Sunday, January 15, 2012

About 20 bucks, a bike, and two tickets to Cybertron

The 38th seal of the Roboplastic Apocalypse lies torn and mutilated in the gutter like historical Hasbro documents of incalculable value entrusted to some guy who used them as handlebar warmers on his bicycle! Thrill to a horrific tale of the roboplasti-archaeological universe betrayed when I won an auction for the Dead Sea Scrolls of Hasbro price list history and then I lost them biking on my way to a Star Wars convention. What untold secrets of the universe lie buried in the Hasbro Toy Worksheet from 1984? How much did a case of Jetfires cost at wholesale in 1985? Can Mirage survive the torturous treatment at the hands of Wal-Mart demo boy? Find out all this and more in this GEOFFREY GIRAFFE WAS A SCUMMY G1 SCALPER AND I CAN PROVE IT edition of the Podcastalypse!

Or download it directly

Bradlees 27 October 1985


It's the age old question-How much did Optimus Prime cost in 1984? And of course the correct answer is it depended on how much your mom was desperate enough to pay to get you to shut up that day. It is in essence the truth because all the different stores had different prices. That's not to say certain estimates cannot be made and I've tried doing that in various sections of The Vintage Space Toaster Palace. But of course the estimates are never really good enough. Looking at the big picture, the only information retail prices from specific stores can give is an approximation of what the retailers paid at wholesale plus whatever each chain's overhead was and how much profit they were trying to make. So I was really happy the day I found seller Bwills auctioning off the 1984 and 1985 Hasbro Toy Worksheet price lists. Finally I knew the wholesale cost of Optimus Prime, which is tremendously empowering information. So the next time I hear somebody ask how much Optimus Prime cost in 1984, I can tell them the wholesale cost and turn a fanciful question fueled by nostalgia into a dreadful exercise in post 1980s recession era economics.


I am assuming the prices are per unit and not per case, but I admit that I don't know for sure. I am not an expert in 1984 wholesale toy buying nor connected in any way with Hasbro. (Well I guess I'm connected in the We-Are-All-Peter-Cullen's-Unwanted-Children kind of way, but so is everybody.) I guess it is theoretically possible that I'm misinterpreting this and a case of 24 Autobot Minicars only cost $1.99 at the wholesale level in 1984 but I highly, seriously doubt it. I do wonder, though, that if those minicars were $1.99 a piece at the wholesale level then how could stores like Fiesta Grocery Mart (below left) sell them for exactly or slightly less than that? For the most part, minicars sold very close to their wholesale cost at many stores. I guess they were the gateway drug of Transformers in that regard. Stores didn't make much of a percentage off of them.

Fiesta 10/20/84
R and E Toys & Things 10/07/84


Then on the upper right you have the exact opposite of the minicar situation in this snippet from an R&E ad from October '84. The Decepticon tapes going for a full dollar over wholesale must have made a lot of money. One memory I have from around 1987 is going to a Toys R Us and seeing an entire endcap stocked full with pegs of nothing but carded Transformers, the majority of which were the Decepticon cassettes of that year. Although the cassette assortments hung around as long as the minicars did and stores loaded the pegs with them, I rarely ever see Decepticon tapes advertised in newspaper circulars. At least I don't see them as much as the Autobot minicars.


It's not everyday that I see an ad from 27 years ago on YouTube and I can pretty much nail its air date within a few days. But thanks to my familiarity with old newspaper ads I was able to figure out that this commercial recently uploaded to YouTube coincided with a Wal-Mart sale on Autobot cars during Black Friday weekend of 1984. The ad to the upper left is one they ran November 27, 1984. Notice how the ad and commercial point out 11 styles were available yet the '84 worksheet shows the case pack was 12. This is because Mirage was included twice in the first 5750 cases. I found it amusing that the Wal-Mart narrator described the act of transforming as making "a few minor adjustments". I guess he was right because the resultant mangled mistransformations sure weren't successful robot modes. Actually Ratchet kind of looks better that way.

The '85 worksheet. Note the lack of a Devastator giftset listing. Also Shockwave and Jetfire are not "New for 1985" as they had been shipping since late '84.

