Finding a vintage Transformer or Diaclone in an attic, charity shop, old store or at a flea market is a wonderful event that very few of us have had the privilege of experiencing. If you’re really lucky you may even find an unused or sealed toy that was never sold, or it might have been an unopened gift. Such events are worthy of a collector’s greatest anecdotes, but even more momentous an occasion is the discovery of a whole factory shipping case of unopened toys which never made it to a store or shelf. A case find.
Hopefully by the end of this article you will have some idea of why a collector can become so excited about the unearthing of a previously untouched case full of vintage toys. There are a few different ways in which someone can make use of such a find, be it financial gain or collection augmentation, but these discoveries have been made on enough occasions now for it to warrant being discussed and analysed.
So how does one make a ‘case find’? Well it might be that some bright spark explores old warehouses and factories in their spare time and uncovers a mass of unopened sealed shipping cases that never made it out the factory to outlets and retailers. Sometimes they turn up in very old warehouses having been shipped out from the factory, but for some reason or another they never made it to a store shelf. Occasionally, if an old toy store is closing down, they may have ancient unsold stock in original shipping cases that a collector with impeccable timing can acquire, or they may be sold off at live auction. One imagines that ex-employees of Hasbro and Takara would have access to cases as well.
The implications of a vintage case find for the collector and the community at large are far-reaching. Depending on the nature of the case contents and the price paid, the owner could stand to make a significant profit from his discovery. A shipping case full of US Triplechangers will always be a more exciting prospect than a case of Mexican Jumpstarters, but both are as historically significant as the other. If one is interested only in profiting from their discovery, they must weigh up the benefits of selling the individual sealed toys one by one to maximise potential against the convenience of shifting all the stock at once, thereby transferring the responsibility to the buyer.
By selling the entire case, one can appeal to a collector who actually prefers to keep the whole thing intact as a collection centrepiece or novelty, or alternatively giving the buyer the opportunity to further profit from the splitting of the case contents. As we can see in the above picture, for a premium item like G1 Mirage which has not been reissued but has been mercilessly counterfeited, getting each individual piece out of the case graded can help preserve their pristine condition, verify their authenticity and possibly increase market value. An item out of a case could achieve a higher grade than a standard MISB item. This all depends on how you feel about toy grading, though. Personally, this is not the route I would take.
What must be considered, though, is that introducing a significant number of sealed specimens to the second-hand market in a short space of time can dramatically affect their value. This is an issue for the seller and a dream come true for a collector. The seller would have to drip them out over an extended period of time, another serious consideration for anyone trying to decide what to do with a case find.
A great example of this was the 2002 Japanese Diaclone Marlboor Wheeljack case find; the lucky gentleman who stumbled upon this marvel sold the Marlboor Wheeljacks one after another on Yahoo Japan auctions, some going for as little as $300. Considering the fact that this toy still sells for multiple thousands 9 years on, we can conclude that its overall desirability and value have survived the case find. On that occasion it was the buyers who benefited more from the find than the seller, relatively speaking. Not all toys will recover from case finds in this fashion.
With a number of the items described above, the cases do not contain massive amounts of toys, because they cannot be too large. The Diaclone “Turbo2000” Change Attacker case I bought earlier this year, however, contains 48 sealed items. I bought the case whole because I am a Diaclone collector and I found this to be a perfect slice of history, a frozen moment in time between factory shipping and store readiness. I have no interest in selling off the pieces individually or altering the preserved condition of this excellent discovery, its original state is what brings meaning and value to its existence for me.
In my mind, appreciating the case as a single item of preserved historical significance helps me separate it from an act of simple hoarding. The seller who discovered the Turbo2000 case also found four cases of the Diaclone “Van” Change Attacker. The increased availability of that item combined with the relatively small number of people interested in owning one have driven down the value of what was just last year considered to be one of the hardest European Diaclone toys to find. I once offered 300 Euros for a used specimen, but you can now remove a zero off the sale price of a case fresh example.
Demonstrating the collectible value of such cases, I purchased the empty Diaclone “Van” shipping case from the seller for my collection. It isn’t quite as scintillating as one would hope, there is no Diaclone logo or interesting graphics, but it is still a rare opportunity to own an intriguing and unusual slice of my beloved toy line. It’s not always the contents that hold the greatest value in a case find.
Sometimes the shipping cases themselves can be more interesting to look at than the contents, and that is not a slight against the Action Masters contained within the cases photographed above, but more a statement of admiration for how lovely the above cardboard time capsules would look well displayed. Sporting Hasbro and Transformers logos, the first case contains Action Master Grimlock, Inferno, Kick Off, Bumblebee, Mainframe, Jackpot, Snarl, Skyfall and Rad. The second case contains Action Master Blaster, Soundwave, Banzai Tron, Devastator, Krok, Treadshot and Roll Out. Both are missing items, and that can be a bit of an issue when a case assortment is so varied.
It is quite astonishing that such old ‘dead’ stock can still be found untouched, and for the most part everyone benefits. With prices generally on the increase for vintage items, a significant case find can bring prices back down to Earth, and to some degree recent case finds of G1 Hot Rod, Ultra Magnus and Sunstreaker, as well as the Japanese exclusive Sky Garry among others, have facilitated this. However, we have seen with the aforementioned Marlboor case find that if the toy is rare and hyped enough, it can survive such an injection of extra supply into the market and the element of a missed opportunity among collectors can even help raise the price in the long run.
Even though so much has been found, recent discoveries have proven that one can never discount further treasures surfacing, such was the wide distribution of these toys during their heyday. There are still vintage dealers and collectors throughout the world who are sitting on some pretty special packages, and eventually they’ll make their way into the public domain. The significance of these discoveries, in my opinion, far outweighs any perceived or actual damage that will be done to the value of one’s collection of rare toys or sealed items. How many of us would complain about a warehouse find of Diaclone Blue Bluestreak cases?
Immense thanks to Paul Hitchens, Jeff Stein and Benjamin Davies for their priceless contributions to this article. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to find pictures for such a topic!
All the best