Slabbing - Your Opinions! 
Posted 03/19/01

This is the third installment on the new practice of slabbing and grading of action figures.  The first was on my feelings and opinions on the practice - the second was after a discussion with the president of the Action Figure Authority, Charles Ware.

I received dozens of emails on the subject, and surprisingly, at least to me, they ran both ways.  I've decided to present some of those emails, to give folks an idea of what others are feeling on this rather controversial subject.

For those that haven't read the first two articles, 'slabbing' is the term for placing a collectible in a sealed, protective case that cannot be opened or tampered with without making it obvious.  The item is graded first by a paid service, and this slabbing/grading of the item is intended to guarantee that you get what you pay for.

Some folks commented on the effects of this practice in other hobbies, like comics and coins.  David said:

"This practice killed the coin collecting "hobby". It will only do the same to action figures/toys. I can remember my Dad and I collecting coins together in the 60's (I'm and old codger!) for the pure fun and pleasure of it. At that time there was only about 6 "categories" of coin condition. Similar to the current C1 thru C10 for toys. Collecting was fun and we didn't worry about condition all that much, as long as the coin looked good to us we were happy. We kept them in the old blue tri-fold coin books and I still have them today. These are some of my most precious possessions. Not because they have any huge monetary value (they don't) but because ogf the memories they bring back to me of my Dad (he's gone now). Flash forward 30 yrs. or so.............I quit collecting for awhile until my kids found my coin books and started asking questions. I thought "Cool I can do the same thing for my kids that Dad did for me" FAT CHANCE!!! I was truly shocked when I started checking into my old hobby again. What the heck was up with over 70 grades for coins. And why pay to have it graded? I don't wanna collect for an investment, my kids and I just wanna have some fun. Every dealer I talked to would simply ignore my questions about low end coins and try to steer me into buying something for $100.00 or more!! Aaarrggghhhhh!! I gave up on it, but then I discovered the old blue books were still out there! Hooray my kids and I can ignore the #$%^*& "experts" and collect for fun. And now with the Statehood quarters they have something to find in my pocket change and collecting is back to what it was for my Dad and me! THe way it should be. I also collect Star Wars action figures. My kids love the movies as much as my wife and I do and I buy figures for them, and they use their allowance to buy some figures they like. Do they care about card condition? Only that it's not smashed etc.  My son collects Yoda fig's and Jedi's, my daughter collects all the "girl" fig's and they both have a couple of droids each. It's fun to share my hobby with them and I can make some decent trades on-line to get what we want, both carded and loose ( I make custom figures). If this new grading system catches on, and I'm sure it will with the scalpers (er, dealers) then no one will wanna trade anymore. What happened with coins will happen with toys. Everyone will see the investment potential and then no one will want your newest figure, even if you did pull it fresh from the case, unless it's graded and slabbed so that it has "value". I don't need this kind of aggravation invading my hobby. I'll be sorely tempted, the first time I see a slabbed Star Wars figure, to pop open the case just so I can watch the horror on the faces of the scalpers as I also "open the figure itself".......................these things are toys!! Open 'em and play with 'em!!!"

John echoed this idea:

"I would be one of the people to argue with Mr. Ware on the idea of the baseball card market being helped by a grading service.

The service has only helped the investor. If you are simply buying to invest, then yes you are likely going to get helped. If you are just a collector though, you are going to be totally screwed unless you get lucky to find those "PSA 10's" in a pack of cards. If you are just a collector looking to build yourself a nice set of something, you are going to be in the position of either having to pay through your nose or lower your standards of what you will accept...something that no collector should really have to do.

The very existence of PSA (the equivalent of Mr. Ware's AFA) has driven many people out of the baseball hobby, myself included. It simply got too expensive and too much of a pain to stay in the hobby. The card companies themselves made it hard enough as it was...adding PSA to the mix only made matters worse for the average collector.

The idea of that happening to toys and Star Wars in general makes me ill."

John also took exception to the idea that most of the blame lies with those paying the prices for the graded items:

"The sad thing here is...this situation is exactly what will happen. It happened in the baseball hobby that Mr. Ware thinks has benefited so much by having a service similar to his.

Simply put, in the case of Star Wars figures, nicer examples of carded vintage already get a premium because it is natural for someone to want a nicer piece in their collection. Adding a "professional" grade to pieces will only drive prices up higher on any piece that gets a higher grade because it nudges that natural instinct to want something nice in your collection.

I think the idea that the real blame falls on collectors is deflective in nature and partially untrue. Mr. Ware himself mentioned how the baseball hobby has been helped so much by investors. What do you think will happen if the AFA catches on for the toy hobby like PSA has for baseball? It will bring in investors to the hobby (and strengthen the existing investment mentality with collectors) like it did in baseball and what will those investors want to invest in?

The higher graded AFA examples.

That will be what they want and the collectors, who are collecting partially as investment...but also out of love for the hobby...will be forced to either keep up or lower their standards, thus causing their collection to be a little less than what they hoped thanks to something that was introduced to the hobby that had not existed before. After all, who wants "half" of a nice collection of one standard of quality and the other "half" of lesser quality because they could not afford to keep their old standard?

The dealers, once they see that grading has a premium, will rush to AFA because the potential to make more money now exists. Ebay reserves will go up for the nicer pieces (thanks to investors and collectors attempting to keep up with the standard they had with their collection before this AFA nonsense started) and then collectors can collectively bend over and grab their ankles or find a new way to enjoy the hobby... thanks to Mr. Ware.

