20th Century Toy Collector

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Archive for March, 2013

G.I. Joe – Two Dutch Chung-Ho variants

I love to collect vintage G.I. Joe toys in their original Dutch packaging. I was born and raised in the Netherlands and fondly remember seeing the all-Dutch packaging in my local toy store back in 1987. The Netherlands (or “Holland” as it is often colloquially referred to) is not exactly a big country in Europe. All the more exciting that we got G.I. Joe toys with fully Dutch translated packaging in the stores between 1987 and 1989 (from 1989 onwards we had to make do with bilingual French/Dutch packaging).

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Vintage G.I. Joe in Dutch packaging (1987)

These early G.I. Joe releases (1987, 1988 and 1989) in all-Dutch packaging are some of the hardest to find of all the European variants, especially the action figures. 

“Chung-Ho Too!”

I currently own a handful of carded G.I. Joe action figures in Dutch packaging and Chung-Ho was the very first MOSC (mint on sealed card) specimen I found about two years ago. I recently stumbled upon a second Dutch Chung-Ho action figure still mint on sealed card and didn’t hesitate to pick it up. The reason I decided to purchase it is because I saw what I believed to be a sticker on the bottom left on the card that wasn’t present on my first Dutch Chung-Ho and my interest was peaked. The sticker looked like it was one of those mail-away special offers that were all the rage with Hasbro back in the 1980′s.

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G.I. Joe – Chung-Ho (1988) MB International B.V.

“Double Dutch”

Imagine my surprise when this second Chung-Ho arrived in the mail and I found out that it was not a sticker at all! It was part of the actual print on the card. This means that there were two different releases of this action figure in the Netherlands (possibly also in the other European countries where MB were responsible for the distribution of G.I. Joe toys).

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Both Chung-Ho variants side by side

“China or Hong Kong?”

I frantically compared both items to see if there were any other differences besides the mail-in offer promotion on the front of the card. There were no easily discernible differences between the action figures themselves from what I can see without removing them from the packaging. But lo and behold, it seems these two variants do have one other difference on the packaging. The first Chung-Ho card says the product was manufactured in China, while the second Chung-Ho card (the one with the special offer promotion) says it was manufactured in Hong Kong!

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Chung-Ho (made in China)

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Chung-Ho (made in Hong Kong)

Note that although today Hong Kong is officially part of China, in 1988 Hong Kong was still a British colony, so these were two seperate sovereignties. It was only in 1997 that Hong Kong became part of China.

“The Dating Game”

I love finding out stuff like this. Previously I had just assumed that there was only one version of every Dutch G.I. Joe release, but this finding throws that assumption squarely out of the window. So I started pondering how these two different releases would fit chronologically speaking. Were they available in stores simultaneously? Or did one come before the other?

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Back of both cards

To try and answer that question I dug up my Dutch G.I. Joe catalogs. Although Chung-Ho is primarily considered to be a 1989 release, he was already available from late 1988 according to the European G.I. Joe FAQ. The release date of the Benelux G.I. Joe catalog that first shows Chung-Ho certainly supports this, because this catalog probably debuted around the fall of 1988. The date code on the catalog mentions October 1988, while records indicate that the weekly Dutch Donald Duck magazine/comic came with a G.I. Joe catalog insert with issue 38 in late September 1988, which is almost certainly this same catalog.

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Chung-Ho in Benelux G.I. Joe catalog (Fall 1988)

So it’s not entirely unthinkable that Chung-Ho, advertised in a fall 1988 catalog, was available in time for the December holiday season of 1988. Chung-Ho is also seen in the 1989 Dutch G.I. Joe catalog, which came in a comic book like form. There’s no date that I could find on that catalog, but it was probably released late February or early March 1989, because Donald Duck issue number 12 of 1989 came with another G.I. Joe insert. The catalog looks like it was co-produced with Dutch Marvel comics publisher JuniorPress, re-affirming a suspicion I’ve long had, which is that JuniorPress and MB International BV (the name of the Dutch MB subsidiary) had a more than average publisher-advertiser relationship.

