Have you ever noticed how the most experienced, knowledgeable and wiliest collectors of rare Transformers, prototypes and obscurities always happen to have a healthy selection of catalogues in their collection? Maybe it’s a 1985 Toyfair publication, or a dusty old binder emblazoned with Revell logos from 1984, or some Hasbro booklet featuring a giant photo of a hideously-dressed child with a signature 80’s haircut playing with a pony on the cover. What does it all mean? Are these guys just creeps who like to hoard bizarre stuff? Well, yes, yes they are, but these catalogues and obscure vintage toy industry publications hold a few very meaningful secrets.
Depending on exactly when a trade catalogue was published, it can feature all manner of interesting information and images. For example, Toyfair and Takara catalogues probably feature some of the most stunning images of early 1985-design Transformers toys in strange colours, allegiances and configurations. Other catalogues from Europe hold the key to exactly how Diaclone and Transformers toys were marketed in stores, on TV, in publications and physically in stores, as well as possibly giving accurate release dates for particular waves of releases.
Let’s start with a little pre-Transformers goodness from Europe and the 1984 Ceji Catalogue Général. Ceji were of course responsible for the wonderful line of Diaclones released in Europe under the Ceji Joustra banner. Those toys premièred in Europe somewhere in mid-to-late 1984, so when I saw this beautifully presented catalogue in a Ceji binder, I expected great things. Even though “Diaclone Joustra” and “Diaclone Revell” are listed in the contents, there is absolutely no evidence of any Diaclone toys in the pages of the catalogue.
So, what gives? At first I thought pages must be missing, but everything is present and accounted for. As it happens, the lack of Diaclone toys in this catalogue despite the listing was an even bigger revelation than had they been featured. What this made abundantly clear was that Ceji, having bought the licence for Takara’s Diaclone toys in 1983, had planned to release them in early 1984 but for some reason experienced a significant delay in getting them out to retailers, suppliers and most importantly, stores. That led me to propose a theory on how a last minute decision to include Micro Change Series toys in the Joustra Diaclone line set everything back a few months.
Ceji Revell’s 1985 Catalogue Général is a whole other story altogether. Straight away the front cover reveals a Diaclone Powered Convoy, an indication of just how immensely successful Ceji Joustra were in 1984 across Europe with the first wave of “Diaclone” toys. At the time this catalogue was first seen by collectors and enthusiasts in the modern era, frighteningly little was known about the second mega-rare wave of Ceji Joustra Diaclones. The images in the 1985 catalogue appeared to imply that a massive range of 8 extra Diaclone cars as well as Powered Convoy had been planned for the line!
The Diaclone section of this incredible catalogue features actual Japanese Diaclone stock photos, not entirely similar to what actually got released in Europe. So far though, the Joustra Corvette has been red, and the Joustra Powered Convoy was in the correct colours as well, so it wasn’t a complete bag of lies. Since at that time none of these toys had been seen in Joustra Diaclone packaging, it wasn’t immediately thought to have been of great consequence beyond showing what grand plans Ceji had for this brand in Europe. However as a few of the featured wave 2 toys crawled out from the woodwork, this catalogue has turned into my own personal wishlist and contains the only things standing between me and what I feel would be a beautiful end to my collection.
Speaking of how successful those Diaclone toys were in Europe and how abruptly it all came to a halt in part thanks to Hasbro Bradley, most of the above pictured publications are Dutch-specific toy industry catalogues meant for toy industry insiders. There is a jaw-droppingly large amount of information within that sheds light on exactly when and where advertising was done, what kind of store displays and point of sale material was to be produced for Diaclone and even nuggets of info about a Dutch trade show that ran throughout the year, completely dedicated to showcasing new toy and technology products.
Those shows were not open to the public but can you imagine seeing Ceji Revell displaying their entire line of Joustra Diaclones alongside Milton Bradley’s fledgeling selection of European Transformers? Apart from that, just seeing the birth of European Transformers and Milton Bradley’s hugely creepy advertising spreads in the trade magazine was worth the effort alone. The huge A3 sheet of paper detailing exactly when Transformers adverts would appear on TV, on what channel and in which publications was also breathtaking. Considering how much Ceji exposure there was in the March 1985 issue, compared to absolutely nothing in the September 1985 issue, we can begin to determine roughly when things started to go sour for them and their maverick line of “Diaclones”.
As Ceji’s “Diaclones” died to make way for Milton Bradley and Hasbro’s European Transformers domination, the newly secured licences for Milton Bradley Optimus Prime, Autobot cars etc are evident in these gorgeous Milton Bradley catalogues and supplements from 1985.
At first MB had access to all the non-Ceji moulds like Dinobots, Megatron, Soundwave, Thrust etc, but as they secured the rights to other Takara moulds that only Ceji could release in Europe, the MB TF ranks swelled to a respectable level. The information in MB dealer catalogues such as the ones above have helped MB experts like Mijo piece together a detailed and ground-breaking history for these toys, and you can read a much more detailed account of events in his own capable words starting here.
While on the subject of European Transformers and Milton Bradley, dealer and trade catalogues are not the only printed material that can offer an insight into the history, availability, distribution and presentation of a brand. The following store catalogue from Swiss store “Le Grand Passage” shows first wave Milton Bradley badged Transformers priced in Swiss Francs alongside a Macross VF-1S Skull Leader and the European pre-TF Omega Supreme “Super Robot Change Mechabot 1” released by Gama:
While some Ceji Diaclones became Milton Bradley Transformers, other members of that precious stable found their way into other European toylines. A great example is the repackaging of Ceji Joustra Diaclone Change Attack Cars into Italian GiG packaging. The packaging wasn’t even changed too drastically and the stickers still had Joustra-style Diaclone logos on them. A few identical stickersheets would never have been enough to convince the community though, so when the following image turned up in a GiG dealer catalogue…
…showing a child holding a Ceji Joustra Diaclone Attack Van box with a massive GiG “DESTROY CAR” logo on it, the relationship was confirmed. A much closer comparison of the GiG and Joustra connection can be found here. Were it not for these pre-production images in the GiG catalogue, it would have just remained a theory with some compelling possibilities.
This is precisely the kind of thing that makes toy and dealer catalogues such a joy to find and flick through. They are for the most part a completely undiscovered and untapped phenomenon within Transformers, with only the aforementioned few clued up about their relevance and secrets. This week’s article has only touched upon the European side of things, but with US and Japanese catalogues displaying all manner of unreleased prototypes and concepts, it’s always totally worth picking up something that looks interesting from the right year, you just never know what you will find within…
Endless thanks to Mijo for MB catalogue pictures, to RpChristophe for Ceji Revell 1985 Catalogue General scans and to Matteo Pigliucci for the GiG catalogue picture.
All the best