2014 Road Trip Blog: Vintage Photos

I scour flea markets and shops for many things, but I’m always drawn to vintage photos.  I look for unique images of all eras, but I particularly like photos that tell a story of some sort, photos of children with their toys, holiday photos, and amusement park/tourist attraction photos.  The main prerequisite is that they be cheap.  I rarely pay over $5 for a photo; I’m thrilled when I find snapshots for a quarter and fifty cents.

This trip did not yield as many photos as I wish it had, but I’m sure Jim would say that I found enough.  Here are some of my favorites.

website-cc-trip-photos-1These two snapshots were found in the same bowl and were priced at a quarter each.  I suspect they came from the same family and possibly the same trip.  I love the guy standing next to the giant ox/long horn steer.  We found several giant tourist attraction statues on this trip, particularly in North Dakota, so I could relate to this snapshot.  The second photo shows some sort of cheesy tourist trap.  I wonder what the shrunken body inside the building looked like?  Was it a real deal or some fake thing?  I also love the old Coca-Cola sign.

website-cc-trip-photos-2I like family snapshots if they tell a story.  Both of these fit the bill.  The top photo of the dad and his two sons is dated 1960 and appears to have been taken on Easter.  Everyone is very nattily dressed, especially Dad.  You have to wonder if he was ever seen in public again wearing that coat.  The second photo is a genre that I have several examples of – people holding birthday cakes.  I’m wondering why there are two cakes here.  It must have been a big party.  I like the look of pride on both the boy and the grandmother.

website-cc-trip-photos-3This little boy looks happy enough to be dressed in his sailor suit and Mary Jane shoes, but he sure wouldn’t survive a minute in today’s world.

website-cc-trip-photos-4This is a real photo postcard with no identification whatsoever.  It’s a beautiful family portrait from the early 1900′s.  You can’t help but wonder how life turned out for this family.  The little girl is so sweet and serious about posing nicely for the photographer.

website-cc-trip-photos-5This is a large sepia photo that measures 7 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches.  It was found in a shop in Helena, MT priced at $3.  It was taken by a photographer from North Columbia, California.  North Columbia was a gold rush town in the Sierra Nevadas.  This photo probably dates to the 1880′s.  The house looks sturdy and somewhat prosperous.  I suspect the three people in the center are a married couple and their young son.  I wonder if the young man on the left is their other son.  The other three gentlemen could be relations or workers who board with them.  Clearly, everyone is dressed in his/her finest clothes and there are several pocket watches and/or fobs on display.  If only photos could talk, what stories could they tell?

website-cc-trip-photos-6This wedding photo from Sumner, Iowa was found in a shop in Montana.  Having been to Iowa and knowing that Iowa was settled by immigrants from European countries like Norway and Czechoslovakia, I was intrigued by the bride’s elaborate wedding veil, clearly an indication of her ethnic origin.  Unfortunately, I don’t know what that is.  To me, the photo is a visual reminder of the many people who came to the United States looking for a better life, with marriage being the real starting point for a family.

website-cc-trip-photos-barbLast, but not least, here is the photo that I can most relate to.  I call it “The Barbie Girls.”  These young ladies are probably about two years younger than me because they are posing with their new bubble-cut Barbie dolls.  I never got to that point with my Barbie “collection.”  I had one and only one doll, and she was a ponytail version.  The bubble-cuts came out in 1961, so I believe this photo dates to about that time or possibly 1962.  Note that a couple of the girls even have shirts that match Barbie’s black and white striped bathing suit.  Also note that one poor girl who doesn’t even show in the photo is holding a fake Barbie!  My heart goes out to her.  This little snapshot was one of my favorite finds at the gigantic Gold Rush Days Flea Market in Oronoco, MN.

Posted in 1800's, 1900's, 1920's, 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, Carol, Photography | Leave a comment

Plundering Antique Shops From Ohio to Montana – and Back!


It’s been a while since we have posted anything on Collectorgene.  Please forgive this lapse.  Jim and I were on a four-week road trip that took us 6700 miles through nine different states.  Except for New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Idaho, we antiqued in all of them.  In fact, we combed through shops in Ohio and Illinois both coming and going.  To be fair, most of our trip was spent taking in the sights of five different national parks, learning about history at several national monuments, visiting numerous museums, and even visiting relatives.  Still and all, out of 32 days on the road, we probably stopped in at least one antique shop or mall 20 days or more.  Many people marvel that we enjoy road tripping as much as we do.  We believe that being antique hunters adds an extra dimension to the trip that makes it even more fun.  And while we do come home with t-shirts and postcards and refrigerator magnets documenting where we’ve been, most of our souvenirs are of the vintage kind.  This trip was no exception.  The back of the minivan was loaded with bags.

