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Thread: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

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    Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    Hello Everyone,

    As most collectors here know, I rarely comment on these forums. My personal view is that over the years many interesting and insightful topics have been discussed here, but that many eventually devolve into off-topic debates which at times can offend and belittle those with an opposing point of view. This trend doesnít reflect the majority of the community, but usually involves a select few who in some cases feel very passionate about an issue or in other cases simply want to be heard or stir up debate. One thing which quickly becomes clear is that nobody ever wins a debate here. My mom would often tell me that ďsometimes the price of peace is to allow another to have the final wordĒ. This is an accurate way to describe my personal experiences on Rebelscum. Iíll therefore share my thoughts and will try to address a few of the questions and comments posted recently, but Iíll not likely continue to participate in this thread. Iíve always made clear that anyone who wants to get in touch with me or needs my help is welcome to contact me directly via email.

    Before I comment on specific issues, Iíd like to clarify that my name is Tom. Iím an individual who was first a collector before making a conscious decision to pursue a career in the hobby I most enjoyed. Iím not a company, nor am I AFA. Iíve made this clear in previous posts. Last year I conveyed that I was working to improve AFA through procedural changes and by providing guidance and detailed information in order to improve accuracy. I also made it clear that I work directly for CIB. These two companies are not one and the same. I have many new projects in the works at CIB, but only one more significant project to complete for AFA. Many of my responsibilities over the last few years do not represent those I enjoy most. Iíve always made clear that my options to move on to new things remained open. My current plan is to complete the main project for AFA which I have committed to and then move on to other projects outside of AFA. I donít think itís appropriate to refer to me as AFA [Tom Derby]. This is a label based on incorrect assumptions and couldnít be more factually incorrect. Over the past 6 months, Iíve done work for AFA an average of 5 hours per week. It was only from late 2008 until early this year that I worked almost every day at AFA to help improve internal documentation and procedures in an attempt to transfer a great deal of knowledge from my mind to their computers so that advanced variation and technical data will be easily available to AFAís graders once Iím gone. That day will come within the next 3-6 months, once I have fulfilled my obligations to oversee the final development of their new website designed to include many features promised in the past and allow for improved and much more interactive areas for tracking submissions, customer service, and a knowledgebase. My primary goal is to implement better on-line customer service and help ticket systems, along with the ability to escalate any issue to higher management. Other than these projects for which Iím still an outside contractor, I will no longer be focused on AFA projects. With that said Iíd ask that you please refer to me by my actual name and refer to the company Action Figure Authority as AFA.

    This post is quite long and I hope those interested in individual topics will take the time to read what Iíve written with an open mind. My goal is not to change anyoneís opinion, but simply to offer both observations and a potentially different perspective on various issues.

    AFA's Origin

    Some forum members may have missed previous posts on this topic because I assume that statements like, ďAFA, whilst started by a respectable member of this communityĒ refer to me. However, AFA was started in 2000 in Hudsonville, Michigan by a man named Charles (Chip), a local K-9 police officer who was also a toy collector. He spent roughly a year prior to launching AFA working out the best methods for encasing toys securely in custom-designed cases which would resist tampering. He developed a business plan and a list of talking points about why the toy collecting hobby needed a standardized system. When I was first approached about having items graded, I told him that I didnít think it would work and that the hobby didnít need such a system. At that time I had a clear advantage over many sellers because my reputation and descriptions were trusted to a point which already allowed high grade items to command a premium. Chip pushed forward with his idea and graded items primarily for the SLU community at first and then for a few large modern retailers. I wasnít convinced and I had no interest in submitting items. He persisted and offered to grade a large number of items for free to see what I thought. When the first items were returned to me, I was immediately impressed and revisited the idea of getting additional items graded with an open mind. The Ďuncirculatedí designation was available from the very beginning to confirm items had come from factory cases. The same Ďuncirculatedí designation for loose toys was also planned from the very beginning. Chip recognized that many loose collectors open packaged figures for virtually every type of toy and thought this designation was a good way to verify that an item came straight from a package. In the event a loose figure was sold or otherwise passed from one collector to another, this provenance would remain intact. Excluding the unknown effect of continually changing collecting trends, this designation would decrease the number of figures opened over a significant time period. Due to the complexity involved in casing loose items as well as to the quantities required to offer a cost effective solution, a loose grading service was not implemented until almost 5 years later when AFA felt they had the staff levels and ability to properly provide this service.

    My Current Responsibilities at CIB

    While many acknowledge contributions I have made to this hobby in terms of finding rare items and treating people fairly when buying or selling, this is not something I deserve any special credit for. While itís true that I often sold items to collectors looking to complete sets or with a specific focus for less than I could have sold them elsewhere, I still profited from these transactions and donít deserve any Ďfree passí in regards to the time I spent buying and selling toys. I simply chose to conduct business honorably and with a long term view of the hobby and my relationships with collectors. Over the years I developed many friendships which continue to this day. When I read certain posts from a select few long-term collectors and become genuinely hurt and offended, I try to remind myself that I havenít really ever publicly discussed what I do on a daily basis, so being credited for any of my current work when itís not public knowledge isnít a realistic expectation. On the other hand, I would never expect someone who I like and respect to directly compare me to individuals who set out to defraud both their own friends as well as the entire collecting community. I devote a great deal of my time every week to combating fraud with no expectation of receiving any compensation. I do this out of genuine concern for other collectors, whether I know them or not.

