The Netherlands has always had a very rich culture of Transformers collectors, with some of the most well-known, long-time, knowledgeable fans and stunning collections originating from Holland. Rein “iDarkDesign” den Hengst has been a part of that Dutch TF scene from the earliest stages, and is now involved with the annual Dutch B.O.T.S. Transformers convention. Having seen pictures of his astonishing collection recently, and allied to the fact that I met him in person in 2012 after years of running across each other online for over a decade, it was high time to bring Rein’s collection, wisdom and refreshing attitude towards the hobby to the attention of everyone else. So here he is to talk us through his Transformers history.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Rein den Hengst and I am an alco.. plasticrack junkie. I’ve been one all my life. But I’ve not always been true to Transformers. During my childhood and teens I’ve dabbled in many, many different flavours of plasticrack. He-man, Thundercats, TMNT, Lego, I’m a genuine child of the eighties and that meant I got bombarded with the best cartoons and toy series ever created. But somehow it all started with a small red jet that could transform into the bot we know as Powerglide. My mother tells me this story about the small red fighter plane robot which I lost on an aeroplane. Panic ensued (I imagine a lot of crying). Powerglide was among the bots that I bought in my first year of collecting.
During my teens my interest for Transformers was off and on. I grew up on a farm in a small town in the middle of the Netherlands. I remember watching Transformers on satellite television (Sky One, Fun Factory!) but also later on local channels. Transformers was always there but another year it would be He-man, Thundercats or TMNT. Then G2 and the classic gold boxes returned to TV and stores and I was all about Transformers again. It wasn’t until my last year at high school and the discovery of Time Traveler Toys shop on the internet that I rediscovered Transformers. I borrowed my mum’s credit card and ordered the two Transformers that I’ve always wanted and never got. Swoop and Ravage. Three to six weeks later the package arrived and I was thrilled! In that time I had taken my childhood transformers from the attic, refurbished an old display case from the shed and received old childhood Transformers from my friends (Among these, Trypticon, Superion and Starscream)
I was working as a bartender in a club and delivered pizzas during that time (yes I started working as a bartender at a club when I was fifteen!) and I remember spending my money online on Skylynx, Predaking and a whole bunch of others. I started reading newsgroups (alt.toys.transformers) and discovered Beast Wars. It was soon after that I realised that it was impossible to just want everything and anything Transformers. I set myself some guidelines. Most of which I still uphold today, sixteen years later. My number one guideline is “Stick to show characters” (This would bite me in the ass with Superlink/ Energon… repaints!) Of course I’ve strayed from the path. Thankfully most of G1 has appeared in the series, but Binaltech/Alternators didn’t and I’ve got some exceptions to that rule sprinkled through my collection.
My second rule would be “No cardboard, loose/complete is fine!”. Although for most of the post-1999 toys I will have saved the packaging in one serious fire hazard on the attic. I don’t mind buying loose complete figures. Some mint, some in questionable condition. I like to repair broken bots or cons too, I’ll just piece them together, sometimes even painting them to get rid of discolouration issues. Lately I’ve even been upgrading figures using shapeways 3D printed items. There is so much cool stuff out there! Somewhere down the line I’ve picked up a Gunpla bug too. I’ve since modelled quite some Gundams and other model kits.
My collecting concentrates on G1 and the current running show. In which case it also means that G1 is always a little on the back burner and the current line is where most of my energy will be invested at that time. This includes watching the shows and hunting down the cheapest I could get the current line. In-between series there is always a year or sometimes longer that I will concentrate on G1 again. I love going back and forth.
Lastly I love hunting for good deals and rare items. I’m in this for the long run so if I don’t find it at ‘my’ price now I will find it another time.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
Where do I start?! Prices are through the roof, everyone and their uncle is a collector and there’s so much to choose from! Especially with 3rd party companies trying to out do each other. For Hasbro and Takara much has also changed. Micron Legend/Armada and Superlink/Energon consisted of a first run of a certain mold, then a repaint that also appeared in the show and then maybe even another repaint! Thankfully nowadays most repaints have at least a different head and don’t show up in the show as much (or vice versa). Also if you compare the size of almost any Superlink/Energon figure to anything that was before or after it has the largest figures. I prefer a smaller overall figure size so I’m not complaining.
Of course the Bayverse Movies have had a big impact on the fandom. It has opened up new doors for current lines and introduced a whole new generation of kids to the Transformers. I welcome our new Bayverse overlords and am excited for the new movie Age of Extinction. I’ve enjoyed all of the movies and toys. It’s a new look and it doesn’t really interfere with Hasbro or Takara re-imagining new series (Animated, Prime). I eat what they serve and don’t live in the past. No G1 is not better nor is it worse. It’s different!
