Why do collectors do it? Why do they pay sometimes thousands of dollars for an item that’s broken, painted as if by a child, glued in places and one gust of breath away from disintegrating? This week we look at what attracts Transformers enthusiasts to pre-production items like prototypes, samples, unreleased toys and test shots, and what makes these items as valuable, if not moreso than anything that was completed, perfected and mass-released.
Contrary to what you may believe, this is no small category of interest with no shortage of fierce competition and passion from collectors. Pre-production material can range from images of prototypes in early catalogues and original full-size packaging artwork, to hand-painted mock-ups of unreleased toys and hardcopy resin-cast prototypes of the characters we have come to know and love.
For years you may have wondered why the toy you bought at the store did not precisely resemble that which was displayed in a catalogue, an advertisement or even on the box of the toy itself! This was usually due to the fact that promotional material for Transformers toys was produced some way in advance of a particular wave’s release date, and as a result of that lead time, changes (sometimes drastic) may well have occurred to the design and appearance of the toys in question. Quite often promotional material, and in the case of The Transformers even their own final packaging, featured mock-ups of the figures which could even have been production Diaclone or Microchange toys with offending areas covered up.
As the years have passed, other than what Hasbro and Takara have published in books or in other media, collectors have been able to unearth major hauls of prototype and pre-production items. These could have been a result of an ex-employee finally clearing out their inventory or a catalogue photographer finally realising that the toys they kept from a photoshoot back in 1985 may be worth something. Understandably, G1 prototypes are incredibly rare and valuable items. More recently due to reissues and continuing manufacture of new Transformers lines in China, prototypes and test shots have found their way onto eBay and the public domain much more frequently.
One of the main attractions of prototypes is that they can be moulded in colours which were never available as production toys. If you are a collector of Micromasters for example, the above test shots of the reissue combiners Sixtrain, and Sixwing especially, would display very nicely next to final production colours and rare chase versions of the same toys.
Another reason for collectors’ love of prototypes is that early look, the appearance of an incomplete concept not yet carried through to completion. There are often moulding and colouring differences between early moulded prototypes and their production counterparts. The Alternators were a hugely popular and widely collected line of toys, and consequently during their heyday the Alternators test shots and prototypes were heavily sought-after. The red Dead End test shot above is quite special in that it proves Hasbro/Takara were initially planning to release the re-tooled Dodge Viper Sideswipe mould a second time not as the Decepticon Dead-End, but instead as Autobot Sunstreaker, evidenced by the Autobot symbol moulded into his chest.
So why should it be so difficult to acquire such items, and why don’t companies like Hasbro and Takara make them readily available to collectors? It’s not as if children and their parents would be interested in half-painted, incomplete and sometimes gaudy-looking toys anyway. Therein lies the answer, a company like Hasbro cannot afford to have semi-complete early versions of their toys finding their way into the open market where they could be judged alongside safety-tested, production-standard and well-presented store shelf items.
As these protos approach a more final stage of evolution, test shots start to be painted and resemble production toys much more closely, but they may not yet be release-ready for reasons of safety or quality control. As a result, some painted test shot Alternators were found to have been deliberately disfigured or altered so as to distinguish them from the production versions, as with the Alternators Decepticharge who was seemingly sprayed with black paint giving a ‘dirty’ appearance:
Luckily for those of us who not only worship the toys, but the artwork as well, the original pencils and inks for the Alternators packaging were sold at various conventions, or online by the original artists such as Guido Guidi, Marcelo Matere and Alex Milne. With the characters behind the toys and their stunning and dynamic representations capturing our imaginations since childhood, it is a genuine honour being able to own one of the first representations of a character’s artwork full-size, uncropped and unobstructed.
Going back a little in time to when G2 was being released, a large number of G1 toys were re-tooled and sometimes coloured very differently for the love-it-or-hate-it Generation 2 of Transformers.
The G2 Stunticons and Protectobots were planned for release and even made it as far as packaged samples in the case of the smaller bots, but alas were not ever sold in stores. With the popularity of combiners in Transformers so clearly evident, it is not hard to understand why the G2 Menasor and G2 Defensor would be such highly valued items, and as far as G2 goes, these would have been some of the best-looking toys of the whole adventure.
These combiners were not the only toys originally planned for G2 but denied release, some repaints only made it as far as hand-painted mock-ups, then test shots with prototype artwork, but no further.
This stunning green and pink G2 Mirage, hand-painted over a production G1 Mirage, was evaluated for release and due to have a crocodile or alligator theme by the looks of the artwork, possibly intended as Skullcruncher! That artwork has recently been published in the Transformers Vault book for the first time. Any lover of G1 Autobot Cars will understand what it means to have an official variant of that toy in such wildly different colours. This G2 Mirage even had an assortment number assigned, so it’s not impossible that somewhere there exists a moulded test shot. That wasn’t the only unreleased G2 Autobot car, a hand-painted yellow and turqoise Sideswipe was found too:
As well as being fascinating colour variants, these kinds of item give a lovely insight into where Hasbro wanted to go with the toy line, directions and concepts we may never have been made aware of had the prototypes not been discovered and shared with the fandom.
A desert-camo G2 Ramjet was also discovered in the same lot as the above two, also hand-painted but far more intricately and alongside a print of its prototype artwork:
Truly a delight, the G2 desert-camo Ramjet not only gave us a glimpse into the world of Hasbro’s imagination and creativity, but also demonstrated wonderfully how a concept could change so much between the initial mock-up and the sampling stage. The hand-painted toy, which is a production G2 Ramjet underneath, features a magnificent camouflage pattern painstakingly applied across its body, and also fierce eyes and teeth on the nose-cone. The associated character artwork however does not show the camo, and recently-discovered moulded test shots of this Ramjet have shown that Hasbro had decided to abandon the camo concept, making the mock-up even more special.
You may also have seen that same artwork featured in the recent Transformers Vault book where it was labelled as “Sandstorm”, which was genuinely fitting. Taking this “Sandstorm” Ramjet and what appears to be a green “Skullcruncher” Mirage, it really makes you wonder about what Hasbro were planning for G2, not just repainting recognised moulds but using them for different characters altogether. And that is what this area of collecting and interest is really all about, discovering long-buried history and facts which would otherwise never have been known, giving fresh relevance and insight into the nature and birth of the toys we have cherished for decades.
Many kind thanks to Ras for the incredible G2 Menasor and Defensor image.
All the best