Slabbing - Blessing or Curse? 
Posted 02/20/01

It looks like toy collecting - or at least action figure collecting - has hit the big time. At least it appears that it has become an investment opportunity in the eyes of those with cash to spend. Why do I say this? Because 'slabbing' has come to our hobby.

During the mid-80's, the slabbing and grading of coins first started. 'Slabbing' refers to placing the coin between two pieces of plastic. Obviously, this had gone on for years, but for the first time these slabs were designed to remain sealed, and the coin given an 'official' grade by one of several services.

In 1999, this style notion of slabbing/grading entered the comic book market. Again, comics were graded by a specific organization and sealed in a tamper-proof container. The prices for the comics that have been graded by these organizations has soared - a Spawn #1 that in mint shape at the comic shop around the corner might fetch $15 recently sold on ebay for $810, because it had been 'professionally' graded as mint.

I bring all this up because now it has entered my hobby - action figures can now be graded and slabbed. The only company I know of currently doing this is called Action Figure Authority, and they have a web site at They're services are currently limited to Starting Lineup, Star Wars, Mego, Star Trek, Joes and a few miscellaneous lines like Super Powers and Secret Wars. 

So why pay these folks any where from $12-$30 to grade a figure? The theory in the action figure market is the same as coins and comics - insurance that what you are buying is really what the dealer says it is. With the advent of sight unseen buys on ebay or through other Internet auctions, people are more concerned that the grade given a figure is not appropriate. By developing a consistent grading authority, the theory is that it will remove the fear of the buyer, making the market more 'liquid', and creating less fraud.

The stupidity in all this isn't the service or its need. The basic premise is sound, and it is plain to see that there is a level of value in having some assurance that what you are buying has been reviewed by a 3rd party. This is particularly true if you were purchasing a carded Mego, that could cost several hundred dollars.

No, the stupidity here is in the buyers/investors who believe that this simple statement of condition is by itself worth two or even three times what the figure is without it. Grading the figure Mint doesn't make it mint - it already was. The grade is simply insurance, and most consumers would never be foolish enough to pay more in insurance on something than the thing itself was worth.

While AFA claims that their type of service has had a positive impact on the comic, coin and card markets, most collectors in those markets would not agree. For comics and cards, the amount of speculation is running rampant, with the prices for even average comics reaching amazing levels. It's still too early to tell the long term effects in those markets, but the coin market has had this service for over 15 years now. The promises of a liquid market and insurance of consistent grading has not been realized. Many coin collectors feel that the grading standards have decreased with time, and coins that were once EF grades being regraded at AU levels! Dealers play a game in which they unseal and send back the same coins every couple years, hoping for a higher grade.

A Spawn #1, graded as Mint and slabbed, recently sold for over $800. Let that sink in for a minute - a comic that could be had for twenty bucks or so at most comic shops sold for over $800. Why? Because someone said it was mint. This makes absolutely no sense. If I have a comic/figure/coin/etc that I send in to grade, and they say it is mint, then it is worth the guide mint price. Perhaps it's worth the 20 or 30 bucks more that it cost me to get it graded - that's the real cost of this insurance. But two, three, or even 10 times more? It's simply crazy to believe the market can bear that type of inflation.

Will this happen to the action figure market? There are only certain lines that this idea could even apply to, and most obvious are Star Wars, SLU's and Megos. If you search for auctions on Ebay that have involved slabbed figures, you'll notice that most are SLU's so far. But other lines can't be far behind. The home page for the AFA totes that a recent Ebay auction for a AFA 90 graded ROTJ Chewbacca went for $133 - almost four times the average for an Ebay auction of this same figure ungraded by the AFA. If people buy into the foolish idea that this guarantee makes a figure worth far more than the figure itself, the market will only be hurt.

I'm all for the notion of a consistent grading method. I think it would be wonderfull if people had some sort of insurance that an item bought unseen is the condition claimed. But to believe that anything is worth many times it's value simply because someone else gives it a consistent grade is lemming behavior at best.

Let's hope that this isn't the future of action figure collecting!

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