Discolouration, breakage, sticker, paint and chrome wear, brittle plastic…these are all inevitable symptoms of an ageing vintage collection of toys. Sure, some of these things can be somewhat prevented by keeping one’s collection well-maintained and protected, but entropy will eventually win out no matter what we do. At what point do you accept this and just alter your mindset from fretting about maintaining the pristine nature of your collection – especially if not sealed – and just decide to enjoy the time you have with the toys you own, regardless of condition?
I’ve just recently unpacked the entirety of my vintage and reissue Generation 1 Transformers collection from storage where it was living for a month or so while essential work was being carried out around the home. Naturally, as I unpacked, dusted and placed every G1 item I own back on the shelves, I noticed a few things I had previously been unaware of on a number of toys.
I noticed one of the forearm halves on my gorgeous G1 Jetfire had yellowed; a toy that had previously stood as an example of how proper preservation and care could lead to enduring excellent condition. That was legitimately heartbreaking, the end of a dream. I could accept so many deteriorating G1 toys as long as my Jetfire stayed white. Mercifully, this can be fixed with a donor forearm from another specimen that hasn’t yellowed in that spot.
I also noticed that one of the cab halves/feet on Doubledealer – another all-time favourite of mine – had discoloured. Nightbeat was no longer the same shade of blue all over, Getaway had severe yellowing very obviously restricted to areas not covered by other toy parts, and Slugslinger exhibited the same partial yellowing of front-facing parts. This was so evident when I bent his legs for transformation to jet mode and saw just how different the two parts of his legs looked. These toys will need wholesale replacing if I want my collection to remain pristine.
This is not to say that those toys got damaged, discoloured or suffered wear as a result of being stored, in fact it’s more likely that it happened while they were standing proud on display. No, this was a result of me taking the time to look each figure over as it went back on the shelf, something I may not have done for some toys for over a year, depending on what I have been photographing. So the discolouration may have happened months ago, maybe even a year ago in the case of toys I’ve not really removed from display in that time.
On top of that, I was even responsible for causing further damage to a couple of vintage specimens myself as I placed them back on display. One of Punch Counterpunch’s thigh stickers got absolutely battered as I extended the legs downwards to put him in robot mode for display. Unavoidable, totally unexpected and leaves me needing to obtain another unused vintage stickersheet to return him to perfection…and therefore unlikely to transform him again in a hurry.
Worse than that, I have noticed a lot of my toys have gotten quite stiff in the joints over the last 2 years, to the point where transformation is almost asking for trouble, and I am put off trying it without unscrewing certain sections to create more clearance. Sunstreaker’s arms were a good example.
I had never realized that Snarl’s tail halves have small grey plastic tabs which they push on when the tail goes back. The plastic is meant to flex to allow the tail to snap in and out of position, but the plastic on my Snarl has gone brittle in that location and the simple act of opening the tail half out for robot mode caused one of the grey plastic tabs to break and fly across the room. It doesn’t affect display or transformation, but I know it’s no longer perfect. At least an experienced collector friend assures me that it’s not an uncommon thing and it’s happened to him – a careful preservationist – also.
By the time I’d documented the toys and stickers that might need replacing, I can tell you I was rapidly losing enthusiasm for the preservation and further purchase of increasingly expensive and decreasingly available vintage Generation 1 Transformers. I voiced my experiences online, and I want to share this very wise passage of thoughts on the subject from UK collector Dan Ghile:
“I’ll be honest seeing this really start to set in on my vintage pieces, regardless of care and storage conditions, coupled with turning 40 really has made me think long and hard about what the future of this hobby will be for me. Just need to enjoy these while they last. All that I’ve put into collecting in the past 20 years… it can’t go from the thrill of discovering and experiencing these things to being an old man fretting over aging plastic. Feels like a miserable existence in the face of the absolute joy of collecting. I guess I’ve just decided that me and my toys should grow old gracefully together.”
At the start of this article, I asked at what point should one switch from concerned preservationist to someone who just goes with the flow and – as Dan puts it – ages gracefully with their collection. For some, the answer will be “never”. I am tempted to immediately replace those yellowed pieces, but the cost of that would comprehensively signal a temporary end to modern toy collecting, Diaclone collecting, and any other toy buying I plan on doing for the next few months. That’s not an attractive prospect.
Add to that the fact that I care a great deal about the person whose collection I bought, the collection that included this Jetfire, Getaway and Snarl, and I can’t bear the thought of selling them on as damaged/discoloured toys. They were some of the best-preserved used Transformers I’d ever seen, and they absolutely deserve to age gracefully in the midst of their brothers and sisters on my shelves.
It makes me wonder whether the process of discolouration had started before they ever made it into my collection, but then Nightbeat, Doubledealer and Slugslinger came from different sources. Was it me? It could have been, after all these toys have been on display across three different apartments since 2015 in some cases. Having said that, all of the above figures are absolutely notorious for yellowing, so the inevitability of it makes me think we were always going to end up here.
The rest of my collection went back on the shelves over the days that followed, and it was a mostly wonderful experience. I’d forgotten how much I love Scorponok, Quickswitch, Devastator and Nucelon Quest Superconvoy, and I got to experience a new G1 figure in my newly-arrived Broadside, all in wonderful condition, so that was the joyous side of the hobby coming to the fore again. My display is all set up once more, and thus begins the process of enjoying however much time we have together, regardless of condition.
All the best