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Sunday, August 10, 2008

To Grade or Not to Grade

Grading the condition of figures has always been a tough job for me as a collector but especially as a seller. You never want to over-grade a figure and have the buyer upset or under-grade a figure and not sell an item. I never embraced the Condition Grading System where C-10 is Mint and C-1 is Poor. This always seemed to have too wide of a scale with no standard of what a C-8 or C-whatever is between collectors. I seemed to gravitate to the more simplistic Mint, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor nomenclature. Although it is also unstandardized, it seemed easier to see where a figure fits in. Both of these systems are very subjective and fail as a true grading system. This is where professional grading services attempted to fill a niche. I personally do not favor graded figures for my personal collection but do recognize the role they can play. Let’s take a look at some of the Pros and Cons of getting your figures professionally graded.

To be fair I will highlight what I consider to be some of the reasons I would get a figure graded. The best argument for grading figures is the preservation of the collectible. By allowing the figure to be incased protects it from UV damage, dust, and direct physical harm. It does not protect it from fire, water damage, or theft. From a seller’s point of view, getting a high grade on a high-end item ensures buyers will pay a premium. I have gotten figures graded just for this reason, so that I could maximize how much they would sell for. From the opposite perspective, buyers embrace grading because it makes buying a figure online much more reliable since it was independently graded. Action Figure Authority (AFA) also allows you to look up the item number to ensure its authenticity. These are the few positives I could think of, I am sure many of you swear by professional grading and wonder why anyone would decide not to get their figures graded. So…

Getting your figures professionally graded is expensive. It is just not always cost effective, especially if you do not plan on selling them any time soon. You may be better off investing that money in additional collectibles (or the bank). If you want to preserve your figures, just buy the acrylic cases. I have purchased hundreds of hard acrylic cases from Cloud City Collectibles (and now and these figures are protected that same as if they were sent out to AFA – for about half of the cost.

If you are a seller, realize that poorly graded figures don’t sell as easily or for as much as an ungraded figure of the same condition might. Once the item is tagged with a 70, buyers know it is an inferior condition figure. If it is not graded but great photos show that the figure could potentially get a higher grade, buyers will make their own opinions.

I personally do not always agree with AFA grading, and not because I feel they are inconsistent or wrong. Collectors all weigh flaws differently. Personally I would rather a card with flaws over a very yellowed bubble. I want to be able to see the figure. AFA’s grading system allows for high condition figures to carry a “Y” rating which I disagree with. Some collectors would rather a card with one major flaw versus a card with many minor flaws – or vise versa.

Since I mentioned it already, there are many collectors who feel that AFA (or any professional grading company for that matter) is inconsistent with their grading. We have all seen the posts on the boards of collectors who have opened a low grade figure to get re-graded only to get it back with a higher grade than the first time. Although they try to be as objective as possible, grading is still a subjective art.

The last area I will address has to do with the logistics of graded figures. There are a far greater number of ungraded figures compared to graded figures, except perhaps for 1 of a kind or very rare items. Just because AFA says it is the highest graded example does not mean that it is the best condition example out there. On a similar note, too many new figures get graded. A new figure with a grade of 85 is not impressive but a vintage 8 Back with an 85 is considered a gem. I am not sure who all these people who get a $5 200X Man-At-Arms figure graded are but I wish I knew their motive. Even if it gets a 95, who cares, it’s still a new figure that potentially has thousands like it out there.

AFA is not the only service out there, although it is the current standard for action figures. Companies like Collector’s Source Grading have tried to enter the market by creating a more complete grading scale to address some of the concerns I mentioned above. If you have seven 8 backs graded by AFA would you want the last one in a Collector’s Source Grading case rounding out your collection?

These are just my thoughts on professional grading and I know it sounds a little negative. I have used AFA in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Getting figures graded has its purpose and can be an asset to buyers and sellers alike. Don’t get caught up in the hype and make sure you make your own grading judgments. Just because it is graded doesn’t make it better than an ungraded figure. There are many gems out there that you can still hold in your hand without ¼” of acrylic separating you from your childhood.

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