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What Is An Action Figure?

This is a question that has been debated and argued about since the first G.I. Joe hit toy shelves around the globe in the mid 1960’s.

The easiest way that I can describe the general difference between an action figure and a doll is that an action figure is usually based on a fictional character from a movie, comic book or video game, of course these days they can also be based on real life sports stars, pop stars and actors etc.

Generally action figures are a way to escape normal, everyday life by becoming a super-hero saving the world and defeating evil. As children our action figures were a door into another world or dimension where the only limitation was your imagination.

Dolls on the other hand are based on more down to earth and realistic role models and real life people, they also tend to be generic rather that based on any one person, e.g. a nurse, doctor, mother, baby etc. As a result dolls are usually used to role-play real life situations and family life.

Of course there are exceptions to this, the recent popularity in political and music based “action figures” being prime examples.

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A Collapsible Table:

The Beginnings of the Hobby

Since the days of the early GI Joe and Action Man figures were released in 1964 there have been thousands of different variations of action figures released, representing movie stars, wrestlers, anime characters, cartoons, TV personalities, sports stars, pop stars and more recently politicians. 

Even Playboy has its own line of centerfold action figures, fully poseable, with removable clothes! 

There have been several major changes and influences in the hobby since the mid-sixties though.

When first released they were solely targeted to kids toys for play, then as these kids began to get older, during the 70’s and 80’s, some continued to buy and collect these childhood toys and so the hobby took its roots, but it was still considered “geeky,” and didn’t become the mainstream and acceptable hobby, that it is today, until the mid-90s. 

Probably one of the biggest and most influential events that changed people’s perceptions and attitudes to these toys came in 1977 with the phenomenal, and unexpected, success of the Star Wars movies. 

In fact, Kenner’s marketers were caught with their trousers down, and realized that they couldn't get their Star Wars toys into stores in time for Christmas. 

So what did they do? 

They did the next best thing, and sold a cardboard display for the forthcoming figures with a mail-in certificate which guaranteed the holder a set of the first four figures. 

Good to their word, in early 1978 Kenner sent out thousands of mailer boxes containing Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Chewbacca, and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2). 

This is why the first series of the Kenner Star Wars figures are dated as 1977, when in fact they didn't come out until 1978. Unfortunately they were ALL dated 1977, so these figures have no significant rarity. 

Even when the figures eventually reached stores, Kenner wasn’t prepared for the huge demand, as they flew off shelves quicker than they could be refilled, and with demand quickly outstripping supply, they became more and more difficult to find.

This led to the figures appearing at comic-cons and swap meets, where they were sold on the secondary market at inflated prices, especially for the more popular and harder to find figures, many of which are still highly sought after to this day!

The Kenner Star Wars figures were also the first to use the 3.5-inch scale, which soon became the industry standard. 

They decided to make the figures to this scale to keep the price low so kids could afford to buy and collect multiple figures; it also meant that they could easily be mass produced.

The next big “shake up” in the hobby came in 1994, when Todd McFarlane founded McFarlane Toys specifically to launch a line of action figures based on his Spawn comic character.

 McFarlane Toys was different, because its figures weren’t the standard 3.5-inch figures being produced at the time; but made to a larger 6-inch scale, they were targeted at an older and more mature customer base.

McFarlane wanted these figures to be of excellent quality and highly detailed so that his Spawn fans would be proud to own them.  They also had tons of articulation compared to the average figure at the time, which generally had only four points of articulation!

As a result these figures — along with McFarlane’s Movie Maniac line and other licensed figures — created a new market specifically targeting the adult collector, which grew exponentially, spawning (pardon the pun!! ;-) ) a host of new companies manufacturing collectors figures, such as The Three Horsemen, Gentle Giant, NECA, Mezco, Sideshow Collectibles and WETA.

The hobby has continued to grow and mature over the years, and has now become both mainstream and respectable.

Indeed, many sports stars, movie stars, pop stars or other famous personalities aren’t considered to be truly “famous” until they have had an action figure of themselves made!

The current action figure market can generally split into three categories:

  • 3.5 inch mass produced figures, e.g. Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, GI Joe etc.
  • Six-inch collectible figures, although these are still ‘mass produced’, e.g. NECA Gears of War figures, McFarlane’s Halo Figures, Medicom RAH figures, and Diamond Select Toys’ Battlestar Galactica figures etc.
  • Twelve-inch collectible figures, which are usually very limited editions, e.g. Hot Toys, AAA Figures, Sideshow Collectibles etc.

