One of the greatest joys of having, adding to and maintaining a vintage Transformers collection, or any collection for that matter, is the ability to display it. When collections reach a certain size, it becomes harder and harder to appreciate each individual item that helps make up the glorious whole. There’s nothing like organising a display of Transformers toys, boxed, loose or both, to bring joy to a collector’s heart.
I have gotten fantastic mileage out of the photograph of Eric Warren’s collection room seen at the start of this article, simply because every collector I know has reacted with awe and immense admiration to what I believe is close to perfection as far as a loose and boxed Transformers display could be. Not all have been as fortunate with space and resource during their collecting, often having to make do with what space they can find, negotiate or steal for their jewels. The rest usually ends up being sold or kept in that perpetual hell where all collections go to die, storage.
Whether we are in the process of moving to a smaller property, transitioning from living by ourselves to living with partners or children, generally residing in a country where housing space is limited, just bought more than we can physically display over the years or simply lost some interest, toys from our collection are likely to end up in tubs, boxes, crates or cupboards for storage. Occasionally collectors will have to have their collections stored externally in lock-ups, other people’s homes or similar places.
If one has found themselves in a position with excess toys where storage is a realistic and necessary course of action, what does that say about the condition of the collection or toys that remain on display?
Well it doesn’t necessarily say anything at all. As with every single collection display you see, it depends on the individual and their style, taste and circumstance. In the first photograph above we can see that the toys are competing with other everyday household items like books and lamps for shelf space. In the second photograph, the toys are reasonably well confined to a purpose-built display area and are not encroaching into other living areas. However, both collectors at the time had a significant number of toys in storage tubs either in the same location or elsewhere, and both lived in typically small (but expensive) accommodation in a big city.
The second photograph is in fact my own collection display from circa 2011, two London apartments ago. So where did I keep the rest of my toys? Here of course:
It wasn’t always like this though, once upon a time I lived at home and my room there was choc full of loose and boxed G1 Transformers, pre-Transformers, Alternators, Binaltechs and Masterpiece Transformers. Every inch of space I had I used to display the toys I owned, even dropping a few childhood-owned items into my loose G1 shelves:
While in that one room, my collection went through so many changes and purges that I can probably use my old photographs quite well to highlight the issues of display space and its effect on the appreciation of one’s collection. Despite having a whole room to deck out with toys, it takes very little to crowd a display. Here we can see a part of my old boxed collection of G1 Transformers:
Already items at the back were being obscured by those in front, and some packages had to be displayed from the side, almost entirely covering the parts that made them so special and displayable in the first place. It almost becomes an exercise in volume management, a game of Tetris to display as much as possible in a small space. The other shelves in that section of the room were much the same.
I’ve spoken at length in the past about what I have collected and sold, and at some point in 2003 all I had on display was a reissue Tigertrack and White Astrotrain, having sold nearly everything else.
For anyone who has ever chosen a single Transformer to display at their work desk or beside their personal computer, the amount of attention, appreciation and love a solitary figure can receive when no longer surrounded by a sea of other toys can be quite surprising. It becomes much harder to part with that special desk Transformer that is always the closest at hand and responsible for filling the regular urge to mess with a Transformer. So having just the above two figures on display for almost a whole year was a welcome change from a wall-to-wall display.
It wouldn’t last, though. That idyllic display of minimalism and moderation was eventually replaced by a voracious hunger for Binaltech and Alternators toys. Those reissues were relegated back to their packaging and the premium display space was handed over to my ever-growing collection of die-cast deities. You can already see how a well-spaced attractive display of 4 cars can suddenly turn into 7 cars squeezed together much less stylishly. One Alternator became 8 Binaltechs which eventually became this:
While this display of Alternators and Binaltech toys seems laid out neatly-enough, there are obscured Masterpiece boxes behind them, stacked reissue boxes and loads of old Transformers G1 VHS cassettes. It also depended hugely on both lines not expanding much further, which of course they did…as did my buying habits. Again.
Looking back now, it makes me gasp to see a Diaclone yellow Sideswipe and Joustra Diaclone Mirage precariously balanced on top of a mountain of Alternators and Binaltech toys. Such was my desire to display all of the amazing toys I had worked hard to find or fund that display risks had to be taken to appreciate all the toys in my collection, and subconsciously justify their purchase. “Why would you buy any more toys? You can’t even display the ones you have”. You can imagine I would not have responded positively to a question such as that.
It has had an effect though, I now cannot stand the feeling of being surrounded on all sides by Transformers. I like keeping my collection restricted to a designated space. This does give a false impression though, as even now with my collection at its smallest, I have tubs of Binaltechs still at my parents’ home because they won’t fit into our new flat. I should also make it clear that my choice of having one display cabinet is a result of the space available to me, if I could have a toy room or man cave, believe me I would.
By the end of 2012 I had (as I have mentioned ad nauseum) sold my Alternators, Animated, Movie toys, packaged and nearly all loose G1, prototypes, minibots and Classics Transformers, concentrating almost exclusively on various flavours of Diaclone. The Binaltech tubs still live with my parents but I was very happy with my one cabinet, crowded though it was getting with all the packages, paperwork and loose items I had paid so much for and worked so hard to find. Once more the squeezed display space was justifying my continued purchases, how could I buy a second boxed Joustra Diaclone Battle Convoy and not display it?
Despite no longer having toys everywhere, I am a big fan of uniformity and an organised, logical display layout. Seeing loose Mexican Transformers standing in front of Joustra Diaclones and Finnish loose Diaclones obscuring other foreign Pre-TFs was starting to bother me. It was all looking too crowded again, and that’s to say nothing of the big black denim cover I had for the one cabinet due to the relative position of the front room windows. As we were due to move to a bigger apartment in 2013, I got my wife to agree to a second IKEA Detolf cabinet.
Having moved in February, there was much to be done before a second cabinet could be ordered and set up, there were many other bigger priorities, although being a big kid, it was never far from my thoughts. I transported all my display-worthy collection items to the flat but had to keep some in tubs and cardboard boxes while the rest were stuffed into the 4 Detolf shelves available. Once more, things had to be displayed side-on to save space, and expensive old packages stacked on top of each other.
One way to avoid this problem was to order a number of acrylic risers. Having seen these used to great effect in other collectors’ displays, I knew it was the only way to show off as much of my collection as possible while minimising damaging stacking or pointless obscuring of toys I wanted easily seen and appreciated.
After some eye-watering quotes from acrylic-manufacturing companies responsible for bespoke display solutions, I decided to purchase a mish-mash of cheaper ready-made acrylic risers from eBay that added up to what I was looking for. These arrived at the same time as my second cabinet just last week.
So, finally, I had two display cabinets with enough space to display the toys I had kept in storage for years, and the items that had previously been at the bottom of a stack or obscured behind a more glamorous Diaclone would get the chance to shine. Everything had its own shelf, and I could bring a degree of uniformity to my display. Filling my second cabinet and arranging my display the way I have seen it in my head for the last few years has been one of the greatest pleasures I have experienced in this hobby.
Now all I have to do is not buy any more toys…
All the best