“What we do in life echoes in eternity” – a great line from a great film. While “What we experience in childhood echoes through adulthood” is a slightly less profound quote, especially when measured in the context of toy collecting, it is still a huge part of what makes up the personality of grown adults that buy vintage Transformers figures. The power of deeply-loved childhood toys, present or absent, is as undeniable as their legacy or how we found our way into the hobby, and ultimately what we get out of it.
In Survivors – Part 1 last week, I looked at one half of my childhood collection of vintage G1 Transformers and shared a few personal and special memories of how they came into my possession, what they mean to me and peppered the retrospective emotional walk down memory lane with some wise quotes from respected friends. This week the quotes remain, but the focus of part 2 will be on how childhood Transformers influence adult Transformers collecting purchases and decisions. I cannot guarantee that there will not be more emotional gushing…
What does an adult Transformers collector do immediately after discovering their passion for those toys again once they’re over the ‘not-cool-to-collect’ phase of their youth and have disposable income? They do exactly what I did once I found out that the Internet existed, that Transformers still existed and that second-hand hobby shops existed; start buying all the Transformers figures they never had as children.
“Transformers had become all consuming and even my grandmother, who hated toys and refused to buy them, had got in on the act by buying me Jetfire. One toy came with an American catalogue featuring the full range of 1985 toys and showed all the Transformers that didn’t get a release in the UK!” – Morgus Evans III – Archivist – 2013 A.D.
I had mentioned last week that G1 cars, Movie characters and Decepticon jets were my favourite Transformers growing up thanks to the direct influence certain VHS tapes had on my desires, so the first things I started looking to purchase to fill childhood gaps were cars like Prowl, Bluestreak, Wheeljack and Jazz, or jets like Skywarp and Ramjet. Further down the line I would finally get opportunities to own Dinobots, Constructicons, Megatron and Jetfire. Coming home from a South London hobby shop with a boxed Jetfire, Megatron and Devastator giftset did not feel altogether different from the day I received Rodimus Prime, Targetmaster Scourge and Cyclonus all at once. That day is shown in the ancient photograph above, and the survivors are shown in the photograph below:
“My childhood toys are, in my life, the most direct remnants of the 80′s, the best decade to be a child in, with all its cartoons, heroes and toys; an era where the city streets were full of small toy shops, which were looking like Ali Baba’s cave and went out of their way near Christmas time to be even more magical. Even though I am now the proud owner of some shiny vintage boxed Transformers, my childhood toys remain the core of my collection; and even though I mutilated the boxes as advised by Hasbro and wore the toys by playing with them, they don’t need an “upgrade”, they’re irreplaceable.” - Jean-Le-Baptiste – Inventor – 2013 A.D.
Not only are some childhood toys irreplaceable for sentimental reasons, but as an adult collector if you happened to keep them in good condition they could easily slot right into a grown-up Transformers display. If those survivors happen to be rare or expensive characters in today’s market, even better! While I may not have had a Targetmaster Hot Rod, Springer or Targetmaster Cyclonus, I was certainly grateful for the fact that my original Targetmaster Scourge meant I never had to shell out hundreds when that figure was considered super-rare and costly, even if I had previously tried to superglue the blue head accessory into place and written job interview details on the back of Cyclonus’s tech spec. Movie-related figures I was compelled to buy included Gnaw (I didn’t even realise they’d made a Sharkticon until adulthood), Targetmaster Hot Rod (pre-reissue, so not cheap), Springer, Targetmaster Cyclonus but never Blurr, Kup or Wheelie. I mercifully also didn’t have to put money down on a Wreck Gar.
“They represent the happy years I crave to go back to, within myself. I think of the safety of the family unit. I cannot forget the summers I spent at my grandparents’, and that toy shop I hung around in all the time. There was that Diaclone Ambulance (Ratchet in The TFs) but it was a bit expensive, so I had to make do with Cosmos. Then came the cartoon run on Canal Plus and I HAD to own the promoted product and not miss an episode! That changed my life forever. Since then, I kept on trying to piece together those little bits that remind me of those years of happiness. I collect what I didn’t succeed in getting while I was a child.” – Cassassus – Warrior – 2013 A.D.
