You would think it’s getting harder to find collectors with something fresh to contribute during these interviews, but there is certainly no shortage of quality when it comes to those left to feature. This month’s spotlight falls on Italian Transformers and pre-Transformers collector Marco Salerno. A shining beacon of humility, modesty and quick with praise for collectors he feels are more worthy than he of said spotlight, Marco is an example to all of how best to make use of the information available to today’s collector. One of the most knowledgeable, well-read and cultured members of the community gives us a glimpse into his quietly but seriously stunning collection, and we do hope your eye is as good as Marco’s in spotting some of the indescribably rare toys he’s found and subgroups he has completed. Marco says it’s an honour to be featured, but it is we who are truly honoured…
1 ) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Marco Salerno, I was born in 1978 and I’m actually working as a software engineer in Poland. My nick on the web is “Puffmarko”, a nick that my brother gave to me because, according to him, when I was younger my behaviour, habits and dress looked similar to Puff Daddy. Quite strange as I never appreciated the music or the style of mister Sean Combs.
I collect mainly Transformers from “Generation One” in Japanese and Italian packages. I collect GiG because I had them when I was a child, and GiG packages represent, paraphrasing the name of a popular show, “How I met Transformers”. On the other side, Takara packages were a natural step in my adult taste, I always loved their compact size and styro inserts. Many GiG packages were extremely similar to their Japanese counterparts. I consider Eric Lim as my inspiration in G1 collecting, and I actually admire the collection of Eric Hall a lot for how he decided to structure it.
I don’t consider myself a Diaclone or a Micro Change collector even if I actually own some specimens of them, which were bought just to add a higher depth to my collection. I don’t collect lucky draws or prototypes as I haven’t got enough money.
I collect other toy lines from the 80’s as well: Sectaurs, MOTU, Gijoe, Ghostbusters Filmation, M.A.S.K., Bravestarr, Hokuto no Ken, Gatchaman and some vintage robots by Popy.
My mission in collecting consists of preserving toys, sharing my experience, creating a genuine culture and generating interest around the Transformers G1 brand.
2 ) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
Thanks to the advent of the Internet and the relentless work and disclosure of information by a few cultured and willing collectors, the barriers between Eastern and Western markets have fallen down, communication became fast and knowledge about toys became more precise and thorough, debunking false myths and reserving surprises even for the most experienced collectors. During the 90’s, Hasbro and Takara kept alive the “Transformers” brand by creating new series, new characters and new toys. Ten years ago, in 2002, there was still a lively secondary market of vintage items on Ebay, and other websites offered a remarkable number of vintage items for sale as well. Unlike Hasbro, Takara understood that, even after 20 years, the “Transformers” brand was still a golden goose brand, and a “return to the origin” through homages with reissues of the iconic characters from G1, could be an interesting way to shake the market. Because a lot of former children from all over the world who grew up watching the G1 TV show were still there, constantly seeking and collecting toys, Takara started producing official reissues in limited numbers to check out the reaction of hardcore fans worldwide.
The experiment enjoyed good success and sales, so in 2002 Takara decided to produce an entire line dedicated to G1, called TFCollection. Well, in my opinion, everything started (again) exactly ten years ago, from the year 2002. The online market was loaded in a very short time by a huge number of official reissues that drastically changed the quoted prices of related vintage toys. I still remember how many “official/unofficial” price guides were on sale online in that period and considered by a lot of fans as reliable bibles when they wanted to sell or buy specific items.
Well, everything was swept away by the incoming evolution of the collecting market. A new generation of collectors entered the scene, coming later than the previous generation -which was composed of the hardcore fans- but right in time to enjoy all the goodness Takara and Hasbro were issuing. In addition, the interest in objects certified by the AFA grew, creating a kind of elite collector, a segment open only to the wealthiest people.
All the balance between supply and demand has been subverted in five years, changing ceaselessly from 2002 to 2007; third parties understood the importance of this market segment and they reissued a lot of unofficial counterfeits of G1 characters never officially reissued, becoming active competitors for Takara and Hasbro. The rumors about the first movie from Mr Bay did the rest and contributed actively to expand the interest in this brand to the stars.
Talking about the Italian scene, ten years ago the games had already begun: toy stores with a long tradition were already plundered by local and foreign collectors and dealers during the 90’s. The best toys were already in the hands of far-sighted persons. It was very difficult to find something interesting within the biggest urban areas. In the meantime Ebay absorbed IBazar, the Italian online auction websites, and launched Ebay.it. The rest is history.
Five years ago in 2007, “The Transformers” movie by mister Bay hit the scene and it was a worldwide success. The interest in this brand was renewed and Hasbro’s market strategies were subjected to a huge revamp. Movie toy figures, all made with plastic and with a very different look from the classic Transformers toys, invaded toy stores. A new generation of collectors arose, composed of enthusiastic young people relatively new to the Transformer environment and older people who had forgotten this brand during the oblivion of growth and now finally experiencing renewed interest, having fallen prey to nostalgia or the fashion of the moment.
