Non-affiliated, Non-lengthy, Non-articles about Transformers

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Interview on Prototypes - For Aendrel

A few months ago I was approached by Aendrel, a collector from Mexico, requesting that I provide some information about pre-production Transformers and prototypes for an interview to post on his blog. I'm usually asking others for interviews so it was a very strange experience trying to formulate answers in a way that would be informative and interesting for his readers. In fact, most of the time I think my answers consisted of "I don't know" or "I can't be sure" or "I can ask someone else"! Either way, Aendrel has now posted the interview on his excellent blog Under The Radar in Spanish, and has allowed me to share the original English language version of the interview here on Square One. Pictures are from my own archive and collection.

G2 mock-up "Sandstorm" desert-camo Ramjet

1- How many professional Transformer prototype collectors do you know? What, in your opinion, makes them "professional"?

I would say there are at least 7 people that I could name whose priority area of Transformers collecting is prototypes, test shots, pre-production material such as paperwork and art and packaging.

What makes them professional - although I would use the word 'specialists' - is that it is the main focus of their toy collecting. They tend to skip a lot of production toys and new releases that are very hot in the fandom right now (and even popular vintage stuff), and spend most of their time, effort and money on the expansion of their prototype/pre-production collections. They also spend a good deal of time establishing contacts with other proto collectors and try to find new sources for unseen prototypes and material, such as ex-employees of Hasbro, Takara etc. The source of their interest is the history and story of how the toys we know and love came to be the way they are, and the fascination of knowing all the other alternate possibilities that existed for products we've known for decades.

Takara sample Diaclone Fairlady Racing

2- Do you own any TF prototypes? If so, what is your most prized and beloved prototype piece? Why?

I am sad to say that I sold all of my prototypes. I used to have unreleased hand-painted mock-up prototypes for a pink and green G2 Mirage, a yellow and blue G2 Sideswipe and a desert-camo Ramjet (including a print of its artwork). I also had unpainted and hand-painted wax sculpts of the original wings for G1 Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust and some of their weapons too. In addition to those I had an unpainted test shot G1 Cyclonus with hand-made stickers, a production sample Cyclonus with different stickers, a MIB production sample G1 Ramjet with no wing stickers and an orange canopy, a Takara sample Diaclone Smokescreen which had hand-written markings on the mint toy showing where Autobot stickers would go and it also had all of its Diaclone tell-tales removed by hand. I had a whole collection of Alternators unpainted test shots and prototypes too.

I think the ones I miss the most are my test shot Alternators Dead End which had an Autobot symbol, because it showed that it was meant to be Sunstreaker before they changed their minds, and I also had a huge amount of love for my G2 desert camo Ramjet and the orange canopy production sample MIB G1 Ramjet. I am sure I will miss my Diaclone Takara Smokescreen sample too when I send it to its new owner this month.

The only pre-production material I have left now includes original box artwork for Alternators toys by Guido Guidi, Alex Milne and Marcelo Matere, as well as original IDW comic artwork by Alex Milne. Those are absolutely beautiful and I hope I'll be able to keep them.

Alternators Prowl original box artwork

3- From your experience, how frequent have "lunchtime specials" sold as prototypes become in recent years? Does this practice affect professional prototype collectors? How?

As time has gone by these have entered the mainstream a little more. When they first appeared I remember the exact conversation when the phrase "lunchtime special" was coined by an American collector. They started out being ridiculed, but it is important to realise that Takara did produce a number of special all-chrome and all-clear/coloured-clear exclusive editions of reissue moulds during the height of the TFC reissue series for employees, and to offer to certain outlets as possible exclusives. The original lunchtime specials could have been extras from the same batch, or extras made after the official batch was completed by someone looking to make a buck. I won't pretend that I know the whole story, but when it comes to identifying if something on the market is real or lunchtime, I'm not the expert. I do know who I would go to in order to find out, though.

