Collector's Corner #5

on Tuesday, June 14, 2011.

Spotlight On... magnemo (Tom Vigneau)


Where do you live (general location only)?

Cape Cod, Massachusetts (USA)


How long have you been collecting?  What got you started?

I think it was 1994 when I first started.  I came across a copy of G-Fan #11 at a comic book shop and reading through that magazine just set off a huge wave of nostalgia.  Godzilla memories were just the tip of the iceberg because pretty soon it was Shogun Warriors and Micronauts, and by then there was just no turning back.


Did any of your childhood toys survive?  Do you still have them now?

Yes, actually there were quite a few.  That was one of the things that fueled the fire in the early days.  By the time I got finished raiding my parents' cellar, I had a nice little collection going without having to buy a thing.  But of course seeing those toys again, all of them well loved and missing bits and pieces, made me remember what it was like as a kid growing up in a modest-income family of 8.  There was neither space nor money for any of us to have a big collection of toys.  Jumbo Shoguns were out of the question for example, but I always wanted one just the same.  I used to make scrapbook pages full of cut up department store ads and Sears catalogue pages showing Shoguns and Micronauts.  I still have them.  So I always knew what I wished I could have... and being grown up with a decent job and not much in the way of expenses, it wasn't a big leap to say to myself "well, why not go out and try to find them NOW."


Thinking back now, I suppose I should have treated my surviving toys with more respect because to be honest most of them are gone now, upgraded to better condition versions over the years.  One of my quirks is that I can't stand to have any duplicates in my collection.


What do you collect?  What is your collecting philosophy?

Well, I'm definitely a completist at heart, so I have to be very careful about taking up new toy lines.  Once I start in on something, I usually go at it very seriously.  But there's only so much money to work with and even less space available, so the completist in me has to make a lot of compromises to keep from going nuts.  Over the years, my collecting goals have changed, just as I'm sure they will continue to change in the future.  As things stand now, the core of my collection is Takara's Magnemo Series and anything that relates to that.  Micronauts (especially the magno ones) and Microman fall under this umbrella, as do any and all products depicting the characters Geag (Jeeg), Godam, Ga-Keen, Baratack, and Machine Saurer.

02_Magnos_s 03_Mint_Micros_s

I am always looking for the best condition I can find, but I don't pass on incomplete toys as a temporary place holder.  I'm constantly upgrading, and as I said I can't stand duplicates, so I end up doing a lot of selling.  But it has to be an exact duplicate for me to want to let it go, even the slightest difference and I will want to keep both of them.  Lately I've become very interested in spotting and cataloguing every variation I can find in the vintage Microman line.  I'm hoping to create a website someday with all of those minute observations in it.


I'll always be a big fan of Godzilla too, and other Japanese sci-fi characters.  One of my absolute favorite toys as a kid was the ARK Red King die cast, so of course I had to hunt down the rest of them for my collection.  This lead to an interest in Bullmark's kaiju die casts as well, and I'm still working on those.  I've also got a large collection of Trendmasters classic Godzilla toys, about 90% of everything that was released.  That collection takes up a LOT of space in storage, but it was one of the very first things I went hog wild over back in the mid-90's so it's hard to think about letting it go.  But if a collection starts to become a burden, then where's the fun in that?  I do enjoy all of my little side collections, but when push comes to shove anything outside of the core Takara stuff is ultimately expendable.


How big is your collection, and how do you display it?

I've got way more collectibles than I can count, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say about 1000 or so.  My Magnemo collection is about 80% complete, and about the same for Microman.  I have very limited display space available -- just a single case of Godzilla items and one shelf each for Microman and Magnemo.

05_Kaiju_Case_s 06_Main_Case_s

No room at all for boxes unfortunately, but there are quite a few of those.  I never throw out any packaging.  It's a real shame how much cool stuff has to be packed away in storage for the time being, but someday I will bring them all out where they can be enjoyed.  I used to have an entire room dedicated to only toys, but then the children came and priorities got shuffled around.  It will happen again though... someday.


I really enjoy seeing how others choose to display their collections.  One look that I think works nice (and that I may try myself someday when I have more space to work with) is to make a wall of packaging in the back and display loose stuff in front of that.  I like to pack my toys in pretty close together, more so than you usually see.  Granted it's partially out of necessity, but I've grown accustomed to doing it that way and I can't imagine that any future display shelves will be any less crowded.  I hate dusting, so all of my displayed stuff is protected by clear acrylic.  It works like a dream, and I'll never go back to open shelves again.


