In 2007 I left the Transformers and pre-Transformers collecting game and community again for the second or third time (I lose count). This almost always involved a fire sale of some sort, exchanging rare and hard-earned variants and centrepieces for significant amounts of money to set me on my way in the direction of newer and more appealing pursuits. After my longest break from the scene, I finally returned to the game in 2011, having gotten married and apparently grown up. Apparently. As expected, I found that the Transformers collecting scene had changed as much as I felt I had changed myself.
This week, as I’m in the middle of moving home and am without regular Internet access, I’m forcing you all to put up with a small intermission to our ongoing weekly Transformers and pre-Transformers articles regarding the more interesting and lesser-known corners of our toy collecting universe. I’ve been looking for an opportunity (excuse) to reflect upon how I felt about being back in collecting again for nearly a year now, and the combined incompetence of my Internet service provider and new landlord have kindly presented me with such an opportunity. The recycled pictures in this article will surely add insult to insult.
One of the first things I did after visiting all the old online haunts was to wade through all the emails I had unfairly neglected over the previous 4 years, emails from my own website and through eBay, or private messages sent on popular Transformers forums. I realised that even though I had no longer been active in documenting variants, others had stepped up and done as good a job or better, and discovered quite a lot of amazing things themselves based on articles I had written over the last decade. Even now I receive messages from collectors saying that an article I wrote years ago finally made them lay down the cash for previously under-documented toys like the Shining Ultra Magnus reissue exclusive featured at the head of this article.
The Milton Bradley Transformers piece I wrote for TF-1 had also proven quite a popular reference, but was now clearly out of date. Collectors such as Mijo and JB Martin had since sent me offers of better pictures and information not featured in my original piece. A little digging around and I realised these guys had created marvellous resources and collections of their own in this niche. Before long, we were all involved in a series of circular emails and chatting which today I can hardly stand being away from for even a few hours! I can honestly say had I not run into these guys and Joustra Diaclone enthusiast RpChristophe upon my return, I may not have bothered sticking around at all. Why the melodrama?
One of the main areas of collecting I was associated with before disappearing again was Diaclones and pre-Transformers. I had a respectable collection of Diaclone Car Robots amassed over years of searching and networking, almost all bought at reasonable prices. I set about trying to rebuild a small portion of that lost glory, and encountered my first clue that I was a fossil in a young man’s game. I had thought that when I sold my Diaclones, the going was good. I was getting nearly $1000 for my very finest pieces, but it was during a time when many big name collectors were slowly fading from the scene. I always believed that prices would hit a ceiling, and then plummet when we all realised we couldn’t afford to rent a toilet on a bad street.
Well, that didn’t happen. Diaclone prices continued to inflate at what appeared to have been an exponential rate. Figures that flooded the market and wouldn’t sell for $200 MIB unused were suddenly regularly topping $500 or more. Diaclone Marlboor Lancias had gone from $1000 to $4000 and collectors weren’t batting an eyelid. Having never paid more than $550 for a single item, and still sporting a wants list that would make any collector baulk, I realised that either I had to change my philosophy or look for something else to collect. Whining about it didn’t help, accusing others of causing it didn’t help, and constantly reminding everyone that you were around when things cost $10 makes you as popular as old war stories.
So. Time to suck it up and get on with it. Diaclones were clearly more in demand now, and there were obviously more collectors around who had tied up all their G1 loose ends and were now exploring the exotic and historic. The upshot of this was that discoveries were continuing to be made at an alarmingly constant rate. There did not appear to be any point in sight where all would be unveiled and found, shocks were still there to be had. Beautiful boxed examples of mega-rare Finnish Diaclones and even a seemingly unheard-of Japanese chrome Powered Convoy variant appeared in 2011, along with a siginifcant European prototype and sample find.
Again though, some of the prices being paid were simply startling and totally prohibitive for a vast majority. For someone who had always been able to have a share in the rare stuff, it was quite hard to swallow.
