Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Finland, it seems vintage Transformers had made their way to the most unexpected reaches of the world during their enormous popularity in the eighties. While it is expected that most countries in Europe had access to Transformers toys, it still came as a surprise to discover that the North Atlantic island nation of Iceland had a Transformers history of its own.
Having visited Iceland over 12 times in the last 5 years and seen how little Transformers stock was available here even during the days of the Michael Bay films, and taking into account their relatively small national population of approximately 320,000 which would have been even smaller in the mid-eighties, I was tremendously surprised to find out just how wide a range of G1 Transformers the country received back in the day.
During the first serious visit I made to Iceland in 2008, I discovered a very interesting but small selection of Movie Transformers including Premium figures such as Jazz, Blackout, Optimus and Ironhide. The Premium range was never available in the UK or most of Europe, but it appeared that Icelandic supermarket chain Hagkaup was getting stock direct from the States. Leader figures were shockingly costing the equivalent of $106 (8499 ISK) and Premium Movie Deluxe toys were an eye-watering 2499 ISK, roughly $30 US. It seemed to me that Iceland was getting mostly damaged Premium toys, badly painted with visible defects or bad packaging, which led me to believe that maybe they were importing damaged US overstock.
Other figures available at the time included Rescue Ratchet, Thundercracker, First Strike Voyager Prime, Jungle Bonecrusher, Incinerator, Stealth Bumblebee, standard 08 Bumblebee, Stockade and Autobot Camshaft. Add to that a bunch of cyber-slammers and Fast Action Battler repaints, Robot Heroes and Real Gear, and you had a half decent range. Since the Movie years though, I have noticed a considerable decline in the variety and volume of stock available throughout the capital, Reykjavík.
Gone now are the days of interesting US overstock, but the immensely expensive pricing remains. Current displays at Hagkaup branches include a great deal of Kre-O Transformers (Optimus Prime being approximately 16000 ISK or $125), Bot-Shots and Transformers Prime. Some stores are still carrying Mechtech items from Dark Of The Moon. They are not flying off the shelves by any means, which is understandable considering the price and Iceland’s current financial climate.
One thing that was evident to me now was that the Transformers toys in some Hagkaup branches were no longer stuffed into a corner amongst a sea of other toys with no real sense of organisation or purpose, there were actual dedicated displays with aisle-end store display visuals. The implication being that stock was coming direct from Hasbro, and one look at Hasbro Nordic’s website shows the exact same items being promoted; Prime, Bot Shots, Cyberverse and Kre-o.
Despite the abundance of Transformers Prime product throughout the Hagkaup stores and the displays, the Transformers Prime show is not currently being broadcast in Iceland, so retailers are hoping to appeal to children and parents through the Transformers brand name, legacy and general ongoing popularity as opposed to via any direct and current widely-available media that kids are being exposed to. However, Cartoon Network is available to those who have paid for extra channel packages, and Prime was premièred in Scandinavian countries on that channel.
Just a few years ago in 2008, Toys ‘R’ Us finally opened branches in Iceland, but the flagship store in Reykjavík still didn’t boast an impressive amount of Transformers stock. The above picture shows its current range, and you can see just how abundant Dark Of The Moon product still is. Amongst the Mechtech Deluxes there are Transformers Prime toys and store displays, but the head of the display in this aisle is still very clearly DOTM.
Even though the stock is slightly different at TRU, the prices are still very high with TF Prime Optimus Maximus costing the equivalent of $80 and the Bumblebee vs Starscream “Entertainment Pack” chiming in at 6999 ISK (approx $55), and that’s while it is on offer! DOTM Leader Bumblebee can be had for 9999 ISK (approx $79). So are those the only choices for lovers of Transformers in Iceland? Well, no…
Nexus, a collector’s store in downtown Reykjavík, specialises in Science Fiction, fantasy and collectible products, DVDs, and literature, including Transformers. Run by enthusiasts and frequented by the city’s suitably inclined, as far as I can tell the store has always been busy and is highly spoken of by collectors and fans in Iceland. I remember being able to buy Transformers Animated Jazz, Soundwave and Ultra Magnus at Nexus, and Classics figures such as Sunstreaker that would never have shown up in Hagkaup, TRU Iceland or in some cases even in the UK. Despite the stock usually being imported from overseas, the pricing is almost always better than the aforementioned chains. Nexus also currently stock Fall of Cybertron toys not yet available anywhere else in Iceland.
Svenni, a store manager at Nexus, is a specialist in Transformers and was responsible for encouraging the owners to stock more TF product after the 2007 Movie explosion. He was kind enough to spare some time to answer questions on the Icelandic TF community and history. Much of what he told me came as a great shock seeing as how limited the modern day Icelandic TF collector’s choices are.
According to Svenni, the G1 Transformers cartoon was shown in Iceland on the encrypted Channel 2 (“Stöð 2″ – pronounced “Stueth Tvue”) around 1987. Other popular shows at the time included Thundercats, He-Man and M.A.S.K., so not too different from the rest of Europe. Having believed Iceland to be devoid of any significant Transformers history or heritage, I was stunned to hear that the first waves of G1 Transformers to be sold in Iceland came directly from Takara in Japan!
Svenni clearly remembers Jazz, Prowl, Trailbreaker and Decepticon jets in Takara packaging being sold in small local neighbourhood toy stores in Reykjavík and Keflavík between 1985 and 1986. Apparently Megatron was not available, but he recalls the styrofoam packaging of the smaller Japanese releases vividly.
After that in 1987, with the opening of the Kringlan mall in Reykjavík and its large new branch of Hagkaup, Iceland started getting the more typical late 1980′s Transformers product like Headmasters, Powermasters, Targetmasters, individual Seacons and then finally Pretenders alongside other popular toys like Thundercats, Centurions, G.I. Joe and Bravestarr. Svenni recalls seeing and loving Decepticon Powermaster Doubledealer especially. It seems that after the initial waves from Takara, the product started to come direct from Hasbro Europe in multilingual European post-Milton Bradley packaging.
After Pretenders, Transformers disappeared from Icelandic stores and did not properly return until the arrival of the Unicron Trilogy. There was no G2 product according to Svenni, and even Transformers Animated was not shown in Iceland despite the toys being sold in stores, “Hagkaup did have some Beast Wars toys in the early 90′s but blink and you missed it”. Vintage Transformers toy finds are virtually unheard of, although someone did discover a basement full of sealed He-Man toys which were undoubtedly unsold store stock from the eighties. A general lack of flea-market or car-boot sale culture in Iceland doesn’t help when it comes to toy hunting.
So even though there is a relatively significant history of G1 Transformers in Iceland compared to many countries including added spice from Japan, and the fact that Transformers product is still being sold throughout large chain stores today, Svenni says he could count the number of Transformers collectors or community members in Iceland on 2 hands. Nexus tests the water on their Facebook group before importing anything of note into the store, but it appears that items such as Masterpiece Lambor and the upcoming reissue Fortress Maximus will not be among those.
However quiet the scene is now, and however inaccessible the current stock of Transformers may be, these shores apparently once boasted some of Takara’s finest early G1 items. How many countries can say that?
Many kind thanks to Sveinn Lárusson and Nexus Iceland (Website and Facebook) for their time, valuable information and photographs of their Transformers stock. Thanks also to Mijo, Meiradario and Morgan Evans for vintage TF pics. Gleðileg Jól!
All the best