Collecting without the aid of an internet

Collecting Transformers toys, even the vintage ones, has never been as easy and convenient as it is nowadays. Access to the past is right at your fingers, and is just a click or a tap away. From online auction sites and stores, to hitting up friends on social media you can choose, buy, and have a Transformers toy delivered to your door within a matter of days.

Recently I’ve been collecting vintage Transformers the old fashioned way; travelling to actual shops (and one particular convention), picking out a toy or two in a wholly unplanned manner, and paying with cash. That’s right. Cash.

It’s been a huge amount of fun, rediscovering the thrill of the chase, and it’s reminded me of a time before it was so easy to find and buy Transformers toys online.

My good friend and fellow Transformers collector and blogger, Maz (of the TF Square One blog), and myself are discussing what it was like to be a collector in the 1990s in a kind of tandem blog article, and you can read about his own experiences on his blog!

The mid-1990s were an exciting time for me. Thanks to the release of the “Classics” line of reissues, I made the decision to become a more “serious” Transformers collector and make efforts to track down more of the early Transformers toys I’d missed. 

In other words, to not just use high street toy shops as my source of Transformers. At this time the internet, as it became, was still in its infancy so tracking down older Transformers was much more of a challenge! 

The early Transformers collectors, the pioneers if you will, were those brave British kids who wrote into Marvel UK’s Transformers weekly comic and used the “Stock Exchange” to trade toys. Even though I read the comic every week, I never once wrote in, nor did I use it to trade Transformers toys. Honestly, I loved every single one of my Autobots and Decepticons and I found it impossible to even think of parting with any of them even if it meant I would get one in return.

Stock Exchange
The Stock Exchange

In the early 1990s I would spend most Sunday mornings (either during weekends seeing my dad, or at home) at car boot sales, trawling table after table to see which Transformers toys I could spot. Back then, you could get a Jumpstarter for 20p or a Spy Cassette thrown in for free with a Royal Wedding commemorative plate.

I developed an “eye” for honing in on Transformers that even now I can utilise with uncanny precision to scope out a Transformers toy at a present-day comic con or shop that’s bobbing in a sea of Funko Pops.

With a combination of the “Classics” range in toy shops and access to many of the 1984-1985 characters from car boot sales, I managed to bolster the ranks of my favourite robots in disguise very quickly. The unwanted toys that kids had apparently grown out of were now my treasure. (During one particular weekend in Southend-on-Sea, my dad bought me Classics Wheeljack* from a toy shop on the Saturday, and the original Sideswipe from a car boot sale on the Sunday.)

Classics and car boot sale finds

On Friday evenings, our local newspaper (which I later briefly worked for) was delivered and I would scan through the classified adverts at the back. On the odd occasion Transformers were featured, but they were rarely available on their own. The toys sold via newspaper ads were often in batches, as if some exasperated parent had cleared out their child’s room in one go and tipped all of their toys into a cardboard box. I would usually pick out the Transformers for myself and give the other stuff (He-Man, Ghostbusters, MASK, and so on) to my friends’ younger brothers or sisters.

The problem with buying Transformers toys second-hand like this soon became apparent. Many were in poor condition, without weapons and, particular to my love of scrapbooking the tech specs and box art, were without any packaging. I had been so used to getting (almost) all my Transformers brand new, I never felt that any of the ones I got second-hand were truly my own.

*My first Wheeljack was second-hand, so to get the Classics version (brand new!) with all of his weapons and accessories and tech specs (albeit in the new design) was, after 5 years, incredibly fulfilling. Even now, I have a proclivity for sealed Transformers.

At this point I was using the contents page of my much-loved copy of the Transformers Universe book as a kind of collecting checklist!

Universe Contents
Contents page checklist

If I was to really become a serious Transformers collector, I somehow needed to get in touch with other Transformers fans. (If I’d have known about the internet at this point, I sure would have been keen for it to have been invented already!)

