Once in a while we have the pleasure of meeting a Transformers collector who goes beyond the norm, beyond just amassing plastic for personal amusement and satisfaction. Someone whose roots run deep into the Transformers community and even a little of the industry itself. A person who gives back as much as he takes, providing great service for collector friends, helping make the hobby a better place through creativity, talent and hard work. Someone who takes time out of their life to contribute and add to the enjoyment of others. Sid Beckett is such a person. He also happens to have a frankly stonking Transformers collection to boot. Fully deserved.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Sid Beckett, although I have been known by a few other names over the years. I am a writer, novelist, comic retailer, toy dealer, toy customiser and I’ve had real jobs in the past too. I am one half of the guys responsible for running the Auto Assembly customisation workshop and exclusive add-on kits for a few years now, as well as a regular dealer at that event, as well as a regular face at BotCon for the last five years or so. I’m a regular contributor on TFW2005 and have been involved with the online TF community since the early noughties.
At this point in my collecting I’m almost ashamed to say it is easier for me to list what I don’t collect. I don’t collect Beast Machines, Beast Hunters, live action movie toys, Change-o-bots, G1 Pretenders, or Unicron Trilogy toys. But even then I still have a few choice pieces from each of those ranges (except Change-o-bots). Everything else is fair game, but by no means do I don’t want EVERYthing else. I’ll happily buy an entire range of figures except for one, if I think the last figure is just a terrible toy (I’m looking at you Injector, with your stupid MOTU-sounding name!). I seldom buy something just for the sake of completion…these days.
Long gone are the days of buying Micron Legend and Superlink imports from The Spacebridge as soon as they came out, nowadays I’m happy to wait to buy something at a good price or leave it if I think it stinks. To me, Beast Hunters stinks.
At the moment I am mainly into 3rd party toys and Masterpiece toys, but I’m still interested in Generations toys if they’re decent and the occasional G1 grail. G1 is my first and true love, that’s why we’re here today. If my parents had been able to afford to buy ALL the toys I wanted when I was young (they did their best to encourage but not spoil), I probably wouldn’t be interested in them now, but as a seven year old I made a promise to myself that I would buy all the TFs I couldn’t have as a kid when I was working.
Considering how long I’ve been collecting and how much money I must have spent, I am surprisingly un-precious about things. If I have a figure and it’s missing a single missile or a weapon or something, I’m okay with that. If I can pick it up to complete the set, awesome, but I won’t lose sleep. If I buy a MISB figure at a good price, I’ll rip that sucker open as I am a loose collector. If the best way to replace a damaged toy is to buy a KO, I’m not above doing that either – my original Mirage and Sunstreaker are not in a condition I would consider display-worthy but I would never get rid of them, so I display KO’s. Back up copies are legal, right?
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
Ten years ago I was importing amazing Binaltech toys into the UK, they were great days as Transformers had a new vitality and energy as a lot of kids had reached that magic time where nostaliga + disposable income = reigniting an old love of toys. I was working in a comic shop at the time and the energy and enthusiasm surrounding TF’s was palpable, and this energy grew and grew until it evolved into this huge multi-media billion dollar juggernaut it is now, with thanks to the Michael Bay movies.
Obviously, the legacy of that is a two way street. An influx of new people was sure to increase the interest and drive up prices, and a lot of the high-end G1, pre-Transformers guys are struggling. However, price increases don’t affect me too much, as I was lucky enough to have never stopped collecting. I bought a lot of collections from school friends when they got bored and “grew up”, and I was always hunting the cheap stores and market stalls for old toys. In 1995 I bought Soundwave and Sixshot MISB from the now defunct “Model and Collectors Mart” for £20, back when you had to write a cheque, put it in an envelope and buy a stamp if you wanted something.
I swapped a MOSC Steeljaw and Eject that I bought for 50p each (I bought two, I wish I’d bought more) for a sealed G1 Wheeljack in 1996. All these toys I cut open as soon as I got them. I was buying stuff from Spacebridge at shows when no-one else was selling Transformers, and I was there for the birth of eBay. I only wish I’d started going to BotCon earlier.
Nowadays, it all seems to be about the pre-orders for most people, I’m half convinced the internet is to blame for two reasons. 1) we see the listings the second they go live and everyone else talks about them, sweeping us up in the excitement and hype, 2) social media means we can validate our purchases (and maybe our existence?) by taking photos of said item and sharing them with the world. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see someone sharing when they’ve pre-ordered an item, an update when it’s shipped, a photo of the container box it arrives in, a photo of the item in its packaging and then a loose photo once they’ve finally opened it: The entire lifespan of each individual figure can be shared on Facebook, and then it goes on a shelf and we move onto the next thing.
