A Guide To Starting An Action Figure Collection...Or Anything, Really

A lot of us toy bloggers focus our posts on pictures of what we’ve recently found, stuff which has been in our collections for years, or full shelves on display. However, what a lot of us don’t seem to ever talk about is how it all started, better stated, how someone reading our site could start their own collection.

While I won’t profess to be an expert toy collector, I can speak from experience on my own story of how I went from no action figures as an adult to the wonderful collection I have today. Here for you, I offer from my perspective, a guide to starting a toy collection.

Step 1: Think Before You Act

While one could go to ebay, a local toy shop / convention or many other avenues and start buying toys which appeal, it’s typically best to follow that age old adage. Think before you act. Patience is a virtue and taking the time to formulate a plan of action will not only save you time, but also money.

Do you want to collect mint in package toys? Or are you buying your figures loose? If loose, are you looking for 100% complete, mint condition, heavily played with condition, etc.? Once you know this, you can better research price points to determine the all-important question – Can you afford what you want? I’ll touch more on that in a moment.

Equally, it’s important to identify why you are collecting. Do you genuinely love toys? Are you investing? Do you just want a part of your childhood back? Though some may disagree with your reasons, none of them are bad. The bottom line is you have to have a reason to want to collect toys,anything really. Otherwise, why bother?

Step 2: Write A List

Open Excel, keep a notepad; however you want to track what it is you actually want to buy.

Personally, I created an Excel spreadsheet, which I still use to this day. Each line has its own named tab and each tab encompasses a list of the toys from that line. While I’m not a completest in my toy collecting, I am anal about having a complete list of all the toys from that line. This allows me to focus on what I actually want, while also giving me things to research to see if I will want them in the future. This was most useful with my G.I. Joe line when branching out past 1989, territory I was relatively unfamiliar with.

Not as anal as I am? For your list, you can keep it simple. Just write down what you want. If you want to take it a step further, list the items in priority order of which ones you want more than others.

Step 3: Research

You’ve got your list. You know what you want. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now you need to familiarize yourself with it.

Research price points to see if you can even afford what you’re looking for in the condition you’re wanting. If not, as Han Solo would say, that will end your trip real quick.

Research the accessories. If you’re looking for loose, 100% complete figures, then you need to know what they come with. There are a lot of resources out there for the various toy lines which have been archived on varying websites; Places such as He-Man.org, YoJoe.com, etc.

If you’re into physical media, you can also find various books on collecting. However, these can sometimes get as pricey as the figures themselves as the books go out of print. Mark Bellomo is considered an authority in the collector’s community for his knowledge of several nostalgic toy lines. He’s written numerous guides on varying subject matters, such as, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Star Wars.

The bottom line is that knowing truly is half the battle. Educate yourself before you buy.

Step 4: Display, Not Storage

Okay, you want two hundred action figures. Do you have somewhere to put them?

Ask any collector and they’ll tell you the biggest deficiency in collecting is space. There’s nothing worse than having a set of figures which the only thing you can do with is put in a box in a closet. That’s not collecting. That’s storing.

A popular source of display among collectors is the basic glass door cabinet from Ikea. The piece stands five and a half feet tall, and has all glass paneled siding with a wooden top and bottom. Additionally, there are options for lighting, such as LED strips or adhesive hang lights. If you want to up size these, you can get fourteen inches long, three tier spice jar stands from Bed Bath And Beyond, which fit perfectly on each shelf.

If you’re keeping you toys mint in the package, there is still a key option to consider. Are you going to leave it out in the elements, or are you going to seal them in display boxes / cases?

Companies such as Retro Protection, Zoloworld and Collecting Warehouse have made an entire business out of providing collectors with clear, protective cases for your toys. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, making it relatively easy to find just the right one to fit perfectly.

The downside to this is that they’re not a very cheap product. Buying in bulk is definitely your friend in this kind of scenario. However, you’re still going to be spending quite a bit of money, sometimes more than the figure you’re buying, just to protect it. Depending on your collecting style or overall intentions of the item, such as investing, this could definitely be worth it to you.

Ultimately though, it’s up to you how you want to display your toys. You can be as creative as you like. If it’s within your means, design and build an entire theme based room around your collection.

Regardless of how you do it, you have to be ready for that collection you’re about to buy. While it’s not as rewarding as the toys themselves, this should be your first purchase.

Step 5: Collect

You’ve already thought of and obtained how you’re going to display it, so now it’s time to get it. With your plan of action in place and budget in hand, start your purchasing engine.

Planning and researching your soon to be collection should be fun in and of themselves. However, obtaining the physical item is definitely the final objective and the most rewarding. There’s nothing better than when you have that item in your hands and can call it your own.

Some collector’s prefer the thrill of the hunt, leaving their purchases up to chance. They’ll go to local toy stores, flea markets, conventions and other such brick and mortar locations to put their collections together. This isn’t a bad avenue as it can prove quite fun. However, it can also be quite disappointing and frustrating. If you leave your collecting up to chance, you’re going to have to take the good with the bad.

