Here’s another installment of this weekend’s yard sale and flea market finds. Well, it’s more like the last two weekends. First up are the McDonald’s Changeables Happy Meal Toys. I scored these for a quarter a piece. The Changeables are some of the most fondly-remembered Happy Meal toys. They were toy versions of McDonald’s foods that transformed into robots, a total cash-in attempt at the height of the Transformers popularity.
However the Changeables also became popular in their own right. Kids begged their parents for return trips and Happy Meals to collect all of the toys, and McDonald’s responded to the sound of cha-ching with three different series of them in 1987, 1989, and 1990. Today they are one of the few Happy Meal toys that even warrants its own Wikipedia page.
Here I have a mixture from each of the series, including the third series which transformed into dinosaurs instead of robots. Yet the transforming aspect of the toys was never the appeal. Each only has one or two moving parts, and the robots themselves kind of suck. It was having miniature plastic versions of the foods themselves that was so neat.
We loved the foods. No, I mean, we loved them. McDonald’s has been demonized and dismissed in the last decade, sometimes rightfully and sometimes not. Today, the Big Mac is at best thought of as a greasy processed food, and at worst, a symbol of an obesity epidemic. But in the 1980s, it was a symbol of American popular culture and capitalism. It was iconic. The Economist coined the Big Mac Index as a reference point for comparing the cost of living in different countries. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions all on a sesame seed bun” was more than a commercial jingle. It was a rallying cry.
Kids love icons. For the same reasons we loved Mickey Mouse and Paul Bunyan, we loved the Big Mac and the Egg McMuffin. Even the packaging itself—the yellow boxes of McNuggets and airy styrofoam trays of Hotcakes—was something altogether more, something beyond fast food. Now add in the fact that they transformed into robots and dinosaurs—ROBOTS AND DINOSAURS—and it’s a slurry of lost American nostalgia that’s particularly unique to a generation of kids that grew up in the 1980s.
Paid: $1.75 for all
Value: $1-4 a piece
(I’m nabbing this paid/value thing from one of my favorite blogs, Cool and Collected, and if you like these yard sale finds posts, check this blog out.)
Next up: Z-BOTS!
I didn’t find all of these Z-Bots this weekend, because if I had I’d have died from awesomeness overload. I could have just picked out the ones I did find to show off, but instead I chose to show off my entire collection, which cannot be shown off enough. Seriously, I feel like inviting random strangers into my house just to show them and scream I HAVE LOTS OF Z-BOTS. I HAVE LOTS OF Z-BOTS!
Paid: .25 to .50 each
Value: $1 a piece
Next: PVC figures!
I’m like a nut for random PVC figures. I’m always having to muscle little kids out of the way to dig through the big plastic tubs of toys, and I’ll be there digging for ten minutes, since the world is always against me and the good ones are always buried obscurely at the creepy, dusty bottom. I really hope that’s dust.
The California Raisins, Snorks, and ET represent some of the most popular PVC figures released in the 1980s. I find them all the time. I’ve got a load of each of these guys. The girl Raisins are my favorites to find because they’re a bit rarer and funkier than the other Raisins. Well, except for the Raisin in the orange glasses who, of course, defines funk.
Paid: .25 each
Value: $1-2 each
The Chuck E. Cheese figure was a particularly cool find because it’s marked 1985 Showbiz Pizza on the bottom. Chuck E. Cheese was originally founded by Atari mastermind Nolan Bushnell in 1979, but later merged with Showbiz Pizza. Eventually by the 1990s, they turned all the branding over to Chuck E. Cheese and CEC Entertainment.
I’ve started collecting some of the old Showbiz Pizza stuff after watching an amazing documentary on Netflix, The Rock-afire Explosion, which is about the cult fans of the animatronic character band, although that’s a bit misleading because documentary is really about something more. It’s a documentary about a sort of human truth that you can never quite place your finger on—and yet you know it’s there.
Here’s the best way I can explain this haunting documentary: Joni Mitchell recorded her classic album Blue in 1971. It’s sad, spare and beautiful. It will knock you on your ass if you let it. She is a genius of human confession. She sings about her disintegrating relationship with Graham Nash, the out-of-wedlock baby she gave up for adoption, and about pain and life and everything in between—she lays it all out there, bare. Once, Mitchell played it for Kris Kristofferson who listened speechless until he finally said, “Jesus Christ, Joni save something for yourself.”
