20th Century Toy Collector

Yo Joe!

G.I. Joe MB 1987 product numbers Europe

The availability of the original vintage 3.75-inch action figure toy line G.I. Joe in Europe in the 1980’s and 1990’s was everything but a uniform affair. If you thought that the availability of Transformers in Europe in the 1980’s was confusing, with all the various distributors involved, the G.I. Joe line takes this to a whole new level and way up into the stratosphere. Part of this is due to the way that the G.I. Joe line’s European history is entwined with another toy line called Action Force from a British company called Palitoy. The two lines ran from 1982 to 1994 and were available in most west-European countries during this time span in some way or another. 1987 was a landmark year in European G.I. Joe history, because that is when Hasbro took over the reigns from Palitoy and properly introduced the G.I. Joe line in Europe.

Article on G.I. Joe introduction in Netherlands in trade magazine Speelgoed + Hobby, March 1987

I’ve been investigating the availability of G.I. Joe toys in Europe during said period and I currently have a mountain of information, which I am structuring and compiling into an all-encompassing article that will be published on this site. Although it’s probably going to take many weeks before I will be able to publish that article I would like to share some information today with you on that landmark year of 1987 and specifically on the mainland European area, because that year and region holds most nostalgic value to me.

“Hasbro takes control”

Before Hasbro truely launched the G.I. Joe line in Europe, the British company Palitoy had been active selling 3.75-inch action figures under the name of Action Force. During their very succesful run Palitoy even imported several of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles (sometimes repainted or with different stickers, which makes for very nice variations!) and sold them under the Action Force name as well to further flesh out the line.

Action Force – Cobra Water Moccasin (1985) Palitoy

Due to a shift in strategy from Palitoy’s parent company the line all but died in 1986 and Hasbro seemingly saw their chance and acquired the intellectual rights to the Action Force line. The time now seemed right for Hasbro to properly launch their G.I. Joe toys in Europe themselves instead of going through Palitoy and this is what occurred in the spring of 1987.

G.I. Joe – Dutch pack-in catalog: G.I. Joe side (1987) MB International B.V.

The line was (re)-launched by Hasbro and MB in the following countries:

  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Benelux
  • Italy
  • Switzerland (unconfirmed)

 

Distribution in the UK was done by Hasbro Industries (UK), Ltd and the toyline there retained the name Action Force, while France, the Benelux, Italy and Switzerland were introduced to the G.I. Joe brand, distributed by the various MB subsidiaries, as was common in mainland Europe in the 1980’s for Hasbro toys. Notable absentees here are two other major markets where MB was active and those are Spain and West-Germany. Spain was introduced to the G.I. Joe line a year later (in 1988), while West-Germany had to wait until 1989 and saw the line introduced under the Action Force name instead of the G.I. Joe name, along with a different background story (Action Force was a futuristic fighting force that defended Earth against enemies from both outer space and from Earth itself).

G.I. Joe – Dutch pack-in catalog: Cobra side (1987) MB International B.V.

But today I would like to focus on 1987 and specifically the roll out of the line in continental Europe, i.e. in France, the Benelux, Italy and Switzerland. I was particularly interested in the product codes of all the toys from this first release. I like making lists and sometimes patterns will emerge from looking at the number sequences, as they did in this case! Before we look at the list of product codes, here’s a short explanation of what these numbers mean.

“MB product codes”

Milton Bradley (MB) was the company that was responsible for the distribution of Hasbro toys in continental Europe from 1985 until the early 1990’s. MB used to be an independent company and had a presence in Europe that dates back to 1968 with the opening of their first international subsidiary MB International B.V. in Ter Apel, the Netherlands. MB was taken over by Hasbro in September 1984. By that time MB had expanded their presence into a total of nine European countries and possessed a distribution network that covered a large chunk of Europe. Because MB had their own methods of distributing and numbering products the MB product numbers on Hasbro branded toys were often different from the numbers that Hasbro used.

MB used a 4-digit code, followed by a 2-digit suffix code. This code can be found on the packaging of all MB distributed toys and in their dealer/trade catalogs. Generally, the first 4 digits represent a unique number, which is assigned to a specific toy. The 2 digits that follow, which are usually printed in a smaller size, generally indicate the language variation(s) of the packaging. Here is an example of the packaging of the 1987 Cobra Water Moccasin (with Dutch language on the packaging).