    The reality of my current situation is that regardless of what projects occupy a standard 60 hour work week for me, I consistently spend an additional 20+ hours each week helping collectors free of charge. The truth is that I canít even keep up any more. I receive between 150 and 200 emails in any given week asking for my advice in determining value, asking my opinion on the authenticity of items in pictures Iím sent, or asking for help in the identification of countless toys and video games. Even more importantly, I consistently provide the following services free of charge to the community because I understand the person asking me for help is already dealing with a difficult or unfortunate situation. Most often, the collectors I help are not clients of mine in any way and never have been, but I still offer them the assistance they need at no cost. A select few examples of services I regularly provide to help other collectors are:

    • Customized CIB letters assessing before/after value in shipping damage claims.
    • Customized CIB letters to combat cases of fraud and help victims (most often for PayPal claims).
    • Intervention in deals where it seems one party is taking so long as to indicate that they may not plan to ship the other party items which have been paid for, especially when an international buyer is involved.
    • Evaluation of items sent to me to determine authenticity and identify fakes in order to help a potential victim decide whether a dispute is in order.

    If youíve never had to come to me for any of these things, Iím glad and Iím sure you are too. Being that I offer assistance to a large number of different toy and video game communities, collectors somewhere are constantly victims of various forms of fraud which I always assist with free of charge. All of these things are done out of both genuine concern for collectors and most certainly concern for the sustainability and health of this hobby and others. When certain members of this forum question my concern for this hobby, Iím perplexed. Who would have a greater concern for this hobby than someone who supports his family by working within it? Those who know me have always been well aware that I take the long term view. Iíve watched a far greater number of collectors come and go than the number of collectors currently active in this hobby.

    At times, collectors who consistently speak negatively about me on this forum come to me for assistance. They always find that Iím still willing to help when they truly have a problem.

    This hobby is often a tightly knit community with open communication and collectors helping other collectors. However, there are times that information which collectors fail to share with one another can lead to problems which could likely be avoided. My regular work focuses on keeping fraud in this hobby to a minimum whether it affects one person or many. To date the Star Wars hobby has been lucky in comparison to hobbies like Transformers, which have been decimated by the production of bootlegs made from original toy molds and packaging often printed in China using original plates. While new counterfeit items constantly emerge from China, unscrupulous individuals in South Carolina attempt to alter and duplicate graded Transformers (with mediocre results) which are sold to inexperienced collectors. Many of the biggest collectors in the Transformers hobby have stopped collecting because of the sheer scale of these attempts to defraud collectors.

    Upcoming changes at CIB

    While helping victims of fraud is one of the aspects of my job I enjoy most, it quite simply takes an incredible amount of time and doesnít help me to support my family. My wife and I now have a six month old little girl named Annabel and we hope to have many more children over the next 5-10 years. Iíve therefore come to the conclusion over the past few months that in order to focus on whatís most important in life, I need to transition out of the specific line of work Iíve been primarily doing for the past five years, including the standard authentication services CIB provides. My daughter (and hopefully future children) deserve more time from their father and over the past 1 Ĺ years, Iíve consistently worked 80 or more hours each week. Over the past 6 months, I can count on one hand the number of days Iíve worked less than 16-18 hours. My recent work has been directly related to several projects which focus on sharing knowledge with the collecting community. As many have said, this is by far the best solution to many of the concerns recently discussed here.

    Regarding standard authentication services I provide, CIB COAs provided for AFA-graded items currently yield an exceptionally low average hourly compensation when research time spent on special items is factored into the equation. If it were just vinyl-caped Jawas (which AFA can most certainly authenticate directly), it would be one thing. But with some items taking as much as a day of my time to research (and billed at the same rate) as well as by accepting some degree of lifetime responsibility for the assessments I provide, I feel Iím not taking a responsible approach towards parenthood and my familyís future by continuing on my current career path.

    Ultimately, the actual authentication process is by far the least rewarding job Iíve ever had, both emotionally and financially. Authenticating an item rarely leads to a Ďthank youí nor should it, but the opposite often leads to anger, long debates with a client, an extended research process by request, and ultimately treatment as if I Ďm responsible for the fact that something is not likely to be authentic. Over the next 3-6 months, my focus and that of CIB will shift. Though I will certainly help collectors with specific problems and CIB may provide services on a case-by-case basis, the current fixed-price standard authentication services provided by CIB will no longer be available.

    Over the coming months I will continue to help AFA prepare to provide direct authentication services for certain types of items once CIB services cease to be offered, likely at the end of this year. By applying their extensive training and by utilizing the wealth of information Iíve provided, senior graders at AFA will be qualified to authenticate rare production items, various forms of proof material, and most first shots. Authentication of most other pre-production material will fall back on the most experienced collectors in the community (or possibly CIB by special request, not as a published or standard service).

    My projects over the past 6 months

    By the end of this year I will release more information about a project Iíve been working on which attempts to provide pictures and information about virtually every known toy from every major vintage toy line, including as much information about variations as possible. Providing such a wealth of information will only be made possible by the contributions of countless collectors in many hobbies as well as by completing the organization of my own library of over 100,000 images spanning the last 15 years. This information will be free to all collectors. Revenue to support this project will come from links to sites with specific and directly related items available for purchase. There will never be a charge to access or view this site. The siteís primary goal is to promote the growth of the collectible toy hobby in general by illustrating how expansive and interesting collecting can be. Through this type of easily accessible knowledge, collectors can decide what interests them most, become more informed, and make decisions based on this knowledge.

    By the end of this month, Iíll have also spent over 2,000 hours helping John Kellerman with the 2nd edition of his book ďStar Wars Vintage Action FiguresĒ. Iíve dedicated a significant amount of additional time and expense to this project in order to ensure collectors will have the opportunity to appreciate some truly unique material which few in the world have ever laid eyes on. The bookís image count will have virtually doubled in the 2nd edition and due to contributions from collectors as well as information provided by AFA, the matrix will have expanded significantly (and yes, I have been very careful updating data, as I do understand that labeling mistakes from 20-B to 20-A, etc., have been made by AFA in the past. I have personally researched each variation added.)

