Transformer Hunting 101

by Kim Merrikin, Seattle Goodwill
February 20, 2014

For 30 years Transformers have been a toy box staple. They have been on Christmas and birthday lists, and have had their value measured in the question, "How many lawns do I need to mow to get my Autobot?” Today, they're still coveted as toys—and perhaps even more so as collectors’ items. If you’re on the hunt for some vintage Transformers, learning a little about history and some tips & tricks to identify them will help you in your quest.

Image used under Creative Commons License. Minor edits. Photographer: Doug Kline.

In 1984, a number of Japanese toy lines merged to create Takara (eventually known as Takara-Tomy). Takara began manufacturing & selling Transformers in Japan, but with the immense popularity of the line, production expanded to include Hasbro and Bandai. Later in 1984, Hasbro purchased the entire line, making them the sole owner of the Transformer brand. Since then, Transformers have become available globally, and been turned into cartoons, multi-million dollar blockbusters, still capturing the imagination of children & adults alike.

There are a few tricks you can use to figure out what generation and line of Transformer you’re looking at, whether it is a reproduction or not, and ultimately its value.

  1. Look for the brand logo & date on the toy. Each toy should be labeled with an Autobot (red) or Decepticon (blue) logo, as well as a manufacturer and a production year. A visual scan of the toy will usually let you know if it was made by Takara, Tomy, Bandai or Hasbro—knowing the production year will help you identify an original vs. a reproduction.
  2. Know the different Transformer lines & generations. By knowing the years a product was manufactured, you can generally tell whether it’s of value. Here’s a simple breakdown:
    > > Generation 1 was made using the original Diaclone & Microman molds from Takara-Tomy. Because they used the original pre-1984 merge, they display some of the characteristics of the earlier lines—and some are even die-cast metal! The first generation transformers are the most valuable.
    > > Hasbro began manufacturing Generation 2 Transformers in 1993. They featured more body decorations like stickers and modified paint themes.
    > >Generation 3 began production in 1996 and included the Beast Wars & Machine Wars (1997) series. The Machine Wars toys were sold exclusively at Kay-Bee Toys, and were repackaged to be sold as Generation 1 Transformers—in fact, 10 of the 12 offered were exact replicas. A little extra research may be needed to tell a Generation 1 Transformer from a Machine Wars Transformer.
  3. Keep in mind, the following Transformers series tend to be less valuable: Beast Machines, Universe, Expanded Universe—if you’re going for vintage value, look for Transformers made before 1993!

If you’re on the prowl for your childhood dream toys, be sure to check out our online store—and the shelves at your local Goodwill. We have regular rotating stock of varying generations of Transformers—so check in regularly to be sure you’re not missing anything!


Kim fancies herself a professional communicator. She has experience in writing, graphic design, and social media, and is always looking to expand her knowledge base into other fields of communication. She loves people, coffee & Seattle (including the rain).

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