Toys I owned on 5/27/98.

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May 27th, 1998.

I was an absolute mess!

It was my first year in college, and I was Big Time Tanking. The friends I was closest with in high school all went to different colleges, and I made exactly zero new ones at mine. The ones I had left were few and far between. My list of vices was long enough to require multiple pages. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I have journals from that year that are so filled with misery that they honestly read like parodies.

Even then, I’m sugarcoating things. If I was totally honest with you about this, I could never face you again. And, who knows, tomorrow I might want to review a new Doritos flavor.

But it’s important to give you some idea of who I was and where my head was at, because it’ll help you understand why I clung so dearly to this:

1

My old toy room.

May 27th, 1998.

I’ve been writing about old toys since April of 2000, and even from the start, it was more with a “remembered” passion than an existing one. By 2000, I wasn’t a collector — at least not by the definition we usually mean. Enthusiast, dabbler and cherry-picker, sure, but not a collector.

Back in 1998, I was definitely a collector. I’d been a collector for years by then, but you know how it is when you’re a careless kid and everything else goes to shit. You focus on your happy hobbies and pretend it’s okay to ignore everything else. In 1998, I was in DEEP.

I didn’t recognize it as an “escape” at the time, but I sure do in retrospect. And boy, I threw myself into it. I’d just gotten my first only-for-me computer, and I spent almost all of my free time wheeling and dealing on message boards and newsgroups. There was a pretty big group of toy traders online, back before eBay made things too easy, and back before the USPS priced us out of our hobby.

I was really good at it, too. Good and lucky. I can still remember dozens of my best deals, but two stand taller than the rest:

1) A seller had an immense collection of vintage Star Wars figures and vehicles. Something like 60 complete figures in near-mint condition, and over 25 different vehicles and playsets, all with their boxes. He charged me $2 for each figure, which was way cheap, but his prices on the vehicles and playsets were even more insane. I didn’t realize until later that he’d looked at the ancient price stickers and charged me half of their original retail cost. So I was buying shit like the Imperial Shuttle, complete-in-box with the instruction manual and everything, for 14 bucks.

2) About a week after I decided to collect G1 Transformers figures, a trader got in touch with me. He said he’d obtained tons of them, but didn’t have the patience to figure out who was who and what was what. He wanted a simple “package trade” deal. I put together a box that couldn’t have had more than a hundred bucks’ worth of stuff in it, pulling from various lines that he’d expressed interest in. I agreed to send before he did, and he was happy with the contents.

And then he sent MY boxes.

I’ll never forget that day. Six or seven absolutely enormous packages arrived all at once. Boxes that once housed things like TV sets and major appliances. I was nearly in tears after opening them. It was almost the entire collection of G1 Transformers, all complete, some still in boxes, and some still in SEALED boxes. Many in doubles. Many in triples. Even in 1998, the collection had to be worth over ten grand.

Most of my scores weren’t nearly as noteworthy. One figure here, one figure there. I’d send this, they’d send that. I’d get five or six packages a day, and send out just as many. I almost never bought things, and only sold enough to cover my constant shipping expenses. 90% of what I had was through trades.

Now let’s get back to that toy room…

1
(Click the photo to see it HUGE!)

2
(Click the photo to see it HUGE!)

I could only find these two photos, which sucks, because they don’t show even a tenth of what was in there. By comparison to the rest of the room, these were the barest shelves.

The ENTIRE ROOM was covered in shelves. It’d previously been my father’s home office; I pleaded for it after he retired. The only thing in there besides my toys was a small table for my computer. If I had nothing to wake up for the next morning, I’d be online all night long, making trades. It just never ended.

I can see now that this was all just a big distraction for me, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was such a blast. That room was my sanctuary. I loved it more than anything else in the world. Anything I could add to my collection got me through another day.

And yet, it was all such a private thing. Maybe I’m not painting a picture that suggests this, but I did have friends. When they’d come over, we’d be in my bedroom. Never in the toy room. They were aware of it, and aware of my silly hobby, but it wasn’t something we discussed, and never anything they’d understand, anyway. It was just this thing I did, with maddening obsessiveness, totally on my own.

So what happened to the toy room, and my collection? I guess it boiled down to me finding new distractions. Suddenly I was less interested in getting more toys, and more interested in having money for various summer trips. I sold almost everything off in horrible firesales. I made nowhere near what I would have with time and patience, but I sure made enough to go Wildwood three weekends in a row.

I still have some of these toys. In fact, if you look closely enough, you’ll spot several figures/games/things that have turned up on X-E or Dino Drac over the years. Most of it is gone, though. All I really have left of the experience is an empty Imperial Shuttle box (no idea what I did with the vehicle) and these two blurry photos.

