you have read the two paragraphs above, and you've exhausted all avenues of finding the information you need, please go ahead and ask away! However: please do not write to ask me where you can buy these toys, or ask to buy mine. I don't even have all of these figures, and mine certainly aren't for sale. My suggestions for buying toys: For new toys, go to Toys R Us and other toy stores -- that's what I do. Read the Usenet newsgroups rec.collecting.dolls or rec.toys.action-figures and look for "for sale" postings. There are also many web sites where you can buy toys of all kinds -- you will probably turn several of them up when doing a search on any toy line. And, if you start looking through toy and action figure magazines, you will find plenty of ads from established stores and dealers who sell by mail. Also: I do not list a new figure until I have either seen it myself to describe accurately, or one of a group of people who provide me with info do so. If a figure has come out nationally after the last time this site has been updated (see date on front page), that is why it isn't listed yet!!

Have good reference:

It really helps to be informed about the figures you're interested in. What they're supposed to come with, which figure in a series is which (for example, the many versions of April O'Neil or Deanna Troi), what company made them, and most importantly, what they look like. There have been tons of articles about female figures, but the majority are pretty bad -- misinformation or lack of information, terrible photos, etc. The best article that has been published to date appeared in Action Figure News and Toy Review (June 95). It's a long and detailed article (with more info on the Power Rangers series than I want to know) with several pages of good color photos. There is some misinformation (listing male figures as being female, mostly), a good bit of missing info, and I disagree with some of the author's distinctions  -- but overall the article is quite good and the pictures are fantastic. A more recent article appeared in ToyFare magazine -- less archival info, but much more discussion of the "female figure collecting phenomenon". And in general, most action figure-related publications are always worth at least flipping through at the newsstand, because they publish so many photos of different figure lines.

Tomart's (yet another action-figure publication ) has put out a 3-volume encyclopedia of action figures, complete with photos of every line, if not every individual figure. While the price is steep enough to put off all but the most fanatic collector, it's legitimate reference whch you should convince your local library to purchase. The ultimate resource -- you can find photos of practically everything in here, and decide for yourself just how much you really want that figure you've been thinking of buying sight unseen. It's not perfect (I've spotted a few minor mistakes, and there were figures left out) but it's pretty close.

Superqueen tip (updated 12/28/98):

I've seen a lot of misinformation about these much-coveted heroines. Here's some facts: Superqueens were made by Ideal in 1967. They are actually called Comic Heroines, but are known to most collectors as Superqueens-- the designation on the back of the box. They use the "Posin' Misty" body and head, which is marked 1965. (One article claims that she's identical to Tressy -- a doll made by an entirely different company which looks nothing like any Ideal doll.) Many people claim that the Superqueens have distinctive makeup which differentiates them from Misty -- this is not exactly true either. The Superqueens' eye-and eye-makeup color is actually identical to Misty's. And many Posin' Misty dolls have the same subdued blush as the Superqueens (as opposed to earlier Glamour Misty dolls which have very bright makeup). The only major makeup difference is the lip color -- Superqueens have a very pale pink lip color, while Misty's lips are red. However, lip color is very easily faked -- I could do it myself in about five minutes. (And I now own a Misty with the identical lip color and makeup scheme, who is definitely not a Superqueen.) Superqueens have a no-bangs hairstyle, while the regular Misty always has bangs (although, again, there are very rare non-Superqueen Mistys out there with no-bangs hair!) Why do you need to know this? Because (a) a Superqueen is  actually fake-able and (b) a Superqueen outfit on a basic Misty doll looks really great to someone who doesn't know better, which is the more likely scenario for trouble, as I see Misty dolls sold as Superqueens pretty regularly and have yet to see someone try to sell an actual fake; with the prices on these girls being as high as they are, you definitely need to know what you're looking for. The information available on them is pretty sparse and often wrong -- for example, the only doll to come with an extra outfit was the Sears Batgirl, which came without a box or batarang, but with a outfit, and of course Blonde hair, who knows why...but anyway, people often say they all came with extra outfits because the boxes picture their civilian identities, which isn't true -- here's a few things that can help:
  Their lips should always be light pink. There's no known instance of a red-lipped Superqueen, and it most likely means  the doll is a Misty or repainted. (And while it's theoretically possible Ideal may have released a few SQ dolls with different makeup, it is highly unlikely -- and without authentication would be worth less to any serious collector.)
  They never have bangs. Bangs are a sure sign of a Misty. People often think that they may have a SQ because they have a dark-haired Misty and don't know she actually came in several hair colors. But if the doll has bangs, it's definitely a Misty. Here's how their hair should look: Batgirl's hair is center-parted and in a flip, and comes in jet-black or a light blonde (not Glamour Misty Platinum); Supergirl's hair is side-parted on her left, in a flip and a honey blonde; Wonder Woman's hair I've never seen without her tiara, but it appears to go straigh back from her forehead, is in a longer style and deep brown; and Mera's is center-parted, bright red and usually well past her shoulders. (Length will vary depending on how tight the curls are.)
  None of their accessories are replaceable, except the ones swiped from Captain Action sets (the batarang, trident, shield and Krypto). Their boots and shoes are all specific and generally impossible to find. There are no Tammy or Misty accessories that can be substituted.
  In fact, there is little to no chance you will ever find Superqueen pieces individually, and no-one so far has made repros of any of them. A Superqueen who is missing her outfit or accessories is likely to stay that way.
  There are no known variations except for the Sears catalog batgirl (as described above -- she has blonde hair in the same style, came with an extra outfit and apparently no batarang). There is no "Sears version Supergirl" or any other version of any of them.
Basically, don't buy any Superqueen unless you know what the real one looks like. You should generally not buy anything if you can't identify it properly yourself (hey, it's possible the seller doesn't know they've got a fake or or misidentified toy) -- but you should never spend significant amounts of money if you're not sure what you're getting.

