For collector's looking for vintage action figures, there's nothing like making a great score at a local thrift store. Most cities have at least one where people donate unwanted items that the store then resells at prices way below their original retail value. One of the benefits of thrift store shopping is that many items get donated by people who simply don't realize may have a collectible value.
This is often the case with action figures because the general public views them as playthings for children that are to be thrown out or given away when the child has long since lost interest in them. They may have no idea that there is a collectible market out there filled with action figure enthusiasts clamoring for long forgotten figures from classic lines. The old adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure couldn't be more true to action figure collectors.
Another benefit to collectors is the fact that thrift stores sell their donated merchandise for incredibly low prices. It's not unheard of to find a figure that is currently going on the market for $50 or more to be priced at a thrift store for as little as $1.00 or even less. It doesn't take a genius to see the immediate investment payoff. But to find such treasures takes planning, research and time.
Where to Shop
First thing on the list is to find some thrift shops in your area. Most shops can be found in any local phone directory or by doing a quick search online. The most common thrift stores are Goodwill and the Salvation Army, both of which have hundreds of locations all across the country.
Most cities of a decent size will have other thrift stores either privately owned or run by a local church. These smaller stores are just as great for finding forgotten treasures as the big national stores.
Almost all thrift stores will have a toy section, usually over-run with piles of stuffed animals, but with a little digging, it won't be long before you find some great action figures. Finding the action figures is the easy part, if you don't mind spending a little time hunting, but the real trick is to know what you're looking for.
How to Hunt
Once you have found a store, you now have to keep in mind what you're looking for. One good rule of practice is to make a list of what figures you want. Keeping a list with you will help you check off figures as you find them. This doesn't mean you're guaranteed to find them, but it'll help when you do.
Once you have dug through a toy bin and found a figure you want, don't stop digging! Chances are that when the toys were donated from that particular person, they brought in several action figures from the same line and are therefore likely to be in that bin somewhere. No kid had just one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, so keep looking for the others.
Another situation you may come across are "toy bags," which many thrift stores use to keep small toys together and are sold in one big bunch. Keep an eye out for these clear plastic bags as they will be filled with all kinds of toys, from die-cast cars to army men, but can also include an action figure or two. You'll probably have to buy the whole bag, but they're usually only around $2-$4, so you're still getting quite a good deal.
Do Your Research
Knowing which figures are worth something on the collectibles market will help you make smart purchases in thrift stores. A little research on which figures are hot (and which ones are not) will go a long way when you pull an action figure from the bottom of the bin.
One great trick is to bring a price guide with you. Lee's Toy Review is a monthly magazine and price guide filled with the current market value of action figures. If you find a figure that looks interesting to you, and you can determine what toy line it's from, simply look it up in the price guide and you'll know if you have a gem in or hands or not.
However, remember to note the condition of the figure and adjust the estimated market value accordingly.
The Pitfalls of Thrift Store Figures
It's great finding rare action figures for mere pocket change, but keep in mind that almost every figure you will find in a thrift store is in "played with condition," meaning that they will rarely have their accessories with them, and may have worn off paint, loose joints, gunk stuck to them and even teeth marks from the family dog.
This, of course, greatly reduces the collectible value. Even though there are stories out there of some guy finding a 1977 mint condition Mego Spider-Man for fifty cents, don't expect this to happen to you every time, if ever. Thrift store shopping is for collectors who are less worried about every figure in their collection being in pristine shape and are simply trying to fill in gaps in their collections or finding inspiration for starting a new one.
Besides, even if the figure is a little beat up, there are ways you can repair them or at least clean them up a little.
The Thrill of the Hunt
You've found some thrift stores, done your research, are armed with your trusty price guide and have a few bucks in your pocket, now get out there and find some great action figures. Happy hunting!