    I can certainly provide even more background but my objective in all of this is to establish that I do far more Ďbehind the scenesí for this hobby than most people realize. I rarely talk about these things or ask for credit, nor do I feel the need to receive credit. I simply wanted to share some of what I do on a regular basis because I believe that many incorrect assumptions about me stem from the fact that I have been very low key for several years now. This hobby has been an immeasurable part of my life for over 15 years. Its health has always been and will always be of great concern to me. I humbly ask that these things be taken into consideration before quickly dismissing any of my personal views which some will disagree with.

    Expert Status

    All too often, Ďexpert statusí seems to imply that a person has extensive knowledge on almost every facet of an incredibly broad spectrum of information. The truth is that an expert relies on all the resources at his disposal, most notably the knowledge of other individuals who have a specific focus and unparalleled knowledge in regard to that focus. I regularly confer with many members of these forums who are experts in individual areas when Iím researching specific issues. Usually I know who the experts are, but Iím occasionally taken completely by surprise. I spoke for more than 2 hours at C5 with a collector from the UK who knows the vintage 12Ē line backwards and forwards. He clearly possesses knowledge on variations and worldwide releases that most certainly surpasses my own which I believe to be extensive. Iím always excited to meet people who can teach me something new and can offer a significant contribution towards making more information available to all collectors in this hobby.

    While there are many collectors who are more knowledgeable than I am in their specific areas of interest, my job is to retain expert knowledge (or very close) in relation to virtually every popular toy line as well as to sealed video games. Over the past few years, Iíve gone to great lengths to develop new techniques and record new observations about the general nature of multiple types of seals which can be far more complex than standard blister seals. These techniques originally stem from the necessity to detect original video game reseals accurately. Iíve conducted extensive research for several years into reseal detection methods as well as known methods used to recreate cellophane seals around games which have been previously opened. When an original 1985 NES Super Mario Bros., black Nintendo seal, cardboard hang-tab version factory sealed in mint condition can bring $4,000 while an identical game, otherwise new but missing the factory cellophane can bring less than $100, a significant amount of responsibility applies to the verification of an original factory seal. Iíve worked with the most knowledgeable collectors in the sealed video game hobby to gather specific types of expertise from each. Iíve consolidated this information and discovered a great deal of information on my own, all of which has been recorded and used to assist in training VGAís top graders. It was through research primarily focusing on how age affects the collection of often microscopic dirt and debris in common places across multiple item types, as well as how even the smallest wear and flaws repeat themselves through various layers of outer packaging, that my ability to authenticate a variety of tape sealed toy-related items became far more scientific. Iím not aware of others who have studied the visual differences commonly seen between an item which has been sealed quickly in a Ďproduction lineí environment versus one which has been sealed slowly and carefully to try and mimic factory characteristics. Even the simple pauses applicable to the latter create small but discernable patterns associated with the seal.

    While authentication techniques can be combined with a detailed internal knowledgebase, it is through additional consultation with specific experts who have made that area their specialty and have devoted countless hours to collecting and research, that one can provide the most informed assessment. It is only through accepting and embracing this reality that either CIB or CGA (and its divisions) can offer a high level of expert services.

    Many collectors on these forums know that Iím not shy in asking for assistance and additional information I believe they can provide. Ultimately my job often relies on help from others. This is just another reason Iím always willing to happily provide whatever knowledge I can to people who come to me.

    Exceptional New Resources & Contributions to Loose Figure/Accessory Identification

    I would most certainly say that Jayís Imperial Gunnery is far and away the best reproduction and authentic Star Wars accessory site ever compiled. Iím highly impressed by the level of detail provided. Wolffís contributions to accessory variations as well as his extensive work on figure COO variations are also amazingly extensive. Once again, Iím highly impressed. Both offer a great deal of detailed information which Iíve never seen documented.

    As Iíve suggested to several other pioneers whoíve spent countless hours Ďmappingí a specific aspect of this hobby over the past decade, be sure to keep options open in regards to collecting and inquiring additional and new information. In other words, phrases like those used by John Kellerman in his first edition which reference what is known are always better than phrases which state that a specific figure always comes with a specific accessory mold. Iím not stating that this is specifically applicable to the wonderful research projects mentioned above; just that this method has proven to be the most accurate approach. There have been countless Ďfactsí from over the last decade which were later proven incorrect. For example, there are many figures even in low production lines which were issued with multiple versions of an accessory mold. While current information may verify an accessory mold was issued with a particular figure, future information in many instances verifies additional versions were issued as well. I was recently surprised to discover two slightly different authentic molds for the Top Toys Logray staff. I would never have guessed that to be the case due to the low production run. Often, small variations can be attributable to minor differences between one steel mold and another used for the same toy or accessory or between two compartments in the same steel mold.

    I understand as well as anyone that if you put an incredible amount of your time and effort into a project, youíre entitled to receive recognition and any associated benefits. For these and any other highly detailed efforts to categorize and identify variations which exist in the vintage Star Wars line, Iím more than happy to make significant contributions of images and information (which need not be credited) if they are ever requested. My intent is not to infringe nor suggest I could make any contribution which is even close to the equivalent of what has already been done. Iím just offering to provide anything deemed useful.