MB product code of Dutch Cobra Water Moccasin – 9608 04

As you can see the unique code for the Cobra Water Moccasin is 9608. The 2-digit suffix code is 04, which means this packaging comes with Dutch language on it. Whether the packaging of the European Water Moccasin is French, Dutch or Italian, they are all 9608. Only the last 2 digits will differ. Here’s a table of all the suffix codes you will find on 1987 continental European G.I. Joe toys packaging (and other European Hasbro products from that time!) and what they mean:

Selection of MB language codes (1987)

There are obviously more language codes in use, but the 1987 line up only came in these languages, so I’ve kept the list down to just these four codes here. Here’s the breakdown by country for 1987:

  • France obviously got toys packaged with language code 02, which is French. Distribution was done by Hasbro S.A. and/or MB France S.A.
  • Italy got toys packaged with code 03, which is Italian. Distribution by MB Italy S.r.l.
  • The Netherlands got packaging with code 04, which is Dutch. There are also several reports of some Dutch toy stores also carrying toys with code 98, which is the bilingual French/Dutch packaging. Distribution by MB International B.V.
  • Belgium primarily got packaging with code 98, which is bilingual French/Dutch packaging that was specifically made for Belgium. (Dutch and French are the two main languages spoken in Belgium). Belgium apparently also got the 04 code packaging, which is the all-Dutch packaging, because the Belgian Hasbro-MB office address is specifically mentioned on the Dutch packaging. This 04 code packaging was probably primarily available in stores in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Although there is no mention on the 02 code French packaging about Belgium, it’s quite possible that the 02 code French packaging might have also been officially available in Wallonia, the southern, French speaking part of Belgium. Distribution by Hasbro-MB N.V./S.A.
  • Official languages of note in Switzerland are German, French and Italian. I have no confirmation yet that Switzerland was included in the 1987 G.I. Joe launch. If it was, the Swiss would probably have had to settle for the 02 and 03 code packaging, which is French and Italian, because there was no German G.I. Joe packaging manufactured in 1987 (due to the absence of West-Germany from the 1987 roster). Distribution would have been done by MB (Switzerland) A.G.
  • Little is known about the situation in Luxembourg, but the most likely scenario is that Luxembourg got the same packaging as Belgium did, which is code 98 with French and Dutch on the packaging. Distribution in Luxembourg was probably done from Belgium through Hasbro-MB N.V./S.A.

 

“The 1987 line up”

So what was the inaugural 1987 line up for continental Europe? Well, as you might have gathered from the catalog scans above it consisted of 20 action figures and 19 vehicles and sets. What I was most interested in is if there was any way to determine what sort of assortments were available, because (unlike Hasbro) MB never printed assortment numbers on their packaging. Dealer catalogs are usually the only source for assortment codes and unfortunately I do not own any 1987 Hasbro/MB dealer catalogs for the France/Benelux area. What’s an assortment? Well, some toys (usually the smaller toys) cannot be ordered on an individual basis by retailers and are only available as part of an assortment, i.e. a mix of several same-class items. By writing down all the product numbers on the packaging I was able to create the following list, which I was able to group into 4 sections. Have a look at the list. You can click on it for a closer look.

 

“Action Figure Assortment 1”

By looking at the numbers that MB allocated to the G.I. Joe toys in 1987 it becomes apparent that the 20 action figures came in two different assortments of 10 action figures each. The lowest product number of all is 9150 and has been assigned to Storm Shadow. You can see that there’s a total of 10 action figures, which have been assigned numbers sequentially counting up from 9150 to 9159:

G.I. Joe action figure assortment 1 (1987) MB

I’m pretty convinced that these ten action figures were part of one and the same assortment, because I have a 1988 Spanish dealer catalog from MB, which also has 20 action figures nicely grouped into two assortments of 10 each. This same catalog shows that each assortment came with 36 action figures, so it’s a pretty safe bet that these 1987 assortments in France, Italy and the Benelux also came in a factory case of 36 pieces.

“Action Figure Assortment 2”

The next list of sequential numbers ranges from 9250 to 9259 and is undoubtedly another action figure assortment, which starts with Ripper and ends with Eels:

G.I. Joe action figure assortment 2 (1987) MB

If you look closely you can see that there are 11 G.I. Joe action figures and 9 Cobra action figures. These have been divided quite nicely over the two assortments. Assortment 1 contains 5 G.I. Joe action figures and 5 Cobra action figures and assortment 2 contains 6 G.I. Joe action figures and 4 Cobra action figures. But hold on! Aren’t the two Crimson twins Tomax and Xamot action figures too? Well, technically they are action figures, but they were not sold as part of an action figure assortment as we will soon see. This, by the way, brings the balance between the Joe’s and the Cobra’s to an equal 11 vs 11.

“Battle Stations Assortment”

The next logical grouping of product numbers seems to be another assortment, which is the battle stations assortment. These are boxed items, but were probably considered too small to sell seperately so they were grouped together in an assortment:

G.I. Joe battle stations assortment (1987) MB

The battle stations have numbers 9450, 9451 and 9452 and contrary to the action figures assortment I have confirmation from that same 1988 dealer catalog that these were sold as an assortment by MB España in 1988. Here’s a scan of that particular page that I made:

G.I. Joe battle stations assortment (1988) MB España S.A.

As you can see these battle station assortments came with 12 pieces inside a factory case. But what’s even more interesting is that we see mention of an assortment number, being 9033. This is the assortment number that MB España S.A. used for this particular battle station assortment in 1988 and there’s quite a good chance that this assortment number was used by the remaining MB countries as well. Notice also how all three battle stations photos in the 1987 pack-in catalog are directly copied from this particular single diorama photo! Cool.

