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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!

“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.

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!! :-)

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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!

“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.

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!

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.

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….)

“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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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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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:

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:

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.

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:

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:

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).

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MB Jetfire and MB Sunswipe

A couple of new additions to my collection that I’d like to quickly share with you today. First up is an upgrade for my MB Jetfire. I’ve had an MB Jetfire for about a year or so I guess. It wasn’t in bad shape, but the packaging was pretty worn. But that was OK, because I only paid about 120 euros for it. The opportunity presented itself a couple of weeks ago for me to purchase an upgrade, so I did! Here it is:

Jetfire (MB) – 1985

Much better! I did need to plunk down around 320 euros for the privilege of owning this one, but Jetfires with sturdy and structurally still solid packaging don’t come around that often, let alone specimens inside MB packaging. Boxes often show lots of wear and tear, especially at the bottom left where the MB or Hasbro logo is located. I’ve seen so many examples of Jetfire boxes with a tear right at that spot.

“Jetfire – Leader of the Autobots”

As has often been discussed on this website Jetfire was originally billed as leader of the Autobots in continental Europe when Transformers were introduced here in 1985. The reason why MB made Jetfire leader was that the exclusive rights to the Optimus Prime toy were held by a French toy company called Ceji, so MB couldn’t release Optimus Prime as a Transformer. Not too long after the launch of Transformers in Europe a deal was worked out with Ceji, which allowed MB to release Optimus Prime after all. An interesting piece of historical trivia and if you’re really interested in the dirty details you can read about that story here.

Jetfire depicted as leader in various catalogs (MB) – 1985

“MB version and Hasbro version”

In 1986, only a couple of months after the launch of Transformers in continental Europe, it was decided to switch the branding of Transformers from MB to Hasbro. Many Transformers that were available in 1985 were re-released in 1986, but now with a Hasbro logo on the box. Because I’m such a nerd I own both versions. And I love it! Just look how great they look together:

Jetfire (Hasbro EU) – 1986 / Jetfire (MB) – 1985

Read more on this 1986 European re-release in an article I wrote about it last year here.

“MB Sunswipe”

About a month ago I published the 6th chapter in an on-going series of articles on MB Transformers (of what will hopefully become a 10-part series). One major find discussed in this article was the discovery of the “MB Sunswipe”, a Sunstreaker that was sold inside Sideswipe packaging by MB. Crazy, right?

Sunswipe (MB) – 1985

While I had seen three examples of Sunswipes in the wild I did not have this packaging variant in my collection myself. And it wasn’t for lack of trying, because I had been searching for one for almost a year. The problem is you can’t just put any old Sunstreaker inside an MB Sideswipe box and call it an MB Sunswipe (well, not without it being historically inaccurate that is). Because of its special origin (it was meant to be a Ceji Joustra Diaclone Countach) they come with a specific combination of copyright stamp and rubsign. Well, in an almost poetic fashion I got my hands on one. You see, after the article was published, someone on the TFW2005 boards recognized his loose Sunstreaker with Sideswipe stickers as being an MB Sunswipe! That was pretty cool. What was even cooler is that my friend Maz knew how desperately I wanted one and persuaded the owner to sell him this Sunswipe. Maz then sent it to me as a gift! Free of charge! For naught!

It’s times like that, that I can get a little choked up inside. It’s heart warming to be on the receiving end of such sincere generosity. Maz, buddy, you rule! Thanks for this one.

My own nice and shiny MB Sunswipe!!

That’s it for now. Loads more acquisitions I made in the past few months that I’d like to feature here as soon as I get the time to properly photograph them, so stay tuned!!

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MB Transformers: Part 6 is here!

Finally! I can almost not believe it has almost been a friggin’ year and a half since I published the last chapter in my series of articles on vintage European MB Transformers. After months of hard work, especially the last few weeks, I can now finally chill out knowing the article is done. This particular chapter focuses on another interesting corner of the MB Transformers line: packaging mix ups! Of course, everyone knows about the Red Tracks packaging variation, but did you know there were two more? One of these was relatively known and one was almost completely unknown until now and it’s a doozy of a variation!! Some crazy stuff as you will see.

Why did it take almost a year and a half for me to come up with the next chapter in this saga? Well, there are several reasons. First and foremost was the fact that I suffered a serious writer’s block after I had published the fifth chapter. I had spent so much time on it and just couldn’t bring myself to picking up my digital pen again for a while and when I finally did I had no idea whatsoever how to combine the stuff I was researching into the sixth chapter. I made several attempts that went nowhere. Lots of time spent with nothing to show for it kinda gets my morale down, but I guess that’s just normal. What also did not help is that one of the very subject matters I was researching had not fallen into place quite as much as I had liked to.

Late last year I made a concentrated effort to finish the article by rewriting it from the ground up (again). But this time things were falling into place and the stars were aligning! This doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing from that moment on. It was a lot of work. I still marvel at the incredible number of manhours this article has cost me (and the two before it). I don’t have an accurate estimate of how much time it has cost me, but I think I prefer it that way, because if I did I would probably fall off my chair!

One of the reasons why it takes so much time to create these articles is that I like to embellish them with as many photos and infographics as I can (–the poster above shows some examples of the graphical design that has gone into this chapter). This takes shitloads of time. Setting up my photo studio, photographing the items, breaking down the photo studio, importing the photos into Aperture and cleaning them up, then doing the Photoshop magic to sow everything together in a visually attractive way. I’d hazard a guess that more than 60% of the time spent on these articles goes into photography and graphical design. The stuff that I actually end up using is just a fraction of what I have been slaving away at. But in the end it’s worth it, because these articles would be so hard to digest and booooooooring without the visuals to hit things home.

Of the five senses humans have, the largest part of the brain is reserved to process visual information. One photo or drawing can communicate in a split second the same amount of information that would fit into one or more paragraphs of text, which can take a minute to read and re-read (and sometimes still fail to bring the message across to the reader). Visual information rules!

But I’m talking too much again. Please enjoy the sixth chapter in this 10-part series by clicking or tapping on the link below. It took a long time to write and it was a bumpy ride, but I think it turned out alright in the end. Enjoy!!!!

Link to : MB Transformers: Part 6



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