How do your wife and kids feel about your collection?

My wife is very tolerant, and puts up with a lot of clutter without complaining.  She doesn't really get the whole toy thing, but she does have a clear sense for how important it is to me, and that's enough to keep it from ever coming between us.  My daughter is nearly a teenager now and never really got it either.  Only my son, whose going to be 9 this year, really understands what makes my toys so cool.  He's got a massive collection of his own too, naturally.  I have to cringe a little when I see how the parts become scattered (and broken too sometimes), but hey, that's what boys do.  I certainly did when I was his age.  Soft vinyl toys are good if you don't want to worry about lost or broken parts, and over the years I have also developed a new appreciation for Bandai's Power Ranger stuff.  Say what you want about how chunky and brick-like they can be, but when it comes to shear durability you just can't beat them.


Are there any toys you would like to see made?

Well, I really like what CM is doing these days with the Magnemo characters like Geag and Ga-Keen.  If they were to continue on with Godam, and then maybe even Machine Saurer and Death Cross, that would be amazing.  I'd also love to see all of the Magnemo characters done as updated mini versions, smaller than the old Magnemo-8 series but still using the same joint size.  Something along the lines of the original Titan figures or even the Mini Death Cross.  I can just picture an articulated magnetic Geag in that scale, and it would absolutely rock!

Another thing that they can't bring back fast enough is the Bandai vinyl Godzilla series.


What is your favorite piece?

That's a hard question!  So many toys are favorites for so many different reasons... maybe it was a particularly good deal, or maybe it's very old and rare.  Or new and rare - that happens too!  There's a Reproduction Series Microman figure that was limited to only FIVE pieces.  Wish I could say I've got one, but sadly no.  Anyway, I digress.  Favorites can be based on a toy's amazing design or its engineering, or it can have nothing to do with the toy itself and be more about the character depicted.  For me, there's one particular piece that combines all of these things, and that's the Magnemo Series Geag/Panzeroid boxed combo set.  The M-11 Geag toy by itself is so iconic, but when combined with the horse (literally!) and the amazing box art, the sum total is just toy nirvana.


That set has sentimental value for me as well, because I came to discover the Japanese toys only after having been a rabid Micronauts fan for nearly 2 decades.  I still love Micronauts of course, but the Japanese originals were an absolute revelation to me - an epiphany if you will.  I was completely unprepared when I stumbled across that Geag set at a Boston toy show in 1995.  Just had no idea whatsoever what it was or where it had sprung from.  That feeling of excitement, of discovery... like a curtain had been pulled back to reveal a whole world, one which was all the more fascinating because it had been there all along.  I'll never forget that feeling.  It really cemented my love of Japanese toys.


What is the most unique piece in your collection?

For quite a few years, the Geag/Panzeroid set occupied the #1 spot on my "Top 10" list, but a few years ago it was knocked out of first place by a Microman item that I had picked up from ebay - a fully populated store display box of 12 M10x figures, all deadstock mint.


But just this past month, the top spot has changed hands again in favor of a toy that's technically not even Japanese - a one-of-a-kind gold chrome Micronauts Baron Karza. 


The story behind it is still a complete mystery, but all of the evidence points to a vintage, factory-produced piece - probably a test shot or prototype of some sort.  The packaging is unique as well, adding to the intrigue.  The toy came to me from a New York City antiques shop that was closing its doors, by way of a very helpful fellow collector and Robot Japan community member.  Sean, if you're reading this, thanks again!



What is at the top of your Want List?

At the very top of my want list is the smaller of the Sanzen die cast Ga-Keen figures.  The last time one came up for sale on ebay, I was all prepared to bid like crazy for it, but then the listing just ended with all of the bids cancelled.  Grrrr!  The next item down isn't anywhere near as hard to find - a Death Cross clone called Silorg Warrior (from the U.K. "Converters" line).  They pop up now and again, but it always seems to happen when my attention is turned elsewhere.  Just bad luck I suppose, but I've been trying to score one for over 10 years!  The last of my 3 Holy Grails is the Bullmark die cast Angillas robotic kaiju figure.  Being a big fan of ARK's robotic kaiju, I just can't resist the similar look of the Angillas.  If anyone reading this knows of somebody who's selling one, please pass it along!