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Chung-Ho in Dutch G.I. Joe catalog (Spring 1989)

“Super Trooper”

So Chung-Ho was probably available from late 1988 and all through 1989. But what does that tell us about the order in which the above two Chung-Ho variants were available? Well, the most important clue to dating these two variants would lie in the variant with the mail away offer. The version of Chung-Ho with the Super Trooper special offer was probably the second/later release that was only available well into 1989. Why? Well, because if you look closely at the Super Trooper offer sticker it says it’s valid until March 31, 1990. It’s much more likely that this version of Chung-Ho was released in 1989 than in late 1988, because late 1988 until late March 1990 seems like an awfully long time for a mail away offer to be valid. Most Transformers and G.I. Joe mail away offers that MB International B.V. ran in the 1980′s would usually run for about 6 months, maybe a little longer, but certainly not 18 months.

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Close up of Super Trooper offer

So that probably places the “regular” Chung-Ho before the one with the Super Trooper mail away offer (at least that’s what I think with the information I have now). That would probably make the Chung-Ho without the mail away offer a 1988 release and the one with the offer a 1989 release. The obsessive nerd inside me is satisfied with this conclusion…. Oh, by the way, while I don’t have the Super Trooper action figure myself I do have its original Dutch file card that I got as part of a batch of G.I. Joe file cards that I bought a couple of years ago. Here it is:

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Super Trooper – Dutch file card

This hobby just never gets old. I am going to dig into the rest of my G.I. Joe collection to see what other stuff I can find out that I may have been missing. Have a great Easter weekend and see you back soon! ;-)

 

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and have Comments (4)

Postcards from Autobot City

I love it when I accidentally stumble upon something cool. Isn’t that just the best way to discover cool shit? Case in point: a little while ago I was reorganizing my collection room and had a stack of Majokit boxes standing next to some of my Transformers. For those who don’t know what Majokit was (and that’s probably most of you): the Majokit toy line was a modular city that you could build using various parts. You had pavements, traffic lights and signs, street lights, gas stations, the works. It was created somewhere around 1983 by French die-cast metal model car manufacturer Majorette.

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MB Red Tracks and MB Jazz in Autobot City

“Welcome to Metroplex”

When I saw my Transformers stacked next to my Majokit I thought to myself; “wouldn’t it be cool to combine Majokit and Transformers and create a little diorama?” After all, Majokit and the early Transformers Autobot cars were more or less the same scale. So I grabbed a couple of my MB Transformers Autobot cars (Jazz, Red Tracks and Ratchet) and one of my favourite big G1′s : Metroplex and went to town!

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Ratchet and Red Tracks

Within 5 minutes I had laid out a very basic Majokit street. I added some street lights, some signs and traffic lights and a house. Then I placed Ratchet and Jazz in there. That looked pretty cool. I imagined what Autobot City might have looked like and that’s when I decided I would drop big daddy Metroplex in there in city mode. To spice things up I also added the MB Red Tracks to the scene. I positioned Red Tracks as if he were driving down Metroplex’s ramp.

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Metroplex, with laserbeams of awesomeness shooting up behind him

Some seriously geeky fun ensued and I quickly grabbed my iPhone and made some snapshots of the scene, before I had to pack everything up again. I then imported the photos into Photoshop and let the creative juices flow by adding a cool atmospheric background to the scene.

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MB Jazz braking for a red light

As these photos were made in a hurry with a smartphone camera under low light conditions they’re not exactly the best quality, but the end result came out looking pretty OK for a proof of concept. At the very least it made me decide to redo this little project in the near future using my DSLR and on a larger scale (a bigger Majokit street plan, more Autobots). There’s so much cool and nerdy stuff I can think of for the next attempt.

The two photos that I made can be seen in their entirety below:

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“Mega Majokit”

Before I sign off here’s a very cool photo showing what levels of mega coolness were attainable if you had enough dough to buy shitloads of Majokit sets back in 1983-1984. Man I just loved that kind of thing. Just imagine the scene below filled with early G1 Autobots. :-)

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posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Majokit,Transformers and have Comments (5)

A Tale of Three Primes!

A couple of weeks ago I bought my third European vintage G1 Optimus Prime in MB packaging. Third?! Yes, third. But there’s a perfectly good reason why I have three (…said the crazy person). What most Transformers collectors don’t know is that MB actually released a total of three different Optimus Prime variants more or less simultaneously in continental Europe in late 1985!

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“Keep on truckin’!”  -MB took that seriously.

