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How to Start Collecting Action Figures

gi joe figure

What is An Action Figure?

This is a question that has been debated and argued about since the first G.I. Joe hit toy shelves around the globe in the mid 60's.

The easiest way to articulate the general difference between an action figure and a doll is that an action figure is more often than not based on a fictional character from a movie, a comic book or a video game. They are also most frequently marketed at males, both young and old.

As children our action figures were a door into another world where the only limitation was our imagination. Like the media they drive from they are a way to escape normal day to day life and step into the role of a hero saving the world and defeating evil.

Dolls on the other hand are based on more down to earth and realistic role models stemming from real life. They also tend to be generic rather that based on any one person, for example a nurse or a baby. This allows the child, most frequently a young girl to role-play her societal position as a mother and a care-giver, acclimatizing her at an early age to her place in a family. Whatever your personal feelings are on how this gender-profiling shapes our civilization

it is undeniable that in childhood, boys on the whole are encouraged to make war and girls to look after babies. When a girl reaches a certain age she is encouraged to put down the doll and start playing at make-up and styling her hair. Curiously there is no equivalent for the boys. This may account in part for why the male side of our species is perceived as being behind the female half when it comes to growing up.

On a side note, my own four year old daughter's favourite toy is her Iron Man figure.

Of course there are exceptions to this, the recent popularity in political and music based "action figures" being prime examples of action figures branching out away from straight out fantasy. But take a stroll in your local Toys R Us and look at the striking difference between the action figure aisles and the pink ones stocked to the gills with Barbie.

vintage gi joe

The very first action figure was introduced in 1964 by Hasbro and the phrase "action figure" was a clever piece of marketing coined in order to make this new "doll" for boys saleable.

GI Joe became an instant hit and was massive success in the US and Hasbro soon realized that there was a huge International market waiting to be exploited for this new doll and so it was licensed to other companies internationally, thus opening up new markets and ensuring its global popularity and place in the history books.

Compared to the modern day, highly articulated, finely detailed, body-scan sculpts, these early Joes were pretty basic and fairly crude but they were pose-able and fun!

Their limbs were held together with elastic bands inside, allowing the arms, legs and head to be moved, as well as being able to change their uniforms and clothes quite easily.

Hasbro's GI Joe and Palitoy's Action Man in the UK remained the standard "boy's doll" or action figure for many years, until the advent of Star Wars, Masters of the Universe and other such figures in the late seventies and early eighties..

Some of the earlier figures have become highly collectible over the years and are coveted by many collectors, particularly the non-military figures, which due to their lack of popularity were only produced in small quantities and can be worth a lot of money if in mint condition.

Over the decades their image has been toned down to conform to modern standards and regulations. As a result a military background has now become part of a bygone era. GI Joe is now an international hero rather than all-American and as culture has evolved the aggressive overtones have been pulled back and replaced by a more protective image. This gives the brand broader worldwide appeal, but is seen as a watering down by long-term aficionados.

spawn action figure

The Beginnings of the Hobby

The advent of Star Wars, a decade or so after the introduction of G.I. Joe, took the market by storm. Until then action figures had been confined to the pre-teen boys market, but that was to change in a big way. With the huge success of Star Wars the Kenner action figures based on the movie flew off shop shelves quicker than stores could fill them.

Kenner just couldn't keep up with the massive demand, which came as a complete surprise to everyone involved, as no-one had expected the film to be the huge success it was and nothing akin to this had been witnessed before. This resulted in a major shortage of the figures on the market and they became scarce, particularly the Darth Vader and Han Solo figures.

As demand continued to grow the Kenner figures value skyrocketed galvanizing the secondary market until it was greater than it had ever been. This was especially true of low production figures that were made for promotional purposes or the specialty markets.

Often the mistakes and first attempts were the most desirable. Blue Snaggletooth for example was a full-sized figure in boots that was constructed for the Cantina playset using for reference a black and white photo that stopped at the knees. The later figure was short and red with hairy feet more like Zutton in the movie, but his Blue older brother is still the stuff of figure collector's dreams. Similarly the first Jawa had a vinyl cape, much like Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader, but Kenner soon decided that because of his reduced size they could afford a cloth cape. As a result vinyl-cape Jawas became something to find and treasure.

And so the collectible action figure market was born.

Later, in the 80'S and 90's fuelled by the burgeoning popularity of animated shows such as the Transformers, He-Man and Thundercats, and comic heroes like The X-Men, Spider-Man and Spawn the hobby became more mainstream and new companies catering for this increasingly popular hobby began springing up and branching out.

The collectors market is now massive with most animated TV shows, movies, video games sports and many pop stars having a line of action figures produced based on its characters. In some circles you're not considered to be a superstar unless you've had a figure produced in your likeness.

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