Now that we’re back home and somewhat settled in, we hope to post several blogs that show at least a portion of the “stuff” that we found out west.

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Shoe Shine Boxes – Part II – More Shine Is Just Fine

Just over two years ago, I wrote my first article about shoe shine boxes, those humble survivors of life in urban America.

Since that time I have added a few more examples to my collection which I would like to share with our readers.  I am still somewhat picky about what enters my collection, and I also remain somewhat cheap as well.  These three examples ranged in price from $25.00 to $40.00 and I think are among the best ones I have found.

I particularly like the one with the shoe painted on the side complete with “shine” lines on the toe included to exemplify the quality of their work.  Who wouldn’t want shoes with shine lines emanating from them?

I also like the one that wants to almost shame you into getting a shine.  I think the phrase, “Your Shoes are Showing” is a take-off on, “Your Slip is Showing,” something husbands would have to tell their wives before leaving the house in the morning in the 1930’s, 40’s or 50’s.  “Hav Ya Shind Em,” however, is the icing on the cake with this one. The bad spelling only adds to its charm.   I purchased this in Florida from a dealer who told me that this box had recently come out of the ghetto of Flint, Michigan.  I have no reason to doubt him.

The last one is painted silver to give it a classy look to go with the classy shine you would have gotten.  This is the box of an upscale establishment.  Either that or they were just using up a can of radiator paint.

I still feel that shoe shine boxes are great Americana and remain underpriced.  They are great folk art for the budget minded.

After each purchase, I still get the same question:  “Are you starting a new business?”

For more examples of shoe shine boxes, please see my first article right here on The Collector Gene.

Posted in 1920's, 1930's, 1940's, Advertising, Americana, Hand Made, Historical, Jim, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fighting the War in Europe on the Homefront With Humor – Poking Fun at Hitler

Today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a somber yet triumphant anniversary to be sure. Thousands of American troops became casualties as they stormed the beaches of Normandy in a successful effort to wrest control of Europe from Hitler and the Nazis. Thankfully, less than a year later, the war in Europe was over and democracy prevailed.

However, for nearly five years prior to that moment, all Americans were caught up in World War II. Sacrifices were made not only by the men and women in uniform but by ordinary citizens back home. When confronted with stressful circumstances, many human beings rely on humor to get through. Here, then, are some of the more humorous/fun ways that Americans dealt with the war in general, the European conflict more specifically and Adolf Hitler especially.

The term, “Kilroy Was Here” and the accompanying cartoon/caricature of a bald-headed man with a big nose peering over a wall or fence is well known even today. It became very popular with WWII GI’s. Research turned up no definitive explanation of Kilroy’s origin, so I’ll leave it be. But how can anyone not like this wooden Kilroy gag on its original card?

We found this in an antique shop in California two years ago. Notice that it says, “Kilroy IS Here.” That seems appropriate for the GI’s landing on the continent of Europe on June 6, 1944. Also note where the woman on the left has positioned her Kilroy.

“Put the Yanks in Berlin” is a simple marble game produced by Modern Novelties of Cleveland, Ohio. Though not dated, it is clearly from war time because the inside lid of the box mentions the strategy being pursued to defeat Hitler and the Axis in Europe. Clearly, the colorful graphics both inside and outside the box are what make this game desirable.

It was easy to direct a lot of anger at Adolf Hitler, but that also led to a lot of novelty items that poked fun at him being produced.

We’ve owned the “Let’s Pull Together” button for about 40 years now. It’s a great mechanical pinback that shows Uncle Sam with his sleeves rolled up hanging Hitler from a tree. When you move the little lever on the left side of the button, Hitler goes up and down on his rope.

Last but not least is the “Hotzi Notzi.” This novelty pincushion shows Hitler bending over with a large padded posterior ready to take some pokes.

World War II was no laughing matter, but Americans found ways to inject humor into the serious business of war, and that has made collecting WWII homefront items a lot of fun.