The way I see it, the blame falls to the "investors" that will likely come into the hobby as happened with baseball, the collectors who see that they now have to compete even more to get something nice, and Mr. Ware himself.

It isn't a one-way street of blame.

All that has to be looked at is cause and effect. If the AFA catches on and prices increase unlike they did before, it all can't be blamed on the people paying the prices because if the AFA had not come to be, they would not be paying higher prices.

The argument that collectors themselves are to solely blame is similar to the argument used to deflect criticism off of scalpers. Sure, collectors are the ones providing the money to scalpers but scalpers are the ones who find the means to insert themselves into the hobby to influence it. Cause and effect.

On a more toy-related argument, another point to consider is deterioration of condition with vintage Star Wars items. This can be summed up with two words - "yellow bubble." Bubbles on vintage carded Star Wars figures tend to yellow over time. The yellow process can happen at any point. A clean bubble today can start to turn yellow tomorrow or next week or next year. In other words, someone can get a high grade on a clear bubble vintage toy, Mr. Ware could seal it up in their plastic case, and in a year or two, the bubble could turn yellow. A microscope doesn't pick up when/if a bubble will turn yellow. That high graded figure just dropped in grade but the plastic case still has the high grade. I can already see the posts about people buying an AFA 10 (or whatever their high grade is) Vintage piece only to find out that they got a yellow bubble piece...which is likely a much lower grade but in a nice plastic case.

This is where I have to give Mr. Ware credit. He's found a hobby that will likely have pieces that will need to be re-graded...more money for him.

To be blunt, I hope the AFA dies a quick, painful death before the hobby is hurt.

I'm very glad I've completed most of my vintage wants so if the AFA does to toys what PSA did to baseball, I can make a clean exit from the vintage hobby while it descends into hell."

Other folks found fault with the idea that any company could act as an authority on grading.  GI Trekker said:

"This AFA is essentially making itself the "authority" in action figure preservation and grading. This is much the same reason I don't truct price guides very far. So some Star Wars figure or G.I.Joe or Gundam or, heck, Chip Hazard is worth X dollars? Says who? Says the price guide? What is their basis? Talking with a wide range of collectors? Dealers? Making stuff up
in their heads? And now the stuff is supposed to be worth MORE because somebody has hermetically sealed it and put their stamp of approval on it? Not too opportunistic, are we? And the ones that will try to take the most advantage of this are likely the ones that have scalperish tendencies in the first place. I've collected, on a far more limited level than toys, both coins and stamps. What are they worth? Same thing the toys are worth. I got them because I wanted them. A "collectible" item of any sort is ultimately worth what YOU'RE WILLING
TO PAY FOR IT. You can get into package condition and all that to whatever degree you want. Personally, I've always been more concerned about the condition of the toy! I'll take a well-painted Anakin Skywalker on a bent card over a cross-eyed one on a perfect card any day. You may be more concerned about package condition and that's fine. Whatever. But to let any outside agency dictate terms or to try to declare themselves as some sort of authority
over the hobby is ludicrous."

And other collectors believe that this practice won't make it in the action figure collecting world.  Cheryl summed it up:

"Holy Cow, Batman-this must be the work of, like, uh, a REALLY twisted mind!!'  'Steady on, Robin-even the most nefarious, diabolical character in the toy business cannot hope to win the
hearts, minds and pocketbooks of EVERY collector in the universe! Quick, to the Batmobile!!'
Well, I gotta agree with the caped crusader on this one!!I sincerely hope that "slabbing" will be no more than just a passing fad/phase in toy collecting history. To me-encasing items in plastic is
ludicrous-you cannot read a comic that is entombed; you can't play with a toy that is slabbed; and even a coin collection loses a great deal of its value (IMO) if I cannot hold the coin in my hand, feel its weight and admire the texture of its engraving and edging designs.

Seriously, though (maybe its my age!) I think toys are made to be played with and comics are meant to be read; if you want to do some investing-try the stock market! Anyone who tries to seal my Joes in plastic will have to pry them from my cold, dead fingers!!!!"

But not everyone had a negative attitude about the practice.  While they were greatly outnumbered, positive opinions did come in.  Bill is an example:

"For one who has been swindled out of hundreds of dollars (thats me) due to overgraders, I think that AFA is the best thing to come around. Just look at the popularity of PSA, and CGC (comic grading) People want what they are paying for. So when it comes to collecting 12 back vintage figures, I'd be willing to drop an extra few $$$ on a professionally graded gem than to drop a bundle on a hyped-up piece of garbage that Big Al says is in mint condition.

I recently got swindled by a guy who claimed his Yoda was a C10; after several emails asking him for more details on this, he kept responding "No flaws, C10 all the way." Well, I sent in my $415.00 Yoda to be graded by AFA, and he came back to me as: "UNGRADABLE" due to re-touching, and manipulation to the card.

To the swindler & overgrader aka: "con-artists", AFA is the enemy, to the serious collector, and one who demands quality and honesty AFA is the best thing since sliced bread.

Hey, I like to open my newer figs and set them up. But I also like to collect vintage pieces as well. Who, in their right mind, wouldn't want their vintage carded collection professionally graded? Fact: vintage SW's figs MOC are big $$$ - Hey, if someone wants to collect overgraded crap, and pay graded prices... let them - after they have been ripped off a few times they will come to their senses and embrace the good side of the force - the AFA."

Clearly, this is a subject that has folks interested.  I suspect that it will become even more controversial as time goes by and the practice starts to catch on.  Only time will really tell what effect this will have on the action figure collecting market, but obviously we all have our opinions!

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