Toys on a Tuesday: TMNT 1988 Series 1 – What are they worth now?

**Originally posted on February 5th, 2019**

Welcome to another edition of Toys on a Tuesday, a series where members of The Outerhaven team either tell stories of their childhood loves or look at characters or series from a collectors point of view. In this edition of Toys on a Tuesday, I dive back into my personal history of my love for those Heroes in a Half Shell, those original Teenagers with Attitude, those Cowabunga Kids, those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or TMNT).

Now if you look over this site through the search function for those 4 words, then you’ll notice I have quite a few articles up about the Green Mutants. From Ranking the Movies, trashing the Rise of the TMNT Cartoon, to giving some praise to the Bay Turtles, to Top 10 toys I wish I owned as a kid (or now for that matter), and even covering the epic reunion between the Turtles and Vanilla Ice! Yeah, you can say I’m a fan. So for this edition of Toys on a Tuesday, I’m going back to 1988 when the very first wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures hit store shelves and pricing them based on today’s marketplace… aka eBay.

Now you’re going to see some terms you might not be too familiar with, so before we begin crying together, I’ll explain these terms. Also please note that prices and listings are correct as of 02/02/2019 (aka the time of writing) and some listings or prices may change before publishing or after publishing.

Terms to know:

  • Variant: A variant is a slight change from the original version of the toy. This could come as a coloring change, a change of costume or outfit, the materials used in making the toy, or just something as simple as an error getting into a batch of the mass-produced toy.
  • Soft Head: You’ll see this a lot on eBay when it comes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys themselves. In the original 1988 run, the very first run, Playmates went the route of the popular He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys and produced a few hundred Turtles with soft rubber heads, known as the “Soft Heads” to collectors. I will stress that this rubber head situation only applies to the 4 Turtles themselves. All other toys in the line were made with now-standard plastic heads. You’ll see sellers on eBay trying to sell a “RARE Soft Head Shredder” or something in the same vein… Don’t believe them!
  • Graded: These toys are the holy grail of being a hardcore collector. What happens is that someone will “Slab” their toy, usually right from purchase and send it to the Action Figure Authority, who then inspect the toy, it’s packaging, and everything else before assigning a grade to the product and ship it back. Like the graded comic books, you’ll find today, these figures are in high demand due to how close they are to straight out of the shipping box in quality, thus demand high prices.
  • Slabbed: A Slabbed item is one that is picked up right from the store shelf or through special order and then placed in an air-tight hard plastic case to prevent damage to the toy. A lot of these cases are made with built-in tabs to keep the card from bending and are also UV protected to decrease the plastic encasing the figure from “yellowing” over time.
  • MOC: Literally meaning “Mint on Card”, this is the term used for 100% complete and original products. The “Card” being the cardboard backing that the figure rests on. The figure itself is encased in a soft plastic “Bubble” for protection and so people won’t steal the things. The closer the whole product is to its original straight-from-shelf condition, the more “mint” it is.
  • MIB: Practically the same as MOC, but instead of being on the card, it means “Mint in Box”. This term is used for boxes items such as vehicles and play-sets.

Title: Michaelangelo
Variant?: Comes in Soft Head & Plastic Head Variants
Price: Soft Head Graded/Slabbed – $540
Plastic Head Graded/Slabbed – $280
Soft Head MOC – $Not Available
Normal MOC – $90 to $190
Card Back Text: Michaelangelo is a party reptile. Even though the sinister Shredder may be slicing his way through the manhole cover, Mike stays cool…cool because he’s the master of the whirling nunchakus. It takes eight pounds of pressure per square inch to break bone. The nunchakus generate ninety! In the midst of the most perilous of battles, Mike can be seen swinging his deadly nunchakus in one hand while dangling a wedge of pizza in the other. Mike dreams to someday use Shredder’s cutting armor to grate cheese on his pepperoni & ice cream pizza.