Posted in 1940's, Americana, Carol, Historical, Humor, WWII | Leave a comment

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY – Enjoy These Vintage Photos

Just wanted to share a couple of motherly – or in these cases grandmotherly – images from my vintage photo collection in honor of Mother’s Day.

I spent my Mother’s Day doing what I enjoy most – antiquing with my family – and I turned up this circa 1880-90 photo at a Pennsylvania flea market earlier today.  This looks like an immigrant grandmother cuddling her young grandchildren.  Note the antique doll – and grandma’s warts!


This hand-tinted photo from the 1930′s shows a proud grandmother with her decidedly uncomfortable grandson.  The facial expressions and body language say it all.  Based on grandma’s spring coat and corsage, this most likely was taken on Easter, but it could have been taken on Mother’s Day as well.  Look carefully and you’ll see grandpop with coffee cup in hand, too.


Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  Maybe next year I’ll show lovely young mothers with their beautiful babies, but ferreting out photos like these is much more fun.

Posted in 1800's, 1930's, Americana, Carol, Photography | Leave a comment

Telecoma Canned Food Fighters by Takara (Yet More Mealtime Combat)

I don’t know if Happy Meals are as big a deal as they were in the 1980s, when parents were blissfully unaware that all that fast food was putting their children at risk for obesity and type II diabetes. Honestly, though, I was never in it for the food. For me, Happy Meals were all about the toys, and I think I’ve established in my nearly two years writing for this site that I was (and still am) very obsessed with my toys.

It seems as though every Happy Meal toy is a promotional tool used to get children to beg their parents to see the latest computer animated theatrical release or buy them the latest Mattel ™ toys. However, it wasn’t always like this. McDonald’s use to come up with their own ideas all the time so that kids would be sold on their love for Ronald McDonald and his friends at an early age.

The best promotion by far had nothing to do with Ronald and the gang. Instead, it had to do with transforming things, which was an inevitable recipe for success for toys in the 1980s. McDonald’s released Changeables, a series of robots disguised as your favorite McDonald’s meals. Sure, like all Happy Meal toys, they weren’t QUITE as good as their expensive, branded counterparts, but for FREE toys, they were amazing. We hadn’t seen anything quite like them. A hot cakes box and a French fry container transforming into robots?

Courtesy of neogaf.com

Who would have thought that you could have food containers transforming into awesome robots?

The Japanese. That’s who.

Yes, if you grew up in Japan in the mid-1980s, you had us Americans beat by a couple of years when it came to the transforming food objects market. That’s because if you grew up in Japan, you might have owned Telecoma toys!

This amazing artwork let's you know about the eternal food war going on in Japanese supermarkets.

These toys, affectionately known by American collectors as “Canned Food Fighters,” take containers of popular branded foods and meals in Japan and turn them into an army of food fightin’ warriors! Unlike Food Fighters, which definitely took their inspiration from the American military, Telecoma figures were more akin to Kinnikuman or M.U.S.C.L.E., where a wide variety of characters settled their differences in a stadium for mealtime dominance!

What I love about the toys is that they actually use real food products on their labels. When McDonald’s made Changeables, they didn’t have to worry about licensing their own food. With Telecoma, this was more like Computer Warriors using a Pepsi can in their toy line or Monster in my Pocket featuring Tony the Tiger, except on a much grander scale. The Pepsi can is certainly the most recognizable design for us Americans.

While most of what I write about it something that I know quite a bit about and feel the need to get the info out on the Internet, I can’t say that I know a whole lot about Telecoma other than they exist. My collection is rather small, and all of it has come courtesy of a series of Japanese online auctions. I learned about the line through the Little Rubber Guys message board and decided I would see what was out there.

These characters all resemble cans...

...and these are more bowl-based characters.

Two of the sets that I have fall into the “keshi” or little rubber guy category. I’m guessing one boxed set is one faction and the other contains the guys they fight with or something. They are packaged very similarly to most kinkeshi lines of the era. I don’t know if these two boxed sets represent a complete set of figures or not, but it must put me pretty darned close.

The third boxed set I own is a deluxe set of sorts. In addition to containing a handful of the kinkeshi figures, it also contains two of the transforming figures that are very similar to the way McDonald’s constructed its Changeables line.

These figures came in the above boxed set.

There is a whole line of these figures numbering almost as many as the keshi line, and I have seen a transforming shopping cart vehicle, which as you can imagine is amazing. This deluxe set comes with a wrestling ring, which is not quite as amazing as a transforming shopping cart.

