The nature of Transformers collecting is such that the collections themselves inevitably take some kind of shape, and when we recognise where that shape is headed we might try and complete it. Every area of Transformers has its toughies, or ‘grails’ but as our contributors suggest this week, a grail need not always be a rare or expensive figure. These types of figures and targets change and shift over time as our interests do, and what I consider a grail today is quite different to my description of it a decade and a half ago. The whole concept of it changes as we capture some of these milestone Transformers or realise an achievement.
The original Generation 1 Hound box art could be a grail item for most vintage collectors, let alone Walter Mueller who specialises in anything Hound-related for his collection. What does he understand by the term grail? “I’ve been collecting for a long time and throughout my years in this hobby I’ve acquired many items which, at the time, I would have called my ‘Holy Grail’. Personally I don’t think you can have just one. I’ve never reached a point in this hobby where I would say ‘if I had ______ that would complete my collection and I’d be done forever’. Grails evolve just as your collection evolves and the most fun part of this hobby is the hunt. I’ve met so many great people who have taught me so much and it’s all from hunting down my Grails.
“What constitutes as a Grail? It can be anything from G1 Black Zarak to a domestically released movie Bumblebee. It’s all about taste and personal opinion. At this years BotCon I saw a guy lose his mind over getting an Animated Blurr figure (love that mold by the way). To me it’s no big deal, but to that guy it was Christmas morning. Personally, if I had to pick one thing in my collection that I would classify as my Grail, it would be the original G1 Hound box art that one of my best friends sold to me. As a Transformers art collector and the biggest Hound fan on the planet, it simply can’t be beat. But even though I technically own my Holiest of Grails, there’s still so many more out there **cough cough** Joustra Diaclone Hound **cough cough**“. Keep coughing, Walt!
Despite choosing as diverse a bunch as I could from my regular and reliable contributors, a number of the grails have ended up being vintage items. With so many expensive and desirable modern figures, I wouldn’t necessarily relate grail to vintage as immediately as I would have 5 years ago. Matt Dennett says “Defining what a ‘grail’ is becomes difficult when you try to apply one definition to it. Speaking broadly towards the whole of Transformers collecting, a grail could be defined simply by its rarity and expense. A set of unreleased G2 Stunticons or Protectobots, those are grails of Transformers whether you personally would want them in your collection or not. The sheer rarity and historic presence of figure(s) such as those no doubt awards them the grail label. Other items such as a MISB vintage Fortress Maximus, Lucky Draws, etc. could all be considered grail due to their rarity and expense.
“Speaking on an individual level, I think a grail completes your collection, or a part of your collection. How a grail is defined changes from collector to collector, though. To a single collector, any one figure does not need to be rare or of a high monetary value to constitute a grail, but it needs to be an item that makes your collection inch ever so closer to being complete so as a collector you could say ‘I could be done collecting because of this figure’. We toss around the ‘grail’ term too often in my opinion, blurring the lines of a grail Transformer and a favorite Transformer. I do think there needs to be some type of completion factor to apply the ‘grail’ term. As it stands right now, I could probably walk away from collecting once I am done with my Generation 1 cast of toys, and a Shockwave continues to elude me to this day. I’m picky so I need a Shockwave that’s vintage, unbroken, working electronics, and with his box/paperwork: that’s hard to find. He’ll likely be one of my last figures to obtain, quite possibly completing my collection“.
Once in a while, a grail ends up being heavily linked to childhood experiences or memories, not just particular appreciation for a special figure gained in adult collecting. Martin Lund explains: “When I actively took up collecting Transformers again in the late 1990s I had one particular toy that I had always dreamed about owning all through my childhood: Decepticon Horrorcon Apeface. While I didn’t know it at the time I think it was my first ‘Holy Grail’, and the very first thing I did when I discovered online shopping was to track one down. The satisfaction of finally owning and enjoying this toy was pure bliss, and while it soothed a decade-old itch of mine it actually also opened up the floodgates for what would become a string of Holy Grails that I ‘needed’: Constructicon Hook (for my 5-piece band of Constructicons), Dinobot Grimlock, original Bumblebee, original Megatron and so on and so forth…
“But where does a collector go next when there are no more specific Holy Grails for him to track down? While I by no means have a complete nor large collection, I’ve been able to track down so many of my grails over time that my focus has kind of shifted towards the unknown Holy Grails: Discovering hither-to unknown variations, chasing links and legends across history, connecting dots that probably aren’t there or maybe even weren’t there to begin with, setting foot into unknown and obscure territory – basically making it a search for Bigfoot instead, if the analogy makes sense.
“So while specific toys like Generation 2 Menasor, hardcopy G1 Seaspray or even a nice regular Dinobot Snarl would be “needed” to make my collection even nicer to me, my currently biggest grail is actually to track down more information about the import and distribution of G1 toys in Denmark, trying once and for all to answer the one question that has been burning in the back of my head for years now: Did Denmark ever see localized Transformers packaging? Every track I’ve followed so far has been telling me ‘no’, but hope springs eternal…”. Martin makes a very good point that once one moves past the whole toys-as-trophies stage of a grail-based chase, that sense of achievement and thrill that comes from scoring such a big target can transcend physical ownership. Finding the missing link between formerly un-associated Transformers eras or toys can be every bit as special as finding a special toy.
David Buenaño Hochman, a key cog in the Transformers Peru powerhouse, gave his thoughts on grails “Of all the questions you’ve asked me these years I consider this the toughest one. In general terms, Transformers grails would be very rare TFs (Lucky Draws/unreleased/exclusives/vintage editions). A more personal answer, a TF that only you have (maybe a normal TF but autographed) or a TF that has emotional significance for you (a gift from your mother/father/wife/someone special or a character you like a lot).
“When I re-started collecting in the nineties my most important objective was finding my favorite character: Sideswipe (both his G1 1984 and G2 1993 versions). That was ‘all’. I first found the G2 and then the G1 (then I’ve managed to get IGA, Diaclone and few other versions loose and MISB/MOSC). For a time his sealed versions were my grails and in a way they still are but as a collection grows your priorities change and you want more, that’s human nature. Nowadays I think my three greatest grails are: my G1 Peruvian Lynsa Minibot Huffer MOSC (these minibots are quite rare in loose condition, a lot more if sealed), a couple of TFs signed by Hironobu Kageyama. I have many autographed things but it is another experience when something is autographed in front of you by someone involved in the franchise (and you can ask him a few questions too!). Finally, my two TF debit cards from a campaign that we (Transformers Perú) organized here with a bank (these are the protos without numbers, the first made)”.
So everything from a vintage toy to uncovering the missing link or rumoured rarities can be the dream achievement – or grail – of a Transformers collector. My personal grails have evolved from missing childhood figures like G1 Ramjet and Hot Rod to a Diaclone yellow Sideswipe discovered in adulthood, to finally tracking down a G1 Greatshot at a price I wanted, to the retailer incentive cover for IDW’s Transformers #22, all interspersed with the urge to uncover as much pre-Transformers and foreign variant Transformers history as possible. A collector’s definition of a grail will vary as much as the subject of one collector’s desire over their collecting lifetime, but maybe for something to be truly considered a grail, maybe it needs to continue to elude them forever? Not for me, part of the whole grail experience is the feeling of achieving it. And what a feeling it is.
Many kind thanks to Martin Lund, Walter Mueller, David Buenaño Hochman, Jon Krause and Matt Dennett for exceptional contributions.
All the best