On a positive side of this avenue, there’s something to be said about the connections, and even the friendships, of branching out to people face to face. Most collector’s enjoy helping someone find what they’re looking for, and can be quite eager to assist. There’s nothing wrong with building a network to source what you’re looking for. Just be ready to reciprocate where you can.

If you’re more for the direct approach, there’s always ebay, Facebook groups, toy forums and other such online outlets. Because you’re not conducting a face to face transaction, this one comes with a level of trust and its own set of rules for patience.

Some sellers don’t make it as much of a priority as you would like for them to ship what you’ve paid for. I’ve had transactions which have taken upwards of ten days to receive confirmation of shipment. It’s frustrating, but unfortunately comes with the territory when you’re dealing with people via the internet.

While you will most likely find a high percentage of success in online purchase, you do have to be prepared for the occasional person who will take your money and run. Because of this, always use payment methods that are guaranteed to protect you in the case of fraud. Personally, I only use PayPal for my online transactions. In my opinion, their buyer protection program is unmatched. Amazon also provides excellent customer service when it comes to third party sellers on their site not delivering their goods.

Step 6: Know The Warning Signs

As with all things, collecting action figures, or toys in general, comes with a disclaimer.

Our brains are wired to want to experience joy and happiness and they respond to this appropriately in kind. However, this rush of happiness can also easily make you prone to an addiction. If you keep hitting that high, regardless of what it is that’s causing it, you’re going to want to experience it more and more.

If not kept in check, collecting can quickly become an addiction and it’s important that you assess yourself and watch for these signs.

Overspending – Are you starting to justify spending beyond your means? “I’ll pay myself back with my next paycheck,” or “I’ll just do without ‘X’ this month.” Always spend within your limits. Remember you are an adult. You have responsibilities. You may even have people relying on you. Unless it’s another toy, there should never be a scenario where you have to consider an ultimatum. If you have to ask yourself if you want to buy an action figure or eat for the week, or pay your bills on time, you should immediately reassess your priorities.

Loss Of Focus – It's one thing to be passionate about a hobby. It's another to be constantly obsessing on what it is you’re trying to buy? Is it to the point that you’re not focused at work? Is it what you devote all of your free time to? Are you losing sleep because you keep thinking about it?

Selling Things To Buy Things – Are you looking around your home for things to offload just so you can buy something else that’s nagging at you to get?

Is It Causing Relationship Problems? – Not just a spouse or significant other, but friends, children, co-workers? Are you distancing yourself from people? Are you ignoring them for toys? Are you meeting the needs of your family?

Are You Being Sneaky About It? – This one pertains mainly to those who have families or are in a relationship with someone. Are you hiding what you’re buying from them, hoping they won’t notice you’ve bought yet another thing? Hiding something is a sign of guilt.

Despite the picture I created for this post, addiction is not something to take lightly. If you start to experience things such as these, you should definitely take a step back. Talk to people around you and seek help if necessary.

Step 7: Take The Time To Enjoy What You Buy

Many collectors, often the ones lost in obsession, don't take the time to enjoy what they've actually bought. Instead, they throw the piece on a shelf and immediately say, "What's next?"

If you're not taking the time to enjoy what you're actually buying, then why are you doing it?

Spend time with your toys. Look at each figure. Play with it. It is, after all, a toy. Hold it in your hands and get lost in the memories you had as a child playing with it or take a moment to revel in finally having what you didn't as a kid. Inspect every inch of it, taking in all the details and colors.

Go a step further and create an online journal, Facebook page or blog to share with other's in the collecting community what you've acquired. Snap some photos and write your own personal reviews. You may be pleasantly surprised to find others out there who share your passion.

Taking these moments will not only help you slow down in collecting, but also give you the time needed to appreciate what you've just spent your hard earned money on.

Step 8: Know When To Stop

If you start to experience signs of addiction, then you’ve definitely reached a stopping point. If nothing else, a hiatus until you can get yourself and your priorities back in order.

Additionally though, know when you’re done in general.

Collecting is not an obligation. It’s a hobby. Don’t buy all ten figures in a series if you honestly only want eight of them. If you force yourself to buy things just to say it’s complete you may burn yourself out. Additionally, you’re spending money on things which can be devoted to something else you’d actually enjoy.

Know when you’re out of space too. It’s great to want to buy more, but if you don’t have the space for it, you should really rethink it. While it’s not impossible to enjoy a collection stored in a box, it’s definitely not as fun as seeing it displayed on a shelf.

Final Thoughts

For those of you on the collecting journey, I wish you well. I know first hand the joy of simply sitting, or standing, in a room staring at a collection. It's easy to get lost in it as your mind wanders back to the past. A memory from your childhood, or simply a thought of how happy you are to have something you never did as a kid. It's good for the heart, mind and soul.

At the end of it all, regardless of your reason for wanting to collect, it should be fun. As I said above, this is a hobby, not an obligation.

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