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    Licensed Poly-bags: An "In the Bag" Investment or a Bag of Trash?

    Licensed Sets: The Issue with Investing.

    It's common knowledge (and a common complaint) that sets from licensed themes often cost quite a bit more than those that are non-licensed. It makes sense of course, The Lego Company has to pay for the right to make sets based on characters that they didn't create and those who buy those sets of course have to pay their share in turn but the higher cost is still, especially for investors, a bit of a difficult pill to swallow. Investors must also face the fact that even some sets that are part of a strong licensed theme can bomb pretty badly, so what is one to do?

    Why Invest in Poly-bags?

    When looking at potential investments in licensed themes poly-bags (this post is specifically looking at those that were/would be available for retail purchase and contain a minifigure and is not addressing poly-bags that were promotional/exclusive only or are simply mini-models of larger sets) make a good choice because the price is quite low (CA $4.99) yet they usually have some pretty valuable or interesting pieces and/or either a main character that's otherwise hard to come or a soldier, which is good for "army-building" as some people like to do. Another good thing about poly-bags is that even if they don't appreciate much in value they can probably be resold at around the same cost as the original purchase price, but of course it's best to make informed decisions when investing in order to make a good profit.

    To help gain an understanding of what makes a good poly-bag we can take a look at the Bricklink price guide sold averages for licensed poly-bags (and as stated before ignoring those that did not contain minifigures and/or were only available through special promotions) that were released in the last two years (2012-2013 at the time of this post).

    Set Number/NameYear of ReleasePiecesThemeAverage Sold Price (BL)
    30160: Batman Jet-ski201240Super Heroes> DCCA $14.45
    30212: Mirkwood Elf Guard201227The Hobbit> An Unexpected JourneyCA $12.22
    30166: Robin and Redbird Cycle201340Super Heroes> DCCA $12.20
    30163: Thor and the Cosmic Cube201225Super Heroes> MarvelCA $10.32
    30167: Iron Man vs. Fighting Drone201324Super Heroes> MarvelCA $9.01
    30058: STAP201224Star WarsCA $8.66
    30211: Uruk-Hai with ballista201221Lord of the Rings> The Two TowersCA $7.16
    30165: Hawkeye with equipment201224Super Heroes> MarvelCA $6.20
    30213: Gandalf at Dol Guldur201231The Hobbit> An Unexpected JourneyCA $5.69
    30210: Frodo with cooking corner201233Lord of the Rings> The Fellowship of the RingCA $5.40
    30270: Kraang's Turtle Target Practice201336Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesCA $4.89

    Looking at the graph above you can see that the poly-bags are listed in order of value (greatest-least) and that four of the top five poly-bags are in the Super Heroes theme. It's also important to note that most have figures who were only otherwise available, at the time of the poly-bags release, in sets above CA $39.99. Another thing to note is that all of the poly-bags that don't include a vehicle have somewhat unique/hard-to-find parts in them instead such as

    • 30212: Mirkwood Elf Guard has a green wine glass, a large mushroom and some tree/foliage
    • 30163: Thor and the Cosmic Cube has a clear transparent 1X1 block
    • 30211: Uruk-Hai with ballista has a Halberd and some robot arm pieces
    • 30165: Hawkeye with equipment has some earth blue 1X2 smooth tiles and a compound bow
    • 30213: Gandalf at Dol Guldur has some green vines, a sword and a brown telescope
    • 30210: Frodo with cooking corner has a dark transparent bottle, a gold goblet and a sausage
    • 30270: Kraang's Turtle Target Practice has some nice transparent violet pieces along with some robot arms


    What's the Key to a Good Poly-bag?

    So while we can see that most poly-bags don't often resell below the retail price what are the important signs of a really good poly-bag? First thing is that you want it to contain a character who's popular (obviously) or one that it would be good to collect multiples of. And while it's good for a poly-bag to have some unique/semi-rare pieces, they seem to do better if they contain a vehicle of some sort.

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    Even though it doesn't have any minifigures in it I would say that the tumbler poly-bag has good potential since the vehicle is pretty popular.

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    You need to get the polybags at or below retail or even for free for this investment to be worth while. I have made the mistake of buying some polybags at a couple dollars over retail only to end up breakign even or loosing money. Ex. A Poly bag sold on ebay for $10.00 Subtract ebay fee of $1.35 Subtract shipping cost of $2.19 Subtract Envelope cost $0.35 Subtract Ink, paper, tape, misc. supplies cost $0.10 the poly bag after tax cost me $5.32 Total profit of $0.69 And that's assuming you dont drive to the post office. IMO the margins are too tight to really make it worth while. Sure you get the occasion polybag that sells for $50+ but those are very rare.

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    For a polybag to be worth a quick investment it needs to sell for $10 on ebay if you pay $4 retail . You can cover your cost and turn them around quickly for a $2 profit. The polybags I have been able to sell all come in at $3.99 before tax but it is amazing how people don't see all the little things that you mentioned. The ebay shipping discount helps a little but you are looking at this correctly. It is a lot of work to make a little profit but it does add up. The part that annoys me is when I have to deal with a stupid buyer (case opened three days after shipping date because it hasn't arrived yet. When selling Polybags I look at it as if I buy 10 at retail. Sell six or seven and the ones I keep are free. I don't look at at a dollar profit level but I do look at as if I am getting free merchindise and that merchindise may go up in value over the years.

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    There is another important consideration - and that is which ones are given out free with newspapers in the UK. That really affects worldwide prices. For example, Frodo with Cooking Corner and the Uruk-Hai were both free giveaways, whereas Mirkwood Elf and Lake-Town Guard were not.

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