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The Joy of Transformer’s Rubsigns
I didn’t own a lot of Transformers when I was a kid, but the ones I did were treasured and played with often. What was not to love about them? Vehicles. Robots. Dinosaurs. They have everything a kid could want. They also had a unique and simple feature that captured my imagination, the Rubsign.
The Rubsign was the small heat sensitive decal made of Mylar plastic which contains thermochromic liquid crystals. They started to appear on Generation 1 Transformers starting in their second year of availability (originally in the Mini-spies). They allowed the identity of a Transformer to be kept secret until heat was applied, usually through rubbing.
I am not sure why, but this small piece of technology quickly became an obsession of mine, and I would show it off to whoever would allow me to demonstrate it. This was typically my Mother or Grandmother, who would humor me and pretend I had not shown them it thousands of time before.
The original patent for the rubsigns is shared by Henry Orenstein and George Dunsay.
This novel use of what was “mood ring technology” might seem simple, but it just added another later of gee whiz to an already amazing toy line, and I would not consider buying a Transformer that did not have one.
Here is an ad from the mid-eighties featuring the rubsign.
Optimus Prime says in the commercial, “And only we have the right to be called the Transformers.” This is followed by an announcer who says, “Only Transformers are real Transformers.” Why?
With the popularity of the Transformers came rivals, imitators, and bootlegs. Rubsigns were a simple and interactive way to prove that the toy you had was officially part of the toy line. While they might not state that explicitly in the commercial, their intent to make that point is obvious.
The Rubsign did pop up from time to time in other non-toy Transformers properties, like comics and the animated series. Although not as frequently as I would have liked. Still, when one does make an appearance, I would get giddy. Something about seeing the functionality of the toy on TV or in print made it feel more important. It also gave me ideas on how I might incorporate rubsigns into my playtime.
Despite the popularity of Rubsigns, they became less common over time. Disappearing completely from the toy line in the late eighties. It would be almost a decade before they began to reappear. When they did, it was in a different format, as “hidden Energon chips” in the Beast Wars toys. About eight years later, rubsign fans could rejoice as they were re-introduced in their original form as part of a classic line of toys.
Why the decline in rubsigns? This is partly due to changes in toy design and packaging that have made it easier to identify the allegiance of a toy without the need for a rubsign. It might also be because, as stated in the commercial, they helped to differentiate Transformers from other transforming toys. By the time they were originally eliminated, The Transformers had defeated all of their competitors. So no need for them there.
Why bring them back? Probably a mix of nostalgia and a general acknowledgement of their place in the Transformer’s mythology. They were and are a beloved part of Transformers history, and they continue to be sought after by toy collectors who appreciate just how cool they are.
Rubsigns are a unique and iconic feature of Transformers toys that have been enjoyed by fans of the franchise for many years. The simple act of rubbing a sticker to reveal a hidden logo has become a beloved part of Transformers lore, and it remains a popular way for fans to engage with and remember their toys. While they may be less common nowadays, rubsigns will always be an important part of The Transformers.