Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas Collector Conundrums

- mantis nine nines

As a man-child whose proclivity for toy robots is well known among family and friends, I face a dilemma this time of year. My wife, my kids, my mom, everyone wants to share my passion and get me "the one you've been looking for" as a holiday gift. Despite years of telling them not to bother I have learned they will just hit Target and scoop up a movie Bumblebee or something similar that is bound for the donation box. Not that there is anything wrong with donations, but my family wants to see their bot on display and know they were able to show they get ME. 
We can all relate, I'm sure. I've been on the other end perusing Magic the Gathering cards or Skateboard gear for my nephews, yarn and crochet needles for my sister, books about vintage revolvers for my brother, with only the most casual understanding of what I'm looking at but determined to not be THAT GUY and give another gift card this year.
With that in mind, I wanted to celebrate the season by looking at how different our experiences can be with this issue, and end with a few tips for those still struggling with how to best balance their fandom and their loved ones generosity. I asked a few people from around the community to share their stories.

Rob Clay

I've been on both sides of the "Collectors Are Hard to Shop For" coin. When I was young and wanted to be surprised more than anything, I'd spend a day or two making up a detailed wishlist for me and my brother to give to our relatives. The first year, I had to reassure my appalled aunt that we didn't expect EVERYTHING on the list. (This all started in 1992, when I got a very expensive copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Christmas, which I knew in advance, and my brother got the entire Incredible Crash Dummies toyline and G2 Optimus Prime, which were all on sale. Sonic 2's a good game, but that was kind of a bummer of a Christmas morning.) A few years later, we tried to get something my uncle, a model train collector, would like - and missed the mark pretty hard. He didn't say so, of course, but you can tell. We've probably all forced that smile at least once in our lives.

We collectors can be miserable to shop for! There's so much merchandise surrounding any hobby that there is a super-narrow stripe of success stuck between "not quite the right thing" and "already own." Over my life I've known a fair number of people who simply ask their spouses "Would you get me this for Christmas?" Or even just say "I'm getting this as my Christmas present." The longer I'm around the more I understand the wisdom of it. Even the people closest to me have trouble knowing exactly what's right for me unless I tell them exactly what to look for. And if you spend a lot of time talking to other collectors with similar interests online, it can be easy to lose track of how personal and specific a collection really is.

These days, most of my relatives just hand out money because they're too old to deal with the shopping thing. I still buy stuff for my closest family members - the ones I live with, because it's easier to keep up with their collections if I pay attention. I largely bake cookies for the rest of the family and put them in pretty tins. It's hard to go wrong with homemade cookies! (Assuming you know everybody's dietary habits and allergies!) I keep an Amazon wishlist for online friends to use, which is pretty similar to the ones I used to hand out to my family, really. On those few occasions when the family wants to do something more specific for me, I pick one thing I want that's in their price range, with maybe a backup if it's sold out. (I'm pretty sure I'm getting Titans Return Blaster this year - it'll be the first time I've opened a Transformer on Christmas in probably 20-plus years. I'm excited!)

Drew Merkel

Honestly my family pays little attention to my collection, so they don’t know what I have. I’ve convinced a few to get gift cards. My dad on the other hand still thinks he’s pretty cool and tries to buy me stuff. I’m the proud owner of an R.I.D titan Bumblebee MISB that I will never have the heart to sell.

Ben Watson

I shan't keep you from the words of the rest of our excellent guest contributors for long but felt the need to chime in on Dan's subject as it's currently something that's been on my mind. Christmas for me now means "buying myself Transformers". I can't fathom a Crimbo without these bloody things, now having just about 20 solid years of them taking up residence under my tree every December. Somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that the holiday isn't complete if I'm not cracking open some cool robos. So now that my collecting is well and truly beyond the grasp of my family, even with my dad's best efforts to keep up I've now phased into becoming my own Santa in some unspoken way. Along the course of the last month I've accrued all of those bots you see above, purely for this purpose. I genuinely miss the surprise. I'll cite 2015 and unwrapping CW Silverbolt as the last bit of that I've had but it's not all bad as that feeling becomes reserved for completely different gifts, the likes of which you wouldn't buy yourself during the rest of the year. I'm expecting a random assortment of Star Wars guys this Yule and am actually excited to see which space weirdos my old pa has picked out for me. I guess in this way, while I want to keep the occasion an opportunity for a good haul, there's really very little of the Christmas spirit coming from Transformers for me now. Maybe next year I'll go cold turkey - and I'm not just talking about sandwiches on Boxing Day. 

