Monday, August 05, 2013

Toy Shoppin' like it's 1999!

The nineties! It was my toy robots hangover decade. I woke up after the insane robots party that was my childhood from 1977-1987, wondering if it was all real and who were all these broken Autobots in my bed. I remember thinking it would be nice to have an Optimus Prime that wasn't a decapitated paraplegic, but by 1990 the idea that I could find unbroken versions of my childhood toys seemed an impossible dream. The garage sales dried up and one comic shop owner in my hometown told me nobody wanted those robot toys anymore so I would never find them for sale anywhere again. But things changed one day in '93 when I found a copy of Toy Shop magazine. Toy Shop was the eBay of the 90s with toy ads by sellers from all across the country in one convenient oversized 200 page newsprint monster of a magazine. So join me and special guest Anthony Foust of the Transformers Toy Collectors FB page for a little '90s Toy Shoppin' and robots talkin'. What were the hot vintage Star Wars and Transformers items of the 1990s and are they still hot today? Would you send a money order to someone you didn't know to pay for a toy you weren't sure they had based on a tiny little ad picture you couldn't really see? Would you pay $50 for an orange carded Lando Calrissian or $250 for a Godbomber? Oh yes you will in this IT ALL COMES BACK TO LANDO edition of the Podcastalypse!

Or download it directly


One does not simply podcast about Toy Shop and forget to mention Star Wars. Toy Shop was THE secondary market for vintage Star Wars collectors throughout much of the 90s. Chris G's Toy Shop Scrapbook is an outstanding catalog of the most interesting Star Wars ads that appeared over the years and I highly recommend checking that out. During the show I mentioned to Anthony that there were three holy grail Star Wars items that popped up over and over in the pages of Toy Shop and he had a great theory about why those items were held in such high regard. The die cast TIE bomber and 12 inch IG-88 above were two of those, and I just threw that Battlestar Galactica Landram ad in there because I thought it was funny. That toy could be bought for 30 bucks in the pages of Toy Shop once, and nowadays it goes for no less than $8,000!


One fun thing about the butt end of each Toy Shop issue was the convention listings. The 90s saw all sorts of sci-fi and toy conventions happening all over the US. Some of these are still being held and others have since died off. And like the conventions, some of the guests you could see at 90s shows are still around and others have since died. But one thing about conventions hasn't really changed in the last 20 years, and that's the guarantee that whenever two or more gather in the name of sci-fi, Lou Ferrigno and David Prowse will be there.

Part of Anthony's Micro Collection Collection


Better podcasters than me have talked on their shows about Toy Shop and how much fun the pre-eBay action figure market was for Mego and Star Wars collectors. But what about Transformers? Was Toy Shop as good a robot resource as I remembered it being? I remember in the early 90s the selection of robots being pretty crappy compared to the tons of Star Wars stuff they had. Anthony and I offer up some explanations for why that was. But by about 1997, Toy Shop's pages started getting pretty Transformery. Then eBay hit and the rest was history. For a time, though, Toy Shop was the only way I could catch glimpses of and actually buy the robots of the 1980s I thought were long gone. It was an auction site, encyclopedia, and toy store all in one. But were its Transformers offerings as varied and cool as I remembered them being? I decided to look through about three years worth of issues from '96 to '98 to find out for sure. 10,000 pages of ads later I had my answer!

Giant TF / Voltron display from Old Tyme Toy Store in the December 19, 1997 issue


After looking through all those Toy Shop ads I was reminded of how terrible many of the descriptions and pictures were. Nowadays eBay auctions feature big full color digital photographs of items from multiple angles and sometimes some pretty decent descriptions from knowledgeable sellers. But back in Toy Shop times you were lucky if the picture was bigger than your thumb and the seller could describe accurately what they had. You were even luckier if the robot had all its parts together. I guess the lack of good descriptions was because of sellers' general ignorance of Transformers. They'd maybe be able to figure out a robot's name if it had its box, but asking if a dealer had a certain loose Transformer in their pile was playing the robot lottery. Then there were the dealers who were flat out misinformed running ads for things that didn't exist, like the K-Mart exclusive Goldbug or Chopstick the Japanese Transformer. But when they got it right...