    In addition, the uncirculated debate aside, Iíd recommend asking AFA for help in data collection. No other individual or company in the world comes close to handling the volume of loose figures and accessories which pass through their facility. While true that much of the internal information there hasnít been properly organized and made available to the public yet, itís an absolute fact that in terms of volume, more detailed information about action figures is kept in that one central location than anywhere else in the world. I wouldnít be quick to assume that they would be unwilling to help on a non-profit project which benefitted the collectible community. If a detailed request was presented to them which specified a type of information or images which could be collected to benefit worthy projects, my guess is that someone there would help. Iíve never been advised that any collector has ever approached AFA to ask them to contribute to any project involving significant research and categorization. I canít say for sure that they would be willing to devote time to something like this, but logic suggests that AFA occupies the best position by far in terms of gathering information based on a large pool of examples. Contrary to the perception of some, Iím usually completely unaware of potential correspondence between collectors and AFA, so if someone has already asked for something like this, feel free to ignore my suggestion.

    My personal opinion on opening packaged figures

    It does need to be acknowledged that certain types of figures (mainly ROTJ, POTF, Droids & Ewoks) have been opened in great numbers for as long as anyone has been collecting. In the 1990s there was often very little difference in cost and it was sometimes the easiest way to find loose figures for your collection. With an estimated 250 million figures produced in the vintage years and an estimated 1-2% remaining unopened, certain packaged figures are likely to remain common until every active collector grows old. The most relevant considerations are package rarity with variations taken into account and package condition. If oneís goal is to encourage people not to open packages which donít fit a certain criteria, then making knowledge about variations more readily available is the best way to communicate which packages already in poor condition should not be opened due to their specific rarity. In terms of what condition is acceptable to open, this is of course a matter of opinion. Few would rather have frosty figures on cut cards than clean, loose figures and even collectors who oppose the issuing of an uncirculated designation will admit to opening certain figures under a variety of different circumstances.

    I personally like to see collectors make informed decisions but Iíll always maintain that they have a right to make their own decisions. I own a set of 12-backs on cut cards which Iíve kept for many years and I absolutely plan to open these to have nice loose examples one day. I donít actually know any collectors (at least none I can recall) who collect loose figures which are sealed in blisters on cut cards. There are also instances where damaged carded figures are easier to find and often cheaper than loose examples. This applies mostly to the Droids & Ewoks series. This set would have been almost impossible for me to complete in the early 1990s without opening several damaged carded examples.

    However, I have tried to save rare figures from being opened when I can. One forum member who I think very highly of and find to be a truly nice and sincere guy (but doesnít like AFA) mentioned the possibility of what he termed a Ďvintage copí. Back when I was regularly working at the AFA facility I attempted to be exactly that when I had reason to believe someone wasnít fully aware of what they were doing. I would take the time to contact them and explain. Another forum member for whom I have a great deal of respect also mentioned that he had heard that most people who were proactively contacted chose to move forward with having an item graded as loose anyway. While this certainly happened from time to time, the majority of people I contacted changed direction and had items graded in the package. Most of the time, they were simply unaware of what they had and were loose collectors themselves who just wanted the loose figure. Whether AFA offered an uncirculated designation or not their intent was to open the figures. In those rare cases, it was only because they sent them for grading that the figures were spared. Of course the biggest success story is still one collectorís childhood Luke with brown hair which he didnít own a loose example of, planned to open, but decided it would be cool to try AFA out first on that particular figure. Well, it happened to be a POCH ESB card he had acquired as a child while either traveling or from a relative, etc. and never opened. This figure received a low grade but is still fully intact and carded, residing in the home of one very happy collector in Spain.

    While I donít share the view of some forum members (many of which I greatly respect) in relation to this designation and have openly communicated that, itís unfair to single me out as being responsible for the collecting habits of others. Itís also incorrect to assume that this designation was conceived of by me (and incorrect to assume that I have the authority to discontinue it). I completely respect the other side of this argument, but barring an open-ended Ďtrendí, I will even suggest the possibility that assigning an uncirculated designation may actually save more figures from being opened in the long run.

    Uncirculated Designation

    Iíll begin by saying to Shawn that I support your effort to do something about a trend many believe has an adverse effect on the hobby. In some ways I completely agree. I agree that the vast majority of items are better left in their original packaging. I fully support educating collectors about this hobby and watching them make more informed decisions. I also believe people should be free to collect action figures in whatever way they choose, but that itís best to approach collecting in a responsible way. I certainly donít believe anyone should collect loose figures directly from the package rather than standard loose figures due to any current trend.

    I do however feel that the ĎU gradeí project fails to address the larger issue at hand. I assume that itís not specifically the uncirculated designation with which you take issue, but the opening of some or all packaged figures. Furthermore, you believe that the uncirculated designation encourages this and therefore have decided to lobby against its application. I clearly understand your position, but feel that I may be able to offer a slightly different perspective as well as some additional insight. I acknowledge that this is not going to change your mind and I respect your opinion. I do however feel that I may be able to present a few observations which could affect the way you promote your views and what information you choose to include and endorse in your article.

    First, Iíll clarify and correct a few technical details which are necessary to point out, but of little importance in the scheme of things. However, details regarding the bagged Luke Skywalker should be corrected simply to reflect accuracy.

    The number 7624 is the total number of Star Wars figures assigned the uncirculated designation over the course of more than five years. Because AFA was slow to update the population report, the difference in the annual total numbers provided reflects closer to two years of activity rather than one year. Even so, 2778 would represent the first three years of loose grading and that would leave approximately 4846 figures over the remaining two years, or about 2423 figures per year. The recent numbers are also skewed by AFAís change in policy to allow (at their discretion) taped bagged figures to receive the uncirculated designation, when those graded previously did not. That said, it changes nothing about the general argument, but numbers which illustrate a trend should be understood as accurately as possible in order to properly reflect a trendís future numbers. Additionally, while probably not important to most (but important to me), a type C Star Wars bag has never been opened for an uncirculated telescoping Luke Skywalker. Every uncirculated example came from a type B Star Wars bag which is slightly more common, much thinner, and more easily damaged. While most would take no notice of this, the type C bag is a very attractive package which many strive to add to their collections while the type B bag is plain looking and not as sought after. Again, of little importance in your general argument but worth pointing out if your attempt is to provide the most accurate assessment possible.