Erica Walsh

Oah! It's Christmas! I'm Jewish! No but genuinely, I love this holiday despite no religious attachment as I'm sure so many others in this community do, and NOT just because of getting toys! Frankly, I don't get toys for Christmas anymore, despite having the time where I would receive them pretty close in my rear-view. Christmas-time is a bit of a weird one for me and my family, to be honest. Being as it's not really FOR most of us, my family isn't really 100% invested to begin with – aside from me, of course. To be honest, I'd hazard a guess that the decorations and such only go up at my own behest anymore (and because I'm usually the one putting them up at all). As such, gift-giving in my household has almost felt more like an obligation than a genuine attempt at goodwill. Now I'm still a fairly young lass; being considered a kid is still pretty recent in my memory, so the gifts have been getting more mundane as the years go on – which is okay! It still surprises me how often I find myself without a guaranteed matching pair of socks. But, I've took notice of a sort of “Christmas Sweet-Spot” common amongst adult collectors where, at a certain point, our loved ones become at peace with the fact that we love children's playthings and it makes their holiday shopping that much more simple (or difficult, depending on our specific toyetic tastes). Being an old soul of Twenty Years Old, I don't think I've reached that spot just yet, but that's alright too. I love this time of year enough that even when my parents, siblings and loved ones only feel comfortable buying me gaudy jumpers and 12-packs of underwear, I'm still pretty stoked to get anything at all. Besides, being a Proper Grown-Up has its upsides – the toys I don't get from Mum and Dad anymore? I can just buy them for myself, while coming to a sobering realisation of what a horrible drain of cash and resources Little Erica must've been. 


I have made it a bit of a known “rule” that Transformers-related merchandise is probably not the route to go in terms of gift-giving. A few times, the rule has been ignored but many frosty nights have gone by since the last occurrence. As any gift is truly appreciated, I certainly didn’t object or refuse, but it did leave something similar to a guilty feeling in me when it happened. I think as you become a collector of specific tastes within the spacious confines of a “brand” it’s hard to REALLY enjoy something as the sender intends you to, when they generally have no idea what it is you are focused on. Online-only availability, various types of product names that look like gibberish, and pricing in general can leave an outsider of the hobby completely baffled. Worse, buying things on the aftermarket by not knowing the better sources. While I’ve never gone overboard as far as spending, and I seem to have a good eye for that “perfect” gift, I can honestly say that collecting Transformers at the level I do is the real catalyst for many of these gift-giving miracles. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and all the habits and tactics I use to collect Transformers are a SERIOUS advantage when I start shopping for family. Whether it’s finding a cheaper source, better selection, or a bigger/better version of something that catches my eye - it all comes together seamlessly using the same approach as trying to find something for myself. But it’s WAY better, because I get to see and hear the joy that special find brings in someone else I love! Even better - or worse - is when I find that PERFECT trinket. I spend a good amount of time letting everyone know that a pants-shitting-level of astonishment is headed their way. (But remember, you gotta actually bring the heat if you go this route.)
That rush of finding a good deal, or winning an auction you thought you had no chance at? I
would say is about 100 times better when someone has no clue about the amount of random goodness you are going to hand them.
This is what my family deals with EVERY year - a crazed, deal-hungry, gift-giving master - who just really wants new socks and a monthly calendar.

Hello, Dan again. So what do you think? Did these essays sound familiar? I'm sure some of you are reading this surrounded by friends and family, biding your time until you open that Deluxe Bayformer and fake a smile. Hopefully you can find comfort knowing you're not alone! And for those not celebrating the season I'm sure you encounter the same problem in any gift-giving situation.

Tips for collectors:

1) Make a list (be specific). It takes the surprise out of it but it ensures a gift both sides will be happy about.
2) Learn to leave wave 1. That preholiday restock is unpredictable but almost always features tons of bots we rushed to get and then watched shelfwarm. Friends and Family love to scoop up a nice retail bot, why not skip a few you're iffy on and see if you get lucky.
3) Think outside the box. Gifts are a great chance to try something new, why not ask for an RID bot or Marvel Legend, something from a line you don't collect. Maybe get hooked on another addictive variety of Plastic Crack..
4) Socks. Or undies, or other necessities that will save your funds for the fun stuff!
5) Charity. The most important message I can send is to put aside selfish motivation and think about all those kids out there who will get nothing for Christmas. Your donation to Toys for Tots or any other church or charity could be their only present. Put that toy expertise to work and hook them up! Imagine how stoked any child would be with a sweet transforming robot picked out by a true collector!

However you celebrate, I hope your holidays are #Refined

Follow Rob Clay on Twitter @rac2750 YouTube (as Flail Throughs)

Follow Erica on Twitter @TransSoundwave 

Follow Swage on Twitter @ReeledRobot 

Follow Drew Merkel on Twitter @DrewsiferxXx and @Close_Countach

Follow Dan on Twitter @mantisninenines

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