Toy collectors, we’re all a little insane, obsessive, compulsive and generally not 100% grown up. But just like the enormous variety of generations, sub-lines, categories, specialisms and characters that exist within the actual Transformers toy lines, there is an almost equal amount of diversity evident within the types of collector that populate the Transformers toy-buying community. Whether you’re a cherry-picker who dips your toe into the market once a year to score a priceless investment piece, a tireless completist who slaves away trying to fill every hole in every line or one of the many stops along the collecting continuum, there will always be something that appeals to you and tugs at your wallet.
For many of us it may have started as a quest to buy the Transformers items we were ruthlessly denied as children, or specific characters and moulds unavailable in the country of our youth. However collecting became a part of our being, if you’re reading this then there’s every chance you’ve found a way of compartmentalising it into your busy life, moulded and shaped it into something that works within a modern adult existence, or quite simply sold your soul to it and live/eat/sleep/breathe it every second. That’s the beauty of it, there is no one path. I would need a few weeks to cover all the different types of collector that inhabit the online community currently, so I’m going to just concentrate on a number of the more interesting varieties of today’s Transformers enthusiast.
The first is the Mint In Sealed Box (MISB) collector, a person who takes great pride in amassing pristine and untouched examples of their beloved toys. In recent years, this particular collector type has had the opportunity to expand even further into the realm of the spotless specimen by embracing the practice of toy grading. The rather striking image above is that of all 1984 Autobot cars, sealed in their original packaging. While this alone evokes memories of childhood trips to heaven (aka Toys ‘R’ Us), the concept of preservation is taken to the next step by having the Action Figure Authority (AFA) assess, evaluate and eventually grade the sealed toy, forever certifying its quality and level of perfection. Their know-how and methods are not universally accepted, but despite the customary hike in ‘value’ of a graded toy, you cannot deny how nice those acrylic display cases are and quite how much they contribute to the museum-piece look.
While we’re on the subject of childhood memories and evocative images, how about the nostalgic collector who wishes to pay tribute to their own specific local variety of Transformer? Packaging variants are not everyone’s cup of tea, but when done right, this kind of collecting can be equally as breathtaking as any other passion. The show-stopping selection of all nine Milton Bradley-badged European Autobot cars seen above is one of the most impressive collecting feats I have ever witnessed. Famous for their Diaclone-style styrofoam inserts and sheer scarceness, MB TF collecting has been pioneered by the likes of Mijo and JB Martin, and is catching on fast amongst newer variant collectors. It just goes to show that no matter how obscure your passion or how small the difference between your brand of TFs and the mainstream, when a collection is complete, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
And from local dishes to exotic foreign spices, the delights of collecting Japanese exclusive Transformers have been well-documented for years. While this may not be the most popular show in town any more, there are still enough enthusiasts and collectors to make completing any sub-section of Takara’s Japanese Transformers a proper challenge. The appeal here generally lies in the fact that Japan was extending the G1 line while Europe and the US were being fed Micromasters or G2. Re-colouring and remoulding timeless favourites while developing even more gimmicky G1-style technologies, Takara perfected the art of the giftset and the reissue. The fact that almost all Japanese TFs came with styro inserts and highly collectible paperwork make this niche all the more attractive.
Toys like C-131 Raiden, D-308 Browning, C-108 Stepper and C-109 Artfire brought back older moulds and gave them fresh attractive flavours, while the Dinocassettes extended the hugely popular niche of micro-cassette Transformers. Often overlooked European Powermasters and Headmasters were given mighty personalities and legendary status by shows like Headmasters, Chojin Masterforce and Victory. This area of collecting is usually closely tied in with that special breed of hunter; the giftset collector. Japan provided the community with some spectacular exclusive giftsets like D-306 Darkwings, TF-04 Guard City, Goodbye Convoy & Megatron, VSX/Y/Z and C-328 Victory Sabre.