Then I watched this documentary and I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, Joni never even got close to it. This movie dives into a whole new realm of some human truth, the sort of realm where only a warehouse full of rotting, melting animatronic bears could exist. Watch the documentary if you haven’t seen it yet. I felt profoundly unsettled for days.
I recently wrote to the man behind the Rock-afire Explosion (also the man behind the aforementioned warehouse) and asked him to autograph some Showbiz Pizza 45s I have. He was very happy to oblige and include some weird but sincere inscriptions:
Next – COLLECTING FAILS #1
I’m calling this my collecting fails because this is part of my ongoing sad attempt at trying to collect the stuff that people want. You know, the stuff that sells on eBay. The stuff that pro collectors collect. Stuff like Masters of the Universe, Transformers, GI Joe, and Thundercats. People can make big bucks off it and I want in on the game.
My first problem is, I couldn’t identify a Transformer or GI Joe if my life depended on it. I know nothing about these lines. I blame my age. These cartoons had the height of their popularity from 1984-1987. That was when I was between three and six years of age. I watched these cartoons but geez alright, I just liked Scooby Doo better. Okay? Okay?
So those smaller figures in the picture are not GI Joes, but instead Visionaries. It’s actually another collectible line from 1987, except the holograms are missing. Dang, why’d that kid have to peel the hologram stickers off the chests for his notebook?
My second problem is, I eagerly hand over two or three bucks a piece for these things thinking I’ve scored some rare figure that I can sell for twenty bucks online, only to realize no one wants Mantenna with his eyeballs scraped off. Or that Sectaurs bug with half a wing ripped off.
COLLECTING FAILS #2
Hey look, it’s a G1 Transformer! G1 is the nerd-speak for “this Transformer is worth a hundred dollars.” Except this is one is what an eBayer might refer to as “as-is” condition, which brings down the price drastically. Like to two dollars.
By the way, my favorite and/or saddest moment as a collector was the time at a toy show with three bucks left burning in my pocket, I was like, “hey how much is that robot dinosaur thing?” and the dude was like “that’s Grimlock, Dinobot Commander complete and in mint condition. It’s two hundred dollars.”
Also, hey look, it’s a Voltron figure. Those things are worth big dollars. Until I realized it’s a freaking POWER RANGER toy. God, I suck at collecting.
There’s also a broken Go-Bot toy in there. I’m not gonna lie. Broken or not, that thing is awesome.
Paid: $1-3 each
Value: Maybe $10 for all if I’m lucky
Next: Video Game Stuff!
Alright, now we’re back in my comfort zone. I got that table top Galaxy Twinvader game for $9. I rarely pay that much for anything at a yard sale. Five bucks is my price limit for stuff. But I didn’t have a vintage table top game yet, so I couldn’t leave it behind.
I scored the Atari 2600 games and Mario Goomba toy for a quarter each. I paid a dollar for the How To Win At Video Games guide. I love it because it only features arcade machines. The copyright is 1982. In the back they devote about a half a page to home video game systems, but at the time they were still thought secondary to the true versions in the arcades. There’s no screenshots or photographs of the games, and instead all the screens and diagrams are beautifully hand-drawn just like on the cover.
Paid: $10.50 for all
Next – Turtle Stuff!
Now we’re talking. Ninja Turtle crap is my favorite. I paid a quarter for each of these guys. Any idea what those hockey-stick wielding figures are? I have no idea. All I know is I now own Genghis Frog in hockey-playing form. Then I’ve got some Turtle survival gear with that Turtlecom and compass. Doomsday preppers can stockpile all the bottled water and canned meat products that they need. I have a compass that will lead me to the Ninja Turtles and a proprietary device for communicating with April.
Paid: $1 for all
Value: Priceless when the apocalypse comes
Finally, look: The Surfing Pizza sticker exists!
Whoa! The people at Build A Sign hooked me up with some Surfing Pizza stickers, and I’m giving them away. I want to send you one FOR FREE. This thing is soon to be collectible when I’m famous. You know, when I finish my book and it gets published. Or when the Hoarders people call me up to feature me on their show. Whichever comes first. The price is free but the value is more like a million future dollars. Future dollars is a very real currency.
So email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll hook you up! (Also if you’re reading this way after the fact when I posted this, I still have stickers. Seriously I have like a million. Just write me and ask!)