There are lots of other items on my want list of course, but those are my top three.  


Do you have any particularly memorable toy collecting moments?

Discovering the existence of a vintage toy for the first time is always a cool memory, and those moments are even better when you come across the toy in person.  Scoring a big lot or a sweet price also stands out.  But I think the best memories come from meeting up with fellow collectors who share the same passions as you.  When I was first getting started, I was very fortunate to have made contact with a number of really friendly Micronauts fans.  We shared every bit of info we could find - first by phone, and then eventually by sending e-mails and creating web pages.  Most of that core group is still around, but it's the time that I got to meet everyone in person that really stands out in my memory.  It was at a MEGO themed event in Toledo, OH in 1998.  What a time that was!  I drove about 14 hours to get there and brought a big chunk of my collection along to put on display, which in itself was a lot of fun. Lots of buying, selling and trading of course, but plenty of non-toy-related conversation going on too.  I had such a great time that I began to organize a small gathering (or "summit" as they've come to be known) of my own back home in New England the following summer.

Another milestone was my first (and so far only) trip to Japan back in 1997.  I was staying with my Sister-in-law's family in a small town on the west coast for most of the trip, and that part was amazing in its own right, but towards the end we did Tokyo for a few days, including a day at Wonderfest.  Not knowing a lot of Japanese but armed with a decent sized wad of yen and a couple of really generous and amazingly helpful local guides (one Japanese, the other American), I scored pretty well at Wonderfest and equally well the next day while touring a half dozen or so vintage toy shops.  The side trip even included a late night visit to the home of a Microman super-collector for a bit of trading and a whole lot of gawking.  There was a storage room that was stuffed full - just piled high with rare boxed items.  Nothing on display, just stacks and stacks of amazing vintage treasure.  We only peeked in there for a minute or so unfortunately, but I wanted to spend hours and hours.  As it turned out, I missed the last subway train of the night and had to take a cab back to my hotel.  It felt really weird seeing Tokyo so dark and quiet.  I had always thought of it as being a 24 hour place like NYC.


The loot I brought home was a pretty good haul, especially when laid out and viewed all at once.  I tried to snap a photo, but couldn't fit it all in to the frame!  The suitcases were very heavy needless to say, and I had to stuff a bunch of toys in my carry-on bags too.  Air travel was very different back then, but there's one thing that was as true in that day as it is now... you can't bring a gun with you on an airplane.  What does this have to do with toys you ask?  Well, one of my Microman scores was an MC-12 Walther P-38 Gunrobo (an early version of the Transformer character Megatron) and it's actually a pretty realistic looking weapon when in gun form.  There was no trouble in Japan, but when we passed through Korean customs they spotted it on the xray machine and went crazy.  Thankfully, when they discovered that it was a toy robot, everyone had a big laugh.  I didn't mind much that it was at my expense, I was just happy I wasn't being arrested!


What keeps you collecting?  What do you get the most out of it?

The toys themselves are a big part of it.  At first it was 95% nostalgia, but at some point it moved beyond that and became an appreciation for the beauty and cleverness of the toys, their inherent "coolness" quotient.  I also love the feeling that these objects have HISTORY and belong to a time that's so different.  I love opening up a mint-in-box 'bot and just soaking in the years that it has survived... completely intact... against all odds.  I love studying the tiny little details and keeping notes to share with others.  I love the thrill of the hunt, of tracking down that elusive item and bagging it at long last.  I love taking them apart and seeing what makes them tick.  The engineering is just incredible sometimes, and it can be immensely satisfying to perform a successful repair - or even just a well needed cleaning.

The other big draw is the people you meet.  Generous, insightful, creative, WELCOMING people.  From all around the world too!  It boggles my mind how global my network of friends is.  But despite being separated by thousands of miles, there's a very strong feeling of community.  When I was going through tough times and had to sell off all of my die casts, this community was there  for me in a big way, and I've seen it happen time and time again with others who have sad or happy news to share.


Any final thoughts?

I was very flattered to be asked to do this, and it seems to me that this would be a good opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to the founders and admins of Robot Japan.  It's one thing to have a passion for Japanese toys, but to spend so much time and money making a place where collectors can connect with each other, not to mention a fantastic archive and databank of pictures and info, that's just aces in my book.  Arigatōgozaimasu, gentlemen -- my hat's off to you.

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