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….
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!!