Paint chips? Loose joints? Questionable paint application? Damaged packaging? This is all part of the territory when it comes to collecting vintage Transformers and pre-Transformers, whether we’re buying loose or boxed, rare or common. To hear such vociferous complaints from collectors of more recent toys about the same issues can sometimes be amusing, as it’s quite a thing how much vintage collectors can put up with when it comes to wear and tear – but as with everything else, there’s always a limit.
First a disclaimer, I can only photograph images for these articles of toys that I own, and pretty much all the toys featured in this article – toys that I have bought from my friends – were purchased based on full disclosure by them of the faults and issues with these items. So this is not a rant about recently received items that were sub-par or below expectation in any way, they are just used as close-at-hand examples that I could feature while discussing a bigger issue.
The Peruvian exclusive minibot Huffer in red and yellow shown at the start of this article is a good example of rarity versus condition. When I was offered this technically MOSC South American Huffer, the overwhelming feeling was one of awe because finding these packaged was unheard of. Peruvian minibots are – along with Venezuelan minibots – considered to be the rarest of the variant minis one can try to collect, and almost 99% of those in collections today are loose and damaged. The price I paid for this item was savage, and I knew that the bubble was severely damaged, but I didn’t expect another opportunity to ever arise so I took it, warts and all. In this situation, there was a simple question to answer – “What will bother you more, the damaged bubble and gathered dirt inside (and associated difficulty in resale), or the fact that you’ll never own another carded red and yellow Lynsa Huffer again?”. For a vintage variant collector, it was an acceptable sacrifice. Comes with the territory.
That’s not to say that every rare toy you come across should be bought on sight, there is still such a thing as being taken for a ride or disappointed without chance of cost recoup. Some like to buy incomplete or broken toys and fix them up with other damaged specimens, creating a great toy and selling it on for profit or ending up themselves with a rare Transformers piece at well below market value. The above Milton Bradley Red Tracks was supposed to be a simple cheap Red Tracks missing an arm that I could replace at some point, but on receipt I saw that the damage to the right arm socket and side was so severe, I would actually need a whole new roof/side section. I was so disappointed that the seller hadn’t communicated this to me that I immediately stuck the thing on eBay. This is another thing to accept about vintage collecting, sellers are not always toy enthusiasts or collectors, they could be parents emptying a loft. I should have asked for better pictures, but the auction was well-priced and it was a case of buy now ask questions later. Leaps of faith are another common aspect of collecting rare old toys.
Speaking of loft finds, buying childhood collections can be a great way of scoring a number of vintage G1 Transformers for a great price. This is especially true if you know the seller in some capacity and don’t have to compete on eBay. If you don’t have the opportunity to conduct such a purchase in person, then you do leave yourself open to chance. The above Headmaster Skullcruncher was part of a collection I bought recently, and from the picture I had the bots were seemingly complete and in quite good condition (most displayed in alternate mode). The owner knew a few things about the toys (Headmasters were present and stats worked etc) and he only needed help matching up weapons. When I received the lot, I realised that Skullcruncher’s Headmaster partner, Grax, was missing his forehead flap. I hadn’t thought to ask about it, and goodness knows the original owner would have a mighty tough time trying to locate it considering it may have been lost decades ago. A Chromedome in the same batch had a broken clip behind his waist that I never even noticed until writing a thorough description of it for a friend.
That same childhood lot contained a group of Micromasters. A further obstacle for me was that I hadn’t owned a large number of the items I was getting in this lot before, I had never bothered to properly complete standard US/UK G1 Transformers as a toy line before getting interested in pre-TFs or variants. This lack of knowledge about later-year Transformers created a further blindspot – potential damage spots to inquire about, thus allowing for further price negotiation on purchase if something showed up. The two Micromaster jets above were clearly broken – I didn’t even realise these things could be broken in this way. Lesson learned!
If we are to accept flaws and battle scars on vintage Transformers, we should be even more willing to accept them on their older ancestors, the pre-Transformers Diaclone and Micro Change Series toys from Japan and Europe. However, as these toys are often more costly, rarer and special in certain ways, it can sometimes be harder to accept the fact that we’ve finally added a particular specimen to our collections – such as the Diaclone Battle Convoy or Diaclone Fairlady Racing above – and yet we’ll need to source further specimens for replacement parts, unless we are happy with the condition.
As I said at the start, some things you know about and make a conscious decision to accept as part of the deal, but some things come as a surprise even on figures that you already know to be worn as a result of someone’s subsequent actions. The Diaclone Smokescreen above is not such an example, I already knew the rear windows were bent out of shape, and while it’s a chronic eyesore in vehicle mode, in robot mode he still displays very well. Sometimes with vintage toys the price you pay may not be for the whole package, just something that can be displayed on a shelf as a novelty, oddity or a filler until a better example comes along. Diaclone Smokescreen’s “DATSUN” bumper sticker is one such novelty.
You may not think in this age of vintage toy collecting that you would need to worry about buying from other collectors, but even then we can be disappointed. Be careful about those who describe vintage toys or their packaging as “showing signs of their age”, because this can be anything from peeling inner plastic box windows to paint chips and obliterated stickers or worse. It seems some things are left to the buyer’s imagination and written off as acceptable because we are in the business of buying 30 year-old items. Just because one is not buying sealed AFA-graded toys, it doesn’t mean it’s alright to gloss over defects. Even if things are accurately described, you may yet have to stipulate how you want your items wrapped and shipped, the above Diaclone Battle Convoy trailer shows what can happen when vintage toys are bubble-wrapped too tightly (or even under-wrapped).
Another thing mentioned early on was the degree of acceptance one has to have in order to collect vintage Transformers on anything but a seriously high budget. Some of Japan’s most exclusive and interesting figures like Black Zarak and Liokaiser can suffer from crumbling gold plastic syndrome (and a number of pre-Transformers have crumbling blue plastic issues). Despite every single one of these figures being one transformation away from an accident, collectors still flock to them and take their chances. It’s all part of the game.
It’s not just old toys that have flaws though, even brand new items like the Hasbro reissue Red Alert and MP-16 Masterpiece Buzzsaw/Frenzy set above had issues immediately out of package. So if it is so hard to get a brand new fresh Transformers toy with no problems, what chance do vintage collectors have of finding a perfect specimen for every corner of their collection? It’s no joke that high grade sealed items fetch the prices that they do, or that a particularly well-photographed common G1 Transformer in excellent condition can stand out in a time of established market value. If you’re going to collect vintage Transformers, ask the right questions, use trusted sources, be patient and even then, accept the things that you can change and get a refund from the buggers who lie to you about the things you can’t.
All the best