Which figures to buy first:

Always, always, pick up brand-new figures while they are on the shelf before spending money on older figures. The older stuff that's already on the secondary market will always be there. But you only get one shot at buying the stuff at it's original retail price. Next priority -- buy old figures on the secondary market before you ever pay secondary prices for a new figure. Those new figures will be available at that hiked-up dealer's price forever, and often in fact become cheaper over time, as demand dies down. And, there's always the chance that those figures will become very cheap -- look how many people bought ToyBiz female figs like Phoenix for $20, and they ended up choking KayBee stores at $2.50 each. You should never buy a new figure off the secondary market unless it's the one character you have been dying for and you really can't wait and you'd rather pay extra to have it RIGHT NOW. In which case, go ahead and treat yourself!

Trading/dealing/hoarding:

In my opinion, dealing in new action figures is an evil practice, guaranteed to screw up your Karma (dealing would be, for example, picking up a figure for a few bucks and then offering it for $20 or "best offer" or something). There's much better ways to make money, believe me. Trading, however (my figure for your figure) is a good way to help other people find stuff they need, and get stuff you need that you never found. Some figures just don't ship to some stores ever, and trading with someone costs little more than buying the figure yourself -- and you've done a good deed and you both (should) feel happy. However, buying up figures in case you might be able to trade them is bad for two reasons: one, you become one of the people who is keeping you from getting toys you want; and two, you can end up spending a bundle and have nothing to show for it but tons of toys in your closet that no-one wants. The best way I've found to trade is to trade with particular people, picking up the things you know they will want. I have ended up with about 5 extra figures because trades fell through (or two people sent me the same thing) but that's a lot better than sitting on a couple hundred dollars worth!!

Scalping or speculation?

In response to the recent imbroglio over the Playmates 1701 Star Trek figures, I tried to examine the problem without bringing the accusatory "scalper" word into it. (For those of you fortunate enough not to know, these figures only 1701 were made of immediately sparked frenzied selling at inflated prices -- seemingly no one who actually wanted the figures got them, and they were all found [yes, at Kmart or TRU or the like for $4.99 or so] and immediately offered to "highest bidder over $500" and so on.) Some people called it scalping, some people got defensive, and a lot of name-calling ensued. Here's what I had to say:

I think a lot of the problem here is that we still don't really know how "valuable" or rare this figure is (the Yesterday's Enterprise Tasha Yar), and the same holds for other new toys. Look at all the Toy Biz figures (i.e. Phoenix) that were being sold for $25, and ended up flooding KayBees at $2.50. Or the WILDCats figures that the same thing happened to. Whenever a toy is still in production, you have no way of knowing how hard it's going to be to get -- Playmates could release 20,000 more and claim that since the packaging doesn't say it's limited they're within their rights to do so. Or they could release more with a slight variation in the packaging -- leaving the original 1701 a rarer version, but making the figure itself not rare at all, which would mean the figures are worth more than the usual secondary market price, but nowhere near the $500-700 I've seen them going for so far. Until a toy is really out of production for good, you have no way of gauging the actual supply and demand -- all sales in the meantime are purely based on speculation of what that supply and demand relationship is going to be, and who knows what it's actually going to be. If a YE Yar ends up being worth about, say, $75 (still high, but...) then a lot of people overpaid drastically because they got swept up in all the speculation that's going on right now. You don't have to call it "scalping", but it is speculation, which is just as evil and more insidious.

Yes, more argument against buying new figures at over-inflated prices. This time perhaps a little more thought out!

What about prices?

Price guides are the bunk. They are designed to sell the magazines that print them, and that's really all. While a glance at a price guide will tell you the range a figure is selling for (i.e. $5 or $500), take those recommendations with a grain of salt. Decide how much that figure is worth to you -- figuring in how much you like that character, how cool the figure looks, how much spending money you have, etc...and then wait until you find it at that price. (And remember, loose is cheaper!) I was looking for the 1st Deanna Troi figure up until recently, and I had decided that it was worth $12 to me. I passed on it at $20 plenty of times, then finally found it at a show for, you guessed it, $12 exactly. (A dealer only 4 tables away had it for $60!!) Don't be unreasonable -- a Mego Teen Titan is never going to fall into your lap for $5. But worry more about the figure's worth to you than its worth to anyone else.

Which figures to buy:

Buy the figures that you like, and the lines that you are a fan of. No-one needs every figure in the world, or even every girl figure. Nothing's wrong with being a completist, but set reasonable (and not-too expensive) goals for yourself and you'll be a lot happier -- every X-Men figure, for example. Or every Star Trek girl. All girls who wear red. Don't be fooled by the idea that action figures can be an investment -- that attitude has nearly destroyed the comic book industry already, and the only people who actually made money off speculation in comic books were the publishers who catered to the trend. Unless you are going to make collectible figures, you are not going to profit off of them. So don't worry about value, investment, etc etc. Just buy what you are going to enjoy!!

And remember, if you're not having fun, then don't do it!

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