“Vehicles and sets”

The last sequence of grouped numbers starts at 9600 and is a listing of all the 1987 vehicles and sets. These items were large and expensive enough to be ordered on an individual basis by retailers, so no assortments here, just single items:

G.I. Joe vehicles and sets (1987) MB

As you can see Tomax & Xamot are part of this listing with product number 9601, same goes for Zartan and his Chameleon Swamp Skier. As you can see the items are also arranged from small to large, with the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform and the Cobra Hydrofoil closing the list.

“More Joe”

I really enjoyed taking apart this first wave of early G.I. Joe releases in Europe. If anything it gave me some insight into the way that these toys were available to retailers back then. Stay tuned for the afforementioned article on Action Force and G.I. Joe in Europe in the near future and see you back soon. From the eleven Joe’s from the 1987 European line up : “Yo Joe!!” ;-)

2-page spread from MB España 1988 dealer catalog

 

posted on June 1, 2013 by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and has Comments (8)


Transformers – Windcharger (MB)

“Quick action equals quick victory!”, that’s Windcharger’s motto. Windcharger was part of the very first series of Transformers minobots to be released and although most of his first series minibot brethren got plenty of air time in the original Transformers cartoon, Windcharger’s appearances on the animated series were very few and far between. Still, Windcharger was probably a very popular Transformer back in the day, because of the entry level price point and the fact that he turned in to a red race car! Today’s post is about the very rare mainland European version of Windcharger by Milton Bradley (MB).

Transformers – Windcharger (MB) Europe 1985

“US release”

In the US Windcharger was released by Hasbro in mid-1984 together with 5 other minibots, classics each and every one of them. Here’s a photo from the US 1984 Transformers pack-in catalog showing Windcharger together with Bumblebee, Huffer, Brawn, Gears and Cliffjumper.

Transformers – pack-in catalog (Hasbro) US 1984

“Micro Change”

Just like the rest of the minibots Windcharger was originally a toy that was released by Japanese toy maker Takara as part of their Micro Change series, which was in turn part of their 1983 New Microman line. The Micro Change series was a series of robots that transformed into everyday items that you would find around the house and many other early Transformers were actually descendants of this line, like Soundwave (a cassette player), Reflector (a photo camera) and Megatron (a gun… a household item in some countries). The minibots were supposed to represent toy cars, hence their deformed look. Windcharger is loosely based on a 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am.

MicroChange – Car 06 (Takara) Japan 1983

“European release”

In Europe Windcharger was available from 1984 in the UK and from late 1985 in continental Europe. Hasbro Industries (UK) Ltd were responsible for the UK market and simply imported Windchargers in American packaging. On most of mainland (western) Europe it was Hasbro’s newly acquired subsidiary MB who were responsible for the introduction of the Transformers toy line. For a very short while Transformers were available in Europe with an MB logo on the packaging. This changed in early 1986 when Transformers started to come with a Hasbro logo on the packaging.

MB branding and distribution

“Distribution”

Transformers toys in mainland Europe came in quad-lingual packaging in 1985 and 1986. Windcharger was a 1985 release and came with German, French, Dutch and Spanish on the packaging. Transformers toys were distributed by ‘Milton Bradley GmbH’ in West-Germany, ‘MB France SA’ in France, ‘MB International BV’ in the Netherlands, ‘MB Belgium NV/SA’ in Belgium, ‘MB España SA’ in Spain and ‘MB (Switzerland) AG’ in Switzerland. Some MB Transformers also ended up in several Nordic countries through ‘BRIO/Scanditoy AB’ and all the way down in beautiful New Zealand through ‘Milton Bradley (NZ) Ltd’.

Quad-lingual packaging

MB in Europe used a different product numbering scheme than Hasbro, so the SKU/catalog numbers on the European toys were different from those on the American packaging. Windcharger was part of the second “mini-vehicle” assortment number 9125. This particular assortment consisted of four Autobots, the other three being Brawn, Gears and Huffer. Here’s a photo from that assortment from a 1985 Transformers Milton Bradley dealer catalog supplement that was available in France and the Benelux (maybe also in West-Germany and Switzerland):

9125 “mini-vehicles” assortment (MB) Europe 1985

Note the incorrect suffix in the catalog page above. Windcharger’s number is not ‘9125 20’ as it states in the catalog, but ‘9125 22’. Here’s a close up of the catalog number on the MB Windcharger packaging:

Windcharger SKU/catalog number (MB) 9125 22

“Robot mode”

Let’s examine the rest of the blister packaging. As with all European cards, the text “Transforms from minicar to robot and back” has been removed. If you look closely you can see where the original text was located by spotting the two rows of squares on the top left that look out of place (they don’t fade nicely with the rest of the grid). The beautiful artwork on the card is the same as on the American card.