Grandstand Collectibles August 29, 1997


A lot of times there were knowledgeable dealers in Toy Shop who knew what they had and their ads were lessons on Transformer rarities. They'd unearth things I never knew existed like the above Scope Masters (which were just alternately named Euro releases more widely distributed as the Predators), or Japanese robots never released in the U.S., or the occasional cookie jar. During our conversation I tell Anthony how the very first time I saw Star Saber and Victory Leo was in a grainy little Toy Shop ad. Ads like that were rare but they kept me buying the magazine in hopes that I'd see more crazy exotic stuff like that. Oftentimes prices would be astronomical compared to what this stuff goes for today, as was the case with Reflector, but just knowing what the trends were really helped when it came to tracking down a lot of this stuff either in person or online.

The first time I saw Starsaber, Victory Leo, and Deszarus was this BOZ Enterprise ad from February 28, 1997

Part of Anthony's collection, including his favorites Devastator and Defensor


Chris G's Toy Shop Scrapbook will forever be one of the most monumental accomplishments in the world of Star Wars action figure collecting (or anything else for that matter). Wouldn't it be awesome to see something like that, but with robots? Well, there are a couple reasons why I don't think such a feat could be repeated with the focus being on Transformers. Anthony and I discuss why that is on the show, and it mostly boils down to there wasn't as much Transformer stuff as there was Star Wars in Toy Shop. But after looking through 10,000 pages of Toy Shop magazines I did manage to find a couple examples of Transformers items that captured the spirit of what it was like collecting robots in the 90s. Here then are my top ten wild and crazy Toy Shop ads with a Transformers twist:

#10-The MC Axis Elita One and Hot Rod kits
#9-Pepsi Prime

MC Axis was a Japanese garage kit manufacturer that for a long time had the only G1 accurate Arcee and Elita One figures ever made. They didn't transform but that did not stop the kits from being legendary for just existing. Nowadays the accomplishment is a bit diluted with tons of unlicensed Arcee models and figures having been made over the years, but their Elita One remains rather special. And of course the original Pepsi Prime was the big red guy you really wanted to see at Christmas.

#8-The FX '95 G2 Breakdown

Back in January of 1995, G2 Breakdown made its FX debut at Florida Extravaganza '95 (or FX '95 for short). As the story goes, 300 of the figure were produced, with 204 going to Botcon '94, 48 to FX '95, and the remaining 48 being kept by Hasbro. In the years immediately after it was not unusual to see G2 Breakdowns pop up in the pages of Toy Shop, some of which were sold dirt cheap by the Hartmans themselves! Whether the Botcon or FX version, G2 Breakdowns are extremely rare so I love these old ads where dealers are getting rid of them for not even 1/10th of what they'd sell for today. On a side note, FX is coming back this year (but I don't think they'll have any Breakdowns left).

#7-Store displays

The relative lack of iconic Transformer store displays is one area that makes me really jealous of Star Wars collecting. Star Wars has all sorts of famous store displays but I looked through thousands of pages of Toy Shop and all I found for Transformers was this cardboard Mirage illustration and a model pup tent. I guess that's better than nothing so I put them up here at #7.

#6-Time Warrior

Before I decided to make up this list I never in a million years thought about the relative scarcity of Time Warrior, one of the earliest Transformer mail aways. When I was a kid I thought Time Warrior was the lamest of all things you could possibly get for sending away your robot points. Why get a watch when you could get a Powerdasher or the Omnibots? Especially since Time Warrior was TWICE as expensive as a single Omnibot! I guess lots of other kids felt this way because nowadays Time Warrior is an extremely rare, holy grail level Transformer artifact. They go for no less than $150 and that's if you can even find a complete working one. Is it really the rarest of the Transformer mail-in premiums as this ad describes it? I don't know but I guess I can see how someone could argue that.
#5-Testshot Prototypes!