    I donít disagree that the hefty prices attained for U90 figures concentrated in 2009 encouraged a much higher than normal number of figures to be opened. This trend caused an inordinate number of people to submit items for uncirculated grading during that time period. As stated on these forums, there has been a downturn in this trend and many people who collected uncirculated figures primary for a designation have changed their focus.

    There are many things which have contributed to this downturn, but here are a few:

    • Demand for certain U90 figures ran prices up so high that completion of a set became an almost unattainable goal for most.
    • The market supply of U85s and lower grades became higher than the demand and led to declining prices which discouraged people from having as many items graded as uncirculated.
    • Education about variations and certain packaged items as well as discussion dissuaded many people from being as concerned about the uncirculated designation in specific cases where they didnít have an inherit desire to seek out figures which were straight from a package in the first place.

    It is true that some collect a certain way simply to follow a trend and changes in opinion or the marketplace can easily sway collecting habits. However, the simple fact that some collectors want to ensure a figure came directly from a package has not gone away. There is no question that some collectors follow current trends. There is also no question that some collectors want to know that an item came from a package. Itís an unknown variable as to what percentage of people collect for one reason versus the other. There is no question that the number of people who collect these figures for the uncirculated designation has decreased for numerous reasons, only a few of which were highlighted above. However, the number of people who still want to know that an item came directly from a package hasnít changed significantly.

    Surprisingly, what has changed is the number of figures sent for grading which are covered in frost indicating they were recently opened and in rare cases submissions sent which specifically request an uncirculated designation not be assigned. This is without a doubt a new and uncommon trend, but seems to be clearly attributable to external pressure. While these actions are by no means common, they certainly donít help what I see as the true objective. These actions hurt the hobby even more.

    One undeniable truth about the uncirculated designation is that it allows for the transfer of ownership between two collectors with the assurance of Ďnewnessí intact. Barring trends and with no change in collecting habits, the uncirculated designation would theoretically lead to less figures being opened over the long term. Its effect in the short term has been undeniable due to recent trends, but collectors come and go more often than the vast majority realize. When each person stops collecting and decides to sell figures they have opened without the uncirculated designation applied, the buyers they find interested will most certainly not be those who prefer to be sure they have loose figures straight from packaging. These newer collectors will then open another packaged example themselves.

    Additionally, the articleís endorsement of the practice of opening figures already graded with the uncirculated designation goes directly against its logical objective. The most likely result associated with opening these figures rather than selling them to other collectors is that an equal number of identical figures would then be opened from new packages by other collectors.

    Ultimately the articleís most important element is educating collectors on variations and rarity. I believe it would also be beneficial to define the circumstances under which Ďthe majorityí feel itís acceptable to the community as a whole to open packaged items. An answer of never would be unrealistic. Iíll be the first to admit having opened figures over the years for my loose collection. Many others who completely support your position have done the same. The issue is defining Ďwhení this practice is considered acceptable. I certainly feel the majority of collectors would rather have a nice, clean loose figure than a frosty figure in a blister still attached to a cut card.

    Here are a few facts which pertain to collecting figures straight from the package:

    • Collectors have collected Ďuncirculatedí figures long before I entered the hobby. Every year packaged toys are opened by loose collectors whether they are sent to be graded or not.
    • There is no data to examine outside of that provided by AFA. Nobody knows how widespread this practice has been in the past or is today. I believe I can say with certainty that a larger percentage of collectors who collect this way use grading services each year as a way to preserve a figureís status as Ďnewí.
    • With no designation of status, every new collector who enters the hobby and wants the assurance of collecting figures straight from some form of packaging must now open an additional set of figures. The option to buy a figure from a collector leaving the hobby is no longer available.

    While itís true that any potential benefits offered by this designation are unlikely to save quantities equal to the quantities of the opposing trend in the short term, these are valid observations which I have witnessed firsthand for as far back as Iíve been collecting.

    Iíll present answers to the following question which do not necessarily reflect my view. They do represent the most common answers I have heard over the years. Some answers may make sense to most, while others may not seem like very good ones to many people. They are however, answers Iíve heard from collectors who felt they could speak freely on the subject.

    Why do people collect uncirculated figures (graded or ungraded)?

    • They want to be certain that figures are not touched up and that the weapons are original. Itís true that every year AFA gets better and better at spotting reproduction weapons and accessories as well as paint touch-ups. Itís also true that sites like the Imperial Gunnery provide added reference and confidence to loose collectors. However, there are factory paint touch-ups as well as aftermarket paint touch-ups and in rare cases these can be hard to judge. Some also feel that there may be perfect reproduction weapons which exist or will be made at some point. While these scenarios are unlikely and grow even more so as time goes on, some feel that knowing an item is straight from packaging is the only way to tell. This view becomes less and less common as better and more detailed information becomes easily available to collectors.
    • They want to be certain that the exact same original figure and accessories are together. It may not make sense to most but itís a more common reason than most people think. The motivation for this aside, not much can be done to address this desire.
    • They want to free the toys from the packaging as they were originally meant to be. Not much can be done about this desire. These are rarely collectors who use AFAís services as that too is a way to encapsulate a figure.
    • They like the idea of simply knowing the toy is from original packaging. Not much can be done about this desire. This view may be tied directly to a sense of nostalgia and a desire to view the toy as freshly opened like the experience they had in childhood.
    • They like to be the original owner in a sense. Not much can be done about this desire. This view may not make sense to most, but everyoneís preferences and motivations are different.
    • They cannot find an example in the condition they want. This is applicable on certain figures and when someone wants to complete a collection quickly. If prices are not far apart or mint examples are hard to come by, many find it easier to open packaged figures. You can encourage patience, but in the end the level of patience someone is willing to display is entirely dependent on the individual and the circumstances. There are some figures which are extremely difficult to find in truly mint shape, whether they are loose or still in the package. These may take a decent amount of time to locate and many collectors will choose to open a packaged example if they find it first for a comparable price.