Windcharger artwork

The American minibot cars came packaged in vehicle mode in 1984 and were re-released in 1985, but now packaged in robot mode. This European Windcharger is packaged in robot mode, just like the American 1985 Windcharger release.

Windcharger (MB) – packaged in robot mode

“Age notice”

On the top left of the card we find the age notice in German, French, Dutch and Spanish.

Windcharger (MB) – Age notice (quad-lingual)

Contrary to MB’s wave 1 mini vehicles, all four wave 2 mini vehicles also have the original English age notice on the top right of the card. It looks like they forgot to remove this original text which is also present on the American Windcharger cards:

Windcharger (MB) – Age notice (English)

“Front to Back”

Let’s flip the card around and see what we can find on the back of the packaging. As you can see the portion of the back of the card that is taken up by the tech specs is significantly larger than what the American tech specs need. This is of course because of the need to display information in four languages. This also means that there is only room for the motto and no room is left for the bio that is found on the American releases.

Windcharger (MB) – back of the card

The rest of the card shows the transformation instructions and has information on how to decode the tech specs with the red decoder strip which can be found inside the packaging of boxed Transformers. Also included is the cut out point (well, half a cut out point), which kids could save for special mail away offers. The actual mail away offers varied from country to country. Around the time of Windcharger’s release there was a Transformers Time Warrior watch mail away promotion which ran until December 31, 1985. In Europe it is confirmed this offer was available in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium. Here’s a blog post on that particular mail away promotion I wrote last year.

Windcharger (MB) – tech spec instructions and cut out points

“The French Connection”

MB introduced the Transformers toy line in Europe in 1985 and released two waves of our loveable transforming robots. The first wave consisted mainly of 1985 characters and lots of iconic robots were missing from that line up, like Optimus Prime, almost all Autobot cars and characters like Starscream, Ravage and Laserbeak. All this was due to licensing issues, because a French company called Ceji already held the rights to those characters for most of Europe, licensed directly from Takara. This caused all sorts of confusion and even resulted in Jetfire being billed as the leader of the Autobots, because Optimus Prime was not available due to these licensing issues.

At a certain point in time in 1985 MB/Hasbro worked out a deal with Ceji, which allowed MB to release these popular characters in Europe after all. Those Transformers are part of what we can now identify as wave 2. Windcharger was part of this second wave. These wave 2 releases are my favourites of the whole MB line, because they were originally released as Diaclones in Europe by Ceji under their Joustra brand/subsidiary. Here’s a photo of both the 1985 MB release of Windcharger and the 1984 Ceji Joustra Trans-Am. They look pretty similiar, don’t they? :-)

Windcharger (MB) 1985 – Trans-Am (Ceji Joustra) 1984

What I find even more fascinating about this wave 2 minibot assortment, or mini vehicles as they are officially called in the MB line, is that the Ceji Joustra releases already carried an Autobot logo! Look at the close up photo below:

Autobot logo on both Windcharger and Trans-Am

There’s almost no doubt that Takara just allocated a portion of their production line which was meant for the American market (for Hasbro) to Ceji. They didn’t even bother to remove the Autobot stickers! How cool is that! I cannot imagine Hasbro would have been too pleased about that. The same goes for the other three minibots in this assortment. The Ceji Joustra counterparts of Brawn, Huffer and Gears also carried Autobot stickers. If you’re interested in reading more about the connection between Ceji Joustra Diaclone and MB’s wave 2 of Transformers you can read about it here.

“1986 re-releases”

1986 saw a change of strategy in the way that MB and Hasbro would market Transformers in continental Europe. It was decided that Transformers would not come in MB branded packaging anymore, but would carry Hasbro logos as they already did in the US, Canada and the UK. A large portion of all the 1985 MB branded Transformers were re-released in 1986, but now with a Hasbro logo on the packaging. An exception to this were all four minibots of MB’s 9125 assortment. Here’s a photo from the 1986 minibot line-up from the Spanish 1986 Hasbro dealer catalog:

Mini-vehicles assortment (Hasbro) 1986 dealer catalog – MB España

Twelve mini vehicles are shown here. Five of those had been available previously in 1985 in Europe under the 9100 assortment of wave 1 mini-vehicles (Cosmos, Beachcomber, Powerglide, Seaspray and Warpath). The 9125 assortment of Windcharger, Gears, Brawn and Huffer has not been re-released in 1986 in Europe. So why is that? Well, I believe the answer lies in the fact that all four of those have been replaced with new mini vehicles that are known to be re-painted and slightly altered versions of those four. Windcharger was replaced by Tailgate, Gears was replaced by Swerve, Brawn was replaced by Outback and Huffer was replaced by Pipes! I suspect that MB felt there was little point in finding a production line for Windcharger, Gears, Brawn and Huffer for a 1986 re-release, when Takara was already pumping out four similiar mini vehicles that could take their place in 1986.