I still enjoy the joy of the hunt so I won’t buy or import mainland figures anymore, it makes the annual visit to the USA more interesting. There’s a lot to be said about travelling to wonderfully sunny climates and spending all day going from toy shop to toy shop. If I miss something at the time, it’ll usually show up second hand at a show somewhere down the line.
The other significant change for me has been the positive side of social media, I spent a lot of time chatting with fellow collectors on groups and on TFW, as well as giving me a healthy outlet for my hobby it means I don’t drive all my mainstream, non-TF collecting friends mental with hundreds of pictures of the Laser-Rods. This has led me to meeting a lot of new and interesting people, some of which I am happy to call friends. For me though, the biggest change has been the third party industry…
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
The third party industry is my new favourite part of collecting, moreso than MP toys which, occasionally, I can find a little bland (sorry, don’t hit me!). With 3P toys we get a much more varied output, with a lot of obscure characters (Toyworld’s Throttlebots), plenty of re-imagination (iGear UFO) and more choice than we’ve ever had before (The Predaking / Devastator Wars – which incidentally sounds like a TF video game I want to play). Seriously, the choice is amazing, it’s one of my favourite things about collecting currently, and over the next five years we’ll see peoples collections grow, evolve and change, with no two collections alike.
I find that awesome, and I wish for more high quality 3P items on the level of Feral Rex and Quakewave, and I hope that the Masterpiece line doesn’t have a homogenizing effect on our collections.
But can it last? Like the mid-nineties and the plethora of mobile phone (cell phone) stores and internet service providers fighting for our dollar; I predict a third party crash. It has to happen, it is inevitable, it’s just a question of when. Hasbro / Takara know this and they applied the pressure even more by stepping up their MP releases. I think Fans Project, Make Toys and MMC will survive this crash, the others are less certain and we’ve already seen one company die, and a few others disappear without even releasing a single thing. Can BTS be far behind with MMC announcing their own Overlord?
I realise some people out there are not a fan of 3rd party toys and while I respect their opinions and right not to support them, they have to agree the legacy of 3P toys is simply that they made Takara release the toys we have always wanted.
Hasbro / Takara aren’t stupid, they know that giving the fans what they want ISN’T the best way to do business, contrary to popular belief. They could have made us brand new, sparkly versions of all the core Ark crew and ’86 movie characters back in 2002, but they also realise if they’d done that 12 years ago, what would they be selling us now? Hence Armada, Beast Hunters, Prime, Classics, Universe et al. With the third party industry blossoming, they had no choice to make the figures we want, because if they don’t, someone else will.
However, as positive a time as it is for TF collecting right now, I am aware that we are one turd-burger of a film away from our little industry imploding. I know a lot of people dislike Bay’s films and I’m not even going to debate it; but they make money. If Transformers 4 bombs financially, not just critically, we’re in for a lot of changes. This could be a good thing long term (a dead franchise gave us the reinvention known as Beast Wars after all), but it will almost certainly be a bad thing short term.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find ?
I was working in a comic shop back in 1999 and I got a phone call from my boss as I was running late (as was customary at the time), he said someone had come in looking to sell some Transformers, and I asked him what he had. He described Jetfire first and then said he had a huge boxed robot which transformed into a city. I asked if it was Metroplex (the white one was how I described it to a layman), and my boss said it was really big, couple of feet in size with a removable head. I said Fortress Maximus, and my boss replied nonchalantly “yeah, something like that.”
“Something like that, or that!?!?”
I hurried into the store and chatted to my boss and explained to him what had walked into the shop and walked back out again, and I had a few hours of anguish waiting to see if the dude would come back into the store. In the end, I did a deal with the bloke and got a MIB Fortress Maximus in immaculate condition for £60 leaving the chap leaving the store very happy, he couldn’t believe I was willing to pay so much for it. I knew he was rare, I didn’t know the going rate at that time because I had never even seen one in the flesh, and honestly I wouldn’t have cared if I’d got home and paid twice the guide value, I was – and still am – incredibly happy to have gotten that toy in such good condition.
A little addendum to that story, last year I was sorting my room and was surprised to find that Cerebros’ head Spike looked different to the little head with Brave Maximus. It was only when I compared the two next to each other I realised that my “complete” Fort Maximus actually had Monzo instead of Spike. So for all those people I’ve told the story to, I lied. He wasn’t a complete Fort Max at all, the guy stiffed me!!!
But there have been many other little awesome moments as a fan, like Derrick Wyatt wanting to buy a custom from me, winning second place in the custom comp at BotCon 2012, a tour of Cartoon Network by David Kaye, and recognising Simon Furman in the street and scaring the crap out of him. He’s mentioned the story a few times in online interviews, ironically, he was actually trying to find the shop I worked in at the time I bumped into him – we’ve since become friends.