K-Mart 09/23/84

Sears 12/20/85


Above left is that strange K-Mart ad I mentioned with "Autobot II" vehicles. Since it ran September '84 I think it's referencing a case revision that eliminated one Mirage and added in Skids. The timing of the release of the 5750 Autobot Cars assortment that included Skids has proven difficult for me to pinpoint. This ad is the best lead I have but it's still a matter of interpretation. Had the Wal-Mart commercial included Skids among its 11 Autobot cars I would've been elated. It would be the earliest documented appearance of Skids in a Transformers case assortment that I've seen yet. To the upper right is a Sears ad showing the Constructicons but giving no price for a Devastator giftset. Although a number of stores carried the Devastator giftset I have yet to find an order form or Hasbro price list including it. In fact, no giftsets appear on the 1988 Hasbro price list, either, and that year saw the release of the Seacon combiner Piranacon.

Sears 12/11/85
TG&Y Family Center 12/15/85

The Sears ad to the upper left is the only other occurrence I've found of Decepticon cassette line art being used. It's kind of cheating because the cassettes aren't even being advertised-it's more an ad for Soundwave. Now I admit I haven't seen every ad published but it seems to me the cassettes are well in the minority and use of their line art is ever rarer. Speaking of cassette-ish things, it's kind of strange to me that Blaster line art isn't used in this ad when all the other toys shown are illustrated as drawings. That picture was acually lifted from the 1985 Hasbro Toy Fair catalog. Even rarer than Decepticon cassette line art are ads for the Deluxe Autobots from 1985 like the one to the upper right. These non-Takara toys were rarely seen in papers, unlike Jetfire, Shockwave and Omega Supreme who were all non-Takara but at higher price points. It seems like only the least and most expensive assortments would appear in the papers most often, leaving the mid-price point range figures virtually unrepresented in newspaper ads. Figures like Blaster, the Deluxe Autobots and Deluxe Insecticons all suffer from this under representation.

K-Mart 11/10/85


I have two Dinobot price memories. The first is seeing the JC Penny price tag attached to the side flap of one of my Dinobots. It was $19.99. So I grew up thinking the Dinobots were at the $19.99 price point. Boy was I surprised all these years later to find out they were more commonly in the $10-$15 range everywhere else. My other Dinobot price memory from childhood is seeing them on clearance at Lionel Playworld along with the Predacons for $6.97 each. It seemed like a super discount to me at the time but now that I know their wholesale cost was $8.99, that Playworld price doesn't seem so low. Still, as a retailer it probably hurt to be selling toys at $2 less than what the chain paid for them. It's crazy to think Dinobots at Playworld on clearance were three times less expensive that they were at JC Penny at full price.

Cut Rate Toys 11/10/85

  • That little site research thing I do
  • People want answers, not the truth
  • The superficiality of only using ads for their prices
  • Who cares what I paid, how much did Geoffrey Giraffe pay?
  • The highly perishable nature of price lists
  • Bwills on ebay
  • Trusting hundreds of dollars of paperwork to dozens of cents of portfolio
  • Keeping a bad situation from ruining a mediocre vacation
  • My wife's level of interest in my ridiculous problems
  • A scanner is an opportunity to take stuff for granted digitally
  • The universe cannot trust me (or
  • BREAK-WalMart Autobot commercial Black Friday 1984
  • WalMart demo kid has the Death Touch
  • Making everything a complicated roboplastic apocalypse
  • I still didn't find a Shockwave ad
  • The Hartmans' Transformers Case Assortments page at
  • The most horrendously, mind-nubingly, soul-meltingly boring 30 minute long solo conversation about wholesale Hasbro pricing of toy robots in 1984/85
  • Robot-Japan Summit happening February 18
  • Don't rocket punch your friends!

1 comment:

Colin said...

Interesting trip down retail toy history lane.

Have a few thoughts to throw at you. First, just as today, there would be a difference between the price points for different retailers. Back in the 1980s, there were a lot more small and mid-range stores carrying toys, which is probably the stores these price points were aimed at. And then there were the juggernauts - Walmart, Toys R' Us, Zellers (in Canada) - that bought in bulk for all their stores across the country. Is Hasbro going to knock a few coins off the price of 1000 sets of minibots compared to a retailer that orders 1 or 2 or even 5 and 10? Absolutely. Which is how you are finding advertisements with Transformers showing little profit compared to Hasbro's own numbers.

Second, you touched on the dramatic differences between what retailers paid and sold for, specifically with regard to Omega Supreme. My theory here is that retailers were trying to maximize profits here because (a) the items took up more retail space, and (b) they were more costly to hold onto. The average kid might bring in his or her allowance and buy a minibot or a deluxe car, but would have to wait for a birthday or something for Omega. If you are selling little guys like hotcakes, you can take 50 cents profits on each ones because they are going fast (and drawing in possibly other purchases). The big guys? They might be on their own.


Minibox 3 Column Blogger Template by James William at 2600 Degrees

Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.