This, in my opinion, also explains why continental Europe never saw an official Cliffjumper release. If you look back at the original 1984 minibot assortment that was released in the US you can see that four of those saw a 1985 release in Europe as the 9125 assortment, because MB acquired those when they took over Ceji’s remaining stock of Diaclones. Bumblebee is the fifth minibot from that assortment and did see a European release in 1986, probably because it was such a popular character (and was shown very often in the Transformers cartoon). Cliffjumper was probably left out because he was not part of the original Ceji Diaclone stock and was not deemed popular enough (as Bumblebee was) to go through the effort of sourcing a new production line for the benefit of creating new Cliffjumpers for a 1986 release in Europe.

“Gone with the Wind”

Taking all the above into account it becomes clear that this European release of Windcharger (and the other three mini-vehicles of the 9125 assortment) are very hard to find in European packaging. They were only available as part of MB’s wave 2 release in late 1985, which were left over Ceji Diaclone stock, and they never saw a 1986 re-release in Europe in Hasbro packaging like most of the other bots did. I acquired this MB Windcharger together with an MB Huffer and Gears from a Dutch collector back in 2009. According to the seller these were all from a case of unsold stock that was found in a German toy store that went belly up. There have been very few MOSC (mint on sealed card) sightings of this assortment anywhere else. The only other source I have seen so far is an ex-Hasbro UK employee, who had a production sample of an MB Brawn, which is now in the possession of a good collector friend of mine, also here in the Netherlands.

“We are family”

If you ever come across an MB Windcharger, Gears or Huffer don’t hesitate and snap it up, because they are rare and have a special history. If you ever come across an MB Brawn in its original packaging, do not hesitate to contact me, because that one is still missing from my collection. Good money paid. ;-)

Credits

Thanks to Martin Lund for the photo of the MicroChange Trans-Am!

posted on May 18, 2013 by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and has Comments (13)


A Cool 100

Transformers - Laserbeak (MB)Transformers - Huffer (MB)Tytus boxed prototype goes for WWF: Rowdy Roddy Piper action figureGhostbusters: Gozer action figureMilton Bradley G1  Megatron M*A*S*HJoustra Diaclone Truck (Optimus Prime)Spring 2010 Collectors' ConventionMajokM*A*S*H - Hawkeye action figureG.I. Joe - Silver Mirage MotorcycleG.I. Joe - Air DefenseMasters of the Universe - Evil-LynMasters of the Universe - SorceressOptimus Prime close upsBlackstar Space ShipTransformers Kickback (MB)Transformers Soundwave (MB)More Dutch G.I. Joe vehicles and setsMilton Bradley (MB) G1 SeasprayMilton Bradley (MB) ShrapnelG.I. Joe Dutch promotional flyer 1987Transformers: Cosmos (MB)Transformers 1985 MB Dealer CatalogMilton Bradley (MB) Red Tracks on eBayJoustra Diaclone comic #8Transformers G1: Beachcomber (MB)Joustra Diaclone Optimus Prime sells for $1650Transformer G1: Thrust (MB)Milton Bradley Transformers G1 Autobot CarsMy MB (Milton Bradley) Transformers G1 CollectionNew Stuff: G.I. JJoustra Diaclone F-15 (pre-Starscream)Joustra Diaclone - KronoformSpring 2011 Utrecht Collectors Convention Transformers - Prowl (MB)Milton Bradley Transformers article seriesPuzzlin' TimesMB Transformers series - Part 2M to the BMB Transformers series – Part 3MB Transformers GroupshotMB TrailbreakMB Transformers JetsBig Box G.I. Joe VehiclesMasters of the Universe: Cliff ClimberLightning Strikes: Wheeled Warriors!MOSC Vintage Dutch G.I. Joe's!Coming soon! (Update)MB Transformers series - Part 4MB AstrotrainHail Jetfire! Leader of the Autobots!MB Transformers series - Part 5Transformers Chop Shop (MB)G.I. Joe - Zartan (Dutch packaging)The Sincerest Form of FlatteryBlastEuropean Soundwaves (G1) - Part 1 of 2European Soundwaves (G1) – Part 2 of 2Transformers - Starscream (MB)Joustra Diaclone bombAction Force - ZartanHappy New Year!Transformers - Blaster (MB)G.I. Joe - Zandstorm & FlitsThe Women of Masters of the Universe: TeelaComplete MB Autobot Cars collectionTransformers G1: Jazz (MB)G.I. Joe - Alpinist & BarbecueMB/Hasbro and Ceji theory confirmedTransformers toy ads from the 1980'sTransformers toy ads from the 1980′s - Part 2Toy ads from the 1980's (Part 3) - He-ManTransformers - JetfireDutch 1980's Toy Industry Trade MagazinesG.I. Joe - Havik and DragonflyTransformers Time Warrior Watch (MB)Transformers - European Blue Tracks (G1)My Toy Collection Database (update)Spotlight UpdateTransformers G1 - Runabout (1986)Toy ads from the 1980′s (Part 4) – M.A.S.K.The 1980s had the Best Toys!Transformers - Slag (MB)This Sunday: MB Transformers Part 6MB Transformers: Part 6 is here!MB Jetfire and MB SunswipeEuropean Ultra Magnus (1987)My Collection RoomA Tale of Three Primes!Postcards from Autobot CityG.I. Joe - Two Dutch Chung-Ho variantsIt's a Dutch F.A.N.G.Madballs Water Squirters!Blackstar - Ice CastleMasters of the Universe - Battle CatPassionate PEZ PonderingsA Cool 100

