Today I thought I’d set out to teach you how to grade vintage action figures and toys. As the sole buyer and grader for Wheeljack’s Lab, I have personally evaluated and priced over 400,000 action figures, toys and collectibles. I sell to both dealers and private individuals. So let’s see how Wheeljack’s Lab both buys and sells Transformers and toys.
Why Learn How To Grade Action Figures?
First, one ground rule, understand that I may grade a vintage action figure differently than you and that’s okay. This is a general guide and it is subjective. Knowing what issues to look for will save you money when buying used action figures or toys. It will also give you a basis for evaluating and then more importantly insuring your collection. Learn why to insure your collection. If you are looking for a tool to keep track of your collection look to Bahweep, note it’s for G1 Transformers only at this time.
Grading vintage action figures is not rocket science and for the most part, repetition is the key along with buyer feedback. You start with a figure and give it a grade out of 100. The lower the number the lower the quality of the item. Personally, I modeled my own grading scale to reflect comic book grading scales from the very start in 1999. My scale will be discussed in more detail at the end of this article.
What is Being Graded?
Unfortunately, there are many different things that need grading: paperwork, parts, action figures, and toys, boxed, and even sealed items. I will discuss specifically: grading sealed toys, boxed toys and loose action figures.
How to Grade Sealed Action Figures
When an item is sealed there are three main factors of concern.
Package type, which can be bagged, carded, or boxed. Specifically for boxed and carded figures, are there any of the following: yellowing, fading, holes, stains, water damage, price tag issues, tears, rips, creases, edge wear, dog eared corners, and more?
Quality of the box window and or blister tray bubble. Is it yellowed, cracked, dented, crushed, marked on, have holes, and more?
The quality of the figure is a little simpler when sealed. Is it yellowed? Does the paint appear to be to specifications? Is it painted well? How is the chrome? Does the mold itself have issues? And more.
I then give each of these individual classifications a grade to determine a toy’s buy and sell prices. Now be aware many would say this grade is arbitrary and subjective. And I agree. But you have to start somewhere, with something, when you are buying and selling. What one dealer sells as a 90 grade, another may sell as a 95. For me, the key is consistency, which is why I do all my own grading. Do I miss things? I do indeed and I just try and make that right the best I can. No one is perfect.
How to Grade Boxed Action Figures
The buying and selling process and in turn grading of Mint In Box (MIB) toys is the same as grading sealed except now we literally have a loose figure, weapons, and paperwork. I will discuss the grading of loose action figures in a moment, but the grading of MIB items is just a culmination of the two.
How to Grade Loose Action Figures
Different types of action figures have different attributes to look for, for our purposes here, I will focus on G1 Transformers, which is my specialty. I break the figures down into three subgroups just like with sealed boxes which are: figure, stickers, and joints. Then I grade the accessories. I feel breaking each one down gives people more information and a better feel for the overall condition. Some customers, for example, want the toy to have every sticker. Others don’t care and intend to replace them all anyway.
Loose Figure Subgrades Explained
The figure condition factors I include directly are the plastic surface, metal surface, paint, and chrome conditions. I will also list separately if it needs cleaning, if it has any rust, if it has any oxidation and if the mechanism (if it had one) still works.
The stickers could be listed in a number of ways depending on what is going on. Some examples include a literal grade which means it has them all (keeping in mind some items have nearly 100 stickers) and they are in good shape. Some missing is another. For those with play wear, I simply say “show wear.” In those cases, where some are nice and some aren’t, I would say have “some wear.” This system is not perfect but it’s what I do and has seemed to work well.
Joints are classified as tight, semi-tight, and loose. This is an overall grade. If, for example, a figure is tight, with one loose joint that really sticks out I would list that joint as “Tight with arms loose,” which means the rest are good.
The weapons at this point are also listed and graded.
Why No Gem Mint Loose Toys?
Vintage Toys were mass-produced. They were toys that we treat as collectibles. They were not intended to be flawless. I’ve seen many poorly painted figures in my day that literally fell off a blister in the mail. So, frankly, there won’t be too many loose mint toys.
