Grading Toys with the AFA: Worth It in 2021?

Grading toys with the AFA: Worth It in 2021?

Have you been considering sending in your old and vintage toys for grading with the AFA in 2021? We here at Wheeljack’s Lab aim to honestly guide our customers. We understand that many are curious about the Action Figure Authority and the services they offer. For instance, many want to protect and ensure the price of their used toys by sending them in for grading. However, the recent economic climate and other situations place doubt over the timing for grading services.

Before reading on, we would like to emphasize that we have no affiliation or standing with the Action Figure Authority. Also, we do not offer any grading services, so we do not compete against them. Our interest is only in providing an honest guide.

What is the Action Figure Authority and why should I get my toys graded?

Action Figure Authority Logo

If you have ever gone to a convention, like San Diego Comic-Con, you likely saw mint comics in acrylic boxes and stickers with scores. These comics have gone through a grading service to have their quality professionally accessed. Likewise, collectors of action figures and other toys also can turn to a service, likely under the same parent company, to access the mint quality of their toys. The Action Figure Authority is the longest-running service to supply these services.

Decades ago, the Action Figure Authority set out with the goal to standardize how collectors view mint toys. Before their formation, individual stores decided how mint toys were, which created large discrepancies. With the AFA in place, a standard scale for mint toys formed. Luckily, the collecting community accepted their evaluations, so their scale garners respect.

So, how does the AFA grade toys?

After owners send in their toys for grading, the Action Figure Authority rigorously evaluates several factors. First, they confirm that the toy is in its original, unopened state since they will refuse to grade even double taped toys. While collectors with opened toys have the option to send in their toys for loose grading, the mint in box scale supplies the greatest benefit.

They look over the box for wear, tear, and damage. They also check the plastic window, when available, to figure out how clear it is. Finally, they evaluate the toy for imperfections, damage, and paint quality. If the toy is not visible, only the box’s condition will factor into the final grade.

For loose toys, they first confirm that all the accessories and parts are present. If there are missing parts, the AFA will reject the toy and send it back without a grade. Complete toys will continue through their grading process, where they will examine the paint quality. Anything from paint chips to factory paint defects will take away from the final grade.

Understanding the AFA Grading scale

AFA grading scale

Finally, you should understand what the final grades mean. Overall, there are three tiers that the AFA’s grades land under. However, only the top two tiers are valuable in the eyes of collectors. So, you should aim to send in a toy that will fall in the top tiers. Also, for the classic scaling, the AFA will award scores at a factor of 5, so you will never see a grade of 83. Likewise, for their modern scale, they award scores at a .5 increase, with the only exception of anything between 9-10, which will increase at a .25 step. So, while a 9.25 is possible, an 8.75 grade is not.

First, there is the gold tier, where toys that receive a 90-100 score land in. These toys are in the most pristine state. Toys in the gold tier have no visible defects. So, they equate to toys that came straight from the factory floor.

The next tier down is the silver tier, which is where toys with 75-85 grades land. In general, this tier is the most prevalent since the standard mint-in-box toy will garner a silver grade. These toys do have some wear and tear, like their boxes may have dinged-up corners. However, they generally are in great shape.

Finally, any other toys will land in the bronze tier, where any 70 of under grade appears. While the top range of the bronze tier houses toys in excellent condition, they still are not mint. Also, the AFA is not known for awarding grades lower than 60 since they reject any toys that do not meet their standards.

Should I send in my toys for Grading from the AFA in 2021?

Hasbro 1984 Transformers Ramjet

You should consider several factors before deciding to send your toys to the Action Figure Authority in 2021. While the recent pandemic and economic environment has affected the Action Figure Authority’s business, there has also been another element that affected them.

Around early 2021, news outlets began reporting on a first edition Charizard card that sold for over $300,000. Soon after, a craze for Pokémon cards began in full. Along with people snapping up cards left and right, they also flooded the PSA and other similar grading services.

