I first met Jeremy Kaufmann online over 18 years ago when he went by the name “Ginrai”, and as the name suggests, his knowledge of Masterforce and – I soon realised – Macross, Pre-Transformers and more besides made him someone I turned to very regularly for info and advice. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the things he is passionate about has always been inspiring to me, and he’s been a wonderful person to know all this time. I was extremely fortunate to finally get to meet him, in Iceland of all places, this year, and he’s one of those who is every bit as awesome in person as he is online. Famous to me at one time for his rants, and the first person to publish my writing on his website, this artistic character has finally done me the honour of giving an interview. Basically, I just wanted him to talk about Jetfire again.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
I’m Jeremy and I collect toys and old video games and comics. I have a pretty sizeable collection of Diaclone, Microman/Micro Change, Transformers, Macross/Robotech, Power Rangers/Sentai, with some Gundam, Chogokin, and Jumbo Machinders tossed in there, too. I also have some superhero stuff, mostly Batman, Ninja Turtles, and Japanese superheroes like Masked Rider, Kikaider, and the Metal Heroes. You know, VR Troopers and all that jazz. Oh, and some Doctor Who and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves because why not?
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
Everything is incredibly, ridiculously more expensive. The only real exception there is the old school Macross 1/55 Valkyries, whose prices fell significantly when Bandai reissued so many of them. That doesn’t make them cheap. Just, you know, not as bad as they were. Of course, they never reissued the Strike Valkyrie, the Super Ostrich, or the Elint Seeker, so they are still brain-meltingly expensive.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
I hope every last thing gets reissued endlessly and is kept constantly in print, but I realize that is a hopeless dream. Then again, who knows? Maybe 3D printing tech will one day be able to generate a one to one reproduction of a toy, on demand. It’s possible, but 5 years seems a little too optimistic! Beyond that, I hope this bubble we’re in pops and old toys go back to more reasonable prices. I know it’s never going to go back to 1999, but come onnnnnn.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
My greatest find has to be my Hasbro photo shoot Jetfire. I got this surprisingly cheap in an eBay auction around 2000 from the former Art Director of Hasbro’s Boys Toys department. This particular Jetfire was modified slightly (they screwed it together in jet mode) to be used in advertising shoots and the like. It is one of a pair (the other was in robot mode) but I have no idea what happened to the other one. I believe this particular one was used in the Toy Fair (not ToyFare) catalog in 1984 or 1985 and in stock photos used in newspaper circulations and the like. I have a signed “certificate of authenticity” written on official Hasbro letterhead signed by the former Art Director. The other neat bit of history about this particular toy is that it was in a display case in the lobby at Hasbro’s old Rhode Island headquarters for around 15 years. Yeah, it’s pretty badly yellowed from all that UV exposure and it was missing the rocket boosters (FAST packs if you like) and the gunpod, but I replaced them. Slight wear aside from being in the sun forever aside, it’s in amazing condition. The joints are incredibly tight. It has literally never been played with.
A close relative is a Japanese boxed Takatoku Mugen Calibur that Bandai sent to Hasbro as a sample for what would become Roadbuster in Transformers. There’s a funny story behind that one, too. I bought it from another former Hasbro employee on eBay thanks to a tip from a certain dude named Maz! So I paid the Hasbro guy and then waited for a month and it never showed up. After talking back and forth with the seller, I finally had to put in a dispute because it just never showed up. I ended up getting my money back and feeling weird about the whole thing. Then a month later (two months after it had originally been sent) it finally showed up at my local post office. Apparently it had been lost in the mail and they dug it out of somewhere or other. I went down and picked it up, shocked that it arrived. I went home and contacted the seller again, paid him the money back that I had been refunded, and we both ended up satisfied. What a strange ordeal!
The only other really lucky story I have (besides occasionally finding fairly uncommon toys for good prices at flea markets and comic shows) is the time I bought a Diaclone Great Robot Base on eBay from Italy. The seller was actually IRL friends with an Internet friend of mine also in Italy, and we worked out a three way deal where I bought not just the GRB, but Trasformer not Transformers (basically Diaclone with unique Italian branding on the boxes) versions of three of the five Dinobots. Plus I got another Powered Convoy variant (pre-Ultra Magnus if you will). If you’re not familiar with the peculiarities of the Italian pre-Transformers line, essentially licensee GiG brought Diaclone stuff out almost exactly as it was in Japan (with the occasional exception of big rubber bopper missiles due to local safety standards) and then when Diaclone was canceled and Transformers started… they just kept selling Diaclone toys for a year or two. There was some lag time until Hasbro was able to globally unify the line so the same time you had Ultra Magnus on the shelves in the US, they were still Powered Convoys on the shelves in Italy. And no, these were not overstock; Takara just never stopped manufacturing them in their plants. So you have strange Italian variants where they have the modifications added to Transformers toys as they introduced running changes, but they were still in Diaclone colors. So some of the earlier Italian ones are literally identical to Japanese Diaclone toys and some are weird mutant hybrids.
