20th Century Toy Collector

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Archive for April, 2012

Transformers toy ads from the 1980′s

I love browsing old toy catalogs and especially toy store catalogs and advertisements. I fondly remember getting these in the mail in the 1980′s and literally tearing them apart by constantly reading and re-reading them. Well… “reading” is perhaps not the best way to describe it. It was primarily a case of looking at all the pretty pictures of toys and games that I would love to have. The only reading involved was looking at the price tags and trying to convince my parents to fork over their hard earned money to purchase said items for me!


A stack of Dutch toy store catalogs from the mid-1980′s

“What Would You Like from Santa This Year?”

Whenever December started looming near, the amount of printed matter finding its way to our mailbox would steadily increase. You’d find stuff from well known Dutch toy store chains like Intertoys, Speelboom and Bart Smit, but the department store catalogs from the likes of Vroom & Dreesmann, Blokker and Hema would usually also contain at least a couple of pages dedicated to toys. I’ve been searching for these catalogs for quite a while and they’ve not been easy to find. Not really surprising, because most people will probably have just thrown these away after the holiday season, so very few of these still exist.

Luckily, I found a collector last February who was selling off most of his collection of catalogs and I managed to work out a deal to buy most of his 1984 through 1988 Dutch toy and department store catalogs and ads. I also seperately acquired a host of French toy store catalogs from roughly the same period, so I am now sitting on a pretty big stack of vintage toy catalogs from what I consider to be the golden age of kids toys! (Hey, it’s when I grew up, so yeah I’m a little biased…)  I was in heaven. I felt like a kid again and spent the whole evening immersing myself in Transformers, He-Man, M.A.S.K., model kits, train sets, puzzles, board games, 8-bit Commodore and MSX home computers, VHS tapes and everything else that made this decade so hellacool!

“I Want Transformers!”

Of course the first thing that I did that night was to frantically scan all these catalogs for pictures of Transformers! Toy store catalogs can be great sources of never-seen-before and cool toy photos, so I was looking forward to discovering some hidden Transformers gems. The vintage G1 line of Transformers was introduced in the Netherlands somewhere during the Fall of 1985 by MB so I started my search in catalogs from that very year. I took some quick snapshots with my phone of the stuff I found so far. Let’s have a look!


Transformers toys – SPUN Fall 1985 toy catalog

The photo above shows a part of the 1985 Fall catalog of a Dutch toy partnership called SPUN.  It’s one of the earliest occurrences of Transformers ads in the Netherlands that I have managed to find so far. We can see Ramjet, Grimlock and Kickback photographed here. There are a few observations that we can make from looking at the photo. First of all, the few robots on display here are, quite logically, all part of MB’s first wave of Transformers to hit Europe. Secondly, the packaging pictured here is not the packaging that was available at retail. Early European Transformers were released with an MB logo on the packaging. The packaging shown here is obviously U.S. packaging, with Hasbro branding on the box. Now why would that be?

Well, my guess is that at the time the photography for this catalog was being done, MB did not have access yet to the European retail packaging and instead sent these U.S. specimens to SPUN for purposes of promotion. These are definitely not stock photographs made by MB. I have been looking carefully at the rest of this catalog and it seems that (nearly) all of the toy photography was done by the same studio, which seems to indicate that SPUN was indeed in posession of all the toys inside the catalog. (SPUN was a so called GPO, a group purchasing organisation, which means they had more than average purchasing power).


Packaging mistake – Thrust inside Ramjet box

And third, if you look closely at Ramjet’s box you will see that someone made a rather embarrassing mistake. It seem someone has inadvertedly put a Thrust inside! (see close up photo above)

“Bigger than He-man?”

Moving on, the next Transformers related pic I could find was again from late 1985. This one is from toy store chain Bart Smit and again only shows bots from MB’s wave 1. Say hello to our little friends Sludge, Twin Twist, Thrust and Communicator! Erm, I mean Soundwave of course…


Transformers toys – Bart Smit November 1985 toy catalog

What’s interesting to note here is that this photo of the Transformers takes up approximately one quarter of the page. The remaining three quarters of this page are all dedicated to Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line. Although Transformers ultimately became more popular than He-man in the Netherlands, at this point in time the Transformers toy line was the new kid on the block. Masters of the Universe had been on the market for at least a year longer and was already being supported by Saturday morning cartoon broadcasts on Sky Channel since July of 1985. Transformers cartoons did not start airing in the Netherlands until November 1985, also on Sky Channel’s Fun Factory. So it was quite logical that Transformers did not get alloted as much space as He-man did. That would change in 1986….

“Evil Deceptions!”

Fast forward our time machine one year and here’s a photo of Bart Smit’s November 1986 toy catalog. Transformers almost take up one whole page now with the likes of Soundwave, Optimus Prime, Jetfire, Metroplex, Battlespringers Runabout and Runamuck, Sludge, Grimlock and Megatron and the rest is filled with some of Bandai’s Robo Machines (a.k.a.Gobots).


