Updated: Jun 25
It's odd, I guess, to start writing for a sports card site and use the first article to write about G.I. Joe action figures. But as you read this – as I hope you will – you'll find out why.
I love collecting cards. But I also love collecting other things. At one point or another, I've dabbled in stamps, rocks and minerals, toys, and NFTs. Now, I've found joy collecting G.I. Joes, the toys I begged my parents to buy me – and that I could play for hours with alone.
As I built my card collection, I realized nostalgia takes two forms.
The first form is the kind that brings you to a certain time and place. G.I. Joe pulls me back to my childhood more than any other childhood item.
Sometimes I'd take my soldiers, put them in battleships and go to the bathtub, fighting imaginary battles decided by the situational designs of my eight-year-old mind for as long as my mom would let me.
The second type of nostalgia appeals to my emotions and intellect. It's the nostalgia I’ve been taught but never experienced. It's the reason I want to add Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente cards to my card collection. I'll never know what it felt like to watch Jackie play or see Clemente roam his rightfield corner.
But I can hold a Topps Jackie card that, like an old toy, takes me to a place that I either used to know or to a place I wish I had known.
The Grading Scale
The G.I. Joes I collect are graded by Action Figure Authority (AFA) and encapsulated in acrylic cases. The figures are well-preserved, very different from my childhood figures, which had missing pieces, broken arms, and loose joints.
AFA is a subdivision of Collectible Grading Authority. The most mind-blowing element about AFA’s grading system is that its grades have little to do with the actual toy. The packaging of the toy mostly determines the grades.
A wrinkle on the cardboard, a ripped price tag, or a dented bubble (also known as a blister) all bring down a grade. Of course, AFA will look at the toy's condition. But since most figures have stayed inside their packaging, they're mostly in mint condition. For a G.I. Joe, factors like paint quality, facing forward, and straight knees result in higher grades.
The AFA scale ranges from 60 – 100. Toys that receive grades of 85 or higher are generally in pristine condition. Toys in the 75-85 range are in great shape but have some defects.
Just like with cards, there's a huge difference in price between vintage toys in near pristine shape and toys that might just be graded an 'excellent.' A 1978 Kenner Luke Skywalker graded an AFA 90 sold for $100k in June 2022, one of only two.
But let me be clear; I don't know if the action figures I buy are good investments or stores of value. I don't care. What I know is the G.I. Joes in my collection connect me to my past and remind me of the importance of creating memories for my own children.
The Urge to Collect
Collecting has commonly been called a human instinct. It is something I've had the desire to do as early as I can remember. When I was five, no one told me to start collecting stamps. I would just cut the stamps from their envelopes when my parents finished going through the mail.
Yes, I collect G.I. Joe. It’s whimsical and not something I’ll announce at most social gatherings. But when I write about The Hobby, it means an exploration of our instincts, our preferences, and the way this indescribable urge to collect connects all of us.