There are a lot of assumptions made by wider society about people who collect children’s toys. The more negative views held by some groups relate to toy collectors being labelled as socially awkward, nerds, geeks, immature and the like. There are enough stereotypical characters on popular TV series to fuel any prejudice. Those of us in such hobbies know that the truth is different and that there is more diversity and acceptance of toy collecting now than ever before. However, even within our own Transformers-buying community there are assumptions made of our peers. One such assumption is that anyone with an impressive Transformers collection – be it vintage, Masterpiece or just really enormous – must be rich.
This is quite a common reflex reaction that I see online when featuring interviewees with impressive collections. The fact is, many collectors who have great collections are not actually particularly wealthy at all, a lot of what they have is down to other factors. In the case of vintage Transformers, such collectors may never have given up toy collecting in late childhood or early adulthood, so a lot of what they have was store bought and preserved. It may also have been bought at a time when general interest in TFs was low and there were many bargains to be had online, from local toy collectors or even parents selling their children’s unwanted toys. Luck, contacts and resourcefulness are often big factors in finding Transformers too, especially if it leads to the purchasing of a large collection at an excellent price that has been supremely well -preserved. Often one can believe the owner has paid massively for such a collection.
Neal Rochman says: “I’m not ‘rich’ by any means. Well off, I guess. But I still work a 9 to 5 job like most people. Most of my toys were bought back in the 90’s and early 2000’s when prices were lower. Extreme budgeting has allowed me to buy all the high end expensive stuff I’ve bought recently. Hell, all my Headmasters, Pretenders etc etc were like $20-ish when I was buying.”
It is also worth bearing in mind that not everyone prioritises in the same way. Lifestyles differ wildly and no two fans or collections are identical. Some people prioritise the ownership of Transformers over other things that society may consider more normal, such as owning a car or a property, living alone or travelling often etc. Many sacrifices have been made by certain collectors I know in order to allow them to afford the volume and quality of toys that they have. It’s their choice and through the sacrifices and prioritisation, they are proud of the Transformers collections they have been able to build. Labelling these people as ‘rich’ implies that it was accomplished with ease, without hardship and without sacrifice. All they had to do was hand over the buckets of money they sleep on, and that’s tremendously short-sighted and unfair.
David Mapes tells us of his and brother Steve’s collecting: “We never got out of toys, found a local place in the mid-late 90s, bought online and by the early 2000s had all but completed G1. The most we’d paid for a G1 figure was for Grand Max. Our G2 breakdown, we have two, and the Japanese exclusives were cheap compared to prices people ask now. If you were buying in the 90s and early 2000s, there were good deals and less interested in Japanese figures then there are now. We also saved and spent 90% of our income on toys. Didn’t own a car, house or anything else society would expect. We just worked hard, long hours and got good deals.”
Focus is also key. If one collects only Masterpiece and nothing else, of course it is conceivable on an average to good income that one could have every Masterpiece release and exclusive, barring maybe a lucky draw MP-1 here or there. All the money collectors spend on cheaper figures like Generations can add up quickly. I know this from collecting every Titans Return figure that hit the stores. I was spending much more on TR and Legends than I was on Masterpiece, by some margin.
Often people look at a mint G1 Transformer picture I post and assume that it must be beyond the realms of affordability. Even the spectacular G1 Abominus with unused stickers and all packaging that I bought recently cost me less than an MP-36 Megatron did. I think once you actually look into the prices of these figures beyond what some mad eBay sellers are asking (remember the most visible auctions are always the ones that HAVEN’T sold yet), there are – as with everything else – better prices to be found with research, networking and perseverance. I would not deign to know the price and value of every Beast Wars toy from a brief sojourn to eBay.
Sixo’s take on this is as follows: “I’d say a relatively common comment in any discussion about my collection is people saying things like ‘wow, you must be rich!’. Whilst that’s a lovely idea, I’m afraid I have a budget just like most folks! However, despite being initially confused by this reaction, I’ve come to understand how people might leap to that conclusion when viewing the situation as a snapshot. After all, Masterpiece figures can be very expensive. If someone was to go out tomorrow and start a complete collection from scratch they would no doubt need to put down some serious coin to fund the effort. Consider though that my collection has been in progress since 2003 when the line began and that the expense has actually been broken down over fifteen years, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so impressive. Still, it’s a curious reaction all the same, but I guess it just goes to show that there is always a story behind every situation, no matter how it might appear at face value.”
The bottom line here is that we should not judge a person’s finances, lifestyle and level of living comfort by the size or contents of their collection. Some of the very best Transformers collections I have ever seen belong to folks with normal jobs, normal lives and families, or to people who have focused intensely on Transformers and directed attention and money away from other relatively non-essential things that non-collectors would spend on. The one thing that people from these two specific collector categories – that I’ve met and known – have in common is that none of them were ever rich.
Many kind thanks to Neal Rochman, Virak Lim, Sixo, David Mapes and Cordy Humble for words and photographs.
All the best