Transformers toys – Bart Smit November 1986 toy catalog

Now, again there are some interesting and weird things going on here that merit a closer look. The first thing that gave me a good chuckle was when I looked closely at the names that accompanied the photos. Click on the photo above for a closeup and you can see that Soundwave, the Battlechargers and Megatron are not Decepticons. No, my friend. They are Deceptions! What we have here are the Deception Communicator, the Deception Battlechargers and the Deception Leader! So there. I think the Autobots must be shaking in their boots. Or should that be Autoboots…. Hmmm.

The next thing that had me laughing out loud was when I looked at our fearless Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Here’s a close up. It’s a little blurry, but if you look closely you can probably spot the oddity too:


Mistransformed Optimus Prime

Don’t see it? Look at his head. It’s not there! That’s because the person who transformed Optimus Prime obviously forgot to flip Prime’s head up, evidenced by the fact that the rub sign is still visible. I mean, sheesh, I understand that some Transformers have really complex transformations, but Prime’s is really as easy as they come and forgetting to transform the head seems so….. stupid. Look at the robot! He has no friggin’ head! How can you not see that? LOL! On to the next peculiarity…..


A green Sludge variant?? Say it ain’t so!!

When I first saw the photo of Sludge in the closeup above I nearly had a heart attack. He’s green!! Was this some uber rare super prototype or variant of Sludge that has not been discovered until now??? Then, after more carefully studying the photograph I came to the conclusion that the printer probably screwed up, removing all reds from the photo. You can see that even the blue background has turned green in the photo. So, nothing more than a printing error, but a quite cool looking one at that!

“To Be Continued”

Hope you enjoyed this small first look at some of the vintage toy store catalogs I have lying around. There’s more vintage Transformers ads to come though! Join in me in a couple of days and we’ll look at even more Dutch Transformers catalog craziness!!


posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Toy Store Catalogs,Transformers and have Comments (13)

MB/Hasbro and Ceji theory confirmed

I’m so glad to be able to post this information. It’s probably going to evoke a “meh, so what..” reaction from 99.9% of everyone reading this (and probably rightly so), but for me personally and the handful of nerds who are as obsessive about info like this as I am (my hat goes off to you!)  it’s wonderful info that has only recently been unearthed. It has to do with the distribution and rights to selling early vintage Transformers in the 1980′s in Europe.


“The MB & Ceji Joustra connection”

I have been researching the early years of Transformers releases in Europe and I’ve put some stuff on paper that you can read starting here in my, as of yet, unfinished series of articles on MB Transformers. In these articles I have made a big point about there being a connection between MB and Ceji, the latter being the company that held the original license to exclusively sell the toys that Transformers were based on in Europe. There was seemingly a lot of evidence that pointed in the direction of MB having taken over Ceji’s Diaclone stock. The evidence was very strong, but until today it was all circumstantial. Not anymore:

Mention of Ceji deal in document between Hasbro and Takara

Letter from Hasbro to Takara regarding MB-Ceji deal – 6 May 1986

What you see above is a copy of a letter dated May 6th, 1986 sent by Hasbro to Takara (edited very slightly by me for clarity) in which they refer to the acquisition of all DIACLONE stock from Ceji at cost. It goes on about Hasbro (the owner of MB) getting a break from Takara regarding the royalties for Transformers sold in Europe, maybe because some of these were already factored into the price that Ceji originally paid to Takara.

It is also interesting to note that Hasbro/MB got Ceji’s Diaclone stock at cost price. This seems to further support the idea that Ceji might have been in financial difficulties for them to give away their rights to sell and distribute Diaclones/Transformers in Europe and sell off their Diaclone stock at cost price!


“Hello, former Ceji Diaclone stock!”

Some great “new” info there that confirms theories about what happened in Europe in the 1980s. I will make an effort to update the MB articles with this new info as soon as I can (probably within the next week), including a long overdue overhaul of the articles themselves, but I just couldn’t refrain from publishing this info here already. A big, big thank you to my good friend Maz for pointing me to this info and for RC85747 at the AllSpark forums for publishing the link to the SEC filings containing this info. Dig through them here if you’re interested!!

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and have No Comments

G.I. Joe – Alpinist & Barbecue

Sometimes I just can’t believe my luck with collecting vintage toys. As every collector will probably know from first hand experience there are usually a couple of items in your collection you paid just a tad too much (or way too much) for, but the flip side to that coin is that there’s bound to be several highly desirable items in your collection that you got real cheap, so in the end it probably evens out. That’s part of the fun of collecting hard to find stuff, I think. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of good luck in finding rare items and some of them for peanuts. Case in point: I recently scored two first wave vintage G.I. Joe action figures in Dutch packaging: Alpine and Barbecue! And they only cost me 10 euros a pop!


G.I. Joe – Alpinist & Barbecue (1987) – MB International B.V.

“Surprise, surprise!”