In early 1995 I answered a small advertorial in the British Fleetway Transformers Generation 2 comic and joined the TransMasters UK (TMUK) fanclub. For the rest of that year, I spent all of my free time hand writing letters to fellow Transformers fans all over the world and sourcing more Transformers toys than I could have ever imagined!

My priorities were as follows: to fill in the gaps of my Marvel UK Transformers comic collection, and to track down all of the “US-only” toys such as Swoop, Blaster, Omega Supreme, the Predacons and so on.

I spent an incredible amount of money on stamps, postal orders, and international money orders!

The Transformers Generation 2 range was still current in the UK at this point and while I was gathering up all the “Generation 1” stuff I could, I was still buying the new toys from local toy shops. I think that’s why I have such a fondness for the G2 Transformers even today; they are a lighthouse, shining a neon beam of light onto the most intoxicating years of my collecting adventure.

TMUK Advert
Official permission from Hasbro…

I was fortunate enough to have a part time job at this point; every penny I earned at the local supermarket (and from the occasional freelance graphic design job, and cleaning a local private swimming pool… of all things) went on Transformers.

Joining that Transformers fan club opened up my world of collecting to unprecedented levels. My hobby had never been so exciting… or so expensive! Fellow collectors from all over the world would send me photocopied newsletters, and Hasbro USA and Takara catalogues, so I could see all of the Transformers toys that were never available in the UK.

I even started buying magazines like Tomart’s Action Figure Digest and Action Figure News & Toy Review to read their sporadic (often black and white) Transformers features and obsessively read through their price guides.

Also in 1995, I obtained my driver’s licence and would often borrow my mum’s car on a Friday afternoon (my sixth form timetable meant I had every other Friday afternoon free to, ahem, study) to head to as many toy shops as I could. My journey would range from Toys R Us in Nottingham to the Jolly Giant in Lincoln and back again before she needed to be picked up from work.

Jolly Giants always seemed to have the best choice of Transformers, including many of the Chinese editions that were available in the 1990s, from Headmasters to Clones, to Cassettes and more!

Pool Boy
One way to pay for robots

By the time I was at university, from 1996-2000, I had true freedom to travel up and down the country to meet ups and comic cons. Having my own transport meant I could come and go as I pleased and my only limit was the money I had in my pocket. 

I would regularly travel up to Memorabilia at the NEC and find all manner of Beast Wars The Second and Beast Wars Neo toys to add to my Beast Wars collection.

I went to university in Bristol, and there was one particular shop — Global Collectibles — that I would visit just about every Saturday. Every so often, I would find absolute gold. On one particularly memorable visit, I found two of the Ominibots still sealed in their original bags (that’s how they came, because they were mail-away exclusives). I paid £80 for both of them which, at that time, felt like an obscene amount of money! The following year, at BotCon Europe 1999, I bought the third Omnibot (Overdrive) from The Spacebridge and gleefully completed the set!

BotCon Europe 1999
BotCon Europe 1999

Those pre-internet days of collecting were filled with some of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my hobby. Not only did I track down some amazing Transformers toys—toys that my younger self would never have imagined—but I made some wonderful friends (and pen-pals) that I still keep in touch with today.

In 2000, I discovered a Japanese online store called HLJ and began collecting Takara’s post-Beast Era “Car Robots” range in earnest. And soon after that I had signed up for eBay and PayPal accounts, and the way I collected Transformers was forever changed!

I do genuinely believe that the introduction, and proliferation, of the internet has become a huge benefit to both my hobby of Transformers (toy and comic) collecting and forming and cementing friendships, both online and in real life. But back then, as my hobby of Transformers collecting without the aid of an internet opened itself up with a (non-digital) worldwide network of fellow fans and collectors, shops and dealers, the thrill was indeed in the chase!

To read Maz’s own experiences of collecting Transformers in the 1990s, you can read his tandem blog article here.

May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!

–Graham (@grhmthmsn)

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