“Freedom is the Right of All Sentient Beings”

I originally planned on including information on these three Optimus Prime variants in my series of articles on MB Transformers, but ultimately decided it was best to spin off the material I had already written into a stand alone article. It’s basicly a simple guide to the three variations and how to recognize them, with a little background information thrown into the mix to spice things up.

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Ménage à trois

Enough chit chat. You can find the article by clicking on the link in the menu widget on the right, under the MB Transformers articles links or you can go directly to the article just by clicking or tapping here (you’re welcome). I hope you enjoy reading it and see you back soon!! :-)

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

My Collection Room

We all have our reasons for collecting vintage toys. What I find intriguing is that collecting as a hobby is a multifaceted phenomenon. For some it’s that almost primal urge to complete a set of something, for others it might be the thrill of the hunt. For some it’s to get a kick out of owning something that is very rare and keeping it locked away from prying eyes, for others it’s the kick of sharing those rare items for other collectors to see. For most of us it will be a combination of some of those, but what most of us will have in common is that one reason I haven’t mentioned yet… and that’s nostalgia!

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“Warm and fuzzy”

I’m a nostalgic sucker, hands down. Simply the act of looking at those toys inside their beautifully designed 1980′s packaging is enough to put a smile on my face no matter what. It never fails to evoke that wave of warm and fuzzy feelings in my brain. Love it, love it, love it.

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Being one of the most densely populated countries in the world, real estate prices in the Netherlands are crazy. Especially in the Utrecht area, which is where my girlfriend and I moved in 2009. We didn’t really have much choice to move elsewhere, because I’m an independent contractor and find myself working all over the Netherlands. Utrecht is pretty much dead in the middle of the Netherlands, so it was the best option to keep the time I spend travelling to and from work to a minimum. It’s not a big country, but the highway traffic jams are murder.

Finding an affordable house and then finding enough room to house a sizeable collection of vintage toys within it is not easy. I realize I’ve been blessed with the fact that our house is big enough for me to have one whole, relatively large room dedicated completely to my insane hobby. When we moved in here I decided to arrange the room to resemble the inside of a toy store as much as possible.

“The Toy Store”

I actually went out and bought real store display shelves from a wholesale dealer that I found. The dealer asked me what sort of store I owned. Imagine his surprise when he learned that I would use it to display a collection of 25 year old toys… LOL! I’ve got 3 meters of store shelves lining two walls opposite of one another. Then in the middle of the room is a 2 meter wide gondola display, so I have 2 aisles in my room with toys on both sides!

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In the photo above the second aisle is in the back and shows part of the Transformers shelves lining one wall in one of the 3 meter wide displays. At the end of the aisle is a small desk with a vintage Commodore Amiga on it, where I sometimes do some retro gaming (and even write some articles for my blog, LOL). In front you can see part of the gondola display that divides the room in two and part of the first aisle. Not visible on this photo, and opposite this gondola display is another 3 meter wide display, just like the Transformers wall, that primarily holds my G.I. Joe collection and assorted other vintage toy lines I collect.

“Intertoys decoration”

Since I bought these store displays I’ve expanded them with more shelves so that I could fit more toys and have most of my Transformers visible. Not too long ago I embarked on an unholy mission to change the interior to resemble the decoration of my favourite toy store when I was growing up, which is the Intertoys chain of stores. I designed and built the big yellow header with red stripes that you can see at the top of the Transformers wall. I also faithfully recreated and added some price hangers, which you can see in the photo below.

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The Intertoys aisles were always lined with these and advertised toys that were on sale (discounts). The design of the price hangers is based on a couple of photos I found of Intertoys interiors from 1985. My original goal was to decorate the whole room in the Intertoys style, but that plan is on hold for the time being as my girlfriend and I are currently looking to buy a new house. I plan to continue this project when we’ve moved into our new home. (I’m already dreading the inevitable nightmare of safely moving my collection room….)

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“To Be Continued”

I hope you enjoyed this little peak into my collection room, even though it’s “just” the Transformers side of the room. I might feature the whole room in a future article one day, but that will probably have to wait until we’ve moved into our new house.

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posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Transformers and have Comments (24)

European Ultra Magnus (1987)

I’ve been looking for this one for quite a while and two weeks ago I finally managed to succesfully track one down and purchase it. It’s the European version of Ultra Magnus that was available in mainland Europe in 1987 (though most likely only in France, the Benelux countries and Switzerland). Check it out!

