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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The New Normal

As a Transformer collector I am always evaluating and re-evaluating the market on vintage figures that I still need for my collection, as I am sure all of us do. Recently I have started making spreadsheets to track price changes over time to hopefully give me a good idea of how much I have left to spend in order to complete my collection. But what I saw last night shattered my expectations.

We all know that eBay is the absolute worst place to find a deal on vintage Transformers, unless that figure has been reissued many times over. There is just too much exposure and emotional bidding can artificially inflate the prices, which is what I believe happened not too long ago.

Since eBay eventually removes the auctions I will not post links, but rather images of the completed auctions to view, be prepared:

And this is only a sampling, a loose Dinoking for $920, a loose Galaxy Shuttle for $710, and many more. If you don't watch items like this on a regular basis then you may not understand exactly what is going on here. Just for comparisons sake a MIB Black Shadow & Blue Bacchus sold on eBay not more than a few weeks ago for a combined price of $2000, which was still high in my opinion. I originally only paid $500 for my Black Shadow in much better condition, and Heroic Decepticon told me he paid less than half the price for his Blue Bacchus which is complete with box. So what exactly happened?

I think there are a couple of things going on here that helped to inflate the price on these figures. First of all they were all from the same, reputable seller, giving buyers confidence. Secondly they were all out of Ohio, giving US bidders much more incentive to purchase due to figures not having to pass customs and low shipping costs. But can those factors alone explain, doubling, even tripling of prices?

Part of what astonished me so much was that all of these figures were without boxes, and in many cases without much of the paperwork normally associated with Japanese G1 figures. It isn't often you see these figures loose and incomplete in this manner. To me, the box and original paperwork adds a lot of value, but I recently discovered this isn't the case for everyone. Some people don't put the same value on the box and are willing to pay almost the same price for a loose figure as a MIB one. This is demonstrated by the Dinoking example, as a boxed complete version sold on eBay a couple weeks ago for $1,067. So in this case, the difference between the boxed auction and the loose auction was a measly $147 which frankly boggles my mind. I would expect collectors to be willing to pay much less for loose figures.

Part of what worries me about seeing auctions like this is realizing that in each case there is more than one person willing to pay outrageous prices for these figures: obviously the winner of the auctions, as well as the second highest bidder who only lost out by a couple of dollars. I believe this is an ongoing trend in collectible toys and Transformers collectibles especially; many of the people that grew up with the figures are entering the period in their lives when they are going to be making the most money and have the most disposable income. Compounded by the fact that so many new fans have entered the marketplace since the live-action movies started coming out makes for more competition now than ever before. The final straw in this back-breaking scenario is emotional bidding which I touched on above. These auctions were sitting out there for a week with people watching, planning and preparing. And as anyone who has bid on items before can tell you, live auctions get the heart pumping, which is exactly what they are designed to do. In fact it has been suggested that perpetual online bidding can alter the chemistry of your brain to make you more susceptible to continue bidding even after you know you should have stopped.

So, do these prices represent the new normal? Will Japanese G1's (arguably the rarest and most sought-after wide release figures available) continue to double in price every couple of months? Personally, I don't think so. I think this was a perfect storm of variables, that came together for a brief period of time. I think Japanese G1 figures will continue to rise in value, just not in the insane jumps we have seen here. In fact, I think there will probably be at least a couple of people putting up a couple more Sonic Bombers or Blue Bacchus's in the next few weeks in order to try and cash in on what they may believe is a price spike. Then we will see if the prices really hold.

As for me I will be staying off eBay for anything other than SCF's.

See also:
Japanese Exclusive: Black Shadow

*UPDATE* Check out Flywheel's Thoughts on last night's insanity!


  1. I am so glad you wrote about this, otherwise, I would have!

    There is something about this situation that is unreal, either for the reasons you mentioned or that there is (lots) of shill bidding involved. Over the years, I have seen these types of thing happen ever so often - a USA seller listing lots of vintages and by the second or third batch of auctions, the prices just go higher and higher - i have seen a seller (honest guy it appears) selling out MM Transports loose for $200 a pop at live bidding. It'd be cheaper to buy from the UK and pay some customs, rather than in the US at those prices.

    I think this is a storm in a teacup. Subsequent auctions for similar figures probably won't reach that level of prices.

    just to add to the statistics and give some perspective, these are my purchase prices for pieces I bought in the last 2.5 years (not really that long ago) and most are very very mint:

    - Black Shadow MIB - $550
    - Blue Bacchus MIB, unused - $675
    - Sixknight MIB - $425
    - Sonic Bomber MIB - $280
    - Galaxy Shuttle (Victory box) MIB - $475

    1. I did notice both Black Shadow and Blue Bacchus were won by the same bidder. Now whether that was actually the seller under another name I'll never know. But the winner of Sonic Bomber & Roadfire is on TFW, that person seems to feel like they overpaid. So it may have just been a case of good luck on the seller's part.

    2. I think this looks like good luck on the seller's part, I've seen it happen before. Sonic Bomber and Road Fire were certainly very expensive. For those prices, one could have got a Big Powered giftset!

    3. I guess that is just the power of live auctions sometimes, your emotions get the better of you. Sometimes you just get sick of looking and are willing to pay a little extra not to have to wait anymore.

  2. Watching the Galaxy Shuttle auction, I too suspected a lot of fake bidding, especially when the auction price dropped $400 with 6 minutes left. It just seed fishy. I was going to bid on it when the price was a low $116, but gave up when it skyrocketed.

    Unfortunately, eBay is my only recourse to filling my vintage collection as there aren't local dealers or people that I know locally who collect what I do. It's difficult trying to gauge what a figure should go for nowadays thanks to eBay. I tried to use shmax's value guide, but it's just all over the place. Now I just go with my gut, but it's a cheap gut, so I've been beaten out of a lot of auctions.

    1. If you're ever looking for a valuation, I'd be happy to offer my experiences. Like I said I keep a spreadsheet so I can try to keep a current value on items. Also I've found Heroic to be indispensable when it comes to pricing certain Japanese items, his valuation is more often right on the money of where it "should" be and not what eBay prices go for.

    2. Thanks! Certain items, I know for sure I've overpaid for just for peace of mind. Figures that are flooded with KOs I've only bought from one seller because I know he's reliable even if overpriced. I've actually started weaning myself off of him because of his prices. The gut check seems to work, but I'm wondering if the prices in my head are unreal. I really thought Galaxy Shuttle would've been a $250 figure, not $710!

    3. Yes, Galaxy Shuttle was definitely high, most of them were. In that condition I wouldn't think he would go higher than $400 even on eBay, but apparently I was wrong. I paid about $600 for mine, but he was mint in the box, no yellowing.

    4. Thanks for the call out, Ark. I'll remember you when my inbox is flooded with price valuation queries, hahaha.
      I pegged that GS at $380 max. Crazy that it ended twice higher than what I thought. It was certainly a lot more than I paid for either of my pieces.

  3. Nice article. Have you guys noticed the prices on YJP for diaclones are getting out of hand too. A Powered Convoy for over 200k yen and standard cars selling at nearly 100k (last one i saw was a prowl)

    1. Thanks! Yes, I have noticed that, the diaclone market has gone crazy! I started looking at a few of them but after seeing what the prices were doing I quickly changed my mind. That is the only segment of toys that I would say is worse price-wise than Japanese G1.

  4. Yes, add to the fact that I suspect that the supply for Japanese vintages are getting scarcer in Japan itself, the prices for these vintages doesn't show any signs of slowing down soon.

    1. Good point. Many US collectors may have finished their American collections and have begun to look for other items to spend their money on.