Some of us have dreams when it comes to toy collecting. Complete a collection of variant minibots, own a particular sub-line of pre-Transformers, have a graded sealed collection of G1 across a few years of release or a run of Japanese exclusive Transformers, those are serious ambitions but to some reasonable degree they are – according to and as defined by our experts – conceivable. But what about those special types of collector who want what came before the toys, and those that want everything that came since?
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, Ras, David Duca, Matt Burke and Lewis M Brooks III were quizzed on goals within the world of prototype collecting and being a “completionist”. We’ve already looked at AFA MISB G1 Transformers, Japanese Transformers, minibots and pre-Transformers. Our experts’ answers are as fascinating and insightful as you would expect from such esteemed gentlemen.
“Is it conceivable for someone to have a collection containing some kind of prototype of every G1 or G2 Transformers toy?”
Demonstrating just how much we’ve ramped up the difficulty of the task in question for our final week of expert-contributor articles, almost all the responses given to us by the prototype and pre-production Transformers specialists we interviewed contained a significant amount of scepticism.
Matt Burke starts us off and there’s no beating around the Stan Bush here: “I would have to say no, I don’t believe a single person could have a prototype of every G1–G2 figure. We know of some people in the fandom with large and impressive prototype collections (Ras, Paul Hitchens, David Duca and Alex Bickmore) and I believe even if we combine all of their large G1–G2 prototype collections we would still be far away from having a complete collection, and who knows what could possibly turn up next week!”
It’s not hard to see why Matt takes that stance as typically, significant Transformers prototype and pre-production finds have come in one big discovery, either from the stash of former Hasbro/Takara employees or from a source close to such a person. Prototype collectors are almost always the most resourceful and aware collectors who need to pull out all the stops to be first on the scene. Competition is immense.
David Duca expands on our original question a little further, while maintaining Matt’s pessimism, by saying “Do I think it’s conceivable that someone can have a complete collection of G1 and G2 prototypes….I’ve seen Ras’s collection! I do know someone that has a complete G2 collection (depending on how you look at it) In all seriousness, no, I don’t believe there will ever be someone outside of Takara/Hasbro with a complete collection of prototypes. I do think someone will get close though”.
Both of our experts so far have mentioned Ras as someone who could possibly achieve this seemingly impossible goal, so let’s bring Ras in on this as well: “Conceivable? Yes. Virtually impossible? Maybe. Anything’s possible, except lighting a dead match with a wet donut….and perhaps trying to acquire one pre-production sample of each G1/G2 toy. That’s if they even still exist, and if they do, locating a complete (albeit, undoubtedly mismatched) set of such treasures is probably about as tough as it gets.”
An apparent lack of hope in completing this endeavour really begs the question “Why bother, then?” Before we address that, here’s David again with a definition of the mission and what makes this such a daunting task: “First I think we need to define what you would consider a prototype. Are you referring to only hardcopies? Do they include productions samples, which have no difference to the production model? If you include everything, I think people might get close to having some kind of prototype for each character. The second hurdle I see with acquiring a complete collection is money. My guess is that for certain characters (e.g. Hot Rod) there are going to be quite a few people willing to pay major cash for that prototype. Not to mention Unicron”.
It is at this point where we start to realise why this very special breed of collector starts down this particular road and how it differs slightly to all the other areas of collecting we’ve looked at so far in this series. “I wouldn’t want someone to have all the prototypes” says David “I don’t collect them because they are rare, I collect them because I find the differences and the process interesting. I have many test shots that are close to final production but you will see changes made on parts to make them pass safety standards. Adding a tiny bit of plastic completely changes the look of the piece.
“Hotspot comes to mind, the guns are just sloped wedges, but the test shot actually has a gun barrel. It’s also interesting to see a change that the prototype has, give reason to why the cartoon character model is drawn the way that it is. Again I find it fascinating and don’t really care about the rarity of the piece”. So maybe it isn’t about the completing of this section of the Transformers universe at all.
