We take an interest in toys and buy Transformers to make ourselves happy, but it’s hard to be happy. More accurately, it is hard for some of us to stay happy. While some collectors are perfectly fine collecting whatever they come across that they like without any grand scheme in mind, others prefer to identify and chase ‘grails’ or subject their collecting to goals and aspirations. What comes next can often come down to one’s success or their ability to be honest with oneself.
“Undeniably, being contented is predicated by your peers and generally what society imposes on you. That’s a hard one to get around. To “combat” this, a strong sense of self-belief and a thorough assessment of what you want in life is needed, understood and accepted in one’s mind.”
One of the first things I noticed when I joined the online collecting community was just how much stock high-end vintage collectors would put in pristine and mint toys which had never been touched or altered in any way since being shipped from the factory. Unused stickersheets, weapons that hadn’t been detached from sprues, heck even boxes that had never been unsealed. I wasn’t even aware that you could still get toys from the 1980’s in such condition. Certainly in my youth, any toy packaging was rapidly dispensed with, leaving only the marvel inside.
It didn’t take long for my expectations of the toys I bought to match theirs, and my wants lists started to include the term “MIB unused” quite frequently. I also did not spend too long chasing down all the G1 Transformers missing from my childhood, I switched to Pre-Transformers within a couple of years without approaching anywhere near completeness for even 1 year of Transformers. I was undoubtedly influenced by the collectors of the time who I looked up to, but the sustained interest I have in Pre-TFs showed me that I would have gotten there on my own anyway. Most lovers of Autobot cars do.
The yellow Japanese Diaclone New Countach LP500S was the first toy I blessed (or cursed) with ‘Holy Grail’ status. There were precious few around at the time and upon learning that one of my favourite moulds was available in one of my favourite colours, I started to look for this item. Since I had not been around for too long when I finally bought one, it felt like my entire collecting life had been spent in pursuit of this thing. 10 years on, I can see what a drop in the ocean that period of time was.
When I gave up collecting for the first time, I was happy to replace my Diaclone with a reissue Tigertrack, a sure sign of contentment with just that mould in yellow, without caring about the prestige or value of an original Japanese Diaclone specimen or any such related baggage. And yet, when I started collecting again in 2004, I immediately set off in search of another Diaclone example. To me, the way it still makes me feel and the emotions it evokes in me when I look at it or hold it, I can honestly say that this was a tremendously unique and special purchase that retains its shine to this day. But how much of that is influenced by the fact that it’s still considered among the rarest Diaclone cars and is wanted by so many of my collecting peers? I had, after all, been happy to ditch my first MIB Diaclone ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ when reissue Tigertrack was announced.
“Leave what you got as you got them; people age, so do toys, give it the chance to age gracefully too; accept the defects and imperfections that it picked up from its journey through time, just as you must have your own defects and imperfections that time saddled you with; that way, it’d always be YOUR piece, it’d be the only piece in the world with those quirks and is special that way.”
It can occasionally be hard to accept that the condition of toys that you own depends on how much money and time you are willing to invest, sometimes we can only afford or find used and incomplete examples of what we desire. I recently added a boxed but incomplete, used Diaclone ‘Police Sunstreaker’ to my collection. To many this is already a spectacular thing of mystery, to me it was something I used to own in perfect condition and stupidly sold a decade ago. Seeing perfect examples in the collections of my friends (including my actual old one that a collector just added to his own collection) reminds me that I could have better. This never seemed to bother me much with Joustra Diaclones as occasionally I’d have the only example of something ever seen, but if I know a number of others have better examples, it motivates me to upgrade. Does this make the above pictured specimen any less stunning or special?
Speaking of upgrades, here’s one that got me into trouble because of a lack of contentment. After nearly 8 years of searching and trying to obtain one, 2012 finally saw me add a Finnish Diaclone ‘Black Tracks’ to my ever shrinking collection. It even had a box, but the toy had been broken by its childhood owner and badly repaired. It displayed well enough but white glue residue and permanently fused parts continued to bother me.