It’s so weird to look at my life’s trajectory. I had a room full of toys for a year or two, and that’s no big deal… except for the fact that if I didn’t, almost everything else about me would be so much different. Without that room and the passion it took to fill it, there wouldn’t have been an X-E, and if there wasn’t an X-E, I wouldn’t have found my “in” for my real world career. And since those two events had tentacles that reached into virtually every other facet I could name… yeah, fifteen years’ worth of good — and some bad — all started with this stupid room full of Autobots and Decepticons.

Strange, huh?

Basically, I loved that room to death, and I kind of love it even more now. It was me at my realest, for better and for worse.

Course, at this precise moment, all I can think about is how stupid I was to sell this stuff so haphazardly. Had I only known that I was about to spend thirteen years writing about old junk, I never would’ve been so careless.

Here’s a closer look at ten toys from those two photos. Remember, this was barely a tenth of my whole collection!

prime

Optimus Prime, mint in box. I had two. One was sealed. God damn, how did I let TWO boxed Primes get away from me?

cantina

The vintage Star Wars Creature Cantina. I didn’t have one as a child, and it was one of the first big scores of my trading days. The Creature Cantina taught me that this hobby was only partly about rediscovering your childhood. The rest was about filling in its gaps.

rodimus

Rodimus Prime, one of my all-time favorite Transformers figures. It wasn’t the best of them and I certainly had many that were worth more, but since I’d so often played with Rodimus as a child, I had a special connection to that figure. (Even though his legs didn’t move, and even though his face looked like a glob of Blu-Tack.)

batmobile

A beat-up Corgi Batmobile. One of the oldest things in my collection. A few years prior, my brother brought me to a comic book show at a nearby hotel. I bought a few pieces of junk because I could only afford a few pieces of junk, and then he dropped me off back home.

A few hours later, we got a call. Turned out, my brother had won the door prize: A $100 shopping spree at the show. He was off in Jersey somewhere, but I had his ticket. I agreed to buy him fifty bucks’ worth of Star Trek junk, and I’d get the rest. My parents took me back to the hotel, and after spending an hour carefully considering what to blow my free money on, most of it went towards that beat-up Batmobile. It looked like it’d been left to rot in someone’s backyard for twenty years.

(I still have it.)

slaughter

Sgt. Slaughter, one of the few G.I. Joe figures I had out on display. Most were in a long, shallow box, protected in individual baggies.

I like how he’s hanging out with a bunch of Rock Lords and a purple Barney Rubble. I want to write a story starring exactly those characters.

dinobots

THE DINOBOTS! I had so many of them. The full set in doubles, and many in triples. At least one of those sets was 100% complete, down to every last gun and missile. I still have a Slag (the triceratops) around here somewhere, but sadly, no Grimlocks. I know I needed the money, but I can’t believe that I didn’t keep one lousy Grimlock.

robotech

Hah, the Robotech Master figure. This one actually survived my childhood years; it wasn’t collected during the “toy room era.”

I never knew anything about Robotech, nor did I have much interest in a character that looked like a less impressive Palpatine. But Kay Bee kept these guys at a 49-cent clearance price for almost five years. Ultimately, I couldn’t resist such a cheap action figure. Even if he looked like Lazy Grandpa.

sectaurs

Damn, I wish this one was more in-frame. Spidrax was the lead villain in the Sectaurs line, who rode on the battery-operated Spider-Flyer — which was basically a big, monstrous hand puppet with flapping wings. To this day, I still count Sectaurs among the most underappreciated toy lines ever.

viewmaster

Transformers View-Master reels, still sealed. Nowadays, I’m more prone to collect things like this. After all, most action figures are readily available to anyone with the money, but you never know when we’ll hit another five-year dry-spell on Transformers View-Master reels. I prefer going for the things I might never see again.

leia

Naked Princess Leia. She was part of the original Star Wars 12” line. Some of those figures were affordable, but most were very expensive. Expensive enough to let a naked Princess Leia remain a prized piece.

…and when I go back to the photos, man, I could go on forever. Megatron! Blaster! That giant-sized “Angela” figure from the Spawn collection! The Star Wars Burger King glasses!

Wait, the Star Wars Burger King glasses?

glasses

I still have all of those, too. No boxed Optimus Primes, no Droid Factories and no Grimlocks, but if you ever need a damn Star Wars Burger King glass, I have the whole set.

I don’t miss the life I had in 1998, but viewed through a powerful microscope that zooms past all of the bad shit, it seems pretty okay.

I mean, it had to be at least partially okay. I had a MISB Wheeljack!

  • Larry

    Love it. Love it. Love it!

    I too had many of the original 12″ Star Wars figures, (or 6″ if you include R2-D2 & the Jawa). I even had not one but 2 of the ridiculously hard to find IG-88s, (there was a Toys R Us and an Alexanders – yes ALEXANDERS, 5 minutes from my parent’s co-op in Little Neck/Douglaston so every chance I had, I begged & pleaded to go…and who can resist a crying 7 year old.

