I often get told by collectors that they couldn’t possibly imagine starting a pre-Transformers collection due to the staggeringly high prices every item commands nowadays, and it’s true, Diaclone and even Micro Change Series prices do seem to be on a perpetual rise. However, the same collectors are spending hundreds per month on Masterpiece and 3rd Party items, oblivious to the fact that their monthly outlay far outweighs mine! The thing is, the Diaclone and MC market has been perceived as being very high-end for years, but compare prices – and demand – from a decade ago to today, and there are a few shocks in store.
One year that sticks out for me clearly in my past collecting life is 2002, just over a whole decade ago, as I seem to recall making a number of significant Diaclone and Transformers purchases that year. It was the first year that I really entered the ‘high-end’ or desirable Transformers/pre-Transformers market, no longer scraping around for student-friendly deals, but buying premium bits directly from knowledgeable collectors and dealers. It was the year I went fully serious. This week I am comparing those purchases and buying habits to today’s average market value for the same items to see if anything has changed significantly…and of course we know it has.
My first major purchase of 2002 was actually finalised around Christmas 2001 but arrived just after the new year, and what a way to start the year, a legendary Japanese Diaclone ‘Police Sunstreaker’ – not just boxed, but totally complete, bone white and unused with all paperwork pristine. The box was so heavily faded from red to gold that I actually thought it was a variant at first, before someone pointed out the red section under the flap tape! The box and toy had been stored separately for eons though, so there was no evidence of discolouration or fading on the figure itself, a true mercy considering how susceptible to yellowing the ‘Police Sunstreaker’ is.
So, how much did I pay? Well, it was listed for $225 – an all time low as a number of these had popped up on eBay and the big-hitters of the time had claimed theirs already, so every subsequent piece went for less than the previous one. This hadn’t sold off the dealer’s page yet, and I didn’t have $225 sitting around – but what I did have was a MIB stickers applied and complete Japanese Transformers Zone D-340 Metrotitan – the exclusive Takara repaint of Metroplex. This in itself is a great example of price shift, I bought the Metrotitan a few months earlier for $150. So in direct trade value, I got the Police Sunstreaker for the equivalent of $150 + shipping. Today’s price on such a figure, boxed and unused in such white and perfect condition, would be in excess of $1000. This same figure was sold in 2003 for $220 approximately.
It seems faded box fronts are a recurring theme in my old collection, but for this precise specimen, it didn’t matter. This Milton Bradley European ‘Red Tracks’ was made famous in the community by Dutch collector Devvi on his much-loved variant website in the very early 2000s. This toy was also something of a legend, nowhere near as many of them on the market back then as there seem to be today. At the time none of us realised this was a directly repackaged Joustra Diaclone Corvette in a TF box, that’s only come to light in recent times. Stickers on this item were unapplied, weapons unused, box was in great shape apart from the shop-window fading on the front and hundreds of cracks across the central section of the car facing outwards.
Devvi sold this to me in early 2002 as he was giving up collecting at the time for what now seems a paltry $130 + shipping. Used specimens sell today from anywhere between 600 and 800 Euros, again in the $1000+ range – despite reissue! Loose ones without any accessories at all have sold very recently for nearly $300. This is a direct result of greater community knowledge and an increase in variant collector numbers, because this variant is more available today than it was back in 2002 by a significant margin. I sold this Tracks back to Devvi in 2003 for $200. Wherever it is now, it will always be Devvi’s Red Tracks.
I feel like I’ve been buying Mexican Transformers forever, and had I actually held on to every single one I’d ever owned, I’d have a damn-near complete collection of characters and variants. I’m all about the squad rotation though, so all the jets pictured above are long gone, but back in 2002 they were fresh additions. The Starscream at the top of the mountain was sealed to the backing card and unused, but the box was open. It was purchased on eBay from Final Frontier Toys for a seemingly insignificant $95. This item, when it arrived, showed me exactly how boxed US-style Transformers with flaps ought to be packaged, something I always put into practice now. While loose Mexican Transformers jets seem a great deal more common these days as collectors are more adept at identifying them, $95 today for a near-MISB specimen is unthinkable. $400 to $500 is more likely what a similar Iga Starscream would fetch in 2013.