    In the end, the best approach for concerned collectors to take in attempting to minimize the number of packaged toys opened by inexperienced collectors is sharing knowledge with them about packaging variations as well as detailed information about authentic versus reproduction accessories. However, the fact remains that a large number of figures will continue to be opened each and every year for reasons which are completely unrelated to and unaffected by the assignment of an uncirculated designation.

    Collectors move quickly in and out of this hobby, with long-term collectors being the exception. Back when I used to sell toys, I would say that on average any given toy passed through my hands three times. This number would undoubtedly be even higher were I still active. Offering a designation does serve to preserve status and recent trends aside, would potentially keep figures from being opened in the future. Whether itís justifiable or not, a number of loose collectors will always want to know toys came from a package. You can only hope to decrease the quantity opened in the long run and work towards encouraging collectors to open figures on cut cards or in truly damaged and common forms of packaging. ĎUí grade or not, graded or ungraded, this reality isn't going to change. Knowledge doesnít always help, but it certainly does in many cases. In my view, that's certainly the best available option.

    I like the fact that Shawn has devoted a good amount of his time towards a cause he believes in. I fully respect and support that effort. I do however believe that this effort would be more effective in accomplishing its true goal if the feature focused on the practice of opening action figures to have loose examples. Certainly a focus on the trend of collecting figures because they have an uncirculated designation from AFA is entirely relevant to this issue. It is clearly appropriate to point out that there is no difference between an AFA 90 and an AFA U90. Collecting for a letter or number makes no sense and hopefully recent evidence to suggest that this trend is already on its last leg proves to be correct. The gap in price between a 90 and a U90 has narrowed significantly. I have personal knowledge that the most serious collectors in the world today who are looking for absolutely pristine examples of figures offer to pay an identical price for a 95 or a U95. The uncirculated designation is of no concern to them. Because this designation has no bearing on the actual condition, those who are simply extremely condition sensitive should embrace that approach.

    Final Thoughts

    Iíve discussed collectors' concerns about the uncirculated designation and the inadvertent side effect it has had on recent trends with the graders and officers of CGA (parent company of AFA). I was genuinely surprised by the reaction of several in the past week. They were personally offended because they see themselves as preserving collectibles and justifiably feel that a trend driven entirely by collectors should not be blamed on them. Assigning an uncirculated designation was not designed to encourage more people to collect figures straight from packaging, but rather to help preserve a status when the fact that figures would be opened was inevitable. Iíve suggested some ideas to them which may address a few underlying issues which contribute to this trend. Because of my unique position in this hobby and the vast number of completely different types of collectors I interact with, I believe that Iím aware of certain underlying issues which havenít been mentioned, but have more of an effect than most people think. Itís my understanding that some of these changes will in fact be implemented, but it would be inappropriate for me to discuss them at the present time. If AFA adopts these ideas and changes, I will likely post on these forums to discuss them, but only after they have made an announcement. Contrary to some public perception, my place at AFA has been constantly changing and at present I am rarely consulted about anything other than high level authentication and improvement of the website and the submission process.

    As Iíve stated, I personally support discouraging collecting habits which are based on a harmful trend. However, I fully support the rights of any collector to collect in whatever way they choose. If they choose to open figures for any reason of their own, then I support their right to do so. This collecting preference is far from black and white though. Which figures as well as what type and condition of packaging makes a big difference to a large number of collectors. I therefore feel that working to address the trend aspect, but keeping the designation for long term verification and benefit is the best solution. Itís interesting that the uncirculated designation is available for all toy lines of all years, and only vintage Star Wars toys seem to demand a significant premium. A small number of collectors and dealers have tried to sell figures from other lines with this designation, but there doesnít seem to be a significant interest level to warrant getting anything but figures in very heavily damaged packaging graded this way. There just isnít a big price difference between a 90 versus a U90. Recent trends suggest that for the most part vintage Star Wars is becoming that way once again and the vast majority of packaged figures sent in to be graded as loose are on truly damaged or cut cards. The number of regular loose figures and bagged action figures sent to be graded in bags has also increased heavily over the past year.

    Iíve tried to discuss the issues above in significant detail because with everything I have going on at the moment, Iím unable to budget the necessary time to answer every follow-up statement or question which may arise. I donít plan to post responses in this thread, but Iíve always demonstrated that Iím happy to discuss concerns, answer questions, or help in any way I can if anyone sends me an email. Friends in the hobby occasionally direct me to go look at a particular thread. Otherwise, I rarely have any free time to read Rebelscum. While Iíve seen many logical responses to posts which suggest that people who have a question involving me or CIB actually email me to ask, Iíve received an average of less than one email per year in relation to these instances. I continue to clearly communicate how to reach me, so please feel free to do so.

    I plan to begin occasionally posting again in the near future, once I find more balance in my life. With my current projects consuming an unreasonable 100+ hours each week, I need to take a step back and figure out what changes need to be made to allow me to focus on whatís most important. I couldnít forgive myself if I missed Annabelís first steps because I was consumed by work. Iíll certainly post more about my new projects in the months ahead. In the meantime, anyone who needs to reach me knows how to find me.

