eBay and early Joes

September 16thth, 2001: 5 days after the terrorist attacks in New York City, was the day I got on a plane and moved from my hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Toronto, Ontario!  I began a training program because of my permanent lay-off from my job.  Here I was, in the bright lights of Eglington Avenue (the trendy young and eligible area of Toronto at the time), going to school with no job.  I knew times would be tight but I had one thing most students didn’t—hundreds of those little 3 and ¾ inch GI Joe toys from my childhood, and they were about to keep me afloat for the next few years!

When I started selling GI Joe toys on ebay in 2001, the majority of the first 3 years worth of figures (1982-1985) were gold.  We’re talking $20-40 on almost every figure, and remember, the exchange was a robust 50%!  Not to mention I had many multiples of most of the figures, and this was before the eBay greed machine kicked in!  Listing fees and end of auction fees were low, and Canada Post was still very reasonable (they hadn’t realized that there was a large percentage of Canadians making money selling from home).   I can remember getting $57.00 for a Crimson Guard with a broken gun, and some ware to his emblem.  Now this might have been early 2002, but this was certainly the high point of the market.  Baroness, Silver Cobra Commander, Firefly, the majority of the straight arms, some of the rarer swivels and Snake Eyes Ver 2 would sometimes hit $50 each, but you’d never get less than $30!  This range also included every single army builder in the Cobra line (Eels, Crimson Guard, BATS, Viper, Cobra Soldier and Cobra Officer).  You also still had a good chance of finding them cheap, whether at a yard sale, flea market, or even on eBay where a novice seller might have listed his GI Joe toys under the wrong category.

Skip ahead 10 years and what we are seeing today is very different indeed.  I still sell GI Joe toys on eBay, but with nowhere near the regularity of the ‘olden days.’  Those $20-40 figures sell for about half of what they used to.  There is no longer ANY figure from the first 4 waves that sells for $50, except for the highly sought after Heavy Metal (included with the Mauler tank and containing a tiny microphone that is impossible to find as his only accessory)!  Many figures that used to hit $40 now close between $10-15, or less!  But why did this happen to the era of Joes that most GI Joe collector’s hold nearest and dearest to their hearts?  Why isn’t there the demand there used to be for these cool little toys?

The first thing would be simply timeline. In the early 2000’s it was those late 20’s and 30-something’s that wanted the recapture a little of their youths.  Now, 10 years later, they are either in their 40’s, or like me, on the cusp.  We have other things to do, mainly it has to do with children, and our priorities have changed.  Sadly we’re just busy living, and GI Joe has had to take a back seat.  The next generation does not have the same affinity for these toys, they grew up with Turtles and Power Rangers.  Time waits for no one.

So, we look at basic economics, and back in grade 10 we learned about supply and demand.  Essentially if there are a lot of people wanting a figure and it just doesn’t come up for sale very often, there are more people waiting at the end to bid it up and buy it, therefore causing a higher price.  If something comes up frequently and most collectors already have that piece, there will be no one there at the end bidding, keeping its price down.  The best thing eBay has done for us since inception is show us what really is rare, and what is easy to find.  15 years running now I believe it a long enough sample size to really show us what’s out there.  Usually when something sells for a good price you either;

  1. See more of them and the price comes down or,
  2. There simply aren’t that many around, they still rarely come up and the price starts to creep upwards.

To me the third reason prices are soft, is the army builder is a thing of the past.  Although a Crimson Guard in mint shape was much easier to find than say a swivel armed Zap (even today), many times in 2001-02 you’d see them close for the same amount of money.  This was happening because guys wanted multiple Cobra Army Builders so when set up on a shelf or in a diorama, you were seeing an army coming at you, whereas they only needed one Zap.  I remember this being quite popular back then, and for many years afterwards.  You simply don’t see this very much at all anymore, and it leads us to our last point!

Quite simply, there is just way too much good stuff on retailer’s shelves nowadays!  The competition for the almighty consumer’s dollar has never been like this before and it affects all 4 of the major toy lines of the 1980’s, not just GI Joe.  It seems like every month a new, exciting or unique brand is hitting the shelves, and quite honestly to me, it’s just sensory overload.  I think over the past 3 years I’ve shopped less than I have over the last 20 years; I just don’t want to go out and be tempted to spend.

And why don’t I sell them as much anymore?  First off, the toys are just alot more difficult to find for a reasonable enough price to purchase them to flip them.  A lot of collectors who purchased their Joes did so at the height of the market.  So even though they’ll offer them up for 50% or less of what they paid, because the prices are so soft today, it’s impossible to buy them (unless they were to keep, of which I do far too often, just ask my wife)!

A lot of what was said about GI Joe can also be said about the 3 other main toy lines of the 1980’s, but remember, we’re covering just the first 4 years of the line, this is just a small part of its 13 year original run.  I will be back in the next few weeks to give you an idea of the state of affairs with G1 Transformers, He-man, the original Star Wars line and GI Joe past 1985.

Jason Halstead
Jason Halstead

I'm the new guy here and a self described toy freak! As a Generation X who still actively buys, sells, and trades 70’s and 80’s action figures, I'll have some fun stories to tell and some insight on the state of each individual market currently.

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Ed Campbell
Ed Campbell
12 years ago

I think one of the reasons for the decline in price of vintage Joes is selection in retail now.

In the early 2000’s, G.I. Joe was essentially dead. There were a couple of figures coming out, but the selection was very small. If you wanted to collect G.I. Joe in those days, eBay was your best place to pick up vintage Joes.

When the Joe Vs Cobra and Valor Vs Venom lines came out, people were still wishing for the classic O Ring style figures. Then came 25th anniversary. With the amount of amazing figures with great articulation on the shelves, who wants to troll eBay looking for classic ARAH O ring style figures.

I even know people who were selling off their vintage collection, because they prefered the sculpt and articulation of the new Joes.

Now with the movie figures and 30th figures (which are amazing) I don’t see many people looking for vintage figures.

I know for my own collection (which I own 950 figures), I don’t have any interest searching out old O Ring figures. If I do, they have to be cheap (nothing over $7). I would rather spend my money on the new figures.

Danny Champion
Danny Champion
12 years ago

Cool post man… I’m hooked.