Conversely, there were toys I had as a child that I enjoyed thoroughly but did not feel the need to pursue their like as an adult collector. I was never going to be a completist, and as much as my Skystalker (one of my final Transformers presents received) featured in so many battles, Star Trek re-enactments and as an Ark or Nemesis substitute, even then I realised it was a different kind of design to the Transformers under whose spell I originally fell. In those earlier days of my online collecting, my budget would not have stretched to obligatory adult collecting purchases. Even though my budget has changed, so have my priorities in collecting, and as cool as Micromasters are (and I had to have a “Tailspin” and White Sixwing), I don’t pursue them.
Speaking of obligatory purchases…
“I can still vividly remember buying my first Transformer, despite only being 3 years old; a Rodimus Prime cab for 2 pence at a jumble sale . Growing up in a poor family meant additions to the army were few and far between – but that only made them doubly precious to me. Sadly I was pretty rough when I played, and I played with my Transformers a lot, so many didn’t survive the ordeal. Some of those that did – Hubcap; the first Christmas present I can remember being given, Trailbreaker; a hand-me-down from a cousin, and Topspin; another jumble sale find – are some of the most treasured pieces in my collection, which I’d never be able to sell. Partly because they’re worthless, mostly because they’re priceless.” – Colonius Pringlum – Merchant – 2013 A.D.
Priceless and worthless at the same time beautifully describes what many of us may feel about those gimmick-induced childhood toy decisions we made, a Twin Twist instead of an Insecticon, or a Runamuck instead of a Ramjet. Another example of me buying something other people had but not quite; my cousin had bought Runabout and my friend Topspin. I wanted to be the same but different. Although I have often dreamt that when I am older and money is no object, I will own a MOSC Runamuck and MISB Twin Twist with UK price stickers, I’ve never felt the need to buy Runabout or Top Spin and to this day have never owned those toys. Ramjet though? I’ve had seven.
“No mum, it’s different, this one’s got a different name and different wings!” – Spoilt Brat – 1986 A.D.
Did someone mention coneheads? Imagine how much I must have loved this mould that on three subsequent toy-shop visits I declined the opportunity to get a new Autobot car, an Optimus Prime, a Jetfire, a Dinobot, a cassette or Soundwave – all for the purpose of completing the set of Decepticon jets. For recreating those unforgettable timeless images in the Transformers mini-catalogues.
In the case of Thrust, even buying one for my best friend’s birthday didn’t stop me from asking for one myself, that’s how beautiful that toy was to me. Its complete and good state today speaks volumes about its place in my childhood collection. That kind of thing was affecting my choices in 1986, never mind as an adult enthusiast.
“I was hooked and seemed to hourly refer back to this US catalogue to dream of the Constructicons, Roadbuster, Whirl, Shockwave and the Deluxe Insecticons. It didn’t take long for this catalogue to become virtually laminated from the amount of tape that had been needed to hold it together from a 9 year old boy wearing the thing out.” - Morgus Evans III – Archivist/Laminator – 2013 A.D.
“But it’s not a toy” – Spoilt Brat – 1987 A.D.
As much as a child has the capacity for projecting great affection, character and imagination upon an inanimate object, they (I) also have a tendency to not be able to disguise disappointment. Having received a few “Transformers items” as presents (framed paintings, flashlights, books and cassettes) and remembering that disappointment, I’ve never been one to buy merchandise or peripherals unless they were exceptionally interesting or enjoyable as an adult collector. I may not have redeemed those Robot Points in the eighties, but I didn’t waste any time picking up a Reflector, Overdrive, Camshaft and Downshift when I got online.