“100”

A cool one hundred. That’s what the tally is today. About three and a half years ago, on October 10th 2009 to be exact, I decided to whip up a little website that would be dedicated to my reinvigorated passion for collecting vintage toys from my youth and today marks my 100th blog post.

“Human After All”

So what’s so special about the number 100? Not much really. Humans have 10 fingers (and toes) and that’s why the decimal system is the most widely used numerical base in the world by modern civilizations. That, and ten times ten is one hundred! :-) Humans tend to attach special value to multiples of 10. Multiples of ten -and especially powers of ten- are special milestones and moments of reflection for humans. Human beings are funny that way.

All the post numbers above are linked to their respective posts, so just click or tap them if you’re in the mood and join me next week for the start of the next cool one hundred! Have a great weekend, human! :-)

posted on May 11, 2013 by 20th Century Toy Collector in Site stuff and has Comments (11)


Passionate PEZ Ponderings

I grew up with PEZ and I absolutely loved it. It combines two things kids go nuts about: toys and candy! Although PEZ is available in most European countries, including the Netherlands, it’s not as ubiquitous or part of pop culture as it is in the US and several other countries, like its country of origin Austria and surrounding countries like Germany and (the former) Yugoslavia.

My modest PEZ collection

PEZ is first and foremost candy, but the genious of PEZ is the PEZ dispenser. A PEZ dispenser can be filled with a full roll of PEZ candy and there’s a spring mechanism inside that allows you to pop out one piece of candy at a time by simply flipping back the head of the dispenser. Pure.. fricking.. genious.

A PEZ dispenser in action

“The History Of PEZ”

The PEZ candy was invented way back in 1927 in Austria by a guy called Eduard Haas III and lends its name to the original flavour the candy came in, which is peppermint. Peppermint in German is “Pfefferminz” and the name PEZ is distilled from the first, middle and last letter of that very word. Haas positioned the PEZ candy as an alternative to smoking. Back then the candy did not come in the famous mechanical dispensers it is known for today. It was not until 1948 when the first mechanical PEZ dispensers were invented and appropriately enough looked like cigarette lighters!

PEZ introduced in the US – cigarette lighter style dispenser

1952 was another milestone for PEZ, which is when the brand was introduced to the US and shortly thereafter another stoke of genius followed in 1955, which is when it was decided to market PEZ to children by creating PEZ dispensers that would appeal to kids. Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse dispensers marked some of the first in a long line of playful PEZ dispensers that were created ever since and besides peppermint various new flavours of PEZ candy were introduced. In 1973 PEZ opened their US office in Orange, Connecticut, which is where the US branch is still located today.

US PEZ office – Orange, Connecticut

“Childhood Memories Of PEZ”

My strong childhood memories of PEZ are due to the fact that my parents were originally Yugoslav immigrant workers that came to the Netherlands in the early 1970’s. I was born and bred in Holland and I love this country to bits, but whenever summer vacation came around in the early years of my life (the 1980’s) my parents, my little sister and I would travel to sunny Yugoslavia for the summer to visit relatives and that was a blast!

PEZ in Yugoslavia

Contrary to what a lot of people think, Yugoslavia was definitely not behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War in the 20th century and it was not a puppet state of the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia was a non-aligned country and even founded the Non-Aligned Movement of countries which still exists today. Yugoslavia was accessible to anyone who wanted in without a visa and Yugoslavs were free to leave the country at will. PEZ was big in Yugoslavia. It was everywhere. Seemingly at every street corner there was a kiosk (a newsstand) and my mom would always buy me the latest comics and PEZ! I fondly remember sitting on the doorstep of our former vacation home in Yugoslavia in the hot beating sun with blue skies overhead, reading Dylan Dog horror comics and guzzling away copious amounts of PEZ candy. Good times!

“PEZ keeps on truckin’!”

The reason why PEZ was so popular in Yugoslavia is relatively simple. In the 1960s PEZ expanded its production into Yugoslavia (in what is now Slovenia), which was a neighbouring country to Austria, the home of PEZ. A production line was created in Ormož, where dispensers were manufactured, and in Ljubljana where the candy was manufactured by Yugoslav food and drug manufacturer Kolinska. Production from Yugoslavia was exported worldwide but also introduced the PEZ brand in the former Yugoslav republics now known as Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia. This working relationship fell apart in the early 1990’s, which is when the Yugoslav wars broke out and the country was shattered into the six different states we know today.