Now, some of you might say, “Wait a second, Ben, I’m pretty sure I had these figures as a kid, and I never lived in Japan!” And you know what? You’re absolutely right.

Though I own one of these, this image comes from dinosaurdracula.com!

This is a card that would have been placed in a grocery store vending machine. As you can plainly see, the designs of these characters come right from Telecoma. Several collectors have documented finding these figures in a wide variety of colors, and a few of them have found examples with the stickers still attached, which feature more recognizable American food brands on them. Sadly, I have not stumbled upon any examples of Telecoma knock-offs at any flea markets in the couple of years that I’ve been on the lookout for them, but they are definitely out there.

While Telecoma has a much richer universe than the McDonald’s Changeables, it’s funny to see how East and West developed what is essentially the same idea. Throw in Food Fighters to the mix, and there’s no question that kids will never get tired of playing with their food.


Posted in 1980's, Action Figures, Advertising, Ben, Food, Humor, Kitchen, Toys | 1 Comment

Miniature Slant Front Desk – Salesman Sample or Something Else?


“Antique” is a word that is frequently abused, especially in the past twenty or thirty years. It is often paired with the word “collectibles” and its true meaning frequently overlooked. For something to be truly “antique”, it is supposed to be at least one hundred years old. I would venture to guess that in many antique shops today less than five percent of the merchandise comes anywhere close to that – and that’s being generous.

Finding a true antique, especially something that is rare, unique and – best of all – affordable is, therefore, always a thrill. A case in point is the subject of this article – our miniature slant top desk. Measuring just twelve inches wide by twelve inches tall and about six and one half inches deep, this little guy was entirely hand made by someone with a copious amount of patience and skill. The hours spent making it would have been considerable.

Carol and I found our little treasure in a Pennsylvania antique shop about two and a half years ago. The shop was housed in an old mill filled with very little else but genuine good quality antique furniture. I found the little desk upstairs lying on top of a table. It was in overall good condition but was missing a couple of feet and one of the brass drawer knobs. The dealer, who obviously knew a thing or two about furniture, estimated the little desk to be circa 1860 to 1880. No argument there; I thought about 1870. Carol quickly informed me that this was going to be my birthday present in a couple of months, so it soon disappeared from sight. A great present to be sure but not exactly a surprise.

Amy was able to make two new feet for it using wood from an old picture frame, and it was finished by the time my birthday rolled around. After searching for about a year and a half, I eventually found a replacement brass knob at a flea market. Now our little desk is complete once again.

So why exactly was it made? There is no way of knowing for sure. Most miniature pieces of nineteenth century furniture are assumed to be either salesman’s samples or apprentice pieces made by someone learning the furniture trade. It is certainly possible that it is one or both of those. If it is indeed from that 1860 to 1880 period, I suspect it was displayed in a cabinet maker’s shop in a large city such as New York or Philadelphia and used to show all the latest features available to the prospective customer. All the drawers and doors work and there is some indication of the maker on the bottom of the lower drawers – unfortunately not enough to determine exactly who it is.

Our little desk created quite a sensation when we showed it to some fellow antique collectors recently. It’s not the sort of thing you see very often or ever have the chance to purchase. We’re just glad we were in the right place at the right time.

Shortly after this piece was made, factory-produced furniture at affordable prices would become available to the average American, and local furniture makers would die out. I think this little piece represents the end of their era.

Whatever its origins, it embodies the skill and craftsmanship of a bygone time, and it’s awfully cute, too!

Posted in 1800's, Americana, Hand Made, Jim, Miniatures | Leave a comment

Disney Pin-ups.

As a long time Disney collector, I have learned that there is a ton of junk on the market with Disney characters on it.  At this point it takes a special or rare piece of Disneyana to get me excited.  While I have a lot of nice pieces in my collection and it is hard to pick a favorite, a couple of my favorite Disney pieces happen to not involve Disney characters at all.

As an artist it is always my goal to own original art work from people I admire.  Of course, original art tends to get very expensive.  The two pieces I am showcasing today were relatively inexpensive, probably because they are unsigned, but their provenance is what I liked most.  They are a fascinating snippet of Disney history that a lot of people don’t know about, and kind of go against the family friendly, squeaky clean, Disney image.  This post is a little bit NSFW (Not Safe For Work since we don’t tend to post this kind of stuff on The Collector Gene).  You have been warned.  Don’t blame me if your boss catches you reading this nerdy article (Bet you never thought you would read Disney and NSFW in the same sentence!).

