In the Transformers collecting sphere, there are specialist collectors, and then there are specialist collectors. Chris Towning has put together a beautifully curated collection of vintage G1 Optimus Prime and Devastator releases that will be the envy of even the most knowledgeable, niche, or exacting collectors in the community. Everything from Takara Diaclone to European exclusive Ceji variants of both Optimus and the Constructicons – and every little-known moulding variation in-between – exist in his veritable museum of Transformers history. Also, one of the most satisfying and heartwarming aspects of this hobby is that on many occasions – and Chris is no exception – the owner of a collection such as this happens to be a humble, kind, generous and admirable person. I know that my own existence in this fandom has been illuminated by meeting Chris, and now you can share that pleasure.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Chris Towning and I collect G1 vintage and G1-inspired toys, art and collectibles. My focus has specifically been on G1 Optimus Prime and Devastator/Constructicon variants from around the world. My father was in the trucking business most of my life and my first interest as a child was construction equipment, so it’s natural that I gravitated to these two characters. Also given the fact that Devastator is the first combiner and Optimus Prime is the most well known transformer, I feel I’ve made the right decision for my collection.
I first started collecting as an adult in 2001/2002 when the RID line came out. As we all know, there is something undeniable about this line. It reignited my spark for Transformers. In conjunction with the release of the Takara comic book style reissues and the US Hasbro Commemorative Series reissues, my G1 nostalgia was burning again. Since I was born in 1983, I missed most of the original releases in 1984. I was fortunate enough to have an older cousin who handed down some great figures like Grimlock, Optimus Prime and Metroplex. So this era of reissues was a great time to pick up again and start collecting. Obviously at this time as well, nice examples of boxed and loose G1 were fairly priced and quite attainable.
Fast forwarding a few years, I took some time off in 2010 to pursue some more hobbies and then returned in 2015 to pick up some MP figures and 3P. This brought me full circle to vintage again; the same way RID did in the early 2000s. Since my return, with social media involved, EVERYTHING is different. All the international markets are now at your fingertips with specialized groups for each line, manufacturer, and even focused collecting. If you told me in 2001 that I’d be using social media to continue to buy Transformers at almost 40 years old, I wouldn’t believe you. So saying that things are different in 2022 would be an understatement.
In the years to come, I truly don’t think we can even predict how this will go. Could a new TF movie come out and revive even more collectors? Could another pandemic roll through and skyrocket toy prices even more? Could G1-ers start enjoying Beast Wars? I really think that we will see even more items become rare. Those prices continuing to rise. I also see a point where people begin to lose interest as they age and maybe dumping off their collections. I don’t hope for this, I just see it as a realistic, possible change. What I hope for is a time where we can be a little less cutthroat and share a little more. There’s a side of this fandom that I’m learning to avoid, just like anything else you just gotta find your people and stick with them.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
I won’t say it’s my biggest success, I will just say it’s nice to check some variations off my list of “must haves” through relationships I’ve developed through Facebook and collecting. Like I mentioned before, it’s wild to think about how much collecting has changed even in the last 5 years. In the past few years I have been helping others with collecting US variations. As we all know, it helps to have someone on the ground when you’re hunting a variation from a certain region. So this help that I’ve been giving to others led to a great find for my collection in Germany. Maz knows of my affinity for Prime and Devy, so when he stumbles on something that might tickle my fancy he sends me a link or two. Fellow collectors like this are a rarity, so hold them tight. Luckily for me, I also have a fellow collector in Germany which I know through other hobbies. So through a couple of cultivated relationships, I got a “ Safety Tested Nontoxic – 1989” stickered red-eyed IGA MIB Optimus Prime. This box variation and its history in European Transformers collecting made it a must have for me, and I think a culmination of what collecting is all about.
CASE FINDS. Every time I hear about one of these it makes the hair on my neck stand up. I cannot even imagine the excitement that a collector feels when they unearth something as beautiful as this. Brand new old stock, fresh from a case, untouched by consumer hands with perfect cards and unbent flaps. This is the stuff I really missed by being an ’83 baby. I know that’s why I enjoy finding and holding a nice boxed Transformer from ’84 and ’85.
Takara Convoy 01 metal plate with super launcher. It’s one I don’t see in other collections. I love the Takara box art, I think its better than the US box art. Also this pays homage to the Battle Convoy, with the right updates for the TF line.
A friend of mine has a very special Takara 37 Devastator sleeve that into you can slide all the individually-boxed Constructicons. The box art is exclusive and resembles the single color grid over white box like the Takara mailaway boxes had. It is quite the rarity and the coolest piece for me that I will just never be able to have.
Pick a focus early! It is very easy to get overwhelmed and distracted by all of the beautiful and interesting merchandise, toys, and artwork that Transformers have created. If you’re not careful, you can spend $100s a day on any little thing that catches your eye. There’s a lot out there and a focus will help you with your spending and your time spent hunting. It will also help you be prepared for the “do not miss” opportunities that WILL present themselves. Things pop up every day, without focus, you’re buying everything.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Chris Towning for words and photographs.
All the best