The Action Figure Authority (AFA) is the first company to offer a toy-grading service in which the graded toy is placed in a sealed acrylic display box. The sealed acrylic box of AFA-graded toys is intended to keep the toy safe from future wear and tear. The label on side or back of an AFA-graded Transformer's acrylic case contains identifying information for the toy (such as the figure's name, the toyline, etc.), the overall grade given to it by AFA, and where applicable, the three subgrades (box/card, window/bubble, and figure).
Although AFA's grading scale ranges from 0 to 100 at increments of 5 units, typically AFA-graded Transformers score between 60 and 90 for their overall grade, with a large concentration between 75 and 85. The exact process by which the overall grade is determined is unknown, but it is always either the lowest of the 3 subgrades or 5 units higher than that. Thus, two figures with exactly the same subgrades may receive different overall grades. (E.g., if two different figures receive subgrades of 85 box, 90 window, and 90 figure, then one may receive an overall grade of 85—the lowest subgrade, and the other may receive a 90—the lowest subgrade plus 5.) In addition to the grade on the label, there may also be a "Y" or "U" after the grade, meaning "yellowed" or "uncirculated" (i.e., from an unopened case), respectively. (From AFA's website) The sub-grades for AFA are Card, Blister, and Figure or Box, Window, and Figure. The goal of sub-grades is to further define the condition of a particular figure. Once the grade has been established, the grader will then assign individual grades for the card/box, the blister/window, and the figure. The overall grade is NOT an average of these three grades. Furthermore, the new criteria will help define conditions within a particular grade. By using this additional information, a collector can determine whether or not a figure's grade is borderline. Also, the new criteria will direct collectors to the part of the card that has the most damage. For example, a card that received an overall grade of 85 with a 90 Card, an 80 Blister, and a 90 Figure will show collectors that the blister has the most damage. A card that received an overall grade of 85 with an 85 Card, an 80 Blister, and an 80 Figure will show collectors that this particular piece is a low end 85.
AFA only grades toys that are either MOSC, MISB, or MIB with unopened internal bubble and unopened accessory/paperwork baggies. AFA will not grade items that are double-taped or look like they have been resealed. However, AFA will grade double-taped items if they come in an unopened sealed case. AFA will also grade completely unused toys if they never originally came sealed, such as certain Microman and Diaclone toys.
AFA-grading can be relatively expensive, but it also tends to increase the value of a Transformers toy significantly, particularly if it is in good condition and it is either an old toy or a popular character. On eBay, some of the most expensive Transformers toys are those that are AFA-graded, selling for as much as several thousand US dollars.
Despite being the first and most well-known company to offer this grading and casing service, AFA has made mistakes when grading Transformers toys (It should however be noted, that nearly 200,000 toys have now been graded by AFA):
- AFA has mistakenly graded knockoff Beachcombers as originals, and then later, refunded the submitting customers, and began labeling these as 1990s Chinese reissues.
- AFA has made other mistakes, but customers can always contact AFA for reimbursement if mistakes which are clearly AFA's fault are brought to their attention.
Recently, other companies have begun offering the same service as AFA. CSG (Collector Source Grading), located in South Carolina, offers the same service, but with a more intricate grading system, whereby there are 6 sub-grades averaged together to create the overall grade (However, rumors about the owners of this company grading and selling their own toys continue to be an issue). UK Graders offers the same service, but with an additional "rarity" rating.
Among the Transformers fan communities, much controversy exists over AFA-graded toys. While some collectors appreciate the service for preserving their MISB toys and assigning grades to their toys, other collectors take issue with AFA for various reasons, including what they observe to be inconsistent grading, the aforementioned flubs, the high prices, or simply because they believe toys were meant to be opened and played with, not sealed away forever in an acrylic "prison".
Hasbro's relationship with AFA
Prior to Comic-Con 2007, Hasbro held a fan survey wherein they asked what fans thought of AFA grading. Apparently finding sufficient positive response to AFA grading in their survey, Hasbro hired AFA to grade several Comic-Con exclusive items, including Alternators Rodimus. These items were graded as part of AFA's "Millenium Series", which apparently uses a slightly different scale—0 to 10 instead of 0 to 100, and with no subgrades. Hasbro's AFA-graded Alternators Rodimus, graded at 9.5, was released for about $200 in extremely small quantities (about 6 to 10) on HasbroToyShop.com many months after the ungraded version's Comic-Con release. Those which Hasbro made available on HasbroToyShop sold out within a day. HasbroToyShop also had a "coming soon" listing for an Alternators Rodimus graded at 9.0 (0.5 lower than the other listing) around the same time, however this listing disappeared from the site without ever having become "in stock".