Disney animators worked long hours every day tirelessly animating those classic films of your childhood.  Sometimes those guys needed a break, and what did they do?  They drew pictures for fun.  It’s what working artists do.  They create art for someone else all day, and then in their time off they create art for themselves.  The Disney animators were known to draw caricatures of each other fairly regularly.  They would slip them under each other’s office doors to egg each other on, or comment on the events of a day.  These caricatures are highly sought after by Disney collectors, especially if they come from Disney’s Nine Old Men, his top group of animators from the 30’s- the 60’s.

I do not own one of these caricatures (though I happily would), but what I own is another fun tradition from the studios in the 40’s and 50’s.  Pinup drawings.  We all know the classic pinup girl paintings from the 40’s and 50’s.  Varga girls and Bette Page are well known today.  Well, the young men working at Disney Studios were just as fascinated by these paintings as any other red blooded heterosexual male of the time, but when they just drew them it happened to be with a Disney twist.

This one ain’t too naughty.  Well, on today’s standards it ain’t so bad.

Here’s the NSFW picture.  Again, not too bad on today’s standards but pretty racy for the time.

Okay okay.  Insert cartoon wolf howling and stomping his foot on the floor with his tongue hanging out.  Firstly, you might notice the holes in the edge of the paper.  These lovely ladies were drawn on perforated animation paper.  That’s the paper the guys at Disney had laying around.  These are beautiful quick sketches by a Disney artist who was happy enough with his work to add a little water color as well which makes them that much more beautiful and dynamic.  They have a ton of energy and life to them, where you can almost see their movement as they strike their permanent pose.  Clearly this artist was well versed in pinup imagery.

Unfortunately my Disney pinups are unsigned.  There is reference in the book “Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (two of Disney’s Nine Old Men) that references artist Fred Moore drawing pinups in studio, but looking at his work I don’t think these are his.

I have seen a signed Ollie Johnston pinup on eBay once before, so we know more than one artist was drawing these pictures.  In fact the eyes on both of my drawings remind me of the eyes on the Centaurettes in Fantasia, which were animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, so it is possible one of them could have done these.  This is probably wishful thinking on my part, but I’ll tell myself it’s a possibility.  I can only attribute the works at this point, but it is fun to think an important animator could have worked on them.

I find these fictional portraits to be very beautiful and well executed.  Frankly, I see most pin up drawings and paintings that way.  I also love that they represent a seedier side to the Disney animator.  Yes, Disney animation is family friendly and made for “children of all ages”, but I don’t think the goal of the artists was ever to make things perfect and squeaky clean.  I think they were artists trying to create the best possible quality of work that was possible at the time they were working.  The family friendly nature of things was more for marketing to make the money to create such elaborate and beautiful animation.  I think just like most young men of their day, they enjoyed thinking about naked women as much as the next guy.  Remember, Playboy didn’t come out until the 50’s, and these drawing seem to predate dirty magazines.  What’s an artistic lad to do but to draw naked women for himself?  It was a simpler time.  No one associates Disney with gratuitous sex, which makes these pieces of Disney history all the more interesting to me.  They are proof that these guys were human and had normal human flaws and needs just like you and me.  I guess when you stare at pictures of cutesy animals all day, you gotta do something to bring yourself back to reality.

Posted in 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, Amy, Animation, Art, Comic Characters, Disney, Ephemera, Hand Made, Historical, Humor, Movies, Weird | 1 Comment

Top o’ the Morning and Happy Collecting St. Patrick’s Day to You!

Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies are relatively easy to find in the antiques and collectibles world. But if you want to collect and/or display vintage St. Patrick’s Day decorations, you’ll need the luck of the Irish!

Aside from postcards, cardboard cut-outs, and pinback buttons, most antique shops do not have many older St. Patty’s decorations for sale. That’s why we count ourselves very lucky that we’ve been able to amass as many pre-World War II Irish-related candy containers, figures, and toys as we have. A good portion of our collection came in one fell swoop over thirty years ago when we encountered a table at a local flea market just loaded with neat St. Patrick’s Day decorations that the dealer had acquired from one family. We scooped just about every one up and had an instant collection!

