Summer is nearly here -- well at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere -- with convention season officially kicking off, a trailer for a new movie, and another Celebration coming up, the hobby and all things surrounding the Star Wars franchise are buzzing everywhere you go. With this iteration of the MarketWatch in 2016 we take a unique look at a group of auctions from one particular seller. These are items that we see for sale all too often on the boards or eBay, but this will focus on some of the best known examples of these hobby staples.
In addition to focusing in on these items and how they performed, in this installment we discuss the overall trend in the hobby on a specific topic, condition, and its importance in the hobby historically and today. It’s something we’ve touched on in the past and it still remains the most crucial aspect to price and overall demand. With this we’ll focus in on two groups of auctions: a small group of ROTJ MOC figures and a larger set of POTF MOC figures. There are a few things that are consistent across all of these items: 1) everything has a grade above 80 and 2) all have clear bubbles.
Clear bubbles and related value with ROTJ and POTF figures is more than a function of condition. It’s truly about availability and demand, given that it creates an offering that borders on the lunatic fringe, the line between the sane and the insane, the rational and the irrational. But just how difficult is it to find certain figures with clear bubbles? In reviewing AFAs assigned grades for a few of the figures that we are discussing today, we find the following:
Luke Skywalker (Imperial Stormtrooper Outfit) AFA Graded Examples:
- Yellow = 198
- Clear = 10
- Ratio = 5%
Han Solo (In Carbonite Chamber) AFA Graded Examples:
- Yellow = 181
- Clear = 37
- Ratio = 20%
In another way of looking at it, 1 in 20 Luke Stormtroopers are clear and 1 in 5 Han Solo Carbonite figures have been graded as clear. Even here we see a fairly wide gap from figure to figure, but in the grand scheme of things they both fall to one extreme of the spectrum. One thing to keep in mind about these numbers is that over time, AFA changed the way they approached yellow bubble designations. Thus, our numbers come solely from the period since AFA started using their 3 tier scale on figures. Figures graded earlier by the company could have been done so during periods where yellow bubbles were documented as part of the process or during the period where this wasn’t, so we wanted to stay away from the single tier grading results.
Additionally, as we all know just because an item was graded clear doesn’t mean it stays clear. As much as the cases protect figures from certain environmental issues such as partial and almost complete UV protection (a key enabler of bubbles yellowing), we can’t guarantee that items graded clear will remain that way. There are so many factors that affect a MOC figures bubble that we can assert that a large portion of items graded clear have already or will turn yellow in the future. Thus in a lot of ways we’re chasing an ever changing aspect of condition that can only truly be measured by the current state of an item.
When we talk about these auctions and classify some of them as simply the best examples out there, we aren’t just talking exclusively about their bubbles, but rather the whole presentation. The key differentiator here is that the pricing in all of these cases is truly driven by the clearness of the bubble. Where an AFA 85 Luke Stormtrooper with a yellow bubble will sell for roughly $600, our clear example sold for 10 times that amount.
At the end of the day we are truly talking about individual preference, however we can’t look at these results as anomalies. There has been a trend that has been growing around this segment for years and with the overall appreciation in prices in the vintage Star Wars hobby we’ve seen this segment follow suit. It comes down to what people want and where they place importance on certain characteristics of condition. This has been ever present in our hobby. Not only do collectors focus on a certain type of item, but most also set a standard for the condition of their items as well.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
Often associated with yellow bubbles more than any other series is the Return of the Jedi line of figures. The series had four different release cycles: 48, 65, 77 and 79 backs. The 48 back series, which for all intensive purpose was a transition series, is the least riddled with yellow bubbles.
Overall we believe that roughly 80% or 4 out of 5 figures remained in a clear state in this series. The 65 back series is really where things started to take a nasty turn for the worse and all releases following this one had major issues with bubbles turning yellow. There have been several things noted as causes for this turn, but most commonly people look to a change in the type of plastic used. Environmental aspects put aside, this general rule of thumb around the type of plastic used is fairly consistent, and as we move into the 77, 79 and POTF 92 backs it continues, if not worsens.
Han Solo (In Trench Coat) - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $1,526
Imperial TIE Fighter Pilot - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $1,025
Han Solo (Alternate Photo) - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $610
POWER OF THE FORCE
The POTF series marks some big moves in the history of action figures. It showcased Kenner’s advancement in craftsmanship encompassing more detail and more elaborate sculpts. It also served as the last installment of the original Star Wars toy line. The run was short and thus the products have always had a premium of some kind vs. the majority of the rest of the vintage line.
The line has also been plagued by yellow bubbles, even more so then the ROTJ series. Not only did you have to worry about the outer bubbles yellowing in this series, but more so than others before it, the POTF line used back bubbles or trays to support several of the figures. Given their lack of exposure to air these tend to yellow at an even faster rate than the outer bubbles. Thus, even those bubbles that truly remained clear may be classified as yellow by graders and collectors alike.
The results for some of these auctions are the highest on record for some of these figures and they truly represent the best of the best in terms of condition and overall desirability.
Luke Skywalker (Imperial Stormtrooper Outfit) - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $6,000
Han Solo (In Carbonite Chamber) - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $6,753
R2-D2 with pop-up Lightsaber - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $2,436
Luke Skywalker (In Battle Poncho) - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $1,492
Amanaman - AFA 80 Clear Bubble- $968
A-Wing Pilot - AFA 80 Clear Bubble - $621
EV-9D9 - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $677
Barada - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $1,081
Imperial Dignitary - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $2,000
Warok - AFA 85 Clear Bubble - $1,136
That wraps up our Spring update, be sure to look for the next podcast from Skye and Steve and check out the Zuckuss MarketWatch from my partner in crime "Brisbane-Brisbane" Mike.