Anyway, I wound up with both a blue cabbed Japanese Diaclone style Powered Convoy with gray missiles (from Italy) as well as a red cabbed Powered Convoy whose mold is physically that of the Ultra Magnus toy, more or less. So the red cab actually has the slight modifications you saw with the Powered Convoy cab (extended axles to fit better in the combined robot mode), the trailer has the reinforced piece that is between the feet in the combined robot mode, and the shorter antennas on the head. And no, this is definitely not parts swapped with the Ultra Magnus Yokokuhen Yokokuhen Bajon/Movie Preview Version “reissue” from 2001. There are subtle differences in the colors and you can actually tell the molds are a bit different (all the way down to injection molding points) if you want to look really closely at it. Trust me. I took a million photos to prove it.
Long story short (wait, this is already way long), I got a single box in the mail that had a Great Robot Base, three boxed pre-Dinobots, and a boxed Powered Convoy in it. It was a pretty good day.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
My friend had a huge collection of pretty expensive and hard to find Transformers and pre-Transformers and GoBots and the like. At some point, his collection got really out of control and when he moved out of his mom’s house he just could not fit it where he was living. So a lot of it ended up in one of those rental storage spaces. And that was fine for years until some total scumbag broke in and stole many, many toys from him. He was devastated and I was disgusted. But I was also checking eBay every day because I couldn’t find a European Robo Machine version of Staks Transport. That’s the Super GoBot semi truck car carrier. It’s pretty similar to the American GoBots toy; it’s still a bright orange semi truck, after all. But it has tinted windows and the longer smokestacks of original Japanese Machine Robo toy (which had a red cab instead). If you want to know more, you can read my review of it! I took a lot of pictures of my friend’s toy for the review, even though he wouldn’t sell it to me.
So I was scanning eBay one day after the heist and I found his stolen Staks Transport! I knew it was his, because the rips in the cardboard box matched up perfectly! My friend got eBay and the cops involved and the culprit was arrested! No kidding. My friend didn’t get all of his collection back (some of it was already sold to some shady customers), but he got a lot of it. As a thank you, he gave me his second, kind of worn but still boxed Microman Microchange GunRobo P-38 UNCLE, the toy that would become Megatron in the original Transformers line. Perhaps one of the best thank you presents ever!
There’s a sad coda to the story, though. The criminal was let out on bail and skipped town. There’s still a warrant out for his arrest, though, so if he ever got pulled over in California or something, he would go back to jail. Crazy story, right?
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
It feels like it would be a tough decision. Maybe I’d be tempted to keep my original (used, worn, but still in box) Optimus Prime that my mom got for my birthday at a comic book store in the early ’90s. Maybe I’d want to keep my Strike Valkyrie from Macross. Maybe it would be my Grand Maximus that totally has a bunch of Fort Max and Brave Max parts to fill it out because no way I could afford a minty fresh one. But ah, who am I kidding? It has to be Beast Wars Injector. No wait, that Hasbro photo shoot Jetfire. Yeah, that one.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
My gut response is to say that never produced Unicron toy from the ’80s (and let me tell you, if I got my hands on it I’d be paying to get it scanned at super high resolution and churning out copies so fast it would make your head spin), but if we’re going for something actually realistic, a Diaclone Powered Convoy DX set (that’s the one that comes with the late Diaclone recolored Powered Convoy with chrome chest and white trailer walls and a red Liger/Mirage and a black Sideswipe, you know, like Deep Cover) which I would never open up and transform and hopefully not destroy. But, to be honest, I would also be happy with a Diaclone blue Fairlady Z 280Z a.k.a. Bluestreak. Hey, if money’s no object, why not?
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Don’t buy Diaclone or Microchange toys unless you’re rich! Yikes. Seriously though, I’d say go for toys you have an emotional childhood attachment to. And do not underestimate some of the really great new toys that have come out in the last few years. Titans Return and Power of the Primes and their Japanese equivalents in the Legends line have been really bringing me joy. As a big Masterforce nerd (I ran both a website named Masterforce.org and an online text-based roleplaying game inspired by the Masterforce anime), I can’t tell you how happy I have been to get new Masterforce toys! I’m sad that it’s over, but do not sleep on that Legends God Ginrai or Overlord. I still can’t get over how great they are! Oh, and if you’re into Masterforce like me, beg borrow or steal (wait, don’t steal) your way into Sentinel Corporation’s fully licensed two foot tall Gigantic Action Black Zarak. Yeah, it can’t transform and it’s basically a Jumbo Machinder, but it is perfect for fighting your Grand Maximus. Don’t even bother with ’80s toy. I don’t care if you have the old Grand Maximus or the new one, Gigantic Action Black Zarak is the right toy to throw down with it. Welcome the power of Devil Z into your home. It’s not too late.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Jeremy Kaufmann for words and photographs.
All the best