Pre-production items for lines like Star Wars were all over Toy Shop but Transformers collectors didn't see that kind of stuff in the pages very often. These two auctions by two different sellers ran in two different issues. The Prototype Action Masters ad (above left) ran August 30, 1996. By some amazing coincidence, Alex Bickmore has color pictures of test shots for AM Blaster, AM Jackpot, and AM Krok that resemble these items up at his site. Maybe the ones at his site are from this very ad!

The auction for the Dinobots, Jazz, and Long Haul (above right) was run by Whiz Bang Toys back on January 16, 1998. While Whiz Bang auctions were a mainstay of Toy Shop going back before 1993, once eBay came around the 'Bang went with them. When Whiz Bang used eBay to auction Transformers unreleased and pre-production items in late 2000, their item descriptions came under fire from people claiming Whiz Bang wasn't as informed as they should have been on what they were selling. Whether or not these were actual G1 prototypes or G2 versions in the Toy Shop ad is debatable, but what is undeniable is Whiz Bang's ads made page 31 of every issue something to look forward to.

#4-G2 Greasepit
#3-G2 ATB Megatron

These two are also Whiz Bang auctions. G2 Greasepit was part of the same January 16, 1998 ad as the previous Dinobot test shots. Greasepit and the Racing Rig were an extremely rare unreleased Generation 2 item that popped up on display with other pre-production items at Botcon 1996. I think Mike Herz (Whiz Bang's president) was the person who put up that display and consequently this may be the same Greasepit seen at Botcon. I don't have every issue of Toy Shop so I don't know if Whiz Bang ever attempted to auction the other items shown alongside Greasepit that year, most of which were unproduced Action Master, Pretender, and Micromaster concepts.

The G2 Megatron Advanced Tactical Bomber is a very low production numbers release that came out at the tail end of Generation 2. It is most often cited as being an unreleased item (or a "prototype" as in this Whiz Bang auction from February 2, 1996) but enough eyewitness accounts have surfaced that I believe it did get released at retail, albeit in extremely low numbers.

#2-Defensor Giftset

On the show I tell Anthony that I believe the Defensor giftset to be the rarest production item of the original Transformer line. I think so few exist because Defensor was lame, but Anthony makes a good counterargument that there were kids who thought Defensor was awesome. So maybe nobody bought it or everyone bought it. Either way the ad above featuring the Defensor GS makes #2 on my list of crazy cool rarities in Toy Shop because those things were super rare before they started getting bootlegged.

#1-The original 1984 battle scene painting

On the show I explain the real reason I set about looking through years and years of Toy Shops was because I was looking for one specific Jetfire ad. I never found the one I was looking for, but stumbling upon this July 4, 1997 ad (right) where a store was entertaining bids on the original art of the 1984 Transformers battle scene made the whole search worthwhile. What an incredible piece of history this was. I was glad to find it because through the information provided I was able to do an interview with David Schleinkofer. I wish I would have remembered seeing this one the first time it came out so that I could go on this long journey of reacquiring Toy Shops I threw out a long time ago just to find it again. This one is actually better than the one I set out to find considering what I got out of it.


This episode represents countless dollars and hours spent acquiring and flipping through pages and pages of Toy Shops. Had I not thrown out all my original issues back in 1998 I wouldn't have blown so much time and money on this search for an old ad I remember seeing, but in the end it was a lot of fun. If anything I have a tremendous appreciation for what Chris G has done with his archive of Star Wars Toy Shop ads. I have posted a few more photo albums of ads over at the Robofacial Bookocalypse including some strange and misleading ads and also a little bit longer list of my favorite rare and interesting Toy Shop Transformer ads. I'm done collecting Toy Shops for now but if I ever do find that Jetfire ad I was looking for you can bet it'll be an episode unto itself.


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