Welcome to the jungle. This is no place for collectors who dwell in the safe confines of AFA cases or between walls of MISB Japanese Transformers. The minibot collector and variant hunter has to get his hands and feet dirty travelling well off the beaten path. Digging up histories of countries not previously associated with Transformers and establishing priceless contacts are just the start of a journey with no perceptible end in sight. Packaging, if it can even be found, is a luxury for the minibot collector. So spare a thought for that special masochist, the minibot variant completist.
I asked a number of well-known experts in their field of Transformers collecting how conceivable they felt certain lofty goals were to achieve. I did this in order to gauge just how much of a task it would be to complete a specific type of collection. This week, Morgan Evans, Martin Lund, Colin Pringle, Leonardo Medina and Stephen Munson were quizzed on goals within the world of minibot collecting. We’ve already looked at AFA MISB G1 Transformers and Japanese Transformers, we will also be looking at pre-Transformers and prototypes. Our experts’ answers are as fascinating and insightful as you would expect from such esteemed gentlemen.
“Is it conceivable that someone could have a full collection of every single minibot variation?”
I could almost sense the heavy sighing from our contributors this week when they typed their replies to that weighty question. As with our other experts, the minibot collectors first needed to clarify and define the task at hand. Morgan Evans begins by saying “It all depends on how you’re going to class variations and what you’d consider a full collection to be. If you went for major variations loose then yes it’s absolutely possible, although you’d need a big wallet and an awful lot of patience because many pieces will very very rarely show up. There are currently only two items I can think of that are nearly impossible to get but one of them was unknown for a long time”.
Martin Lund asks almost the exact same question: “It depends on the definition of ‘complete’ here, I think – are we talking loose or carded condition, and would the latter also include variations in packaging like with/without decoy/patch etc.? Are we talking prototypes as well?”.
Sure, why not?
“Prototypes are a definite no, especially the really early stuff. Ras has a handful of series 2 and 3 minis in various stages of development, but the original series 1 line-up is going to be tough competition trying to fend off pre-Transformers and Microman collectors; rarely has a pre-TF minibot prototype surfaced (I’ve seen 1 in all my years and am still kicking myself for not seing it sooner)”.
Martin goes on to say “If we’re talking about a loose collection and money were no obstacle – all the while taking ALL mold, color, sticker and stamping variations into account – I do believe that it should be possible to obtain every single variation out there, yes. While a monumental task in and of itself, the right connections and lots of patience should allow one to at least get within reasonable reach. This with the caveat that a ‘complete’ collection only pertains to already-documented specimens; new variations still surface once in a while, so it would never be complete-complete until all were known and documented”. We’ll come back to this very important last point on known variants a bit later. So what does Colin Pringle think of this task?
“Seriously though, it’s not impossible, but pretty unlikely. Take Bumblebee for example – To the best of my knowledge, there are eight different colour/sticker/copyright stamp combinations just with the standard US G1 1984-6 release. Then you’ve got three from Micro Change, the Chinese re-release, G2, three keychains, two reissues and an e-Hobby repaint, four from Mexico, four from Brazil, two from Argentina…and I don’t think all the variations from Peru/Chile and Venezuela have even been documented and confirmed yet, but there’s probably another six to ten there. So that’s something like 35-40 variations of one mold alone (admittedly, the most prolifically used one), and that’s without packaging variants. I’d be amazed if someone even owns all of those, let alone all the variations of every Minibot.”
That’s where we start really getting into the meat of the situation, the degree to which one specimen of just one minibot varies from a foreign or even later intra-region release. Morgan says “Minor variations would be a major headache but still achievable. There are at least five different Powerglides when you start looking at copyright stampings and mould stampings so it’s an incredibly long road”.
Speaking of foreign releases, Martin says “There are some seriously tough pieces out there – I’m thinking of a few of the series 3 Mexican IGA minis and select South American toys in particular – but even those seem to pop up for sale once in a blue moon, so if one has the right connections and a whole lot of time and money to throw at it…”.
Leonardo Medina expands on the issues surrounding the collecting of foreign minibot variants: “From my experience I can say that collecting minibots, you inevitably get to a point where it becomes very difficult to find the variants that are missing from your collection, especially because of the Peruvian Lynsa and the Venezuelan Rubiplas figures. In the case of Lynsa it is not known with certainty the number of variants made, the sales methodology and the short period of time they were available (I was even told that you could get these figures back in the day by collecting a couple of soda caps of ‘CONCORDIA’)”.