“My first Transformer was Seaspray. He may not be the biggest star of G1, but he looked cool as robot, had a very quick transformation, and then that cool and magical rub mark. And also, he has been a great companion through time - from being on far-fetched solo missions all on his lonesome, to slowly being joined by more and more fellow comrades as my collection grew.” - Martinius Lund – Engineer – 2013 A.D.
A great many collectors are heavily influenced by their first Transformer. You will find people with shelves full of exclusive Japanese Transformers or Diaclones, yet a special corner of their display is reserved for a Throttlebot, or a shrine to some minor character, because they were the first. Starscream was my first Transformer, bought as a direct result of his massive impact on me in MTMTE (Arrival From Cybertron). I would love to say the Starscream pictured above is my childhood specimen, but being the first – not to mention very fragile – Transformer, he saw more action than all the others. And it shows:
Teeth marks in the afterburners (they just wouldn’t come off!), a missing nosecone that was transplanted onto a junker Ramjet found in a charity shop, and parts/accessories that now adorn the earlier Starscream pictured, this earliest remnant of my passion even has a crack in the die cast section. I may now have a crystal mint version of this mould as a Joustra Diaclone, but the wreck above will never find its way into the trash as long as I breathe. I’ll never forget my mother asking me what Transformer we should buy a friend’s son who was visiting the UK a year or so later, and me suggesting Starscream. That perfect sealed store-bought specimen I held in my hand and tried to convince my mother to let me keep was a sore reminder of how remiss I had been in looking after my first love.
You would think I’d end this series of articles with my first ever Transformer, the Starscream above, but no. The series is called “Survivors”, and I have generally been proud of how I maintained my beloved toys. The one I am most proud of though, the last of my original collection of childhood toys left to feature who was seen in the first picture from Part 1, is Thundercracker.
I remember being told by a well-known UK toy dealer in the late 1990s how lucky I was to have a nice complete Thundercracker as they were very hard to come by back then, before eBay had permeated every corner of the community. This well-preserved antique from the earliest days of my childhood collecting has all his original parts, is unbroken and has never needed an upgrade. There are dings, pierced stickers and teeth marks, but he’s still spectacular. For an early G1 toy bought not long after the obliterated Starscream above, Thundercracker has done exceptionally well to reach 2013 in such shape. The beauty of it being he will always remain in this shape, a relic of some of the happiest days of my life.
A great example of childhood behaviour influencing adult collecting habits, knowing that I was able to keep such a tricky-to-complete toy in such good condition all these years and as a child means that nowadays I can only get excited about complete original toys. I am never satisfied by incomplete toys, or toys that have had transplanted parts that compromise their integrity or authenticity. I am a massive advocate of having a worn example of an original piece than one that has been tarted up with donor parts from the wrong mould or even country. It was also fascinating to realise that as a child I never once owned a Micro Change Series mould Transformer. One look at my collection display, and you would see the influence that’s had on my adult collecting.
Going forward, I have considered giving my daughter all of my childhood Transformers to enjoy when she’s of an age to appreciate them. It seems hypocritical to keep these particular items behind glass doors or locked up in cases to save them further ‘damage’, especially as that ‘damage’ is what has made them so loved in the first place. On the other hand, I would not want to deprive her of that feeling of walking into a toy store and letting her heart direct her to the toys she will come to love and treasure throughout her own childhood. My wife’s fondest memory of receiving toys as a child is that of giving her father drawings of My Little Ponies to buy on his way back home from work on any given day. My daughter will choose her own survivors, I’m sure.
“Childhood Transformers are so important to me because they remind and transport me back to a time when things were simpler and life was happier in a ‘ignorance is bliss’ kind of way. They are a window into the past with lots of memories attached to them that still make me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I recall them” – Brandus Yap – Explorer – 2013 A.D.
“My first Transformer is that link between my childhood infatuation with the toy line – that initial wonder of discovering a universe and slowly learning what it is comprised of – that still resonates today in trying to complete the G1 run and learning more about the origins of the toy line.” – Martinius Lund – Engineer – 2013 A.D.
All the best
Maz – Emotional Gusher – 2013 A.D.