While the AFA does not grade trading cards, the frenzy for graded items undoubtedly hit them as well. Collectors, who had been suffering from the current economy, undoubtedly sought profit by getting their collectibles graded by the CGA. So, while the trading card frenzy did not directly influence the AFA, it did bring grading services into the spotlight.

Tiers not available

The most obvious proof that the AFA has struggled in 2021 is present in their closure of two pricing tiers. So, both the economy and express tiers are unavailable as of the typing of this article. The AFA will not accept any new submissions for these tiers. Thus, collectors interested in receiving an AFA grade must use either the premium or archival tiers. Both tiers are costly, though the premium tier does cost half the price of the archival.

Expected wait times

Further proof of the current climate’s effects on the AFA appears in the current wait times. While the pricing page will state that the wait time for the premium tier is 14-21 days, the front page tells a different story. The AFA has openly admitted that they are expecting delays in their submission process. So, customers that send in toys for grading should expect to wait at least 8 weeks before the AFA even processes their submission.

Furthermore, the AFA’s main page states that if the express and economy tier had remained opened, customers would be waiting five to six months before they processed their submissions. Since the AFA does not currently accept submissions for these tiers, the stated delays are troubling.

New Staff at the AFA

Whether they lost staff due to closures or not is unclear. However, the Action Figure Authority has announced that they hired fresh staff to help hasten their grading services. This just further supports the impression that the recent wave of submissions has overwhelmed them. However, there is another question that inexperienced staff will raise.

With fresh staff comes inexperience and learning curves. While every company regularly hires new staff, a large wave of new hires does raise the chance that an inexperienced individual will grade your toys. Thus, the chances for a misidentification or inconsistent grade significantly raise with new hires.

Inconsistencies in grades from the AFA and other professional services

Hasbro 1986 GI Joe Serpentor w/ air chariot (AFA 85)

Even before 2021, collectors have questioned whether grading services were worthy investments. Some collectors have even proclaimed that grading services are scams.

The likely truth is that even with a set standard grading scale, the judging process is left to subjective opinion. Unlike a computer grading a multiple-choice exam sheet, all action figure grades are subject to the human behind them. Thus, one person will see a small scuff on the paint and weigh it more while another will give it no importance at all.

Human error and subjectivity answer all questions concerning the inconsistency in grades given to toys. Thus, it is only natural that a toy sent in for grading twice will receive two different grades. Thus, if the inconsistencies bother you, no time of year nor decade will change your opinion.

Other available services

Do note that the Action Figure Authority is not the only service that offers professional grading services. Competing services like the Collector Archive Services (CAS) and UK Graders exist. We suggest that you contact them to check on their wait times before you send in your toys for grading.

Our recommendation

Star Wars Kenner AFA Action Figures

Overall, the combination of long wait times and a wave of inexperienced staff do not offer confidence in the AFA in 2021. We do not recommend that you send in toys for grading as of September 2021. However, once the AFA manages to restore the full scope of its services, you should once again consider grading your toys.

We do highly suggest AFA grading for toys, especially toys from the 1990s or earlier since the grades do significantly improve their value. However, the price increase is not worth the uncertainty and wait that the AFA currently provides. Also, we discourage sending in brand new toys for grading.

If your priority is protection for your mint toys, you can buy acrylic cases from the AFA or elsewhere. These dases are a great boon for keeping your toys in pristine quality, but the grade will not supply a significant boost in value for a newer toy. Also, acrylic cases are relatively inexpensive.

Do you have old and used AFA-Graded toys?

If you have a collection of old and used toys, you can turn those toys into cash. There is no reason to let those old toys collect dust. Contact us today to sell your collection of toys with grading from the AFA.

Made in Association with:

Chris Ingledue 


Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

Grading toys with the AFA: Worth It in 2021?
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Grading toys with the AFA: Worth It in 2021?
Are you considering grading your toys and collectibles with the AFA in 2021? Is it worth it to use a professional grading service this year?
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Wheeljack's Lab
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