Can it really be called Transformers collecting when we were children and someone was buying the toys for us? Isn’t that just having toys as opposed to a conscious dedication to the collecting of a particular brand or toy line? These interesting questions were posed by a forum member recently and it instantly made me think of the distinctive aspects of collecting versus having and receiving.
Sure, when we were bought our first Transformers, some of us may not have been aware of the cartoon, comic or brand as a whole. There will have been some children, however, that asked to be bought a Transformer. But that’s not significantly different to a child asking for a My Little Pony soft toy or a Matchbox sports car. It’s not even that much of a departure from a spontaneous requested purchase on a trip to a toy store.
The original poser of the question argued that it can only be considered conscious collecting when the person is paying for the toys themselves and they are buying items from a different era. I would immediately oppose the latter part of that statement as I – and many others – consciously collect modern era Transformers (Combiner Wars, Titans Return, Masterpiece) and 3rd party collectible representations of Transformers to complete a theme, add to an already active collection or a particular range/concept. Or, you know, for fun. We seek out specific items, then subsequent items to complement them and what we already own. Collecting.
I would also argue that one does not have to be an adult to be a collector. While a child may not have the funds or freedom to buy toys at will and manage a collection the way an adult would, I think that mentality of amassing (or receiving) a very specific group of toys from a specified theme, range and toy line (or even sub-line) is completely possible. My own daughter has said things like “I want Princess Celestia to go with my Princess Luna and Cadence”, and she doesn’t just mean generally as characters in a show she would like to have present for play, this is in reference to My Little Pony figures of a particular scale and range, be it tiny blind bag figures or from a larger voice chip-featuring sub-line with a very distinct aesthetic. The thing is, she won’t then display them together, she’ll play with them and eventually move on to something else in future. But that is true of adults and their habits too.
At some point, some children who loved Transformers as kids in the 1980s started buying their friends’ unwanted figures. They’d frequent yard sales or inherit other people’s Transformers, upgrade when they could through their teens and go on to help establish a blossoming local, then online community and are still around today. We have collectors like that who never stopped buying and being involved in the ownership of Transformers toys since childhood. At what point did their childhood interest become conscious collecting over just having and playing? Was it the moment they chose to prioritise the buying of Transformers over other children’s toys?
Or was it the moment they spent their own money, be it from an allowance, savings or a present, on Transformers? It could be argued that a child will choose a particular brand like Transformers over other toys for a given time because that brand stays popular with kids generally for some time, so of course they’ll repeatedly pick up toys from that range. Does it then become collecting when a child still wants toys from that range after its popularity has waned relative to other popular and fashionable toy lines? Should we be thinking about the desire to buy toys over involvement in gaming or other modern non-toy entertainment aimed at children?
From my own experience, I’ve compared how I felt about my Transformers toys as a child to the other things I received, and even how my daughter liked and received toys. There was definitely an element of collecting in how I chose my childhood Transformers. I went back to the store repeatedly with my parents and instead of buying by character or new toy/mould, on four repeat occasions I got Seeker moulds. The only reason I didn’t get Skywarp and Ramjet was because they could no longer be found by that time. As soon as I had Apeface, I went back for Snapdragon. Sideswipe bred Red Alert. The condition and completeness of my childhood collection from the age of six onward is testament to the mentality I think I must have had from early on in my relationship with Transformers. The only extra step I could have taken with them was to keep the packaging.
The lines are blurred and there are grey areas. It’s not as simple as saying a child receives and an adult collects. Certain toys aimed at children rely on the collector aspect to market them, and the collector mentality can be identified in some children even if the freedom to pursue or spend on toys isn’t there at a certain age. I guess the key here is ‘some children’. As with so many aspects of adult toy collecting that can be analysed, with children it is going to depend on the individual. That said, I believe to the answer to whether or not children collect toys, in this case Transformers, is yes. I know I did.
All the best