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Monday, June 15, 2020

Five Tips to Sell Transformers Right: A Journey Through Transformer Land

(Guest Post courtesy of Matthew Camaratta from

“It’s not safe to buy stuff online.”

These were the very first words I told my (then future) wife when she introduced me to her collecting hobby.  She (17 at the time) was a fan of Shirley Temple growing up and had amassed an impressive assemblage of original 1930s Ideal Shirley Temple composition dolls.  When she explained that she acquired them on AuctionWeb (soon thereafter renamed eBay), I was skeptical, especially after learning she had to send payment up front.  These were not inexpensive dolls. Nonetheless, my interest was sparked.  I quickly looked up a few of my favorite childhood Transformers-basically my only collecting hobby as a kid, aside from Garbage Pail Kids. Sadly, my own childhood collection ended up heaped in sand dune a couple years earlier after Hurricane Opal levelled the barrier island where they were stored at the time...that’s another story.

Before you could say “don’t spend your rent money”, boxes started arriving in the mail.  There was Wheeljack, Jazz, Sunstreaker, even my all-time favorite, Shockwave.  But something was lacking.  The joints were loose, the paint was worn, stickers faded into nothingness, the accessories were gone, Jazz’s roof was broken, Shockwave’s battery compartment reduced to a toxic aquamarine sludge, and worst of all, some had discolored so badly it was like they were sitting on a window sill on the planet Mercury.

Determined to find better quality toys that I could see and touch before buying, I took out an ad in the local paper for the college I attended at the time.  College kids in the mid ‘90s were my age, and as it turned out, many still retained their Transformers toys, and were also looking for rent money.  The first collection I bought was from a fellow who had them stored in a tall laundry basket, but the toys were well organized, sorted into ziplock bags with their respective accessories. Everything was clean, the joints could hold a pose, Shockwave still sang his obnoxious ear-piercing songs, and the chrome on the was like you could eat off of it. I nervously agreed to $1200 for the collection (which coincidentally was the same amount I would pay for my brother’s F-150 a year later) and went back home to bask in its glory.

It wasn’t long before I was being offered more collections than I could afford.  I threw up a typical ‘90s-style website on AOL’s free platform and dubbed it “Syko's Transformer Wonderland”.  Broken links still exist to this day. I was having trouble remembering all the names and matching up accessories, and at the time there were no online reference material for Transformers toys. I started posting scans of catalogs and the ‘Set Includes’ page from each instruction book and made my own online reference guide. To afford new collections I started listing lower-quality duplicates.  Within a year I had achieved my goal of collecting the first two series of Transformers toys, and had started receiving emails, many were thank-you’s for those primordial guides, and some even from people looking to sell their Transformers.

And so began my decades long journey into buying and selling Transformers toys and helping people reconnect with, and become reacquainted with, their newly rediscovered treasures. Over the years, I’ve heard many back stories from those looking to part with their collection.  The reasons varied - for some it was a financial necessity, for others it was a need to accommodate space for the arrival of a new child, or part of an estate sale, or even to appease a spouse who wants to reclaim the space in their home. Some may be the parents who originally paid for the toys and were clearing out their storage places. Some may have no attachment at all--a storage locker buy, or cleaning out a vacated property...I’ve even had someone contact me about a dumpster find.  For some it may just be time to open a new chapter in life. Whatever the reason, I’m often asked for my advice on how to best go about the selling process.  Below are five of the biggest takeaways I can give to those looking to sell their Transformers toys, and come away knowing that they made the right decision.

1.     Decide whether to sell individually or as a lot
Piecing items out and selling on an individual basis will typically bring in the most cash on high dollar, in-demand items. This is frequently done through auction sites though you can also try your luck with Facebook groups.  Auction sales will be quicker, but be aware that there will be a fee, and the fee is assessed on the listed price plus the cost of shipping.  This ends up being in the neighborhood of 10-15% of the sale price, so be mindful that come the end of the month, you could be hit with a big bill from the auction site.  One drawback of selling a transformers collection piecemeal is that, while hot items move quickly, you are left with a decreasingly desirable collection that will be increasingly difficult to find a buyer for, individually or in bulk.  Another potential drawback is that you will have to take the time to sort through your collection and match all figures with their respective accessories.

If you only have a handful of toys, this is no problem but for large collections it can be a herculean endeavor, and it might behoove you to sell it all in one shot.  Afterall time is money.  Local comic and pawn shops will usually be happy to evaluate your collection.  You might even find a collector in your area for the sale, though it is advisable to make the exchange in a public place. Still, you’ll often find that you can get more out of your collection selling online to a reseller. Resellers will be able to evaluate your toys’ condition, and can do all the part-matching legwork, based on pictures. Sending everything to one location will save time both on packaging and labelling.

Selling your Transformers collection to a reseller also ensures you will part with everything, even those broken or undesirable figures.  They will gladly take the crap (*cough* Age of Extinction *cough*) if it helps seal the deal on your more primo items. In addition, resellers are likely able to utilize your broken items--either as body parts donors or as recipients of donor parts themselves.  It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship when two worn and tattered toys come together as one.  Plus it’s good for the environment!