All these little moments are amazing, and whenever I feel like my collection is getting out of control or I’m investing too much time in the hobby, they remind me why I’m involved. I’ve literally travelled the world and had some amazing experiences thanks to Transformers.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
I have a couple I’ve heard that are totally not suitable for this website, needless to say Countdown’s rocket could be marketed by TFCC as Nexus Maximus without breaking trading standards law. I can’t think of any one amazing stand-out story, but I have a few small stupid ones if you’ll indulge my meandering writing style for a little longer.
The Finnish Black Tracks story from BotCon 2012 has to rate very highly as a cautionary tale to all collectors. That had a crazy amount of money involved and was an unfortunate reminder that no matter how trust-worthy the vendor (who WAS in no way responsible), some people are only in it for one thing.
I once bid $1,000 on a MIB Predaking boxset, three weeks before they announced the reissue boxset. Thankfully I lost the auction, and I am happy with the reissue.
I bought some raffle tickets at an early Auto Assembly, and I said to my friend that I would probably win a Takara reissue Inferno, because I still had loads in stock and it was the one thing I really didn’t want or need. Hours later when they called the raffle, I won the item and my buddy went crazy stupid.
I’m sure there is an amazing story I will remember almost as soon as this piece goes to press.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
Wow, don’t ask me that. I’m an all or nothing guy and I love the legacy of the TF brand, I’ve always been capable of abstaining but never moderating. With the way my collection has sprawled over the years every piece has a story and is part of the tapestry of my Transformers collecting life (which I’m not ashamed to say is a huge part of the tapestry of my life). If I had to downsize to a single piece I probably couldn’t do it, and I would walk away.
But the one thing I would always keep isn’t a toy, it would be my (almost) complete run of the Marvel UK comic, which ran for 332 issues. Like seemingly everyone else in the UK I stopped collecting at #300 back in the day, and they are still proving to be hard to hunt down at a sensible price. I feel pretty bad that I’m halfway through this article and I’ve barely mentioned comics, IDW are doing some of the best TF fiction ever right now and comics have always been a major driving force behind me collecting, more so than the cartoon.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Brr-icy’s collection of Japanese G1 figures would make be consider wholesale Grand Maximus Theft Auto. Buster / Hydra or Lio Kaiser are pretty high on my wants list right now. I know some UK guys with some amazing rarities and prototypes, but I’m happier looking at the pictures and admiring from afar than collecting those. I like my toys to look like they’re from the show, and I don’t ever want them to be so precious I can’t muck about with them.
Honestly, I’m happy with my collection, and I want less, not more. I’ve sold off over 300 pieces in the last five years but the collection doesn’t seem to ever get any smaller.
If in the last few years I have picked up a few “grail” pieces, such as MIB Overlord (in superb condition, he’d opened it, popped the labels on and then stored it back in ’91 / ’92) and the Victory Sabre giftset, but there is always another grail, and there is always a bigger collection out there. Which brings me nicely to question #8.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Do not consider being a completest. The second rule of Fight Club is, DO NOT consider being a completest. I have seen collections bigger and better than mine fail upon the collector’s realisation that they were never going to “catch ‘em all”. The amount of space and money needed to do this is insane, even as a 30 year veteran of TF collecting I would never even consider it, for a newcomer to come to the hobby and aim for completion, I would say it is highly improbable. Also, how does one define completion? It’s a fool’s errand.
One of my best friends has started collecting seriously in the last few years, and he mainly collects Megatrons. It’s a great focused collection, but he has so many already and he’s not even close to being done, it’s a stark reminder that even a controlled collection can run into thousands of pounds very quickly. For me, a small focused collection is more interesting to see than a huge, sprawling mess….and I include my own collection here as a negative example of collecting gone too far.
There are a lot of things I still want to do in life, like travelling a lot more, and as much as I love my collection, the unfortunate reality is the collection is as much as a bind for me as say, having a kid is for a lot of people. When I move house, I have to consider an extra room purely for my Transformers collection, and that doesn’t include all my other crap like DVDs, comic books, novels and other toys. Last time I moved it took two journeys, the second of which was all my geek paraphernalia.
Set yourself a clear goal and play around within those parameters as long as it’s fun. I see people buying figures out of a failed sense of obligation, or to support the brand (which is hilarious after the billion dollar movie in 2011). If it stops being fun, stop doing it or change up what you’re doing. You don’t NEED to buy that Beast Hunters Ratchet for your niche “Transformers that turn into emergency services vehicles” collection, but if you’re going to enjoy it and you feel it enhances your collection, go right ahead it.
Also, don’t take too much stock in what other collectors think or say, including me. If you’re collecting based on what others will think, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Find your own way, don’t take collecting or yourself too seriously and enjoy!
Many kind and gracious thanks to Sid Beckett for words and images.
All the best