    Thank you,


  2. #2

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    I am hesitant to be the first to comment since I am still relatively new to this community but I will eventually anyway, so here it goes... It will take another sitting to get all the way through Tom's post, but I appreciate the post as it does clear up some information for me. Tom has dealt fairly with me in the past and his help has been much appreciated.
    Disclaimer: No vintage MOCs (or baggies) were harmed during the preparation of this post.
    Skye: "You can put lipstick on an Ugnaught bootleg, but it is still an Ugnaught bootleg."

  3. #3

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by CollectInvest

    I couldnít forgive myself if I missed Annabelís first steps because I was consumed by work.

    Tom, you've said an incredible mouthfull in your post, but this quote is really the most important thing. It sounds hokey, but many here won't truly understand this until / if they have children of their own. Enjoy your time with your family, you've earned it. And you're "one of the good ones", always have been.
    "This post does not seem to be relevant to reality therefore I am closing it." - Mike Mensinger

  4. #4

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    That was certainly a lot to read and i can't stress enough to anyone looking in on this thread the importance of reading Tom's post all the way through.

    Thanks for posting this, Tom. Those who don't know you personally, as many of us who are lucky enough to consider you a friend do, will hopefully come away from this thread with an entirely new perspective on you and the work you do for the hobby. While i've never been a big fan of the effect AFA has had on the market (both financially and with the mindset of some rabid AFA collectors in this and other hobbies) and while i may personally disagree with how a handful of items have been handled over the years (at the discretion of the owner, not you personally), there's no doubt in my mind that the work you've done for them and, more importantly, for this and other hobbies as a whole over your many years of involvement, has made nothing but a tremendously positive impact.

    I know you never intended to post this in an attempt to look for thank yous but you certainly deserve them. All around. I'm sure i speak for all of us when i say you've earned this "downtime" and that your family and happiness is truly all that matters in life. Enjoy it, my friend.
    Shane Turgeon
    Author: The Force in the Flesh

  5. #5

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    I was going to put off posting till tomorrow but after some red bull I have the energy to do so

    Tom , that surely was the longest post I have ever read on these boards, it took me 30 mins to finish it, firstly - thanks for taking the time to detail exactly what "Tom Derby" really does. I think many of us, myself included may have seen you as Tom - the AFA spokesman, despite your past attempts to prove you are not Mr AFA it's probably all too easy to lump you in with AFA as you were for many of us the only person linked to the company actually coming here to discuss things.

    It's been great reading about your upcoming projects in particular the upcoming Kellerman Book 2nd Edition and the site you aim to work on for all of our benefit, it's very cool to hear ahead of time that you are offering another free resource for our collecting community, I for one am an information junkie and I think your site will definitely be something I will enjoy.

    I am glad you have noted and addressed other helpful resources in this hobby such as Jay's site and Wolffs contributions, I was a mere bystander as a friend of Jay and I told him many times in the beginning that he had a huge task at hand and I personally know I wouldn't have been to work on such a task to completion, to his credit he didn't let anything phase him and he pushed and pushed until it was finally ready for collectors to use and the hours spent on his guide really show, its a great resource.

    Briefly touching on the U grade, it was nice to finally hear your personal stance as a collector/real person, there are some things about uncirculated figures that nne will ever see eye to eye on but I enjoyed the read nonetheless and certainly there are parts of your post that show more to me about your personal view of some of the things that have happened with this area of collecting than have ever done before.

    Like others have said already, stepping back from all the stress and strain of work and other commitments to concentrate on your family and future family is never a bad thing I certainly wish you all the very best in whatever you decide to do next.

    One more thing, I hope over the years where we may not have seen eye to eye on the forums in discussions about AFA you have never felt hurt by any comments I may have made, I have always tried to talk to you or about you with respect as I had heard your name mentioned even before I knew about AFA or U grades or even RS and will always recognise you as one of the hobbies most knowledgeable members, looking forward to more information on the upcoming site you mentioned and hope there are no delays in getting it out there for us collectors.

    Edit - even after a red bull I can't spell completion lol
    Happy buyers, happy sellers >> RS Feedback
    All you ever wanted to know about Trilogos >>
    Things I'm looking for >> WTB:ALL 8D8 Pre Prod!

  6. #6

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects


    Absolutely one of the most comprehensive and well thought out posts I've ever read, bar none. Some great insight into so many things that I honestly can't begin to summarize my thoughts on it. It explains a lot, gives great light to some issues and really speaks volumes to your character which is as solid as anyone in the hobby.

    I will say that it makes me appreciate how you assisted me even more and once again I am in your debt.

    On a personal note, I'll wish you all the best and enjoy time with family. There is nothing in this world (or galaxys far far away) that compare.
    SHEESH!!!!i am not raping anyones childhood!!!! - Darren
    P.S. I'm glad you didn't get your toy - Baytrooper
    wow WOW! he brings more cowbell to every forum!! - Ross_C

  7. #7

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    Thank you Tom for the well thought out, written reply to the U issue. I know I will be rereading it a few more times to take everything in. I appreciate the feedback on the statistics and I will be updating those to reflect what you've said. Those are the hard numbers and should be as accurate as possible.

    I do have to question your comment on this

    Quote Originally Posted by CollectInvest
    Additionally, while probably not important to most (but important to me), a type C Star Wars bag has never been opened for an uncirculated telescoping Luke Skywalker. Every uncirculated example came from a type B Star Wars bag which is slightly more common, much thinner, and more easily damaged. While most would take no notice of this, the type C bag is a very attractive package which many strive to add to their collections while the type B bag is plain looking and not as sought after. Again, of little importance in your general argument but worth pointing out if your attempt is to provide the most accurate assessment possible.
    The reason why I specifically put that baggie in my article was this comment from one of the main U collectors. He mentioned specifically about submitting "2 x heat sealed with the blue General Mills logo" If that is incorrect than I will remove it, but I would want clarification on that. Maybe he said that simply for shock value.