PEZ Yugoslavia truck dispenser ad (1982)

The Disney PEZ dispensers were very popular and I remember owning loads of those, but my absolute favourites were the PEZ trucks! Another stroke of PEZ genius if you ask me. Instead of putting a head on the dispenser, a truck cabin was fitted and wheels were added to the dispenser. Again… genius! I loved these PEZ trucks.

“My PEZ Summer Of 1983”

Back in the early 1980’s an average Dutch income was several multitudes of an average Yugoslav income, so whenever we visited there stuff was dirt cheap. PEZ was nowhere to be found in the Netherlands, so right before we headed back to Holland in the summer of 1983 I remember I went into one of the local grocery stores in my dad’s home town and bought a shit load of PEZ candy. I remember the lady behind the counter being horrified at the amount of cash I plunked down on the counter. She had to go back into storage to get all the PEZ that I wanted. I had cleaned the store stock out completely. I went home with four plastic bags full of PEZ candy still wrapped inside their factory counter display cases. I was in heaven.

I ate tons of this shit when I was 8 years old

Thinking back now as an adult I have mixed emotions about the gratuitous amounts of PEZ I bought that day, but I did share a lot of the candy with my friends there, so it was not entirely unaltruistic. When we returned home to Holland I had mountains of PEZ left, but that stack only lasted me a few weeks. I was a PEZ addict and had nowhere to go for my next fix. Kicking the habit cold turkey was my only way out. :-)

“PEZ in Holland”

I’ve seen PEZ here and there in Holland since the 1990’s, but the candy and dispensers were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they were in Yugoslavia. The first time I saw PEZ in Holland was somewhere in the early 90’s during a hospital visit. The St. Franciscus hospital in Roosendaal had a little gift shop and that’s where I spotted PEZ in Holland for the first time. I don’t remember the dispenser that came with the candy, but I do remember the candy didn’t taste as good as it did in Yugoslavia.

PEZ! PEZ! PEZ!

“PEZ in the USA”

Now the US is a different story. There PEZ has been around since the 1950’s and has become a part of pop culture. Countless PEZ dispensers have been created ranging from anything Disney, Star Wars, Marvel to DC, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. Think of anything pop culture and chances are there’s a PEZ dispenser for that. Brilliant!

PEZ Spaceman dispenser

Imagine my delight when I visited the US for the first time late last year. My girlfriend and I visited the local Walmart store and PEZ was all around! I picked up a Batman and Catwoman PEZ dispenser and a Walmart Exclusive Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary PEZ set! Check out the Star Trek set below. How cool is that!

PEZ – Star Trek The Next Generation: 25th anniversary – Walmart exclusive

I don’t consider myself to be a real PEZ collector, but I will pick up any cool PEZ dispenser whenever I come across them anywhere on this planet. And with these amazing PEZ gift sets that are being released in the US, it’s just hard to not to pick them up. I mean, just look at this awesome Lord of the Rings set, which is very high on my wish list:

PEZ – Lord of the Rings set

“Gallery”

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this little look at what is an 85-year-old funky piece of candy! Please enjoy some photos of my very modest PEZ collection below and see you next week. Have a great weekend! :-)

“Credits”

  • Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser photo by Deborah Austin – used under CC-BY 2.0 license
  • Lord of the Rings PEZ set photo by Chris Pirillo – used under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 license
posted on May 4, 2013 by 20th Century Toy Collector in PEZ and has No Comments


Masters of the Universe – Battle Cat

Stop a thirty-something year old dude on the street and yell “By the Power of Greyskull!” to his face. Chances are very slim you will be beaten up. Chances are you will see him stop dead in his tracks, a smile appear on his face and a spark of nostalgia in his eyes. For the uninitiated, I am talking about a little thing called the “Masters of the Universe”. It was the shit in the 1980’s and today’s blog post is about one of the most iconic characters of that very toy line: Battle Cat!!!!!

Battle Cat (1983) Mattel Europe

“By the Power of Syndication!”

The Masters of the Universe has got to be one of the greatest toy line successes of all time. It was the proverbial snowplow that paved the way for many more toy line/cartoon tie-ins to come. At the height of its succes it made Mattel 400 million dollars a year and its success was in no small quantitites due to the popularity of the eponymous cartoon series by animation studio Filmation. In an unprecedented move for children’s programming the major US network were circumvented and a whopping total of 65 episodes was dropped into syndication in 1983. First run syndication cartoons were born. Five days a week of He-Man cartoons on TV certainly aided Mattel’s record sales.

Trade ad for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon (1983) Filmation Associates

The cartoon series had its world premiere not in the US, but on UK channel ITV on September 5th, 1983. Three weeks later, on September 26th, the series debuted on local TV stations all over the US through barter syndication. France was introduced to the cartoon shortly thereafter on January 6th, 1984 on channel Antenne 2. On July 20th, 1985 the series premiered on pan-European satellite broadcaster Sky Channel, which meant that more European countries were introduced to the cartoon like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and over time even more countries as Sky Channel’s reception in Europe grew.

