Star Wars Action Figures and Rising Prices: A Collector’s Dilemma

January 13, 2014 – For many years, I’ve catalogued and indexed my Star Wars collectibles, particularly the action figures. Each figure is lovingly described by its official title and/or a description. Subsequent columns on the spreadsheet may list the series number, the date of purchase, the source (such as online or from a particular store) and, finally, the purchase price.

My indexing system has several purposes: (1) To keep track of the hundreds, if not thousands, of figures, vehicles and other Star Wars items; (2) To identify missing items from a series or highlight the most prized collectibles because of a high price, rarity or uniqueness; (3) For inventory and insurance purposes; and (4) To instill a sense of order and discipline in an otherwise unwieldy collection.

The focus of today’s blog posting, however, is the inexorable rise in prices, and how it threatens the collecting community. Even a cursory glance at my indexes (“indices”?) will show that action figure prices have sometimes more than doubled in the last ten years, grossly outpacing the rate of inflation. Here are some examples:

    ORIGINAL TRILOGY COLLECTION price range (2004-2005):

Luke Skywalker – Training on Dagobah (OTC/#01): $4.00 Kmart (Dec. 2004)

Princess Leia Bespin Gown (ESB)(OTC/#18): $4.99 Kmart (Dec. 2004)

Greedo (OTC/#22): $4.79 Target (Dec. 2004)

Yoda – Dabogah Training (OTC/#02): $6.99 Target (Jan. 2005)

Bib Fortuna (OTC/#31): $2.00 Walmart (Jan. 2005)

Princess Leia Organa (OTC/Leia): $9.99 ToysRUs (Jan. 2005)

The above examples are a representative price range for the 3-and-3/4″ action figures during a two-month period. ToysRUs tended to be priced higher, so the Princess Leia OTC Vintage Collection ($9.99) is a high-end outlier — just as Walmart tended to be the most competitively priced at the bottom end for a Bib Fortuna OTC at $2.00 (!), another outlier.

In my analysis, the typical or average retail price was somewhere in the middle between $4.00 to $4.99. Notice that even among one retailer, the prices fluctuated. For example, Kmart’s range was $4.00 to $4.99. Target’s range was $4.79 to $6.99. And every once in a while, they would have a fantastic sale (2-for-1) or a clearance to get rid of the unsold peg-warmers. Those were the good ol’ days when you would stock up and quickly build your collection.

And a year or two earlier, prices were even lower. Here’s another sample:

    ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002-2004):

Ephant Mon (Fan’s Choice #3)(AOTC/02/45): $2.99 KBToys (Dec. 2004)

R2D2 Droid Factory Flight (AOTC/03/09): $3.35 Target (Dec. 2003)

Barriss Offee, Luminara Unduli’s Padawan (AOTC 3/12): $4.79 Target (Nov 2003)

Ashla and Jempa Jedi Padawans (AOTC/03/16): $4.99 ToysRUs (Nov. 2003)

Clone Wars: Durge (Clone Wars/03/46): $5.49 Kmart (Dec. 2003)

The observation here (other than the sad demise of the bankrupt KBToys, which closed in Feb. 2009) is that the price range appeared reasonable, from the low-end of KBToys ($2.99) to the higher-but-still-reasonable ToysRUs ($4.99). And for whatever reasons, Kmart was the high outlier at $5.49.

Today, in 2014, the standard 3-and-3/4″ action figure from The Black Series typically retails at $9.99, or $19.99 for the new 6-inch figures. And that’s just for ONE figure. How does a serious collector justify spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for various waves and lines (assuming he/she has the funds to spend)?

Well, I’m certainly not the first observer to sound the alarm that escalating prices threaten to price many items out of the reach of devoted buyers — or to kill off the Hasbro supply chain altogether.

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