Starting things out with one of the most recognizable members of the group, Mikey, seemed like a good idea. If anything he would give us a nice understanding of what is to come. One of the few mainline figures to NOT to have a MOC Soft Head available, I didn’t think about how crazy things would get with him. Just looking at a $90 baseline for just the figure on the card is about what I expected, but then up to $200!? God damn! The graded prices to me seem reasonable given that these figures are well over 30 years old at this point. If you’re just wanting a version of the figure, the loose ones go for $5 through $50 for a complete with weapons version. Though if you’re paying $50 for a loose figure, you might as well buy a 25th Anniversary or Classic re-release MOC.

Title: Leonardo
Variant?: Comes in Soft Head & Plastic Head Variants
Price: Soft Head Graded/Slabbed – $Not Available
Plastic Head Graded/Slabbed – $Not Available
Soft Head MOC – $480
Normal MOC – $75 to $575
Card Back Text: Like his Florentine namesake, Leonardo is the perfect Turtle. In the lidless eyes of his allies, he is known as the unofficial commander of the Turtles and Splinter’s star pupil. Because of his keen eyesight and sensitive hearing, Leonardo is extremely well-balanced, which makes him more skillful when wielding his ever-flashing katana blades. No matter how dangerous the situation, Leo doesn’t mind sticking his neck out. His primary objective in life: cut Shredder down to size!

What shocked me about researching this Leonardo figure was that there is no Graded/Slabbed version of this figure online. Given the highly collectible nature of this figure these days, that seems to be unheard of. So what this has done is push the price of his standard MOC versions into a higher price point, which to the smart collector means you should buy and instantly slab/grade some of the mid-range Leonardo figures for a quick profit.

Title: Donatello
Variant?: Comes in Soft Head & Plastic Head Variants
Price: Soft Head Slabbed – $135
Plastic Head Graded/Slabbed – $235
Soft Head MOC – $125 to $200
Normal MOC – $60 to $225
Card Back Text: Donatello is the best Turtle you’ll ever find. He’s the brains of the group and the designer of the Turtle vehicles. Rather than use his bo or brawn, Donatello would prefer inventing some device or clever apparatus to foil the foe. Still, Don’s one powerful reptile with his staff, which enables him to parry, vault, and crush! Even Don gets “Turtle-sized” pleasure in stomping the Foot. After a tough battle, Don relaxes by watching programs on his invention – turtlevision.

What shocks me the most about Donatello is how cheap he is. I think this was because everyone owned a copy of the toy when it first came out. Hell, I remember him being my first Turtle, and a couple of friends got him as a gift too. (My Uncle owned a Toy Store at the time and it was cheaper to me to buy/give these guys as gifts back then) The graded/slabbed version is the first and only time I think the more collectible version is under the standard MOC price, a bargain if you can get it. Hell, even that standard plastic head version is $100 above the Soft Head. If you don’t see this one online soon, it’s because I bought it.

Title: Raphael
Variant?: Comes in Soft Head & Plastic Head Variants
Price: Soft Head Graded/Slabbed – $470
Plastic Head Graded/Slabbed – $275
Soft Head MOC – $75 to $150
Normal MOC – $110 to $250
Card Back Text: Raphael is the wittiest Turtle you’re likely to stumble over. If things aren’t going his way, his tongue snaps out sarcastic jokes dipped in poison. Even though he’s referred to as the snapping ninja, the Turtles know he means well. Raph’s clever skill with the deadly sai allows him to strike at a distance and keep the Foot in stitches. His way with a manhole cover has made him famous in sewers everywhere. Raph uses the 100-pound discs to flatten the Foot and to shield off Anti-Turtle blasts.

Yep, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Raphael was always the favorite of the group and most often sold out at the time of production. I remember him being the last of the 4 Turtles that I got because every time my Uncle would put the figures out on the shelf, all the Raphael ones would go in seconds. It took my mother and Grandmother telling my Uncle to go open the cases in the storage room and put one aside for me to finally get him, and I gladly paid for him out of my own pocket money too.