I struck a deal with another prominent Diaclone collector to send him my damaged/fused Black Tracks parts in exchange for his better parts, and I added a very rare piece of Diaclone paperwork and agreed to sell him my Diaclone Trainrobo Special Colour variants as incentive. For the last 2 months my Black Tracks has been sat in 3 separate parts, totally unfit for display while I am left in limbo with the late sending of parts in exchange and counting the days to the completion of a delayed payment plan which has effectively frozen my freedom to sell to someone else. I also cannot ask for the damaged parts back because they have since been irreparably broken in order to salvage the robot head from my Black Tracks. So much for that cunning plan. Would I really have been so unhappy to be the one collector out of 8 known to have a broken version of this headline-grabbing toy?
“Because I’m no longer obsessed with buy and upgrade, buy and upgrade and upgrade even more, I just accept them as they are. With its imperfections, and I don’t see many to be honest, it’d remain YOUR piece. It’s not “perfect”, but it’s your piece and to be contented is what matters.”
Another such experiment with upgrading led to further disappointment recently. I already had a number of European rare variant G1 Transformers like the yellow Devastator, orange-chested Insecticons and hard-plastic nose/wheel G1 jets, but I saw a great collection being sold which featured what I believed to be more complete and finer examples of the toys I already had. Through a long and protracted procedure, I was able to buy all the figures I had, plus a couple of missing ones, all relevant paperwork and accessories for a not insignificant price. The seller was incredibly gracious and kind, he worked hard to ensure I received what I wanted because he felt indebted to me for all the variant info I gave him about the childhood toys he was selling.
When the toys arrived, they were to a figure, in worse condition than mine. Some had painted faces and bodies, others had broken accessories, yellowed sections and other such issues which were not visible in the photography and the seller had forgotten about, or he had not realised that they were not authentic features. To the seller’s eternal credit, he was mortified and allowed me to keep the few things that I felt would add to my collection (paperwork, accessories, two complete figures) and offered me a substantial refund which I took. Sadly, he was left with a very sour taste in his mouth because the buyer he most wanted to please, due to his gratitude, ended up being the one he disappointed the most. A shame for all concerned, really, and totally avoidable had I just been happy with the condition of the figures I already had. Was it worth the trouble for a few parts and instruction booklets?
Trying to build my dream collection, the one I had before or the one I now pictured in my mind’s eye, was creating much more difficulty and distress for all those concerned than joy and contentment at tracking down special pieces that many would kill for. I used to have many Japanese Diaclones, considered by most to be ‘true’ Diaclone and more prestigious than Italian GiG Car Robots. This is a feeling that is much resented by Italian collectors who grew up with the GiG releases, releases that were just as Takara-manufactured and licensed as their Japanese counterparts.
I used to have a gorgeous and unused Japanese ‘Police Sideswipe’, but today I own an Italian version of the same toy. Is there any reason at all that the pristine and show-stopping beauty photographed above should be derided or considered less than my previous Police Sideswipe because of the language of the text on the box and different missiles?
“Don’t see it as ‘a failing’ on your part as a collector. At each stage of our lives, we have different priorities – so you cannot spend the way you used to, either because the money is put to better use, or to be saved for the future”.
I began to realise that no matter what I was buying, someone else always had a better collection. Whether it was a marvellous series of display cabinets featuring every G1 Transformer of the 80s and 90s I had never owned, a wall of excellent MIB Japanese Diaclone cars in unused condition, or even a Joustra Diaclone I already owned but complete and unused, someone would always have it better, someone would always have more, and many people would have things that I had sacrificed to be able to buy what I do currently own, or had sacrificed to do what was right at that period of my life.
Many collectors have commented that there is something to be said about quality over quantity, and with less than 100 toys in my collection now I would have to surrender the point that I gave up much in the way of numbers but have now distilled my collection into a small band of very select items. Not all of them are unused, but then how much time does one actually spend looking at missile sprues and stickersheets compared to the figure itself and its box? My most recent purchase was the above GiG pre-Transformers ‘Jazz’ which was in tremendous beautiful shape, but unmistakably yellowed. Does it stop it being beautiful? Does it mean that this gorgeous untouched specimen does not deserve to have a place in any collection? Should I concern myself with the fact that every time I post a picture of it, trained collectors’ eyes will be drawn to the yellowed spots and comments will be forthcoming? Is more expected of the collection of someone like me whose affinity for the rare and obscure high-end pre-Transformer is well known?
Am I unhappy?
The answer to that and all the questions in this article is a resounding ‘no’.
My deepest gratitude to my heroic friend for his unending wisdom and his admirable attitude to life and toy collecting.
All the best