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Ultra Magnus (Hasbro / MB) – Europe 1987

I already have a worn UK version of Ultra Magnus in my collection since ages ago, but it was only a couple of weeks ago that a first potential deal for a European Ultra Magnus presented itself through a Belgian seller. Unfortunately the deal fell through and I thought I would probably have to wait another couple of years for the next one to turn up. Fortunately for me it was only a couple of weeks later that I found another specimen right here in the Netherlands and I quickly snapped it up for a very reasonable amount (100 EUR).

“The Reluctant Leader”

Ultra Magnus was introduced in the 1986 animated feature “Transformers: The Movie” as Optimus Prime’s replacement as leader of the Autobots. He would hold that title only shortly, before being relieved of command by Rodimus Prime. So much for the cartoon continuity. In the toy line Ultra Magnus’s rank is that of City Commander (the city referred to here being Autobot City). The origins of the Ultra Magnus toy can be traced back to the Japanese Diaclone toy line where he was known as Powered Convoy, with a slightly different colour scheme than the red, white and blue Ultra Magnus we all know and love. Ultra Magnus can transport several Autobot cars simultaneously, which made him a great addition to most kids’ Transformers collections.

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Ultra Magnus transporting Autobot cars

“Made in Macau”

I’m a sucker for comparing the differences between the European releases of Transformers to the original American releases and trying to piece stuff together about the production and distribution of the toy. The first thing I did was to compare the toy itself to the UK release I had lying around, which is basically the same as the American release I believe. As I expected there were virtually no differences in the molding between the two. Both the American/UK version I have and this European release of Ultra Magnus were manufactured in Macau and the packaging was printed in Hong Kong.

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Production information for Ultra Magnus

Unfortunately this means that we’re dealing with an Ultra Magnus with plastic wheels instead of the rubber tires we can observe on the packaging. A sad but understandable move to keep production costs down I guess. Takara and Hasbro had outsourced a lot of production to Macau in 1986. Earlier versions of the Ultra Magnus toy came with rubber tires, more chrome and a painted head. This release feels a lot cheaper in comparison.  Because this particular Ultra Magnus I just bought was only released in 1987 I think this is the only version that was ever sold here, meaning it’s unlikely that the rubber tires version of Ultra Magnus was ever sold in this European packaging.

“A Matter of Time”

Things were still seriously out of sync back in 1987 in mainland Europe as far as releases of Transformers toys were concerned. Basically we saw most of the 1986 US releases here, but some of those we got in 1986 and some of those were only released in 1987. E.g., while the US got bots like Galvatron, Trypticon, Wreck-Gar, Sky Lynx and Ultra Magnus in 1986, for some reason those were pushed back to a 1987 release in most of mainland Europe (the countries where MB did the distribution of Transformers). It was weird and confusing. Here’s a page from the Dutch 1987 Transformers catalog that MB International BV produced and distributed as an insert inside the weekly Donald Duck magazine, issue number 40 released early October, 1987. It shows Ultra Magnus (a 1986 toy in the US), together with the Technobots (1987 toys) on the same page.

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Page from 1987 Dutch Transformers catalog

Another example of this fine mess is the European release of Metroplex and his Decepticon counterpart Trypticon. The US saw both Metroplex and Trypticon released in 1986, but for some reason the powers that be decided that most of mainland Europe got Metroplex in 1986, but Trypticon would have to wait until 1987.

“From Quad Lingual to Bilingual”

Up until 1987 all the (mainland) European Transformers releases came with quad lingual packaging. The four languages at the introduction of Transformers in Europe in 1985 were German, French, Dutch and Spanish. In 1986 some Transformers toys saw German dropped in favour of English, presumably because Transformers were not the big hit Hasbro/MB had expected it to be in West Germany.

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Bilingual European packaging of Ultra Magnus

As you can see from the age notice on the packaging in the photo above, 1987 marked a notable change in this policy and European Transformers suddenly came in bilingual packaging, with only French and Dutch as the languages of choice. I assume that non-French/Dutch speaking territories in Europe will have gotten the regular US / English language packaging, perhaps with an added sticker with the distributor contact information.