If there’s anything interesting to say about this is that there is only $25 between the plastic head MOC and graded/slabbed versions, so you might as well drop the little extra and go for the one that is going to be worth more down the track. Also, interesting to see that once again a plastic head MOC is more expensive than it’s more collectible Soft Head MOC counterpart. Something to think about there.

Title: Splinter
Variant?: No
Price: Graded/Slabbed – $210
MOC – $37 to $150
Card Back Text: Splinter, the rat mutation of a ninja master, Hamato Yoshi, is the Turtles’ “shidoshi” (teacher of the warrior ways of enlightenment). As a man – and still as a sewer rat – Splinter has a special fondness for the arts, especially martial arts. He also digs the underground, since his rat-like abilities make him quite a burrower. This mystical rat uses his cunning as well as his bow and sword cane to thwart the evil Foot clan. Splinter trained the Turtles to fight for truth, justice, and an equal portion of food.

Finally, something that doesn’t have variants that take forever to research. Splinter wasn’t very popular back in the day and is known as a “shelf warmer” (A toy that remains unsold for a long period). That looks to be reflected here. The lowest MOC is around the price (with inflation) of the standard shelf price from back in the day. But for more clean and crisp versions going for around normal prices, same with the graded/slabbed version. I think a lack of decent pricing comes from the biggest flaw with the figure itself: It looks ugly, has an easy-to-lose piece of cloth and crappy weapons.

Title: April O’Neil
Variant?: 3 versions: No Stripes / Blue Stripe / Orange Press Suit
Price: No Stripes Graded/Slabbed – $225
Blue Stripes Graded/Slabbed – $250
Orange Press Suit Graded/Slabbed – $220
No Stripes MOC – $100 to $190
Blue Stripes MOC – $25 to $115
Orange Press Suit MOC – $30 to $150
Card Back Text: April’s a determined TV news journalist, always prepared for the late-breaking news feature with her camcorder strapped ’round her arm. Her eagerness, however, gets her into trouble and makes her a big pain in the shell for the Turtles, who always end up saving this damsel in distress. Still, April’s no airhead and is a valuable member of the Turtle Team. Being a pretty human has its advantages, like getting into places the Turtles can’t. When the situation calls for more than a news flash, April’s ready with a trusty gun, which is secretly locked inside her camcorder.

Holy variants Batman! I thought it was bad with the 2 variants for the Turtles, but I wasn’t prepared for April at all. With a total of 4 variants right out the gate (One I left out because it was too hard to spot online) April is one of the more flooded figures out there, and it is reflected in the prices. When you see 2 out of 3 variants going from under $40, then you know it was a mistake to put so many out at once. Hell, there is no explanation as to why April had so many releases at the time. I understand that “No Stripes” one might have been a mistake in production, but why the Orange Press suit version? Guess we will never know.

Title: Shredder
Variant?: No
Price: Graded/Slabbed – $575
MOC – $80 to $225
Card Back Text: Shredder is the hideous, gruesome and all-around bad guy leader of the Foot Clan, the organized band of evil Ninjas. This low life came to power when he betrayed his Ninja master, Hamato Yoshi (now Splinter). Shredder wants nothing more than control of the world. And to get there, he’ll stop at nothing, even if it means grating his victims like cheese with his razor-sharp armor. The obstacles in his path are none other than the Turtles, and he means to destroy them. Shredder fights a never-ending battle against truth, justice, and the American way. He’s not a nice guy.

Understandable pricing for this one. Hell, there was once a perfect 100 graded/slabbed Shredder on eBay pushing $700+, so seeing the high prices for both the graded and MOC versions is perfectly fine. One thing that always bothered me about this version of Shredder and I know it was due to restrictions on bladed weapons having to look unrealistic to not promote violence, but the purple/blue coloring bugged me. Luckily they fixed this up in the Toon Series very late in the production run. Also, this is one of the few times I think that the 25th Anniversary version is better than the original thanks to the addition of a small Krang accessory included in the package.