Also worth mentioning are the changes that have occurred in the Diaclone scene over the last ten years. These products were receiving little consideration among most modern toy collectors, focused mainly on the research of all Japanese robotic products (die cast or vinyl) by Popy, Bullmark and Takatoku. But suddenly all the “pre-transformers” products by Takara became an extremely popular class of product to collect, even among standard Transformers collectors, so around five years ago prices of Diaclone and Micro Change started skyrocketing. This happened through a combination of several factors, for example as a result of the natural evolution of the taste of collectors always in search of something different to collect. It was also a result of the simultaneous publication of in-depth articles on specialized sites which helped to generate interest in these products; and as result of the final price of some online sales, have attracted the interest of hordes of unscrupulous speculators, especially from the Far East, ready to catch a new favorable opportunity to make easy profits, triggering the vortex of price increase that we are still experiencing today.
3 ) How do you see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
Nothing very drastic will happen, in my opinion. Takara finally understands how profitable it is to create stuff related to G1: the recent fantastic Masterpieces and Encore reissues are nice proof that we can still trust in this company for the future! On the other side, third parties will continue to amuse us with their fantastic work. Prices for vintage toys will probably continue to increase year by year due to the “Asian dealers syndicate”, followed by the occasional sellers looking for the lucky shot. Even if we can expect this growth only for mint specimens, these dealers have to understand that they run the risk of pulling the market down into the doldrums. Ebay is not Tao Bao, and most of the richest collectors have already obtained the top pieces they wanted, so there is no reason to continue keeping the prices so high. Dealers should know there is a limit over which some of their prices become ridiculous and unjustified. Anyway, the new live action movie will keep the interest around this brand high. We shouldn’t underestimate the possibility that some top collectors among us could decide to sell their whole collection. Why? Because these are hard times (financial crisis) and others are “getting old”, it is not often that a hobby like ours is compatible with a quiet family life. I hope in the meantime nothing changes regarding our fandom and the fantastic work that a lot of collectors are doing to spread knowledge, writing beautiful articles.
4 ) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
Maybe it could be seen as banal or sentimental, but my biggest success is here and now. If I now have the honour to write something for this page, aware that a lot of fellow collectors are reading, it is confirmation that all I did in the past ten years had a sense. As a collector, I can remember with joy three goals I achieved:
– To get all the G1 giftsets in GiG boxes
– To get all the GiG G1 cars and seekers
– To complete all the vintage Japanese G1 issues, from 1985 to 1986, including some rare exclusive giftsets.
5 ) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
I heard so many stories about collecting that I could write a little pamphlet. Many of them, unfortunately, have greed, envy, opportunism, selfishness, hypocrisy, avarice and deceitfulness of many collectors as the main theme. I heard about people that had knocked at the door of the home of a recently passed collector after an incurable disease, declaring to his parents to be the “best friend” of their poor son and, by telling lies, convincing the family to sell out to them valuable items for nothing. Let’s also not forget all the fraud attempts I had to foil against myself or against friends.
But I heard some nice stories as well, especially related to some good bargains or finds. I often hear about warehouses full of G1 toys found by some collector; it is always a pleasure for me to hear about someone who found their personal El Dorado. Lately I was very happy to learn about the single boxed Diaclone black New Countach found by our friend Brandon Yap.
6 ) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
If I have to talk as an adult collector, I’d say the VSX giftset, a set that includes the essence of Generation 1. If I have to talk as a toy archaeologist, I’d say the GiG Megarobot, the Italian version of Omega Supreme. If I could give voice to the child inside me, I would say GiG Devastator giftset, because I have too many memories linked with this toy and its Italian box.
7 ) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Nothing in particular, I have everything I need to be happy and satisfied and I don’t feel envy towards anybody. I just regret having sold some items of mine in the past such as a Diaclone blue Fairlady Z, an oversized Korean G1 Bruticus giftset and a GiG Browning. Yes, they are the only items I really would like to get back into my collection.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
-First of all, always remember toy collecting is a very unnecessary way to spend time and money.
-It’s impossible to have everything you wish. This is a fact. Be patient.
-Toys could become an addiction, so don’t start if you aren’t a balanced person or you have megalomaniac tendencies.
-Try to always keep the right distance between your hobby and your real life.
-If you want to start collecting, you must have a clear head -and keep it focused- about your collecting target, from the beginning. So I suggest reading articles, observe collections, study the exposed spaces inside your home and analyse market prices before jumping into this hobby.
-I think every collection is the artistic expression of a collector’s own personal taste, so try to collect and appreciate what you have; don’t limit your collecting action in purchasing and accumulating plastic.
-Prices of vintage toys are very high nowadays, so don’t hesitate if it’s possible to purchase reissues instead of originals; watch out for certain dealers on Ebay, they make arrangements between themselves to increase vintage prices year after year, without any justification. There are still warehouses full of items in Asia, toys that they dole out on Ebay are just to keep the demand of the Western market high.
-Never purchase toys if it means stealing money and time resources that you can dedicate to other more important things in your life: your mother, your father, your job, your friends, your fiancee. Don’t EVER put toys at the center of your existence.
-Try to not enter into competition with other collectors, it can determine your mental and financial ruin: you will never be considered a good person by the number of expensive items you have. If you are a scumbag, you will be a scumbag even if you have all the most desirable and rare toys that exist on this planet, despite the efforts to overexpose yourself or whatever you can declare or write. At the end, only your individual behaviour counts on behalf of your actions.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Marco Salerno for words and photographs. You may wish to see more of Marco’s collection at Puffmarko HQ.
All the best