My specific specialist area was never Japanese Diaclones or prototypes though, it was the European glamour and mystery of the Ceji Joustra Diaclones. In the years I had been away, the only real significant advance in this area was the discovery of a boxed Joustra Red Corvette, but it was THAT Corvette that finally sparked me back into life and made me come back to the table. The first time I left TFs, it was the discovery of the first Finnish Black Diaclone Corvette that dragged me back, and again it was another pre-TF Corvette that did the trick this time.
I had never chased the standard non-TF Joustra Diaclone toys though, so my collection was distinctly lacking in that area. I decided to pad out the rest of my Joustra collection while waiting for more Corvettes or unseen diamonds to surface. This is where I ran into my second significant roadblock; it was made clear to me by others that after years of writing about Joustra Diaclones on TF-1, other collectors had decided to take an interest in this area and start their own collections. As a result, all of the common stuff that had been floating about in 2007 had been hoovered up by a number of French and Dutch collectors (amongst others). The common stuff was no longer common, or cheap.
Cue more whining and bellyaching. I even sold nearly 50 items from my already reduced but scattered and varied collection in order to raise funds for what I perceived as my collecting priorities. Goodbye prototypes, production samples, Classics, reissue exclusives and movie stuff. So I had the money, but then came obstacle 3; collectors weren’t selling. Nobody appeared to be interested in money any more, they were quite happy to keep hold of their gems and not take advantage of a desperate man. Things really had changed!
However, that’s not say it was a completely lost cause. One thing I found on my return was that yes, prices had shot through the roof, but it was due to a serious case of bottlenecking. A lot of collectors were purely getting their wares from a select set of sources, well known sources. The competition was driving the prices up on eBay, Yahoo Japan and other common websites. People didn’t seem to be digging too deeply and exploring all available avenues the way I had had to when collecting on a student budget in the early 2000s. Dusting off the old favourites folder and re-establishing some old contacts paid serious dividends.
Ungodly amounts of time spent online, trawling through websites, emails, forums and other such resources finally started to pay off as I was able to find a Mexican Smokescreen hybrid, boxed black Mexican Prowl, Mex Windcharger, Mex yellow Tailgate, boxed Mex Metroplex, boxed Mex Megatron and Ramjet, 2 Peruvian minibots, a Diaclone Black Skids and nearly 15 Joustra Diaclones, the crown jewel of which was the first Joustra Wheeljack ever seen. The amount of effort and screen time needed for those finds was unbelievable though, and as always it paid to be the first on the scene…even if the scene was 4am on a Tuesday night.
It sounds quite a lot like I’m tooting my own horn here, waltzing back into the hobby and finding all manner of rare and expensive stuff at decent prices, supposedly making a mockery of everyone else’s best efforts. Well that’s absolutely not the case. The truth is, my best finds, discoveries, purchases and collection gems have been the result of the friendships I’ve made throughout the last decade and a half in this hobby. People who have made it worth sticking around and fuelling my enthusiasm and desire to be a part of this world, to contribute to it. Some of the finest collection pieces I’ve ever had have been gifts from other collector friends, or great deals given to me as a result of friendship.
Whether it’s a rare catalogue featuring nothing particularly juicy that Christophe bought and sent me for free from a French ad, or Mijo offering to sell me his prized Joustra Truck and Robocolt at ridiculously low prices because he felt they belonged in my collection and for the service he felt I had done the online community, or even JB and Paul agreeing to diminish the sparkle of their own significant collections by agreeing to part with toys they would otherwise have happily kept, Napoleon and David being the bridge that allowed me to purchase items from Peru and Mexico I would otherwise have had zero access to for no personal gain beyond just being good friends and great people. What about the kindness and selfless contributions of folks like Matteo, Marco, Alessandro, Quint, Morgan, Eddie and Ras who allow their photographic material to grace the pages of these articles, without whom there would be no content? It’s the people who are responsible for making this hobby as enjoyable and memorable a way to spend time as I can imagine, and it’s the people I missed the most in my 4 years away.
And thank you to all I unfairly neglected to mention.
All the best