There are many symbols associated with Ireland and the Irish, and these antique St. Patrick’s Day decorations reflect that symbolism.

The shamrock, of course, is a species of clover native to Ireland, and it often appears on St. Patrick’s Day postcards. We have a little pot of artificial shamrocks in our collection, and shamrocks decorate our clay pipe, our Irish potato candy containers, and a couple of our Irishmen’s hats.

The shillelagh is a traditional Irish fighting club made of blackthorn wood. Legend has it that blackthorn hedges are home to fairy folk. We have a shillelagh candy container in our collection and a shillelagh that opens up into a circular paper Irish flag.

The national symbol of Ireland since 1542 is the celtic harp, one of the world’s oldest instruments. Celtic harps often appear on antique postcards. We also have some paper horns and a silk Irish flag that display the harp.

And then there are the green pigs. While I can’t find any specific reference to Irish pigs as symbols of good luck, I did find references stating that several European cultures including the Irish considered pigs a symbol of good fortune. Pigs are often shown with four-leaf clovers for extra good luck. Because we have four green pigs in our collection, all dating from about 1915-1930, I think it’s safe to say that they are St. Patrick’s Day decorations. The typical lucky white or pink pig is turned green to honor the Irish. We also have a couple of St. Patrick’s Day postcards that prominently feature pigs as lucky symbols.

The green pigs pictured here are mere inches in length and height.  The largest pig is a candy container with a removable head.

Our favorite antique St. Patrick’s Day decorations all come from that wonderful era just after World War I and up into the beginning of the Depression. That was a time when German and American factories were churning out the most whimsical little cardboard and composition holiday and party decorations. It’s very easy to picture our candy containers as part of a St. Patrick’s Day table setting. They might also have been handed out as prizes or favors at a classroom party. By that point in time, too, most Irish-Americans had been in the United States for several generations and were taking pride in their heritage.

Enjoy some pictures of a portion of our collection, and good luck to you as you search for your own St. Patrick’s Day collectibles.

Almost every Irishman pictured here is a candy container.  A couple have removable heads.  Three have space for candy underneath.  One is a composition figurine glued to a little chipboard box.  Only the wee green-suited guy carrying the bundle of sticks is not a candy container.  You’ll note that most of the Irishmen have red hair and a tall black top hat.  And, yes, the tall black top hat made of cardboard is a candy container.

Which came first – the postcard or the figure?  Look carefully and you’ll notice that the composition figurine is most definitely based on the depiction of the Irish lass on the postcard.  The postcard art is by well-known American artist Ellen Clapsaddle, but the postcard was printed in Germany.  Clearly, German artists turned the picture into the figure.  We owned the postcard for several years before acquiring the figure.  The figure is in near-perfect condition with a 20-cent price tag from Wanamaker’s on the bottom.

As mentioned in the article, here are our shillelagh and potato candy containers.  The circular “Irish Lobster” box is a funny gag gift.  When you open it up, there’s a little mirror inside.  Obviously, the Irish Lobster is you!


Posted in 1910's, 1920's, 1930's, Americana, Carol, Holiday, Humor, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Skateboard Smack-Ups Manny Manhole

I think I tried skateboarding about twice in my life. There’s an old adage about how if you don’t succeed, well, by golly, you just pick yourself up and try again. Not me. I couldn’t get the hang of it and knew enough about my dexterity (or lack thereof) to know that I wouldn’t be pulling off any incredible tricks in my entire life.

This was made all the more incredible by the fact that I grew up in a time where knowing how to properly skateboard inevitable made you the coolest person. Bart Simpson did it. Marty McFly did it. Wally Bear did it in an effort to warn you about the dangers of drugs. And by the time I had grown too old for cartoons and teddy bears telling me not to smoke marijuana, there was a newfound skateboarding popularity craze thanks to Tony Hawk.

It’s no surprise that toy companies tried to capitalize on the coolness of skateboards. One of my favorite toy lines of all time is Kenner’s Savage Mondo Blitzers, basically a hodgepodge of grotesque and wacky creatures who traveled in “gangs” on their skateboards. (The line was even called Skateboard Mania in Greece.) But an even stranger toy line appeared years prior, and in many ways, toys like these might justify why I never mustered the courage to really try and become good at skateboarding.