    The good news is that I still have all of these figures today. The bad news is that as a 7 year old, I smashed, banged & destroyed the shit out of them, even recreating “damages” from the movies. Pulling Chewbacca’s arms out of its socket, (damn flimsy rubber band – yes a rubber band kept the arms in place – Vader’s figure suffered the same fate too), breaking 3PO’s leg so it matched the near-final scene in ESB when he’s bickering with R2 about the hyperdrive in the Falcon. Even IG-88 & Boba Fett, (which was without a doubt THE coolest figure ever made with about a million different removable weapons), lost arms, had helmets cracked and many pieces chipped because of a violently imaginative kid surrounded by a lot of hard concrete outside his parent’s co-op.

    I loved playing, (destroying), them back then but now would love the thousands of dollars even more had they never been opened, (the IG-88′s alone go for $400-500 on ebay). I recently asked my mom why she didn’t buy a few of these & locked them away in a closet. She told me that she would never deprive me of something I enjoyed so much & who knew back then that the original figures unopened would be worth the equivalent of a villa in Tahiti 35 years later?

  • mandy_Reeves

    My toys in 1998,WWF figures and wcw figures…literally over 100 of them…all the way from LJN to Hasbro to jakks pacific.

    Also,may 98 was when I started collecting beanie babies….I was a mad rabid freak for ‘em. I’d schmooze to find out when shipments arrived…paid 10x’s the market value for special ones…yep…they were gonna buy me a mansion some day! 6 years later, I sold all 600 for 75 dollars.

    Later that year, I got a PS one, and also started my vintage game collection, which landed me, with a free n64, ps2 and gameboy advance…to this day games are my vice and trading and selling them, one of my most profitable past times to date.

    Games and toys led me to come bursting out of my shell, and I have friendships online, going for nearly decades.

  • mandy_Reeves

    My husband’s buff has insane amounts of ‘trek and star wars..can you say mint on card Mego figures? Signed by each cast member also? Yeah…pretty much hate him. JK, he’s a great buddy to talk shop with…and the guy who bailed Dottie out of doggie jail when she ran away, and when we picked her up,he played the imperial march on his stereo.

  • Conan Troutman

    Wow. Add me to the jealously column :)
    That’s a killer collection and a couple of great scores on the Star Wars and Transformers toys.
    I know all too well the lure of the collection as a distraction from life – hence my collection of mid-90s Star Wars merchandise, from the CCG cards to spin-off novels to technical manuals (the ‘Guide to Weapons and Technology’ is sitting on my office shelf as I type this) which, along with constant replays of old Super NES RPGs and Magic The Gathering, helped numb the sting of life in Grade 10. I can’t believe I was able to finance all that with money from mowing my neighbours lawns and/or shovelling their driveways.
    I’ll probably hang onto all of the Star Wars stuff forever (maybe not the CCG cards), but the SNES games are going up for sale, especially considering what complete copies of old Squaresoft games can fetch :)

  • Whalley Range

    Been away for a bit — Happy New Year everyone.

    I loved how one of the 12″ Stormtrooper figures has turned all yellow. That’s exactly what happened to mine. I had the Boba Fett too. When I opened him on Christmas morning, I chucked the Wookie scalps thinking they were part of the packaging!

    I go through phases with collecting and, when a phase is coming to an end, I like to do something cool with what I’ve collected. Back in the day, I had a bunch of Star Wars fanclub magazines. There were classifieds in the back where people would request things. Some girl in Australia was missing a few issues of the magazine to complete her collection, so I sent her my entire, complete set at random.

    I also used to collect every article and magazine regarding the Smiths that I could find. A few years back, I was about to toss it all and thought, “Who could I send this to?” I packed it up and sent it to a writer at “Q” magazine, whose music reviews I really respected. He was so appreciative when he got it that he sent me a copy of his latest book “Mozipedia.”

    Like many here, I started collecting the new run of Kenner Star Wars figures in the late-90′s. I had a heap of them, mint on card. One day, I put them all in several garbage bags at Christmas time and gave them to the soup kitchen in my home town. They didn’t give out toys normally, but they said they’d give out figures to every family that came in with young kids. Awesome!

    It’s fun to brighten somebody’s day this way when you’ve gotten what you needed / wanted from your collection.

    And it was very touching to read about this period of your life, Matt. I actually feel like I’m in a similar funk RIGHT NOW. Everything’s just gone wrong in the past year and I’m trying to claw my way back out. An “Empire Strikes Back” period, for sure.