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Bilingual instruction booklet

An interesting side effect to this switch from four languages to a more manageable two languages on the packaging is that it was now finally feasible to include the actual bio of the Transformer. US packaging already had the tech specs and bio details since the line’s inception in 1984, but because the continental European releases needed to have evertyhing in four languages there was no room for a bio on the tech spec card, so we had to make do with just the Transformer’s motto. This changed in 1987 with the switch to bilingual packaging as you can see in the photo below. Ultra Magnus’s bio is included in both French and Dutch.

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Bilingual European packaging of Ultra Magnus

“MB distribution”

In 1987 the distribution and availability of Transformers in Europe was still relatively disparate and varied from country to country, as did the names of the distributors themselves! Most of continental Europe had seen the introduction of the Hasbro brand in 1986, but in most countries the distribution of the toys was still done by the various European Milton Bradley (MB) subsidiaries, who still appeared to be operating with a high degree of independence from their parent Hasbro in the US. The packaging of this 1987 Ultra Magnus is a testament to this. If we flip Ultra Magnus’s box to the side we can see the following on the left flap:

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MB International B.V. (Dutch distributor)

MB International BV is the name of the Dutch subsidiary of Milton Bradley International, Inc. Despite the fact that Transformers were now being branded as Hasbro products, the distribution in the Netherlands was still in the hands of Milton Bradley. At that point in history MB had their Dutch sales office in Utrecht and a distribution and manufacturing plant in Ter Apel. Now let’s flip the box over to the other side, which shows the distributor info for Belgium:

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Hasbro-MB N.V. (Belgian distributor)

The name of the distributor for Belgium is Hasbro-MB NV, which was actually a subsidiary of the Dutch MB International BV (MB International BV had several subsidiaries in Europe). The Belgian Hasbro-MB had their sales office in Brussels. Belgium did not have any other MB offices, because it was being supplied with Hasbro, MB and Playskool products directly by MB International BV’s warehouse in Ter Apel, Netherlands.

So that has the Netherlands and Belgium covered. But what about France? Well, if we flip the box over on its back, we can find this on the bottom of the box:

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Hasbro S.A. (French distributor)

Here we find the standard obligatory French legal blurb and now the name of the distributor is Hasbro S.A. with their head office in Le Blanc Mesnil, north of Paris with distribution done from the MB warehouse in Le Bourget-du-Lac, close to Lyon. Pretty muddy isn’t it? Although Hasbro and MB had merged in 1984, the way the new European Hasbro and MB operation presented itself to customers (and even retailers!) varied from country to country. Three countries where this particular product is distributed and the contact information for every one of those uses different names: “MB International”, “Hasbro-MB” and “Hasbro”.

“Assortment / product number”

MB used a different product and assortment number scheme than Hasbro, so Ultra Magnus’ number is different from the one on the English only US packaging.

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9043 98 – Ultra Magnus product number (MB)

From what I’ve been able to decode while looking at MB assortment and product numbering codes, 9043 indicates the assortment or box/factory case number, while a value of 98 indicates this toy is the only one being shipped in this box (i.e. not an assortment of various toys grouped together in a factory case). It is used for bigger toys like Optimus Prime, Jetfire, Shockwave, Megatron, etc.

“Clean up”

Another interesting tidbit we can find on the packaging is on the top left. On the US packaging you would always find the text “Transforms from robot to blah blah and back”. From the first releases in continental Europe this text has been removed, because it was probably not a viable option to translate the text into four different languages and not make the packaging look crowded with text. But even after the switch from 4 languages to just 2 languages in 1987 this text has been removed (in contrast with e.g. the Canadian packaging, which features two languages as well, but does have this text on the upper left of the box). I’m glad they continued this design choice, because it gives the European packaging a uniform look over the years and I think the packaging looks cleaner without the “Transforms from…” text. Here’s a close up of the part of the packaging where the text used to be:

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Remnants of text removal

For comparison, take a look at the photo below of the packaging of my American/UK Ultra Magnus. Note how the text “Autobot jet sold separately” has also been removed on the European packaging:

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Original text on US packaging

If you look closely at the first of the above two photos you can exactly see where the text has been removed, because the colouring inside the grid squares where the text once was is different. Looks like a sloppy cut ‘n paste job! :-)

“More Than Meets The Eye!”

More Transformers related posts coming soon (wonder if I should rename this site ’20th Century Transformers Collector’…. LOL).

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Transformers and have Comments (9)