“Battle Cat”

Battle Cat was part of the first series of Masters of the Universe toys that were released by Mattel in the US in 1982 and was He-Man’s trusty feline friend. I don’t have exact data on other European countries, but the toy line was introduced in the Netherlands one year later in 1983. My guess is that the same goes for the rest of Europe and that 1983 was the European debut of the Masters of the Universe toy line (France maybe being the exception with a possible 1982 debut through imported Canadian bi-lingual Masters of the Universe toys).

European bi-logo

The European packaging of Battle Cat is easily recognized by the bi-logo packaging (two logos: “Masters of the Universe” and “Maîtres de l’Univers”), Although Canadian Masters of the Universe toys came with this same bi-logo packaging the European packaging will have additional German and Italian texts spread throughout, so the packaging itself is really quad-lingual, with English, French, German and Italian as the languages of choice.

European quad-lingual packaging

“Distribution”

Distribution of this European version of Battle Cat was done by the various international Mattel subsidiaries. Mattel UK, Ltd for the United Kingdom, Mattel France SA for France, Mattel GmbH for West-Germany and Mattel SpA for Italy.

European Mattel subsidiaries

The remaining European markets where Mattel was not active themselves were mostly handled by local distributors. In the Netherlands in 1983 distribution of Mattel products was being handled by a toy wholesaler/importer called “Borka B.V.”, operating from a small town called Etten-Leur in the south-west of the Netherlands. Borka B.V. was a subsidiary of Dutch trading company Borsumij Wehry N.V., which also owned the exclusive Belgian distributor of Mattel products. Borka B.V. held the exclusive distribution license for Mattel products for many years until 1985, which is when Mattel finally founded their own subsidiaries in the Benelux countries and decided to take distribution into their own hands. (A nasty law suit followed, which dragged on until 1991 and went all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court).

Article on Borka’s 1984 product line (Speelgoed + Hobby) April 1984

“The Recycling Machine”

It might come as a shock to some, but Battle Cat was not really an original toy. Mattel was certainly known for its predilection for re-using moulds. The first recorded occurrence of this mould is from Mattel’s 1970s toy line Big Jim. It was released in 1976 as Big Jim On the Tiger Trail.

Big Jim on the Tiger Trail (1976) Mattel

Then in 1978 Mattel decided to cash in on the popularity of the Tarzan cartoon (also from Filmation) and released a Tarzan and Jungle Cat set which re-used the same tiger mould, but now as an all black feline:

Tarzan’s Jungle Cat (1978) Mattel

And then 1982 rolled along and Mattel needed something for their Masters of the Universe toy line. “Hey, why not re-use our tiger mould again?!” And thus it was that Mattel re-painted this mould once more, but this time in its iconic green with yellow stripes. Battle Cat was born:

Battle Cat (1982) Mattel

But Mattel didn’t stop there. One year later in 1983 they decided that Skeletor needed a feline of his own. It was called Panthor and guess which mould Mattel used for that. Yep…. Check it out:

Panthor (1983) and Battle Cat (1982) Mattel

“One Cool Cat”

Despite the fact that this mould has been recycled over the years, Battle Cat has a style of its own and this is in no small amount due to the cool armour it came with. Anyone who grew up with the Masters of the Universe cartoon instantly recognizes this cool colour scheme. I mean, just look at Battle Cat fully armoured up:

Battle Cat fully suited up

And if you thought that looks cool, just look how awesome Battle Cat looks together with a He-Man action figure!

Battle Cat and He-Man

Doesn’t it look fantastic? I can tell you it looks just as cool in real life. I was setting up He-Man and Battle Cat for this photo session and was simply struck by how cool the scene looked. I took multiple photos from several angles and they all looked great!

Battle Cat and He-Man

“Mesmerizing Artwork”

There’s one more thing I’d like to touch upon regarding this “Tigre de Combat” and that is the awesome, amazing, fantastic art work. I mean, just look at how mystical and awe inspiring this looks:

Battle Cat artwork (by Rudy Obrero)

The Masters of the Universe toy line was blessed with many talented artists doing the packaging artwork. This mesmerizing depiction of Battle Cat with its helmet off is by a talented artist called Rudy Obrero. It’s a sight that regular visitors to this website will immediately recognize, because it is often visible in the randomly changing header of this very website!

“Gallery”

I hope you enjoyed this little look at Battle Cat. Masters of the Universe was certainly one of my favourite toy lines when I was growing up and I plan to feature more of my MOTU collection in the near future. For now, please enjoy the additional photos I made of Battle Cat below. See you back soon!

“Credits”

  • Topless Robot for the Big Jim Tiger photo
  • Bigjimforum.com for packaging of Big Jim on the Tiger Trail photo
  • Plaidstallions.com for the Tarzan Jungle Cat photo

 

posted on April 27, 2013 by 20th Century Toy Collector in He-Man and has Comments (8)