Staying with Japanese toys, one of the most fervent groups of collectors you will ever happen across are the pre-Transformers enthusiasts. More often than not they will be Autobot car lovers who crave further additions to the range of fabulous vehicles Hasbro imported from Takara’s Diaclone Car Robot stable. By tapping into the Diaclone vein (and multiple life savings accounts) one can bring further life to favourites like Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Tracks, Hoist and Ultra Magnus by surrounding them with their multi-coloured ancestors. Soaked in prestige, history and class, Diaclones are easy to get into and impossible to complete. The competition in this area of collecting has reached the point where a single unused stickersheet for a relatively rare toy can sell for $500+.
It’s not fair to say that all Diaclone collectors are just people who have tired of G1 and have sought interest in the distant past or that they are fadsters who wish to be known as owners of the rarest trophies, quite genuinely some pre-TF enthusiasts grew up with Diaclones in their own countries. This is particularly evident in places like Italy where GiG made a real good fist of creating a Takara empire abroad. In addition, some folks prefer the non-sentient mecha-style feel of Takara’s Microman and Diaclone lore while also appreciating the engineering and presentation of moulds that would eventually become Transformers. The fact is though, to survive and flourish as a pre-TF collector of note these days, you have to spend big. Really big.
If history and significance are your thing, and you have a taste for the more unique items in the Transformers universe, then prototypes and pre-production will be just the dish for you. Relics, famous one-of-a-kind legends, the sources of all that came after…just par for the course when it comes to proto collectors. Responsible for some of the most spectacular finds in the history of the hobby, these guys will drop anyone’s jaw with their collections. Every piece will have a story, every single item a meaningful history and place in Transformers evolution. If most of us can be satisfied with owning one stage of a famous toy’s development, then words cannot ever express the enormity of the above collection of hardcopies, test shots, samples and various pre-production gems. A prototype collector has to have an eye sharper than most and a nose for sniffing out a lead. Opportunities won’t come twice in this field.
Another type of collector who must have the eyes of a hawk is the minibot collector. If simple colour variations are your thing then this isn’t too big of a deal, but if you need to know the difference between a Mexican and Peruvian Windcharger, then every stone on the Internet gets turned over and no bridge is ever burnt. A minibot lead can come from absolutely anywhere; South America, weird childhood auction lots, discount stores, gumball machines on small Balearic islands…this area of collecting seems never-ending with each year presenting a new challenge and discovery. Minibot collectors are certainly the ones I pity the most!
The fascination with a particular minibot could also be considered as part of a wider field of collecting, that of the character specialist; someone who collects every incarnation of a toy from as many different sub-categories as possible. This can be as difficult an area as any other when it comes to tricky figures like a particularly desirable BotCon exclusive recolour, a Micro Change Blue Bumblebee, a Diaclone red Ligier Mirage or a Finnish Diaclone Inferno. Every path has its obstacles.
What about the hoarder who buys multiples of a specific item to either artificially preserve its value, deny others the unique privelege of its ownership, secure his/her own status as the keeper of that special toy or attempt to manage their competition? This ultimately fruitless and damaging endeavour could so easily have started off as a result of just loving a toy very much and wanting multiple examples of it.
There are many other types of collector that deserve an honourable mention such as the memorabilia collector, the Animated Movie specialist, the Lucky Draw hunter and the artwork enthusiast. But perhaps the hardest path of all is that of the completist. This forever moving target, this limitless aim and lifetime’s obligation to collect every single version of every single character in every line and sub-line of Transformers ever released (or not released) is surely the most exhausting and overwhelming way to go about collecting imaginable. So much so that even ‘completists’ must eventually limit themselves to particular areas of the spectrum and become something a little more contained, be it a G1 completist, a Hasbro completist or just stopping when there is no more space in your house or storage facility/facilities. It is true however that the hardest path brings the richest rewards…
My deepest thanks to Ras, Toys ‘Ark’ Us, AFA 85 Krause, Mijo Bradley, Heroic Decepticon Giftset, Colin Pringlebee, Matteo Soprano, pre-Ben Munn and Morgan Celga Evans for their spectacular collection photos.
All the Electro-Disruptor best