Back in the '80s, when the Star Wars movies were talk of the town, every kid wanted a Luke Skywalker action figure and an R2D2 robot. Little did we know back then that those molded pieces of plastic would be worth thousands of dollars a couple of decades later.
Many collectors of action figures keep them as reminders of their childhood. Some people buy them as a reflection of pop culture from a period in American history, and some people treat them as little pieces of kitschy art.
For others, an action figure is just a cheap toy. No matter what the reason is for collecting action figures, the bottom line is that its worth lies in the eyes of the owner. For collectors, its monetary value is whatever another collector is willing to pay for it.
Like any collectible item, the value of an item depends in large part on the condition it is kept in. Keeping an figure in its original packaging is the best way to retain the value, because it keeps it pristine and out of the elements and dust. Most action figures lose at least 30% of their value if they are opened and removed from the original packaging.
If you were a child when you got the figure as a gift, it's unlikely that you were able to keep from ripping the package off so you could get your hands on that little R2D2. But if you're a collector and you happen upon one that's still in its original packaging, don't open it. The moment you do, its value drops instantly.
Keeping action figures pristine is easy to do if you follow three simple rules.
Put them in a Safe Storage Container
Plastic bins or totes are perfect for storing action figures. For figures that are still in their original packages or boxes, be sure to put the heavier ones on the bottom of the bin and the smaller ones on top, so they won't get crushed.
Label Each Bin or Container
Label each container with a note to keep your collection organized. The label should include the category (movie, book, comic, etc.) as well as the year, or at least the decade.
Do Not Keep Storage Bins in Attics, Garages, or Outside Buildings
Humidity and temperature swings can damage action figures as well as their packaging. Humidity and any moisture leaks in the bins can result in mold and mildew on the cardboard blister cards.
If your action figures get dirty, you should clean them as soon as possible before the dirt sinks in or becomes so hard to remove that you risk damaging the figure by cleaning it. The method you use to clean it depends on the type of dirt you're working with.
To clean off dusty figures, just use a can of compressed air that is usually used to clean computer keyboards. As an alternative, you can use a common household hand-held duster, or an electrostatic duster. Don't use a vacuum cleaner, unless you want to risk giving some tiny piece of your figure a little trip into a bag packed with dust.
If your action figure is wearing removable clothes, you can remove the clothes, soak them in cool water with a little bit of dish soap, lightly rinse them, and then let them dry. You can iron the clothes before putting them back on, but be sure they're cool enough not to damage the plastic.
For greasy stains or ink marks on action figures, the first thing you can try is a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. If that doesn't get the stain off, try soaking the figure in warm soapy water. If the figure has any decals or stickers, a dry cleaning method (see here) would be better, rather than risk losing those decals.
If warm water doesn't help remove the stains, you can drop an Alka-Seltzer table into the water. The bubbles might scrub the figure clean. If all else fails, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to softly scrub the stains, and then dry the figure with a towel or soft cloth.
Action figures with stickers, decals, or electrical parts cannot be cleaned by dunking them in warm water. Use a cotton swab or toothbrush dipped in a very small amount of soapy water for hard-to-reach areas, but if possible, just use a dry cotton swab.
If necessary, you can scrub the figure with just a tiny bit of water―but be very careful not to do more damage in the cleaning than is already there with the stain.
Action figures are a joy to collect and a behold, and they're even more of a joy when they're kept in pristine condition. Even if you aren't collecting them as an investment, think of the next generation who might just want a glimpse of joy by seeing a piece of the past. And a clean action figure is a happy action figure!