    I agree with you in the fact that there will be collectors who always open figures. I openly admit to opening a few baggies myself back in the early to mid 90's when I started my loose set. They were, like you said, about the same price as loose back then. That number is under 10, but that doesn't justify it to me. I chalk that up to me being inexperienced at the time. I certainly get the appeal to owning a minty loose figure. I can see the point in rewriting the article to talk about opening vintage toys in general, but the main fact that bothers me and I believe most of the ones against U grading is the fact of the sellers/collectors who submit multiples of the same figure to try and achieve that high 90/95 that is so coveted. That makes the situation quite a bit different than some collector who wants just one fresh figure for their collection.

    Quote Originally Posted by CollectInvest
    Additionally, the articleís endorsement of the practice of opening figures already graded with the uncirculated designation goes directly against its logical objective. The most likely result associated with opening these figures rather than selling them to other collectors is that an equal number of identical figures would then be opened from new packages by other collectors.
    I never meant for the article to endorse this practice and if comes across that way, then I will remove that link. I mainly linked to that thread to show a collector that had changed his mind about U grading. I certainly agree with you in that the figures should have been moved on to other U collectors to help prevent further damage.

    Quote Originally Posted by CollectInvest
    Iíve discussed collectors' concerns about the uncirculated designation and the inadvertent side effect it has had on recent trends with the graders and officers of CGA (parent company of AFA). I was genuinely surprised by the reaction of several in the past week. They were personally offended because they see themselves as preserving collectibles and justifiably feel that a trend driven entirely by collectors should not be blamed on them. Assigning an uncirculated designation was not designed to encourage more people to collect figures straight from packaging, but rather to help preserve a status when the fact that figures would be opened was inevitable. Iíve suggested some ideas to them which may address a few underlying issues which contribute to this trend. Because of my unique position in this hobby and the vast number of completely different types of collectors I interact with, I believe that Iím aware of certain underlying issues which havenít been mentioned, but have more of an effect than most people think. Itís my understanding that some of these changes will in fact be implemented, but it would be inappropriate for me to discuss them at the present time. If AFA adopts these ideas and changes, I will likely post on these forums to discuss them, but only after they have made an announcement. Contrary to some public perception, my place at AFA has been constantly changing and at present I am rarely consulted about anything other than high level authentication and improvement of the website and the submission process.
    Tom, I really appreciate you voicing the concerns of collectors to CGA. Whenever you've posted here, I've always looked at you as a bit of a voice for AFA and it is great to hear that you are also being a voice for collectors. I look forward to seeing what kind of changes will be put in place. It's also good to hear from you that the U trend is cooling.

    In closing I just want to say, work less and enjoy your family. In the end, that is what matters most in life.
    Collection Website|U Grade FAQ|My Feedback

    WTB: Luke Jedi POTF Proof

  8. #8

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    This thread (Tom's post) cought me and I bet a lot of others by surprise. Looking forward to reading.

    Excuse me Ma'am, there's a hair in my bubble.

  9. #9

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    Really insightful, and amazing read into the thoughts of a stellar person and collector. I can't say I agree with everything, but you can't ask for a more open, thought provoking and respect inducing post than this. I hope this settles a number of issues and assumptions and allows for a more creative and constructive future. I for one am more excited about the collecting future having read this.

    You are too humble Tom, you do deserve big respect and thanks!
    I seek Yoda. Collect him I must. Sell to me your production and preproduction Yoda items you will. Vintage it is, yes yes. Mmm hehehe.

  10. #10

    Re: Current Issues, Upcoming Changes, New Projects

    I have to say that was a really great and insightful post Tom huge kudos for taking the time to write in what sounds like an incredibly busy schedule!

    I also want to say thanks for the positive comments about the imperial gunnery reference site Its been incredibly tough going at times and i have to say its only been possible by having so many collectors chipping in with everything from pictures to helping purchases new repros as they hit the market a special mention goes out to Wolff who really helped me get up and running. Even now i have 12 new REPRO's to document and i have to say that unfortunately they are getting better

    There are now 2 repros that can only really be identified by float tests (the original sinks and the repro floats!) as they are near identical to the genuine version any differences are minute thankfully though to date all repros can be identified and ill ensure that the knowledge needed is available to collectors. With help from Lee we have also completed float tests on all the weapons / accessories and this data will be added at the weekend its important because testing has shown its not as simple as genuine weapons float and repros sink.

    I set up the Imperial Gunnery for everyone who needs it and hopefully to benefit the hobby, I genuinely hope that if the standard loose graders at AFA needed to check a weapon out that they know they can check it on the Imperial Gunnery no problem at all

    Regarding your offer to help Tom that is awesome! I can only imagine the amount of weapons / accessories that you have come into contact with! If there are any pictures or help that you can provide that would be greatly appreciated! Ill send you an email buddy

    Im gonna make a nice filter coffee and go back through your post again you made so great points about U Grading and i want to take sometime to digest everything whilst we may not see eye to eye directly on certian points i think its great that steps are been taken to ensure rare items submitted for U Grading like the POCH MOC are been highlighted to the submitter and hopfully saved in most cases.

    Like Joe stated earlier im also an info junkie i love learning new things about this hobby we all love and i cant wait to see your new site / project develop!

    Lastly and to echo previous comments i hope you get to spend the time with your family that you have clearly earned buddy


    - Apologies for my poor spelling / grammer i had to send this message off one of those horrible miniture notebooks GRRRRR
    Want to know about Weapon and Accessory Variants? Have you tried The Imperial Gunnery

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