Comprehensive 1990's G1 Reissue ID Guide
The purpose of this guide is to differentiate between the original 1980's G1 releases and the reissues released from 1989 through 1995, which come in near-identical packaging. Because the reissues look just like the originals, they are often confused with them. Even AFA often has not been able to tell the difference in the past--they've graded TONS of 1990's Chinese reissues as the 1980's US releases. Don't be fooled--use this guide to tell the difference!
The following are the three types of reissue Transformers that get easily confused with the originals.
If you think any information on this page is incorrect, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page to let me know, and I will look into it.
Background info: In 1989, Hasbro began releasing Transformers in China, but rather than starting with the current line of Pretenders and Miromasters, they reissued toys from 1984, 1985, and 1986 instead. For some reason, these Transformers were packaged in almost identical packaging to that of the original US releases (though, a couple came in Canadian, European, or Dutch packaging). The boxes had only tiny alternations and a small Chinese name sticker in the corner, making them very difficult to differentiate from the original releases, especially when the name sticker was removed. (This is unlike the G.I. Joe reissues in China from around the same time that used new packaging.) Chinese Transformers reissues continued to be released through 1995, with more toys being released each year, all of them almost identical to the original releases.
For a long time people thought that 1990's Chinese reissues were unlicensed knockoffs. However, they are in fact real Hasbro releases. There's lot of evidence to confirm this including, among other things, Takara selling the 1990's Chinese Aerialbots in Japan via mail order, and 1990's Chinese Transformers being found in the collection of a Hasbro employee. (However, there ARE Chinese G1 knockoffs that began being manufactured in 2005. To learn more about those and how to ID them, use my G1 Counterfeit ID Guide.)
Here's is a relatively complete list of Chinese G1 reissues compiled by TF expert Karl Hartman with some small additions by other helpful G1 collectors:
(Recent additions to the list are in italics.)
1984, 1985, and 1986 toys reissued in China out of order from 1989 - 1992 (AKA Series 1, 2, and 3)
1987 toys reissued in China in 1993 (AKA Series 4)
1988 toys reissued in China in 1994 (AKA Series 5)
1989 Japanese Transformers Victory toys reissued in China in 1995
(Note: According to information from Chinese fans, the following toys were also released: Slag, Swoop, Blaster, Scourge, Thrust, Dirge, and the Insecticons. Also, Sideswipe was probably released as well. I'll add them to the list when I get further confirmation. If anyone has pictures of these, please let me know!) As you can see, they reissued about half of the first five years of G1, plus several toys from the Japanese Transformers Victory series. For years these have been leaking into the collector market. With the Chinese stickers removed, they have been difficult to tell apart from the original releases, and tons of them have been incorrectly graded by AFA as 1980's originals (especially Ironhides). But don't worry, because it's actually not too hard to tell the difference if you know what to look for.
A. Packaging differences
All Series 1 through Series 4 Chinese reissues have one very obvious tell. On the back of the box/card (bottom of the box for Soundwave), where the copyright and manufacturing text is usually written, the part that says "Made and printed in Japan. Manufactured by Takara" (or some variant thereof) is omitted. Sometimes there is a black bar over it, sometimes it is carefully removed--it depends on the toy. But either way, all that is left is the Hasbro copyright part of the string. Here's an example of a 1980's Seaspray and a Chinese reissue Seaspray. Note how much shorter the Copyright info is on the Chinese Seaspray:
Series 5 Chinese reissues have a slightly different alteration. They leave the "Takara" part alone, but instead of "Made in (Country) by Takara", it says "Made in China C-123A" where "123A" is replaced with some similar number/letter combination. However, it's important to note that some Series 5 Transformers, like the Powermaster cars, were originally manufactured in China in 1988, so if you see a 1988 G1 toy that says "Made in China" on the box without the "C-123" part, that's an original 1980's release, not a 1990's Chinese reissue. Here's an example:
There are also some other packaging differences unique to certain toys:
One other thing to note is that the Chinese Transformers Victory reissues from 1995 all had substantial alterations on the packaging, which replaced the Japanese Transformers logo with a Chinese logo, the character's Japanese name with his Chinese name, and the Japanese for "Takara" with the English for "Takara" (among many other differences). If you're familiar at all with the Japanese logo, these are really easy to spot.
Example of a TF Victory Chinese Reissue.
B. Toy differences
If your toy is out of the packaging or the copyright stamp is visible through the bubble, there's another way to identify them as well. For Series 1 through Series 4* releases, the part of the copyright stamp usually marked "(C) TAKARA Japan/Taiwan/Macau/wherever" is blocked out. (This is the same blocking out that was done on the European Classics releases from around the same time; they were made in the same factory.) Series 5 releases (i.e., Powermasters, small Headmasters), have a slightly different blocking out--they leave the "(C) TAKARA" part as-is, and only block out the manufacturing country.
The toys themselves also have other slight differences compared to the original 1980's releases. Here's a list of some of the known differences:
Cassettes with painted details are easy to spot in pictures, because their screws are visible, whereas cassettes with sticker details have their screws covered by the stickers. Check out Fred's page to see what they look like.
Again, see Fred's page for pictures of these.