In 1986, Playtime Toys (not to be confused with Playmates Toys) decided to capitalize on the “gross out” craze that had made Garbage Pail Kids and Madballs into overnight success stories. They created a toyline called Skateboard Smack Ups. There is no accompanying storyline, so we’re not sure what the relationships are between these characters. The package simply states that these toys feature “Real SKATEBOARD action! Hi-Speed Wheels!” and that you should, of course, “Collect them All!”

This amazing collection was sold on eBay recently.

But then you take a closer look at the characters themselves. For example, Wally Wallbanger met with an unfortunate accident when he skated head first into a brick wall. Ouch! Then there’s Patty Plate Glass, who looks like she skated through a window and is still riding despite the fact that shards of glass have punctured her body and split her head open. While these injuries no doubt sent these children to the emergency room, none are quite as disturbing as Tammy Tailpipe, who not only has a tailpipe that went THROUGH her head, but she’s quickly billowing out as she gets filled with exhaust fumes. SHE SHOULD BE DEAD!

Collectors of these 80s curiosities love the designs because, let’s face it, a toy line like this probably wouldn’t get made today, although if you didn’t want your child to skateboard, I’m pretty sure he or she would be completely turned off from the hobby via these outrageous toys.

Because of their relative obscurity, obtaining a set is a difficult-but-not-impossible task. I was able to collect all 12 figures without too much trouble…assuming that those 12 figures were the only ones made. Little did I know a fortuitous set of circumstances would lead me to the rarest of all Skateboard Smack Ups toys.

Last year, my sister and I acquired a large collection of Toy Fair catalogs from the mid-to-late 1980s that were given out at the International Toy Fair. These catalogs show what companies have planned out for their various toy lines, but because these are meant to showcase what will be produced if they have the means of producing them, they often serve as a showcase for several rare unproduced toys that simply did not see any time on shelves because toy stores didn’t order enough to justify it. One of the catalogs we obtained was the Playtime Toys 1986 catalog, which showed the Skateboard Smack-Ups line.

Imagine my surprise when I saw one I didn’t recognize: a deluxe, motorized one called Manny Manhole. Based on the image, this battery-operated toy was significantly larger than the rest of the toys in the line and therefore couldn’t have been packed alongside the other 12 figures in the series. I said, “Well, I guess they never produced that one!” and went about my day.

Since I had completed my set a while ago, I hadn’t thought about what the figures were worth, but I decided to take a look at what they were going for on eBay just to see if people were still interested in them. Imagine my surprise when someone had actually listed a boxed example of Manny Manhole! By gar, it was produced!

After being listed at a rather high Buy-It-Now price for close to a month, I contacted the seller about making an offer. Clearly, he appreciated the rarity of the item as much as I did. We came to an agreement, and while this item was on the expensive side, I knew the likelihood of me finding another boxed example was relatively slim.

In person, he’s pretty interesting. The box is fairly sizable to accommodate a figure that is at least twice as large if not three times as large as every other figure in the line. He’s also the only character in the entire line to have artwork created exclusively for his character, as everyone else was thrown on a generic blister card. Because he’s significantly larger than the other characters, Playtime Toys actually added stickers to his t-shirt. The back features the classic skull-and-crossbones design, while the front simply has the phrase “Trash” on it. Awesome!

The box also gives me a clue as to how this figure could have been obtained. There is enough price tag residue for me to determine that this had to be sold at Toy Liquidators. The toy soldier on the “alkaline batteries” sticker also gives it away, but I know enough about the look of various stores’ price tags to know that this was sold by Toy Liquidators and not Kay Bee Toys. The seller said it was obtained from a comic store that had acquired a large selection of “dead stock” toys, so while this toy is unused, it must have seen at least some shelf time.

It’s very possible I could have remained patient and found this toy for a much better price at a flea market or yard sale (and given my track record, it’s entirely possible). However, while I’m more a fan of loose toys than packaged examples, I don’t mind having a packaged example of old Manny here. If I found one loose, he probably wouldn’t work, and considering the stickers on his shirt are peeling even with a plastic bag keeping him all together, I doubt a loose example would have both of the stickers intact.

In addition to educating the public on Manny Manhole, I hope that readers found this page through appropriate means. While I encourage you to Google Manny to see that nothing really comes up, unfortunately, other instances of Manny Manhole are not so PG-13 in nature.

Posted in 1980's, Action Figures, Ben, Humor, Toys, Vehicular, Weird | 1 Comment