Title: Bebop
Variant?: No
Price: Graded/Slabbed – $700
MOC – $60 to $210
Card Back Text: Bebop is the mutant punk rock hog who could slam dance his way through any crowd. This roadhog warrior dares to shave his head in blatant opposition to the establishment and his parents. Behind his mohawk ponytail, cool shades and all-star tennis shoes lurk the heart of a pig, ready to pulverize the Turtles. Guided by the evil Shredder, Bebop is willing to roll in the mud to snort out the Turtles. His two turtle shoulder pads cover a grotesque array of safety pins, tattoos, and junk food. Always at his side, the Shell Drill serves as a constant reminder that the party’s not over … until every Turtle lies on its back.

Holy crap! Look at that graded price! The highest-priced graded figure out there, I’m surprised that out of them all it was Bebop who commanded this price. Outside of that, there is nothing much to say about him. He was one of the bigger figures in this original run though, with a more bulky frame and head than the other figures, and probably resembling his cartoon version the most out of all those figures released originally.

Title: Rocksteady
Variant?: No
Price: Graded/Slabbed – $445
MOC – $115 to $230
Card Back Text: Rocksteady’s tough rhino body makes him a turtle-bashing powerhouse. His lack of smarts makes him dangerous. This mutant mammal is big trouble with his Retro-Mutagen Gun: one-shot can level a whole building or a shelled turtle. Off-duty, Rocksteady loves to fry up a mess of juicy Turtle burgers for the whole hungry Foot clan. Rocksteady’s field glasses survey the area for anything that looks like a Turtle. (He’s mistakenly blasted six soccer balls). This G.I. rockhead blatantly displays his victory kills with the Turtle scalps he wears around his belt.

I love how Rocksteady got a “Retro-Mutagen” gun, which looks like a military level M-16 machine gun. I know, I know, this is one of those censorship things about using realistic names or weapons or something just so the precious kids wouldn’t go looking for the real gun thinking that they could turn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back into regular Turtles or something like that. As for the toy itself, I’m cool with the prices but I have to wonder why the two goofs are higher priced than Shredder, the main villain.

Title: Foot Soldier
Variant?: No
Price: Graded/Slabbed – $475
MOC – $100 to $240
Card Back Text: Foot Soldier are alike: speechless, robotic minions to Shredder, the evil Foot leader. Their mummified movements, turtle shell armor (made from unfortunate relatives of the Turtles), and radioactive eyes make these skeletal scumballs truly horrible additions to the Foot Clan. Many Foot Soldiers have stumbled over the Ninja-trained Turtles and many have been destroyed. Still, they are formidable foes because of their sheer numbers. Their high-tech weapons, like the shell biter, can crush the Turtle’s protective covering and get to the real meat.

Now we get to the end of the baseline figures with the one-per-case Foot Soldier. For something that is meant to be the expendable grunt of the line, having it be so rare from the get-go was very annoying. All I wanted as a kid was to have a small army of these things, like a minimum of 20 of them so I could create some great fight scenes with the toys. The figure itself is pretty cool, and given how rare the figure was back in the day I’m surprised that there aren’t less on the market and those that are on the market aren’t at a higher price.

So what did we learn from this experiment? DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR TOYS!! Encase them in plastic, get them graded and never touch them again! NAH!! Toys are meant to be played with, and if you do want to go the collector’s route, then check your pricing. Sometimes it might be worth buying that MOC and getting it graded or just keep it as is. But at the end of the day, it’s a Toy, do what you want with it… And screw finding all those April variants.

All Photo Credit goes to the Virtual Ninja Turtles Museum for all their high-quality photos of the original products. You’re doing god’s work guys and girls.