Ever since the release of the first action figure, one of the most contested, and heated debates has been on exactly what an action figure is, and the difference between an action figure and a doll. 

In fact, the case even went as far as the US Federal Court, to determine the tax category for import duties, due to the hobbies popularity!

More Tutorials + Articles

The 5 Best Things To Collect as a Superhero Fan

As a Superhero fans there are hundreds of different collectibles that you can choose from, but which will give you the best bang for your bucks, will be the most enjoyable and will likely appreciate in value over time?

Here, I will take a look at what I consider to be the best options currently available without breaking the bank!

How to Predict What Will Become Collectible?

People often ask me how I know if something is going to be collectible or not?

Well, to be honest I would say 705 of it is pure gut feeling and about 30% of it is an educated guess, however both of these are heavily influenced by my experience and knowledge of the business.

You see, I’ve been in this business for more than 15 years, both offline and online, as a trader and this “being” in touch with the grass roots collectors and consumer means I’ve had my finger pretty much on the pulse.

But I’ve also been an avid collector since childhood and spent hours of fun with my Action Men and Steve Austen figures in the 70’s and my MOTU and TNMT later on.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to remember that [ Read more... ]

Where to Buy Your Action Figures?

These days there are numerous places and options open to you when you want to buy any action figures, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

 I usually have a short list of three places that I regularly buy from, depending on what I’m looking for.

Why three? [ Read more...]

How to Beat the Scalpers?

Today I’m going to continue on the same theme and give you some insider tips on how to save money when buying your figures. 

Remember these tips and knowledge come from more than 15 years of experience in the business and 30 years as a collector!

Read more... ]

What is a Variant Figure?

In the good old days all figures were created equal, but not so today!!

The modern day collector needs to be aware of the different levels and rarity of figures and the different terms used to describe them. 

It is becoming increasing difficult, and frustrating, to know what is available and to make matters more difficult most manufacturers are very secretive about exactly what is available and how many have been made.

But even if you’re a casual collector it’s important to know the different terms so that you can recognize an important or valuable figure when you see it or just as importantly that you don’t get duped with an overpriced figure. [ Read more... ]

Looking After Your Figures

OK, so far we’ve looked at everything from deciding what figures you want to buying them, but what will you do with then once you get them home?

Most people either hide their figures away in some dark and dingy cupboard where they are left forgotten for eons, or put them proudly on display in the most prominent place at the mercy of the elements.

But if you had just bought a new car, sofa or TV would you treat it the same way? [ Read more...]

Storing and Displaying Your Figures

Taking care of, protecting and storing your action figures correctly is of tantamount importance if you wish them to keep their value, whether it’s a sentimental or financial value.

Loose figures are a lot easier to store than carded figures but carded figures are better protected so storage isn’t quite as problematic as it is with loose figures.

One of the most important factors to take into account when storing them is their value. 

There are many companies now, both on and off the internet that supply various ways to store and protect them.

Read more...]

Cleaning Your Figures

When was the last time you cleaned any of your figure?

Is your Luke Skywalker looking a little brown around the edges, is your Storm trooper more gray than white?

Does your G.I. Joe have dirty, greasy matted hair?

Would you like to have them looking new and pristine again? 

Whether your figures have been displayed carefully in a cabinet, on a shelf, desk, or just lying loose in a large storage box the chances are that at some point, if not now, you will need to give them a clean. 

But how do you clean them without the risk of damaging them? [ Read more...]

What Causes Your Figures to Become Sticky? 

Why do your Action Figures have Sticky Plastic?

Do your action figures have sticky plastic?

Have they been stored or displayed for a long period of time?

What can you do to protect them and prevent this from happening again? [ Read more ]

How to Grade Your Action Figures?

Find out how to grade your action figures professionally and save yourself money!

Trying to find accurate grade and values for your action figures can be a minefield but if you know what defects to look for you can save yourself money when buying second-hand figures and also how to check your own action figures when valuing them. [ Read More ]

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PLEASE NOTE: All prices and values quoted on this site were correct at the time of publication based on the average value across several online and offline auction sites etc. The prices quoted ARE NOT an offer or solicitation to buy any figures at these prices.

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