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Collector Spotlight: Ben Meier


Ben Meier shares details about his Transformers collection, his role at the Transformerland website, and highlights the similarities between Generation 1 collectibles and early Star Wars toys.

Describe your collection.

I collect Transformers. I have about 4,800 sets – meaning gift sets and multi-packs that shipped in the same package – as well as individual figures, bringing the total to about 6,000 unique items. If it was released to the US retail market, I have it. My collection also includes exclusive Japanese and European releases and other types of transforming toy robots, such as Tonka GoBots, a Transformers competitor.

When and why did you start collecting Transformers?

I started at about two or three years of age with Generation 1 Transformers and never stopped. I still have every Transformer I ever owned. Some people in my peer group got into cars and girls, I hung out with a bunch of nerds who stuck with Transformers. My parents were collectors of various items and big into garage sales; I benefited from that. It was pretty fertile picking in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin.

I’m glad I got into Transformers back then, and glad I kept my toys. Prices for ’80s Transformers now are exorbitant. Generation 2 Transformers were released by Hasbro in the ’90s, the pet project of an executive there. Generation 2 toys weren’t particularly popular at the beginning. They had a shoestring budget and were mostly repainted versions of older releases. Hasbro did eventually make enough money with that line to create new designs. There was no cartoon to support Generation 2, just commercials, so it was a different situation.

I’ve always had a fascination with mechanical toys. My dad was a gear-head and he’s the one who got me into cars. He would buy me toy cars when he went out of town. At one point, he brought me an MC Toys dump truck that turned into a robot. It wasn’t a Transformer but back in the ’80s everyone smelled money with robot toys so there were a lot of knock-offs. I loved toys that could be two different things.

I was in college when the Michael Bay Transformers movies came out. I was initially excited because my favourite thing was finally getting a big-budget movie and everyone would see how great Transformers are. This is the big moment, I thought. I wasn’t thrilled with the movies, but the flip-side of the movie franchise is that new toys were created and those were great. The designs were based on real cars. It was a different presentation of Generation 1 Transformers and I know people get attached to that kind of thing, but it’s because of the movies that there is a new generation of collectors. Unless you’re constantly bringing new blood into the hobby, it will eventually go away.

How do you display and store your collection?

Only a small percentage of my collection is on display at my place in Florida. I don’t have a large home and my collection is pretty big. I use flat-pack shelving for my displays and rotate the items whenever I get bored. I have some items in boxes at my place, but 80% my collection is in storage in my home state of Wisconsin.

I have digitized my collection. You’ll find much of it on Transformerland, and I’m the head of inventory operations and the creator of content for the website. I use Excel to track my collection. It became necessary to create a way to track everything in the modern era. Prior to 2007, there were only about 1,000 unique Transformers toys. From 2007 until now, we’re looking at 9,000 or 10,000 unique figures, many of them different only because of a stripe or lightning bolt. Every geographic region has its own license and is producing toys. I can’t just open a box anymore to see if I own something.

What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of Transformers merchandise?

I was looking to add a GoBots helicopter called Twister to my collection. There were three figures like Twister and I had two of them, Tork and Tri-Trak, for years, but Twister eluded me. I spotted the one I was missing on eBay years ago, but I was on a business trip and neglected to make the winning bid. It went for $70, which was a good price. I didn’t see Twister again for six or seven years but did finally find one for my collection.

There are also a number of figures that were cancelled before being released, so there are only a few of them out there. Some of those are Holy Grails but I don’t know that they’ll ever go up for sale, so I don’t lust after them.

There is a very special Tonka GoBot in my collection. It’s a Pontiac Fiero four-cylinder. A friend of mine from the Transformers community customized it to look like my own Pontiac Fiero.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a Transformers collection?

Don’t do anything financially ruinous. I joke about going without food to add to my collection, but I get hangry and don’t want to go without food. If you’re starting a collection now, I would go for newer stuff and see how you feel about it and what captures your attention. Getting into Generation 1 Transformers toys is a huge financial commitment because the figures generally start at $100.

There’s a sharp divide in the Transformers community regarding opening and playing with your toys versus keeping them in the original packaging. The short answer is that you’ve largely missed the boat for Generation 1 items in their original packaging so there’s nothing wrong with picking up loose items. Certain sealed figures go for $10,000 and others for a few hundred dollars. Generation 1 is a totally different and unique experience from the rest of the Transformers universe. If you find a Generation 1 figure in its original packaging, keep it that way because that’s rare.

The toys from the ’90s releases were purchased by collectors with the thought that they’d be worth retiring on. That isn’t happening. It’s much like what happened in the Star Wars franchise: kids ripped open and played with the toys they had during the franchise’s first release in 1977 and when they were done with them, they were disposed of. As the new Star Wars toys were released to support the other films, collectors bought them up and kept them sealed so there’s a lot more of those collectibles available; that keeps the prices lower. With a steady supply of newer figures, it’s more fun to open it up to see how it works. I love playing with the toys and seeing how they work.

My number one piece of advice: only buy the pieces you want. There’s nothing wrong with an eclectic collection. In the end, it’s supposed to be fun. If you tear hair out because of high prices or the hunt, it’s not fun. Don’t do what I do: I’m a completist. If I start to collect something, I have to get every last piece. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed spending my hard-earned money for every one of those pieces.

Finally, if you have a collection of a couple of thousand dollars, I recommend insuring it.

 

Take a deep-dive into the world of Transformers on Transformerland.

Uncover objects of play through the eyes of collectors.