Buying Toys Tips
Lock into whatever grade you like and stick to that it. Go no higher, it will lower your cost. Look at how a prospective dealer lists toys. Unfortunately, a lot of dealers slap-up two pictures of a boxed item and basically say here you go. I would generally suggest avoiding buying those items, they could be in any condition. I will admit I do the same occasionally, but it’s not on complex items, I do it, for example, on sticker sheets. Sticker sheets are one dimensional, with a larger than actual size photo.
Selling Toys Tips
If you stumbled upon this article mostly because you’re looking to sell, checkout out my article how much are my vintage toys worth?
Grading Scale for Vintage Sealed Carded or Boxed Action Figures
95 Mint – This is the highest grade that I would give vintage toys. The packaging has to be nearly flawless. It will be free of noticeable wear of any kind, with a bubble/window that will typically be crystal clear. Basically, it looks new.
92 Near Mint – This is still a very high-grade package. The package will have a slight defect that prevents it from being mint. For example, could be slight wear to the bubble or a crease on the card.
90 Excellent – This is still a very high grade for a package. It will have 2-3 small issues and/or maybe one that is more serious.
85 Very Fine Condition – Still very nice but we are definitely no longer in the mint area. The package will have several minor issues or perhaps one or more larger problems.
80 Fine Condition – It will have some minor general wear to the card and bubble or window.
75 Very Good Condition – Another term would be average. It will have wear to the card and bubble. It will have many issues, but ultimately still displayable.
70 Good Condition – This is where you start seeing multiple major issues, such as a major bubble ding and a major crease. Then it will still have other more minor issues as well.
60 Poor Condition – No longer suitable for display. Most people who buy these are looking for a filler until they can find a nicer one. Or they intend to open it.
Grading Scale for Vintage Opened Carded or Boxed Action Figures
This is the same for sealed, except now the figure needs to be assessed as well. Loose figure grading is described below.
Grading Scale for Vintage Loose Action Figures
95 Mint – This is the highest grade that I give to loose vintage toys. To put it in perspective maybe 1 out of 200 might get this grade. It has to be nearly flawless. It will be free of noticeable wear of any kind. Basically, it looks new.
92 Near Mint – This is still a very high-grade action figure. It could have ever so slight wear, but this toy was not really played with.
90 Excellent – This is still a very high grade for a loose toy. It will have very light wear.
85 Very Fine Condition – Still very nice, but we are definitely no longer in the mint area. It will have several minor issues.
80 Fine Condition – It will have some surface wear, but is still very presentable.
75 Very Good Condition – Another term would be average. It will have wear from play, not severe, but it was “loved”.
70 Good Condition – This is where you start seeing multiple major issues. I would suggest these are more for army building, custom work, or gifts to kids, unless it is an expensive and rarer figure.
60 Poor Condition – No longer suitable for display. Most people who buy these are looking for a filler until they can find a nicer one.
Common Terminology Used for Boxed, Carded and Loose Toys
This is a toy that is removed from the package. It may or may not be complete with all original parts and accessories.
Mint on Card (MOC)
To me, this has always meant Mint on Card but that the card is not sealed, therefore not to be confused with MOSC which is mint on sealed card. The figure can still be displayed properly though opened, with its original bubble on its card.
Mint in Box (MIB)
The toy is an opened box, ideally near mint with all inner and exterior packing and with all decals which can either be applied or unapplied. I personally find it acceptable to use the MIB terminology on items that aren’t truly mint. The reason for this is since I started dealing in 1999 I have seen the term MIB abused so often, its true meaning was lost long ago.
Mint in Sealed Box (MISB)
The toy is in a factory sealed box and has never been opened.
Mint in Package (MIP)
The toy is an opened package, ideally near mint, with all inner and exterior packing. It has all decals which can either be applied or unapplied.
Mint in Sealed Package (MISP)
Mint in a sealed package is when the package is still factory sealed and has never been opened. Examples would include: vintage figure carrying cases which are neither boxed nor carded; mail-away figures which are frequently bagged such as the Transformers Powerdashers.
Grading Action Figures Conclusion
Hope you enjoyed a crash course on action figure and toy grading. Please check out our blog for other educational articles like how to display your collection as well as our more lighthearted top 10’s. Comments are welcome.
Author: Chris Ingledue
Bio: I’m the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year; scouring the internet – like we did the Sears Catalog of yesteryear – for the next great treasure, awaiting the arrival of the postman as if he was Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day is an absolute joy!