To answer the second question, yes it does affect the specialist collectors because it means they are more likely to save their money and not take the risk. At the same time it helps them because when they are selling one of their special pieces, other collectors will have less doubt as to its authenticity and chances are they'd sell for more than one on eBay from a suspect source. I do tend to find that the most devoted prototype collectors that I know personally stick more to vintage protos when it comes to spending large amounts, modern prototypes are more of an interesting distraction. This doesn't go for all of them though, some do buy protos of Classics, Movie and other recent lines regularly.

I would say the European eBay seller who is getting an Asian source to run off multiple colours of reissue moulds and selling them as prototypes, as well as counterfeit moulds like the unpainted hardcopy Cyclonus prototype fake, needs to be stopped as people like him can only harm the hobby and collectors.

Hasbro production sample orange-canopy Ramjet

4- Give us 5 pieces of advice to avoid being framed by a dishonest seller, regarding a fake prototype sale.

  • Ask for provenance. Get the seller to provide a trail of evidence as to where the item has come from. If they don't want to reveal any of this information, you're putting yourself in a position of risk.
  • Join a community or a forum, a social group or a Facebook group, somewhere that you know knowledgeable collectors congregate and share info and can help you identify whether something is fake or not.
  • Do your research. Read forums, articles etc that include the experience of collectors who have been buying this stuff for a decade and more. The worst mistake a new collector can make is to think that the old-timers have nothing to offer them
  • Always pay with Paypal using the goods and services option so that you are still able to claim your money back should the item turn out to be fake or misrepresented, or even damaged. I sometimes send a second payment as a gift to cover the fees the seller has had pay just so that the seller doesn't lose any money, but I have paid a little bit extra for peace of mind
  • Get as many photographs as possible from the seller, check the seller's history (including former IDs and names) and ask to see what else they have available. All of this can help trace the origin of the seller, the item and whether or not it's part of a legitimate sale or counterfeit items.
Mech iDeas Bluster test shot

5- What is the most scandalous fake prototype situation that you remember? 

I thought the recent $1000+ so-called hardcopy unpainted G1 Cyclonus prototype that was sold on eBay was quite bad. The seller would have known it was a counterfeit but advertised it as real and fooled a well-known and experienced prototype collector. The collector got his money back because of other community members who helped him identify it as a fake, but not everyone would have been so lucky.

6- Do you think that lunchtime specials have any merit or collectible value because of their rarity or are they just overpriced KO's?

It depends what you want to collect. If you like counterfeits because they offer you the opportunity to own a toy you like in brand new crazy colours, then go for it. I would just say be honest and treat them for what they are; unofficial. 

Rarity is something that is earned, I said on my own blog recently "I dislike the fact that rarity is a contrivance. Any modern product that is manufactured in numbers designed to make it scarce and expensive doesn't interest me as much as a bizarre vintage obscurity from somewhere not often associated with interesting variations, whose rarity is a result of history".

Animated Activators Electromagnetic Soundwave unreleased sample

7- If you could have any  TF prototype, what would that be?

I think the hardcopy resin unpainted prototype of BT-01 Binaltech Smokescreen, or one of the earliest hand-made mock-ups of the Diaclone Ligier (Mirage) or Diaclone Countach Super Tuning (Sunstreaker) because they would be the very first concepts of those two Autobot cars ever created.

I would also love to own any pre-production material - protos, artwork, packaging, paperwork - from the Ceji Joustra Diaclone range of toys from the mid-1980s.

8- I recently acquired 4  TF prototype "Test shots" that include the infamous "NOT FOR SALE" marking. In your personal opinion, are they the real thing or not?

I would love to be able to tell you 100% but I'm afraid newer toys and prototypes are not my area of expertise. Often the "Not For Sale" was a good indicator but there's no reason why that cannot now be faked like everything else. I would say the crazy colours and "NFS" are good signs because often prototypes are cast in odd colours as that's the plastic that the factories have lying around or won't often use. The idea is to make these as cheaply as possible, and that's another reason why the companies don't want this stuff in collectors' hands, it misrepresents the quality of the product and the company responsible.

All the best

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