What has Ras got to say about this? “Because finding a full run of original Transformers toys at any stage of production would be an immense undertaking fuelled with luck and opportunity, finding all prototypes or pre-production items at the same stage and matching would be virtually impossible”.
So, is it conceivable?
“That’s not really the point, as it’s nice to see the full gamut of stages, both visually and for purposes of knowledge. Certain runs have been discovered though, from all areas of pre-production. In the same way that one collector may focus on and collect every Optimus Prime toy, for example, a collector of prototypes may focus on, or have had the pleasure of acquiring different versions of the same character”.
There you have it, both David and Ras have made it clear that despite the almost impossible nature of the task, fuelled by a lack of knowing what’s actually still out there, the pursuit of prototypes and pre-production Transformers is not about completing, but more about the privilege of seeing what came before, a glimpse behind the curtain if you will. Every item or run that surfaces is a treasure to be cherished and very far from just a tick on a checklist.
Ras’s mention of the difficulty involved in finding a full run of G1 Transformers at any stage of production brings us neatly onto the subject of The Last Question…
“Is it conceivable that someone could have a full run of every single Transformers figure ever released to date in any condition?”
Lewis M Brooks III fields this ultimate question for us, and as with all who have been presented with our difficult queries, he marks out the parameters first: “Well, I guess the question I’d have to ask in order to answer this question is what exactly do you mean by ‘every single Transformers figure ever released’.
“Do you include identical (or near identical) toys released in multiple countries as separate toys? (For example if you have a US G1 Tracks, do you need a Japanese one too?) Do you include minor mould variants like trademark stamping or minor colour variants? Do you include toys that may not be 100% official such as some of the South American minibots? If the answer to these questions is yes then I would find it highly doubtful anyone could own ‘every single Transformers figure ever released’.”
So is the mission of a ‘completionist’ ultimately futile and all-consuming? Lewis offers a faint hope for those with this great self-inflicted responsibility: “However, if you eliminate things like stamping variants, identical or near identical toys released in different countries, toys that may not be 100% official, etc, then I think it is an entirely different question.
“I myself have an entire run of US toys without variants. I believe I have all the unique UK/European releases except the MB red Tracks (that I’m aware of). I’m only a handful of toys short of having all the unique Japanese toys that I am aware of, though I do not collect foreign repaints of non-G1 toy moulds, so there are a number of Beast Wars and newer repainted toys that I do not have. There are likely some others I don’t have that would need to be added to the list of ‘every single Transformers figure ever released’. Some Mexican releases would no doubt have to be counted as separate, and I’m sure there are a few other things that I’m not thinking of that would need to be included.”
Despite the initial scepticism, Lewis’s words clearly show that he is close to achieving his goal and therefore others must be as well, if they haven’t cracked it already. There are however some important points to keep in mind, first of which is that Lewis has been in the collecting game for a very very long time and working on his mighty collection for what must be close to two decades. The other pertinent point is that as long as Hasbro and Takara are releasing new Transformers product, the job of the completionist knows no end.
So what do you say Lewis, is it conceivable?
“Since I think it’s fair to say I’m close (relatively speaking) to having them all under the conditions I set forth above, I’d have to conclude that it would be possible to have ‘every single Transformers figure ever released.’”
While that is a positive note to end our expert contributions and this series on, I’m sure you will agree that these words of wisdom from Marco Van Leeuwen also ring true for us all:
“Buy what you like. Don’t try to be a completist, because with a 28-year history of the brand, different sub-lines all over the world, many of the prize items from that history being prohibitively expensive and so much new product coming out all the time, us mere mortals with normal paychecks can never hope to own everything…Buy the characters or the sub-lines that get you excited *as a collector*. If what tickles your fancy is the 1984-1986 catalogue, or prototypes, or pre-production art (or all of the above), that could still turn out to be quite an expensive preference, but at least you’ll be hunting the items that make you happy.”
Immense thanks to Ras, Lewis M Brooks III, David Duca and Matt Burke for their time, insight & contributions, and to Ras, Eric Warren, Marco Salerno, Marco Van Leeuwen, Martin Lund, Mike Castaneda and David Bueñano Hochman for pictures.
All the best