There are a lot of other minor differences as well beyond the ones I've mentioned above. In particularly there were a lot of slight color differences. I'm less familiar with these, so rather than give a halfhazard listing of them, I've omitted them from this guide.
C. Obvious giveaways -- Be careful!
Obviously, if it has Chinese name sticker in the corner on it, it's the Chinese release. However, these were apparently very easy to remove, since a lot of Chinese reissues show up without them. So be careful--just because it doesn't have Chinese stickers on it doesn't mean it's not a Chinese release. If it doesn't have a Chinese sticker, use the toy and box differences above to sort them out.
Also, another reason to be careful: if it has a big half-Chinese/half-English sticker over the logo, that's a Taiwan release. Some Taiwan releases are 1980's US releases, and some are 1990's Chinese releases. You'll have to look for the other differences in order to tell for sure. For example, even though this Nightbeat has the big Taiwanese sticker over the logo, it's clearly not the 1990's Chinese reissue (it doesn't come in a Dutch box, it has the normal copyright string on the back, and it does not have the thick silver-bordered metallic flame stickers).
These were imported into a lot of different countries. Notably, a lot of these were imported into Europe. For example, the minibots were available at Woolworths in Britain, and there also appears to be a high concentration of Chinese reissues in the Netherlands. Other countries known to have sold Chinese reissues include Korea, Portugal, and Australia.
Like the US, Japan had mail-in exclusives you could get by sending in robot points with some money. In 1991 and 1992, their mail-in exclusives consisted of US-packaged reissues of older Transformers.
The Aerialbots were simply the Chinese releases without the Chinese sticker in the corner. Thus, you can tell them apart from the original releases by using the methods describes in the Chinese reissue section above.
The Dinobots are a bit more of a mystery. According to the list above, only three Dinobots were reported to have been reissued in China, so at minimum the extra two (Swoop and Slag) may have been made exclusively for Japan. Recent feedback from Chinese fans suggests that Slag and Swoop may have been released in China, which would solve the mystery. One way to tell Japanese mail-in Dinobots apart from the original 1980's releases is that they do not have rubsigns. (Note that I'm not sure if the Chinese Dinobots didn't have rubsigns as well.) They also have the same abbreviated Copyright information on their boxes as the Series 1 through 4 Chinese releases (I've confirmed this.)
There were also US-packaged Insecticons offered from 1987 to 1990, but it's presently unclear to me whether there are any differences between these and the original US releases. After all, several other US-packaged TFs were available as mail-in exclusives one or two years after their original release. The only thing strange about the Insecticons is that Takara continued to offer them as mail-ins for 4 years! I don't have any information that says they're any different from the US releases, but if I find out that they're different in any way, then I'll update this page accordingly. Recent feedback from Chinese fans suggests that the Insecticons may have been released in China. I'm skeptical of this, though. The timing doesn't real seem to fit, since the mail-in Japanese Insecticons were just in the process of ending when the Chinese line was starting up. After all, it could have just been old stock that was showing up in both China and Japan. But on the other hand, from 1987 to 1990 more and more Transformers in general were being made in China. So for now I'm still not really sure about the Insecticons.
These just showed up on Ebay in 2008, although they appear to be much, much older. Since they were made in Japan, they're clearly not 1990's reissues like the toys mentioned above, but I didn't really feel like they deserved their own seperate guide. As discussed below, they were probably made around 1986 or 1987.
So far there are only two of them: Optimus Prime and Astrotrain. Optimus Prime has "(C) Hasbro" blacked out on the back of the box. Astrotrain has ALL of the copyright/manufacturing information removed. Here are pictures of the altered Copyright strings of the two toys:
Why are these mysterious? Well, no one really knows what they are. Obviously, the removal of "(C) Hasbro" is very sketchy, but Chinese TFs have similar alterations, and they turned out to be legit. Thus far there are only a couple clues about these toys:
Since these were, apparently, made in Japan, they had to have been made between 1984 and 1987, since starting in 1988 almost no Transformers were being made in Japan anymore. The black boxes on the Optimus Prime suggest a later release, so these were probably made in 1986 or 1987. Given that they were made and purchased in Japan, maybe PEL is a subcontractor that Hasbro and Takara used to manufacture Transformers. Maybe as their contract was expiring, they manufactured and sold a few TFs under the table, but altered the Copyright markings in an attempt to avoid getting into trouble.
Another theory I recently thought of is that these could be transitional variants not intended for release. That is, when Hasbro transitioned from "(C) Hasbro" to "(C) Hasbro Bradley", they had to alter the backs of their boxes by erasing the old copyright info and printing the new copyright info on top of it. On Optimus Prime in particular, this involved adding a black bar over the old copyright info, just like the mysterious version. Of course, the difference between the mysterious version and the Hasbro Bradley version is that it says "(C) Hasbro Bradley" on the Hasbro Bradley version. So maybe during the change, they printed out a couple test boxes to see what the erased copyright looked like before adding the new copyright. If that's the case, these aren't later reissues at all, but just weird not-intended-for-sale versions.
Anyway, whatever they really are, at least they're easy to tell apart from the originals. Just look for "(C) Hasbro" missing from the back of the box.
*I know this is true of Series 1, 2, and 3 Chinese reissues. I have yet to confirm/disprove it on Series 4 Chinese reissues, but I am pretty confident it is the same.
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