2002 was a good year for crossing off Diaclone holy grails, in addition to the Police Sunstreaker at the start of the year and a yellow Sideswipe later in the year, I finally got hold of a MIB unused Japanese ‘Police Sideswipe’. These definitely seemed more available back then than they do now, especially in boxed condition. I paid $300 (and then an absolutely eye-watering $80 customs), which is what loose un-yellowed ones go for today. This figure has rocketed in popularity and boxed ones in unused condition have been known to attract $1500 offers. I just cannot believe that is the case today, where even GiG Trasformer Italian versions can fetch 4 figures if mint and unused. I sold this item on eBay for about the same as what I paid in 2003. What the hell was I thinking…
Blackhooded Fairlady Z, check! Yellow Sideswipe, check! The Diaclone yellow Countach was a chance buy from a great collector who had 2 in his collection and didn’t mind parting with the extra. That set me back a lovely $80 (nowadays $2000 boxed and hundreds loose) and I sold it for $190-ish on eBay the following year. New collectors just wouldn’t believe me when I tell them what stuff cost just ten years ago. The blackhooded Fairlady Z was even more ridiculous, it was about $32 without doors from that seemingly-immortal eBay lister – the man with the lab. He had no idea it was a special variant of any sort, and an $18 loose junker of the correct mould with doors completed the figure for me.
When I listed the Fairlady Z on eBay it didn’t sell. No bids. Can you imagine that today where loose ones routinely go for almost $200 to $300, and unused boxed ones can fetch $2200? I eventually sold it to Devvi for about $50. Those who bought Diaclone during this period must be thanking their lucky stars now, and pitying those who just entered the field recently.
In addition to Diaclone, Mexican and European variant G1 and the odd Japanese Transformer, I was also very much a part of the Reissue Revolution in 2002. The pre-order for the Clampdown/Deepcover set (homages to the Diaclone Police Sideswipe and Black Sideswipe) was available to me in 2002 and I claimed a set for $80 – $94 shipped (may have been a friend’s price – probably closer to $100 for the set for most). This set today can demand that price for each piece. It hasn’t appreciated the way E-Hobby Anime Astrotrain or Tigertrack have, but it is definitely not at the same price it was on release. There’s really no reason to believe that trend will be reversed, unless Takara Tomy do a Sunstorm on the set.
Last one for 2002 is the Japanese Diaclone ‘Red Hoist’, another figure that I feel was far more frequently seen a decade ago than today. Maybe once people realised a reissue was not forthcoming, they held onto their specimens. And what a specimen, this glorious beauty was bought from my friend Ben’s legendary Diaclone collection for $200. I sold it for what I think must have been $350 the year after on eBay, and then bought the EXACT same Red Hoist again for $500 in 2012. I was able to identify it from pictures I had kept and the precise box damage it came to me with originally. I have since been offered $1000+ for it and I expect that to increase as more and more collectors are just one perfect Red Hoist away from a potentially complete Diaclone Car Robot collection. This one has really become scarce in the last decade. No surprise really, even the reissued Diaclones continue to experience price inflation, non-reissued variants even more so.
So it seems that my buying habits haven’t actually changed too much in 10 years, I am still wildly drawn to vintage Diaclone and Euro and Mexican variants, while also keeping up with heavily G1-themed new product (Masterpiece etc). The cost of doing so, though, has increased exponentially and while I gave up collecting in 2003 by choice, I am being more and more pushed towards suspending my toy collecting because of the sheer cost of trying to complete any sort of complete series today – be it Masterpiece, Transformers GT, Binaltech (I’m looking at you Black Convoy), Japanese, Finnish, Italian or Joustra Diaclone. However, as long as one has good friends in the community who are willing to help them out, and aren’t driven by selfish materialism or status, then one can still score the odd vintage gem without having to take out a loan. In 10 years, that fact hasn’t changed one bit.
All the best