It isn’t just the fact that they are from foreign locations less common to Transformers manufacture that makes them hard to score, Leonardo had this to say about the Peruvian Lynsa bots: “They have somewhat lower quality than Hasbro’s figures, so just a few figures have stood the test of time. For a long time they were considered knock offs with people not giving much value to them, or preserving them. On the other hand the Rubiplas figures are very difficult to find because Venezuela has been rather isolated, at least in the last 10 years for political reasons, and that’s why it becomes very complicated to even contact local collectors/sellers.”
“Other variants like Micro Change are also very hard to find (they are somewhat easier than Lynsa and Rubiplas) but especially the first edition in larger boxes are rarer and therefore when you see any on the market the price is pretty steep, and the exposure given to this area in the last few years on particular pages and forums dedicated to the subject makes the demand rise.” (Why is everyone looking at me?) “To all this is add that every year new variants are discovered, just like the last Mexican IGA grey Bumblebee and white Cliffjumper”. So there’s that important point again, the constant discovery of new variants and expansion of known horizons.
Stephen Munson has a similarly pessimistic view of the overall goal “As far as finishing a complete minibot collection, I’m afraid that’s a deep, dark hole with no end in sight. From copyright stamping, and stickers, to color variants, and cardbacks there is just too much to acquire to have a truly complete collection. I truly doubt it will ever be achieved. And aside from the many confirmed variants that have been recorded over the years, there are those rumored variants that have yet to be seen in the wild, like the various Peruvian minis. Hunting for a confirmed variant with money in hand is only half the battle, acquiring it is a much harder challenge. I’ve found quite a bit of info online through various resources about the more ‘common’ mini variants that have been documented with numerous examples, yet have still to see them actually for sale. It gets quite frustrating. As the popularity of mini collecting increases, the actual supply significantly decreases, and those die-hard collectors would sometimes consider selling off their first born before giving up their prize collection pieces. Even variants have variants…”
We have discussed the general rarity of special minibots and the difficulties involved in finding any sort of specimen, but we haven’t talked about the feasibility of finding packaged samples of everything yet. In addition to the exotica already mentioned, there are Greek minibots, Canadian and European (MB, Ceji & Hasbro Europe) packaging variants. So how do MOSC minibots fit into our goal of owning all variants?
“If you decide to collect MOSC Minibots as well then no it can never be complete” says Morgan. “If information I have is correct, some of the rarest Mexican Minibots were never released in packaging so they simply don’t exist. Also when you look at the countries where South American minis were released like Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, they have a humid climate where glue which was never intended to last 30 years in the first place is much more likely to lose its bond. Plus the blisters on Transformers packaging were made of cheap low grade plastic that again were only intended to last til the product was sold. So from those three countries you aren’t likely to be able to find sealed, or at least high grade examples of sealed carded figures. Argentina’s climate is less humid and Antex Minibots were exported to Europe in the 80s which is why so many survive now. In addition, because of the tradition in Japan and Hong Kong to open toys to check they are complete before sale, finding genuinely MISB Japanese Minibots is going to be tough too.”
Martin says much the same: “However rare and exotic the really tough minis are to find, carded specimens are probably nigh-on non-existent for a large part of them. I’ve only seen 2 carded series 2 Optimus vs Malignus toys ever, 1 Rubiplas, 1 Lynsa, and never seen a carded silver IGA Cliffjumper, for instance. That alone makes for some really really tough holes to fill for the carded collector, especially from countries where collectors are few and far between and the original toys were tough to find in the first place. But then again, we might just be waiting for that golden case find of the century to put an end to that”.
So, is it conceivable?
Morgan: “Loose: yes. Sealed: no.”
Martin: “Carded, however, I would say no.”
Leonardo: “In short I think that for all these reasons it seems very difficult for a collector to have a full collection of every single minibot variation. But you never lose hope!”
Immense thanks to Morgan Evans, Martin Lund, Colin Pringle, Leonardo Medina and Stephen Munson for their time, insight & contributions, and to Jon Krause, Marco van Leeuwen, Morgan Evans, Martin Lund, Colin Pringle and Stephen Munson for pictures.
All the best