20th Century Toy Collector

By The Power Of Greyskull!

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 on April 28, 2012 by 20th Century Toy Collector in Toy Store Catalogs,Transformers and has Comments (14)

14 Responses to “Transformers toy ads from the 1980’s”

  1. Marc says:

    Nice to see those old catalog scans. Also interesting to see the original prices of these toys (I have to keep reminding myself these are “gulden”-prices instead of euro’s though!) I hope you’ll eventually scan/review some of those other famous toylines as well.

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      Hi Marc, yeah I was planning on making this a running thing and I’ll definitely expand it to other cool toy lines. There was so much more cool stuff out there than “just” Transformers! :-)

  2. dennis says:

    yo,buddy,these are fantastic old catalogs.
    but on the 1st picture…that trainset…i bought that years and years ago at jadin,i think for 69,95 gulden.
    can you send me a scan from that set.
    and i love to see more from these catalogs,they bring back some great memories.
    greetings from dennis.

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      @Dennis: Thx, Den. I’m going to try and dig up that catalog this week and I’ll send you a high resolution scan this weekend at the latest!

  3. Arkvander says:

    It is really interesting to see catalogs from other countries, especially how they group and choose the figures to show. Another thing I absolutely love about the old catalogs are the backgrounds/effects that are added to the scene, such as the trail of pebbles in the first catalog. There are some that get quite elaborate. I’m looking forward to seeing more!

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      @arkvander: LOL, I was thinking the same buddy. Those pebbles are a small, but nice touch. Do check out the next post which should be online today. I especially like the first Transformers photo in that post.

  4. Fighbird says:

    Awesome stuff as always! :)

    I’ve been continuously thinking about getting old toy catalogs myself from the same era to look for Transformers ads, but I haven’t really done much about it. Growing up I would save stuff like that, but at some point it all went into the dumpster, so nothing remains. I wonder if anyone in Denmark collects stuff like this…

    Looking forward to your next installment about this – and if you take requests, I’d love to see some Joe, MASK and StarCom ads as well! :D Ohohoh – any chance that there are Diaclone ads in there?


    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      Hey Martin, I have already spotted at least one cool MASK photo and a very nice 2-page Starcom spread that I will definitely include in a future posting. I’ve also spotted two GI Joe ads so far, but those weren’t very inspiring, so don’t hold your breath for those. No Diaclone ads found whatsoever. Seems Joustra Diaclones weren’t being advertised heavily in Holland in 1984. I do have a very nice Joustra Diaclone photo from a French catalog that I will include in a future installment, though.

      I can understand where you’re coming from. It was very hard finding anything at all from the 1980’s here in Holland. I can imagine stuff being even harder to find in Denmark, though I think perseverence is the key (as is the case with lots of things in life). I think I was very lucky to find this guy selling his collection of toy store ads and catalogs, but I had automated searches set up and often checked Dutch auction sites for stuff like this for a long long time. It cost me a couple of euro’s, but was worth it in the end. At least I can keep some of this stuff from disappearing forever by publishing articles online.

  5. Another very informative post.
    (1) I wonder what currency these are in because close to $150 for Jetfire seems to be quite expensive?
    (2) I spy a Gakken/ Takatoku green Legioss (aka Alpha fighter) in one of the photos and He-Man stuff too. It’s all interesting to me and I’m wondering whether you will show full photos of pages of the catalogues or whether you will be further show-casing them in dedicated posts (ie: a He-Man post for example).

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      @heroic_decepticon: Hey dude, thx ! The currency shown here are Dutch Guilders, a non-existent currency now, because it merged with several other European currencies to become the almighty Euro in 2002. One Euro was approximately 2.20 Guilders when the switch over to the Euro came into being. I read on your blog that TFs were pretty expensive in Singapore. This is certainly also true for the Netherlands! I have added some info about this in the next post, which should be online any moment now.

      Oh and about the Takatoku toy. WOW! Thx for spotting that. I remember thinking to myself “what an awesome looking toy!!” when I took that picture. I will be making a hi-res scan of that page this week and I will email it to you. And yeah, I plan on scanning and publishing MOTU photos and all the other cool 80s stuff I can find until everyone gets bored to death with it :-)

  6. dennis says:

    i”ll send you soon also some pics of my new or should i say vintage haul : )
    they will soon arrive,i hope….

  7. hiya! Thanks for the explanation on currency. So that’d mean Jetfire would have cost 150/2.2 = 68euros back in the 80s. Wow, that would have been completely unaffordable to me had I been living in Europe in the 80s.

    I’d be very interested to see more of what Takatoku was advertising back then, because that clearly is more a Mospeada toy than part of the Robotech line. Plus I thought these things were pre ’84 in the ’81-’82 era, so quite surprised to see them in a catalogue with ’84/5 Transformers.

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      @heroic_decepticon: You are correct, 68 euros for a Jetfire. If you factor in inflation since 1985, a G1 Jetfire would have set you back around 135 EUR in today’s world. That’s quite the price. I had to save a lot of money to buy Transformers :-) In the U.S. it was not outside the realm of possibility for a kid to have a whole year’s line up of Transformers. If you had done that in Europe just for the 1985 line up, it would have set you back around 2400 Guilders, which is approximately 2200 EUR today compensating for inflation. Crazy prices. Still, it sold like hot cakes in the Netherlands.

      I’ve sent you a scan of the catalog page, btw. Unfortunately no name or extra info, besides “die cast robots”. I swear I also saw a photo of a Dorvack Mugen Caliber and Ovelon Gazette somewhere, but for the life of me can’t find it now. When I do, I’ll be sure to include it in a future post!

  8. Monica Foster says:

    I’ve got toy catalogs that were meant for the stores to purchase lines of different toys. Multiple years and in great condition. My father in law was a top ranking sales man to major companies Kmart, Sears, Toys R us, Kroger, etc. He saved every single catalog and we are trying to see them and we are having issues locating were to sell them. If you can help i would be ever so grateful.

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