COLLECTING THOUGHTS #3: The In-Person Experience

It can’t just be me that sorely missed the convention experience this year.

What am I saying, I know it wasn’t! A simple look online will show you that many Transformers fans were greatly feeling the absence of the annual get-togethers that have become such a rich and important part of our shared hobby. After all, they’re often a simple but much-appreciated tonic – an annualised huddle where fans and collectors can amass in celebration of all the many aspects of the franchise that we collectively love. It’s a dizzying high of an experience that, for a lot of us, is a highlight of the calendar in any typical year.

Not in 2020, of course. Whilst it’s hardly the most serious of impacts that the current goings-on in the world have had on our day-to-day lives, the cancellations of the big Transformers conventions have been keenly felt by a lot of collectors all the same, even if most will acknowledge that it’s a very necessary step and definitely the right thing to do. Still, such calm and rational thinking doesn’t take away that a big part of the shared fandom experience has been missing this year, including all the many highs that come with such events.

For me personally, I’m still somewhat in disbelief that it will now be the better part of another year before TFNation in the UK happens again. I’m definitely missing the buzz and atmosphere that comes from such an event, not to mention the palpably positive vibes one gets from sharing a space with people who feel as passionately about the hobby as you do. It feels a world away right now though, when even the idea of getting on a bus is something I’d rather not currently contemplate!

Then there are all the amazing events, including the special guests and panels that keep us talking for months afterwards. To their absolute credit, TFNation and other convention organisers have done a simply terrific job this year at replicating some of this experience online, which shows what a dedication they have to this hobby and indeed the fandom as a whole.

Another big part I know I certainly look forward to at such events is seeing what toys are out on display. There are often samples of new and upcoming third party figures, weird curios or fantastic customs, and occasionally even whole collections of incredible vintage items (such as CZHazard’s simply stunning Brave set-up, above).

Naturally for many, one of the best aspects of any convention experience is the people. Perhaps it goes without saying, but it’s a joy to share such an experience with fellow collectors and friends, and the social aspect is definitely one of the things I look forward to most about TFNation weekend every year (even if I do often feel a bit rough on the Sunday morning!). There are too many individuals to name in one sitting, but it’s sad to think that another year will go by without seeing some faces again (even if it is for the best)!

Of course, another intrinsic part of the convention experience is the dealer room. Everyone goes to a convention excited to see what rarities or other great finds they might discover, so much so that online posts about “wishlists” or hauls have become as much a common part of the convention experience as anything! Whether you’re just window shopping or there to find something in particular, it’s always a lot of fun to ogle the toys out for all to see.

For me personally, the dealer room is a definite highlight. After several years of TFN I try not to go with concrete expectations of what might turn up now, as it’s often surprising to see which toys will catch your eye in a random moment. There’s an element to which there’s just *so much* great product out on display that it feels inevitable something will take my fancy, as I think my haul from last year demonstrates.

If you’d have asked me what I might get ahead of time, I could have never predicted stuff like a minty, unstickered G1 Wreck Gar, as that just wasn’t on my radar at all. Yet as soon as I saw it, it was such an obvious purchase (and not to mention, an absolute bargain!). In fact, looking at old haul pics from TFNs-gone-by shows another way in which the convention experience can be so potent. I can tell you exactly where I was and who I was with when I made every single one of those purchases. I can remember the time of day, the mood I was in… everything. It’s a very visceral thing that collecting online simply cannot replicate (at least not when it comes to vintage toys, anyway). You can often find the same items for sale, but the feeling could not be more different, so important is the in-person experience to our hobby.

Perhaps that’s why I was so excited to recently have the chance to pop to a vintage toy shop and see so many wonderful old toys (and some new ones) out on display. The Spacebridge in New Milton is run by well-known Transformers dealer (and collector), Paul Hitchens, who is himself a regular on the TFN circuit, and is a dream-come-true for anyone looking to recreate at least this more commercial part of the convention experience! After having barely left the house over the last eight months or so, it was certainly something I was looking forward to (albeit with the appropriate safety considerations in place).

Despite a long car journey, I was not at all disappointed by what I was met with. Beyond just Transformers, the shelves were stocked with a huge array of various toylines from the last forty years or so, including many I had even forgotten about myself!

Despite only being a Transformers collector, there’s still a unique thrill that comes from seeing so many wonderful examples of old memorabilia out on display. Many of the toys I was unfamiliar with; many of them evoked distinct memories of a different time.

As a toy collector and enthusiast, this was the kind of in-person experience I had been missing. The opportunity to gape at all kinds of weird and wonderful collectables, marvelling at the many unusual designs even if some of it is stuff that you have no interest in directly. It may not be quite the same as crushing into a massive hotel with a few thousand other fans, but at least there are nice toys to admire!

Naturally there are more than a few items that make you immediately squeal, “I had that as a kid!” I’m sure Paul is quite used to it.

Of course, the cabinets that drew the most interest for me where the ones containing those familiar robots in disguise, so it wasn’t long before I was cooing over the various wares out on display to see what I could find. There’s a thrill from this kind of experience that means even seeing stuff you’re familiar with or already own is quite exciting, somehow!

That might sound mad, but I can never pass up the opportunity to fondle a Goldbug or two, and there will never be any part of seeing a decent-condition vintage Sunstreaker that is boring to me in any way. Such is my love for these original specimens that I could marvel over them all day long, no matter how familiar they may already be.

That’s to say nothing of the likes of Jetfire or Devastator, or any of the other fine examples there to be found. Then there’s stuff like Minibots, which for me have always been classic TFN fodder, given how you can often score a decent example for next-to-nothing.

I was briefly taken with the idea of a couple of the Autobot Headmasters on offer, but I’m nothing if not a stickler for pristine condition so it was not quite the day for it. Equally I briefly flirted with an impulse buy of a boxed Galactic Man (the pre-TF Shockwave), but thought better of it before the visit was done.

Regardless, the thing that struck me above all else was what an essential part of the hobby this sort of in-person experience can be. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of online shopping (and for modern toys, it’s definitely my preferred way to go!), but nothing beats the feeling of actually seeing vintage items like this in-person, firsthand. The joy of pouring your eyeballs over the sea of moulded plastic in the hopes of uncovering some long-desired wonder is palpable, to say the least, and even if you walk away empty-handed then it’s still worth it somehow.

It couldn’t replace every aspect of the sorely-missed convention experience this year, but at least my trip gave much a small shot-in-the-arm of retail therapy, which I hope will carry me through to 2021 now! In such unusual times, these kind of experiences should be treasured, after all.

Oh, and despite not going with any particular wants in mind, I did manage to walk away with a couple of choice specimens all the same! Obligatory haul pic incoming…

Here’s hoping we can all get back to normality (and safety!) by the time the convention season rolls around again next year. In the meantime I hope you can all find little ways like this to replicate at least part of the experience, no matter how small they may be.

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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