2.     It’s all about the accessories, baby!
It may seem counter-intuitive, but more plastic does not mean more pesos.  Collectors want their toys complete.  Guess what’s more likely to get sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, or to have fallen down a floor vent, your 1985 G1 Deluxe Vehicle Roadbuster or his tiny antenna?  Odds are the toy itself will have survived the decades.  From there it’s the simple law of supply and demand.  So when you are showing your collection, make sure to highlight the accessories.  You can match up parts with their owner using instruction books or with online transformers identification tools.  Even if you don’t have time to match up each part with their owner, make sure to picture them properly, which brings us to our next tip.

3.     Take the right pictures
Whether you’re parting out your collection or selling in bulk, pictures will be key.  In either case, make sure to use a clean, plain (usually white) backdrop that contrasts with the toys being photographed (don’t use a white backdrop for white objects).  Patterned or textured backdrops and background clutter can interfere with the subject of the photo. Finally this should go without saying, but check each photo to make sure objects are well lit and in focus.

If you are looking to sell a large toy collection in bulk, take group shots to save time, and to allow for fast and easy data transfer.  When grouping, be sure to size match, that is, group similarly-scaled toys together.  Make sure every object being photographed is spread out and no item obstructs the view of another.  Small toys (1-5 inches) can be pictured 10-20 per group.  Average scale toys (6-12 inches) can be photographed 5-10 per group, large scale toys (12 - 24 inches) can be grouped 3-5 at a time.  Oversized items will need to be photographed individually.


Also nope.

This will get you that $

Nicely done.

If accessories are already matched up, lay them next to their owners (for oversized toys, the accessories should be in a separate photo).  If accessories are not sorted, photograph them as above, in a separate set of pictures. Sorting accessories by size and color will help save your evaluator a lot of time. It is important to take only one photograph per group to eliminate any confusion on quantity counts as many toys came with multiples of the same accessory.  The buyer will likely ask for additional photos of toys with common breakage areas, but the point of the initial batch of photos is to present a good overview of the breadth of your collection.

Can you even see the accessories?

This is how you do it.

If you decide to sell your collection piecemeal, you’ll want to take multiple photos of each item.  Be sure your photos include all accessories present so buyers can clearly see everything included.  Sometimes, unbeknownst to the seller, accessories can stow away inside the figure.  If it’s a rare part, you will likely be contacted by potential buyers to check various compartments.  If anything is found, take a new photo as described above.  It is also advisable to photograph all sides of the toy.  This can be done in as few as three photographs - an isometric shot from two opposite sides, plus a top-down shot of the bottom of the toy. 

This method can be used for sealed toys as well.  For opened packages, make sure the contents are pictured using the method described above.  Package condition generally has more of an impact on value for vintage Transformers than it does for modern ones.

4.     Be up front about defects
Odds are, the person buying your collection has abundant knowledge of common defects like G1 Mirage’s waist hinge, G1 Optimus Prime’s eject button and trailer door hinges, Masterpiece Rodimus Prime’s knee joints, Alternators Rodimus’s left door (driver’s side in the US). If your buyer receives a defective item, they will often ask to return it. Some of your toys might have defects that you are honestly unaware of.  Minimize headaches with returns or partial refunds by asking your buyer if there are any common defects that you can inspect prior to shipping.

5.     Know what you have but don’t expect the world
Get informed on the general market price for your toys. Check online Transformers price guides to get an idea of how the price of a piece has changed over time, and more importantly, how it is trending today.  Cross-reference this with sold auction listings (which typically remain live for 90 days).  Auctions that ended with multiple bids tend to be the most accurate way to gauge the true market value of an item.  Avoid setting your expectations too high with the plethora of unsold active auction listings.  While sellers can ask any amount in their listings, they likely won’t sell anything unless their price is in-line with current market values.

Also make sure to be nuanced when evaluating your item against seemingly comparable items. Toy condition, completeness, and packaging can all have a big impact on price.  For figures, look for signs of discoloration (usually yellowing of white plastic or greening of blue plastic), rusty screws, bolts, or other hardware, chrome wear, paint wear especially on the edges of metal painted sections, and loose and floppy joints that can’t hold a pose.  As mentioned above, accessories are also important.  A figure that is missing the most valuable of three accessories is not 99% complete, and is certainly not going to bring 99% of the value of a complete one.  

99% of the parts, 10% of the value

Is the original packaging present, including the original styrofoam or plastic blister support trays?  Does the box have any rips, dents, crease markings, color fading, or general wear along the edges and corners?  For vintage Transformers (figures and packaging), the general rule is price goes up exponentially the closer you get to perfection, but know that the opposite is also true, and one seemingly minor flaw can really tank the value of an otherwise perfect piece.

Armed with these simple tips, you’ll be ready to sell Transformers the right way and walk away without regrets.  Have you recently made the decision to part ways with your collection?  We’d love to hear your story!


I want to thank Matt for writing this guest post for my blog! Having recently sold my entire collection, I can certainly vouch for these tips! 

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