  • http://jasonvorhees2.wordpress.com Jason

    I really wish you had more pictures. From reading past articles on X-E, I always knew that you had an epic collection at one time. Some of the stuff I have or that’s on my want list, are from what I’m reminded of in your writing. I know ypu probably have some pretty cool pieces in your collection, and I(as well as man others), would love to see atour of your office! Great post, man! :)

  • http://jasonvorhees2.wordpress.com Jason

    *many others* oops.

  • Scott

    Great post, it is one of my dreams to have the complete Transformers G1 series one day. It’s a slow process right now, but I enjoy finding them and getting back pieces of the ones I had and lost or broke.

  • mike

    Man, it seems you really hit a nerve here…this article seriously resonated with me, being a guy with a toy room and college troubles of his own, and after reading the comments I see I’m not the only one. My toy room didn’t have nearly the gems in it yours had but I still have every piece of my collection to this day. My dad hates that there’s still a six foot naboo fighter hanging in his garage nearly ten years after I moved out

  • Fitzyroo

    My mom swears it was my idea, but she gave all of my toys to my cousin when I went to college.

    My son is going to be pissed when I tell him what he’ll never see…

  • http://horseformer.blogspot.ca Aaron

    Most of us went through the ‘awesome childhood toys that later went away.’ But Matt seems to have gone through that *twice*, first when he was a kid, and then again, with this toy room. (That collection BTW is mind blowing. I had that transformer Ratchet when I was a kid…but you have ‘em in the freakin’ box!)

    I also went through a similar thing in my life where everything was shit but this little corner I’d carved out for myself. My particular happy place was scale models, and the unmade kits sat all together on the top shelf in my closet. So when things were really dark, I could look up there and think “It’s a good thing I’m still alive, I have to finish building that (esoteric airplane/tiny tank.) All that stuff still is a happy place for me.

    My childhood transformers were played with till destruction, and usually past that. I still have two bits of my childhood safely stored away in my Parient’s basement, though. I have a fair bit of Startech (not sure if that’s the right name; it was those guys with the magnetic boots and the mechanical spring toys in space.) The other is the Cobra Nightraven, which still has all of its missiles, though I’ve misplaced the tail (I think it’s in the Robotech stuff.) Otherwise, it is still awesome.

  • doug

    This makes me want to take up the hobby, and I’ve got boxes of toys from my childhood that I never even look at anymore(pretty much everything I want to keep is displayed at this point). Are there still any worthwhile online toy trading groups? I’m not interested in trading cash, just old-school, swap meet style

  • http://stores.ebay.com/goobian1 Goob

    I completely relate to being completely obsessed with something and then out of nowhere being completely over it and not wanting to look at it anymore.

    And do not feel guilty about escapism. We all need that in order to not get too stressed about life. Everybody has their own addictions and it’s wrong to judge people that it’s obvious what their addiction is.

    When I was a teen, I still played NES and I grew my collection. I had 44 games, would of had more if I didn’t trade them in for store credit. I also had old Nintendo power mags, extra controllers, a few books. When I moved out, my cousin asked my Grandma if he could borrow the games and console. When I got them back, I got about half back and the games that were missing were the big titles like SMB 3. So it wasn’t an accident. I was so pissed still kind of am. I worked hard on that collection.

    I also collected Simpsons Merch growing up. The Simpsons were my childhood. The show gave me comfort. Every piece of merch I found, I wanted to keep. I one time saw a tricycle with one of those plastic decorations on the front and it had the Simpsons logo on it. I wanted it even though I was 10 at the time. The rest of the day after getting a very quick no I was so upset.

    That obsession didn’t lead to an adult collection, but I still have my Simpsons toys in boxes in the bedroom closet. I have bought Simpsons stuff to sell without having any attachment. The stuff that I have from when I was a child and the memories of feeling like I had street cred through them are what I hold close to my heart. In high school, I had the original Simpsons episode guide in my backpack. When I had down time I would flip through it.

    The toys now that I love seeing are the boys toys. As a child I was told often that I didn’t like certain things because I was a girl. I liked Barbies, not the Ninja Turtles. I still have the Ninja Turtle toys I finally got as a child. They are a symbol of my begging paying off.

    Those are the toys I sometimes want to keep for myself when I find them. Boys toys had more detail then girls toys. That was part of the appeal to me. And the characters on the shows had adventures. Girls were supposed to get enjoyment out of shopping, dating, and baking.

    The benefit of being a reseller now, I get to buy vintage toys and bring them home. But after the appeal is gone and the high of coming home with new things, I list them and make money to pay bills. I can say at one point I had a few things I do not have anymore. Like a Corky Doll, a Real Ghostbusters lunchbox, a Mouse Trap board game, an Urkel Pull string doll in box, a 1992 Sony Walkman in package, the list goes on.

    I love that I am selling the toy to another person that loves them just as much. They might be getting them for display, to review on a site like this, for a friend/wife/parent, or they want their kids to grow up enjoying it like they do. Whatever the case, it’s fulfilling to me.