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Copyright 1996-1999 Eric G. Myers

This guide may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the author.

Version 1.1


Let me begin by explaining what this document is *not*. This is not intended to be anything more than a guide. Grading is, by nature, a subjective science. There is widespread disagreement about many of the facets of grading. This document will not change that.

This document is not a guide for grading loose figures or the figure itself in the package. Grading loose items is very different than grading the packaging. In grading loose figures, other factors come into play that are not even addressed in grading carded figures (e.g., paint details, loose joints, etc.). However, card condition may be the most significant factor in determining the value of carded figures. In addition, it is wrong to assume that a figure itself is in mint condition simply because it is in the original, sealed package. Figures available off the shelf this very instant have errors or defects which make them less than mint (e.g., paint defects, missing/wrong appendages, etc.). The term "Mint on Card" is slightly deceiving in that it implies that the figure is mint, when in actuality, many people use this term to mean "a new figure that has never been removed from the bubble, played with or altered in any way." While many carded figures will indeed appear "mint" to the satisfaction of most collectors, it is a mistake to assume that all figures produced by any toy company are in mint condition by default.

Just because you bought a figure from the retail rack ten minutes ago does *not* automatically mean that it is MINT C10, even if you were lucky enough to be the person who opened the case and pried the figure lovingly from its tissue-paper berth -- many brand-new, right-from-the-case carded figures have flaws, many fairly significant. Many carded figures are never-for-a-moment-of-their-lives MINT C10, whether because of factory mishandling, transportation mishaps, or even buckling under the weight of other figures in a sealed packing case!

In any system, it is probably easiest to judge the extremes (though still not with perfect agreement). In the system proposed below, a MINT C10 carded figure is assumed to have no flaws whatsoever. Any flaw, no matter how minor, and the carded figure can no longer be considered MINT C10. Some may view this as unusually strict. However, as with comic book grading, one must start from the absolute and work backwards. MINT C10 figures are not as common as you might believe, especially when dealing with items more than just a few years old. Using the system below, many (if not most) items more than a few years old will fall into the C6-C9 range (depending on care and storage).

Much of this document borrows heavily from the comic book grading conventions. Similarly, combinations of flaws are bound to be more important than any strictly laid out system. For example, you may have a figure with a flawless bubble but a card that has severe flaws found in the POOR or VERY POOR categories. This combination of flaws may result in a grade determination of GOOD or even FINE depending on the number or severity of all the defects present. Again, no system is perfect and subjectivity is always present.

This system was developed with modern action figure toy packages in mind. While the guide may be useful for more vintage toys and figures, a good rule of thumb for "modern" may be those items twenty years-old or younger. This includes the first wave of Star Wars toys (circa 1977) all the way through the very latest Toy Biz or McFarlane Toys releases. While I am familiar with many lines of toys that fall outside this 20 year boundary, I would suggest caution in applying these guidelines to toys of that vintage because packaging was significantly different (e.g., more reliance on boxes rather than cards) and may have idiosyncratic flaws or weakness not directly addressed by this document.

In an attempt to preserve the grading conventions already in place in the collecting community (as sparse and ambiguous as they may be), the C1-C10 labels have been preserved. However, for ease of use, the system collapses some of the numerical categories (with the exception of the extremes which stand alone). In addition, this system "borrows" the categorical terminology (e.g., NEAR MINT, GOOD, POOR, etc.) already established in comic grading. This combination of ratings is an attempt at increasing specificity while maintaining the easy "rule-of-thumb" terminology.

No system can be perfect. This proposal is no exception. Defining arbitrary categories such as C-7 or NEAR MINT will not be as useful as defining individual flaws. Similarly, even if this system is adopted and adhered to by everyone to the letter, personal preferences and biases will always be more important. For example, you may consider a bit of bubble yellowing to be perfectly acceptable for a hard to find Return of the Jedi or Secret Wars figure. But you may find that same level of yellowing unacceptable for a new Power of the Force 2 or X-Men figure.

A note of caution: Just because you see a seller using terminology found and/or defined in this document, it does not necessarily mean that they have used this system in grading their figures. Much of the terminology used in this document has become common among serious dealers and casual collectors alike. By the same token, the meanings of many of these terms can vary considerably between individuals. Do not assume that you know what an individual means by using *any* term. If card/bubble condition is at all important to you, ask for a list of specific flaws. Do *not* rely on an amalgamated term or number (e.g., NEAR MINT or C9) in making your selections. The ratings "NEAR MINT" or "C9" can have vastly different meanings to different sellers. A reputable seller will inform potential buyers of any flaws or defects in a direct manner. Amalgamated ratings, be they numbers or terms, may be useful in the process of purchasing or selling figures, but more detailed descriptions are almost always warranted at some point in the process. As a seller, be prepared to give them. As a buyer, be prepared to ask for them.

Personal preferences count for a lot here. You may be very tolerant of some types of defects but be totally turned off by other types. Know what you can tolerate and know what you absolutely don't want. There are literally millions of toys out there in many various conditions. Chances are, if you are patient, you can find almost any toy in a condition you can accept.

A word on values and grading. In a perfect world (with a perfect grading system) we could easily assign a percentage of value for each grade. Unfortunately, its just not that simple. There are several issues at hand. First, there is the issue of how to estimate the "full value" or "true value" of a completely mint item. Should we use a price guide? If so, which one? What if there are discrepancies between price guides? Secondly, there comes the issue of depreciation. Are certain flaws more important in determining depreciation or is it the overall "grade" of the item? How should one scale depreciation? Questions like these will go unanswered by this document.

However, I will suggest an overall rule of thumb:

For buyers: An item is only worth what you would pay for it, regardless of the condition.

For sellers: An item is only worth what someone else would pay you for it (or how much they would have to pay you to convince you to sell it), regardless of the condition.

Please send any comments, suggestions or questions to: [email protected]

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