A while ago I bought a vintage Zartan in Dutch packaging and when the package arrived at my doorstep I found that the seller had included two empty backer cards of the Dutch versions of Alpine and Barbecue! I try to collect early vintage G.I. Joe’s in Dutch packaging and those are pretty hard to find. Of those the action figures are the hardest to find inside their packaging. Imagine my surprise when I saw these two backer cards which were in great condition and even more, the bubbles where still largely attached to the cards without any noticeable damage or tearing to the backer cards!! So I started looking for a very nice and complete Alpine and Barbecue to put inside! I took me a while, but last week I found a local seller here in the Netherlands who had a C9 Alpine and Barbecue for sale 100% complete with accessories who sold them to me for 20 euros.


Alpinist, resealed!

The loose figures arrived yesterday and what better way to spend my Friday night then to geek out and put these two great looking action figures back in their original packaging! I cleaned the action figures and their accessories and dusted off the backer cards and bubbles. I then carefully placed them inside their respective bubbles and resealed the bubbles with some hobby glue that I carefully swiped along the edges of the bubbles. I placed some weights on the bubbles over night and this afternoon I cleaned up the dust and excess glue from the packaging with Goo Gone (a great little tool for removing dirt and sticker residue etc). I am quite pleased with the results, because they look great as display items! Let’s have a detailed look at both of them.


Alpinist is the Dutch name for Alpine. Alpine was originally released in the US as a wave 4 action figure in 1985 and was released in the Netherlands around April of 1987 by Hasbro as a wave 1 figure (G.I. Joe wasn’t properly introduced in most of Europe until 1987) and was distributed here by MB International B.V. Alpine saw a simultaneous release in most other West European countries that year as well, most of them also distributed by local MB subsidiaries. Hasbro had taken over toy giant MB in September 1984.


Alpinist – an international hero

I like to believe that Hasbro leveraged MB’s experience with the fragmented European market in the 1980′s. MB probably knew what was best for their local markets and part of this was to make sure the packaging of their product was localized as much as possible. This resulted in specific translated packaging for all the European countries where MB was active, similiar to MB’s original product like board games and puzzles. Even small countries like the Netherlands and Belgium got their own specific packaging. As a vintage collector and Dutchman myself I highly appreciate these all-Dutch releases.


“An International Hero”

Another thing that MB probably realised was that the moniker “A Real American Hero” would not sit well with all European countries. Now, I know that the Dutch would’ve been pretty ambivalent about this. The French on the other hand would probably have been a bit more chauvinistic about a toy line of Real American Heroes being released in France. So Hasbro and MB quite cunningly rebranded the line as an international fighting force for Europe (hey, whatever sells more, right?)


Alpinist’s file card

The cool thing about this is that most of the European G.I. Joe action figures had altered bio’s. Names and birth places were often changed to European and international alternatives. I always like to compare the Dutch releases in my collection to the American releases. Alpinist’s bio is largely the same as that of the American release. His name is Albert M. Pine in both the American and European releases. But his place of birth is different. The US release of Alpine shows us he was born in Minidoka, Idaho. As Alpine’s file card states “from the middle of the flat dusty Snake River Plain where Alpine was born he could see the mountains on the horizon in almost every direction”.


The Snake River Plain, where Alpine was born

According to the Dutch file card Alpinist was born in Grenoble, France. Also, although no specific mention is made about his parents in the US file card, the Dutch file card says that his parent were originally from Algerian descent, which would explain his dark complexion. This is not an entirely arbitrary choice either, by the way. Algeria used to be a French colony and there’s a large Algerian community still living in France.


Grenoble, where Alpinist was born

Also, while the US file card states that Alpine graduated from Ranger School in Fort Benning, the Dutch file card shows that Alpinist got his education in Toulouse, France.



Next up is Barbecue, who is named identically in the Dutch release. If we compare the US and Dutch file cards we can see that they are largely the same, but again the place of birth of Barbecue has been altered as has his surname. The US file card says Barbecue’s real name is Gabriel A. Kelly, born and bred in Boston, Massachusetts.


G.I. Joe – Barbecue (1987) MB International B.V.

Now, if we look at the file card on Barbecue’s Dutch packaging we see that he was born and bred in Naples, Italy. Kelly is not exactly an Italian sounding name, so his name was changed to Gabriel A. Garibaldi, which sounds pretty cool (Babylon 5 FTW!!). The rest of the file card is a pretty accurate translation of the US file card.


BBQ, Italian style


“Four Down, Sixteen to Go”

With these two additions I now have a total of four wave 1 vintage G.I. Joe action figures in Dutch packaging. Hasbro released a total of 20 action figures in the Netherlands in early 1987 (wave 1), which can all be seen on the back of Alpinist’s card here, including their sometimes colourful Dutch translated names.


G.I. Joe – Netherlands wave 1 (1987)

I don’t think I will ever be able to complete this first Dutch wave inside its original packaging, because these are even harder to find than the MB Transformers that I also like to collect, but a guy can hope. For now, I am going to sit back and feel rather content with myself for scoring these two items and being able to restore them to their original retail state as much as possible. Good times! Have a great weekend!



Thanks to alaskan dude and cotitoo for the use of the photos of the Snake River Plain and Grenoble. Used in accordance with CC-BY 2.0 and CC-BY-NC 2.0 license respectively.

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and have Comments (5)