Speaking of G1; Reissues and KO’s have become widely available. Most of my G1 is now replaced with a shiny new, anime accurate reissue. My battered bots and cons all sport shiny new Reprolabels and KOs fill out those ranks replacing the need for hard to get and pricey items (Dino-cassettes, red Slag, Diaclone Swoop, Headmasters). I think this development is a great thing and I would like to see more KO’s of exclusive items (Anyone in the know and want a list for inspiration Maz has my email!)
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
I hope that the new movie will inspire a whole new generation of collectors again and that in its wake another new series that is different from everything we’ve already had. A new art direction, new memorable characters a new style. I’d like Takara to keep the current Masterpiece line alive with new molds of old characters. I don’t collect Masterpieces myself but I really like that there is a dedicated line for collectors. Lastly I hope that 3rd party developers are going to find their way among each other. Instead of competing with the same items (I’m looking at you combiners, Dinobots, masterpieces…) but building on each others’ products and filling up holes that ‘obviously’ need filling.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
I love it when the fandom comes through and collectors help each other. I try to help fellow collectors with the means that I have and I’ve been on the receiving end a couple of times. These are the best moments for me. I used to hang around in the Iacon Hub (this is a P2P Direct Connect group) and I was looking for a Takara Tigatron. This guy out of nowhere told me he had one, asked for my address and shipped it to me free of charge. At first I was excited and a little sceptical but then my MIB white Tigatron arrived in the mail and I was super stoked! Every once in a while the same guy finds me on boards and asks how the Tigatron is. I’m still proud of it! Many thanks go to fellow Transfans who’ve helped me get grails (Botcon BW set and many others!). I try to do my part and I send out free bots to people who I’ve come across that were excited about an item but didn’t have the funds. I’ve also become involved in the organisation of B.O.T.S. (http://www.bots-nl.net/), the BeNeLux Transformers Convention. I combine my work and hobby for B.O.T.S. as for a living I produce and manage all kinds of events and shows. All the praise however go to the driving forces behind the project as I’m more in an assisting and advisory role.
Maybe not my greatest find but one with the better story is my MIB Liokaiser. I’ve been to Japan three times now (not just to hunt for Transformers or Gundam!). When in Japan I had set myself the rule to not buy anything available outside of Japan, just to not be seduced by all the plasticrack available there. My ‘little’ brother lived there at the time and we paid a visit to Mandarake at Nakano Broadway Mall. There in the display case were all these treasures that I couldn’t justify spending that much money on…except for that Liokaiser. I paid somewhere around ¥80.000 for it. I lugged it around with me in a paper bag for the rest of the trip. I still remember that trip vividly whenever I look at that toy.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
Somewhere down the line someone had the idea to start grading toys and putting them in acrylic cases. I never understood why people would go out of their way to get their figures to a company that calls itself the Action Figure Authority and have them locked up for a price just to sell them again. Even bigger was my surprise that nobody else competed with them. As far as I know, still, nobody does. Something else that I have always found outrageous is that some people found the need and could justify to themselves to put themselves into debt to be able to keep buying toys or get that holy grail. I’ve always been a firm believer in saving up enough money for the cause. Then there is that Countdown thing…
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
I have given this a lot of thought and have stared at my collection for quite some time. I’m going to have to go with Masterpiece Soundwave. It has all the right amount of Transformers for me. The size, the transformation, perfect Laserbeak and the nostalgia. It transforms into the worst possible alt mode imaginable: a cassette player. In the 80’s it was perfect. A giant robot that could transform itself into the smallest tape deck. I remember walking around with a G1 Soundwave on my belt pretending it was my Walkman. I could try the same with the Masterpiece and hide between all the hipsters!
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
There are so many items I would still like to add to my collection. But there is one thing that I will probably never own because of its rarity and price. I would want to go for the Micron Legend Lucky Draw Green Unicron. If I remember correctly this is all the Micron/ Minicons joined together to fight Unicron in its own image. I think there are three or so of these out there and the price was somewhere around > $10,000 – I will never be able to justify to myself to spend that much money on a figure. It’s one of those items that I’ve never seen in real life and probably never will.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
It doesn’t matter how many items you have, enjoy the time it takes to research items and enjoy the hunt for them. In Dutch we have a saying “Hebben van de zaak is het einde van het vermaak”. It means having something in hand is never as good as thinking about having the item. Don’t measure yourself with everyone on the internet. Sometimes it can feel like all the cool kids have all the cool stuff but always reflect on all the toys you have yourself. Make your own choices; What do YOU like? It doesn’t matter that everyone else loves Masterpieces or Classics or G1, make up your own mind about what sort of toy collection you want to have. Don’t treat this hobby as in investment. Instead have fun, meet new people and make new friends.
Many kind thanks to Rein den Hengst for images and words.
All the best