Solitaire for Two (I’m talking about Rock Lords again)

As I detailed in 2012’s Snarlie Narlie entry, I’m a big fan of Tonka’s Rock Lords toys. It’s a collection I’ve been slowly chipping away at for several years, but in recent years, my collection has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to a few key finds. In today’s article, I’m detailing the latest remarkable addition to my Rock Lords collection.

Basically, anything that was released by Tonka after the initial two series of action figures is incredibly difficult to find. Series 3 contains a subset of figures known as “Jewel Lords.” These were still transforming stones like the previous series, but they were supposed to represent more precious rocks. Like the rest of the Jewel Lords line, the three figures were initially released in Japan. Over there, they were known as Amberman, Rubyman, and Diaman or Diamondman. Once they hit the States, they were known as Sunstone, Flamestone, and Solitaire, respectively.

Solitaire has a rather interesting history. She’s the only female character among the Good Rock Lords, and there’s no question she’s supposed to be a woman based on the physique of the figure. She’s also the only female character present in the movie Go-Bots: Battle of the Rock Lords, which was released theatrically to coincide with the release of the new toys, despite the fact that her toy did not appear until very late in the line. If any children actually saw and enjoyed the film, they probably questioned why they couldn’t get their hands on the toy when the majority of other characters from the film received figures in their likenesses. (She also had a bit of starpower associated with her, as she was voiced by Margot Kidder, who you might remember from her role Lois Lane from the Christopher Reeve Superman films and her heavily publicized manic episode in 1996.)

Here is my loose example of a Rock Lords Solitaire figure.

Lo and behold, she did get released, and while all three Jewel Lords are quite desirable, Solitaire is far more desirable a figure to be had than Flamestone or Sunstone. It took me a while to find one, but I did get one through a collection I found online. Sadly, none of my Jewel Lords have weapons, but the example of Solitaire I have is in very nice shape. I didn’t get a tremendous bargain, but I got her for what I believe to be a very fair price.

However, you might find yourself asking, “Wait a minute, Ben, didn’t you say earlier that Solitaire was released in Japan as DiamondMAN?” Yes, I did, and that’s not a mistake. For some reason, in Japan, Solitaire released as a male figure. I know action figures in general place a heavy emphasis on trying to appeal to boys, but female characters were often very important on a lot of cartoons that were designed to sell toys. And the sculpt is exactly the same, too, so the features that make Solitaire look clearly like a female Rock Lord are still present.

Diamond...man? Here's what Solitaire looked like in Japan!

However, unlike the other two Jewel Lords, Diamondman is quite a bit different than Solitaire. A different type of clear plastic is used to create the diamond effect. Solitaire has yellow eyes, Diamondman has red eyes. Diamondman also has a deep blue paintjob on his (her?) head, suggesting that the design is like a crown or helmet or something, whereas with Solitaire, it appears to be more of a feature of her character.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of both versions of Solitaire.

You can go nuts collecting certain action figure lines. I’ve found that many of the toy lines I enjoy collecting often have pieces that were released only overseas, so while flea markets, yard sales, and local toy shows are my primary means of amassing my collection, items that were never released here are much more difficult to find. For those pieces, the only thing I can do short of moving to one of these countries is buy them directly from other collectors and pay full retail price (which I justify since it’s less than the cost of a plane ticket and a hotel room). In other words, I never expected to own Diamondman, or at least get one at an affordable price. While one foreign exclusive piece in particular (the mighty Fossilsaurus) is on my most wanted toys list and has been for years, here I am taking pictures of the two figures side-by-side for your viewing pleasure. How did this happen?

Three days before Christmas, my sister and her boyfriend ventured to one of the local flea markets here in New Jersey. We were about to do a fairly normal person holiday activity together once they got home, but when they arrived, I got an excited call from downstairs saying, “Come take a look at what we found!” And there was Diamondman, staring at me. My sister knew well enough that she had found one of the elusive Jewel Lords, but she didn’t know she had found the Japanese exclusive variations. The figure was in a bag mixed in with a bunch of odds and ends that clearly came from Japan. It was not being sold by a toy dealer but rather a video game dealer who had imported a few games. Given the low, low price of ten bucks for the entire bag, my guess is that they were much more well-versed on the video game market than the toy market.

So yes, I have both versions of Solitaire, and the much more difficult to obtain version ended up being found for much less money than I would have expected. The lesson? Educate your siblings AND don’t underestimate your local flea markets, even in the bitter cold and right before Christmas!

Posted in 1980's, Action Figures, Ben, Toys | Leave a comment

Promo Cars – Little Cars Used to Sell Big Cars

Among my favorites is this green 1954 Buick Skylark. I had a blue one when I was a kid.

In 2012, I wrote about the rediscovery of my Miller-Ironson lumber truck, a prized possession of my childhood that I found in my mother’s attic and now proudly resides in our home.

That journey back to my youth also led me reflect upon some of the other little vehicles of my youthful motorhead past.  Among them were Dinky Toys, Matchbox cars, and big fix-it type cars made by Ideal.  But the toy cars that I liked the best as a kid were the realistic little plastic gems usually done in 1/25 scale known today as “promo” cars.  “Promo” or “Promotional” cars got their name from  car dealers giving them away as an incentive to get traffic through the  doors to hopefully “promote” sales for the big cars they represented.

1958 Edsel with dealer handout

Back when I was a kid in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, we didn’t call them promo cars and we didn’t get them at dealerships.  We called them scale model cars and they were available in toy stores and hobby shops for $1.50 to $2.00 each.  The difference between the toy store versions and the dealer versions were that the toy store ones had friction motors to help them scoot across the floor and the dealer versions did not.  Manufactured by companies such as A.M.T. , JoHann, PMC and even Hubley, these miniature cars were made with the permission of the auto makers themselves who also rendered the assistance necessary to produce these model cars in exact detail.  Unfortunately, once in the hands of a child, these somewhat fragile objects that straddled being both a toy and a model often didn’t survive too long.  To make matters worse, the plastic bodies on these little cars had a tendency to warp over time, especially in the late 1950’s.  Non-warping bodies finally came out in 1962, but that doesn’t help anyone looking for a ’57 Chevy without a drooping back end or a ’57 Ford that isn’t just messed up all over the place.

 

1958 Lincoln Continental showing typical warping even though it shows little or no play wear.

A close up of the warping.

Nevertheless, nice, clean and hopefully minimally warped examples are very popular with collectors today. Rare examples can cost in the hundreds and, in a few cases, thousands of dollars.  Most examples in good condition today, however, can usually be found in the $50 to $100 range.  As always, original boxes add value and are a good indication that the car had little or no play to affect its condition.

 

1951 Chevys in different body styles by PMC. Chevy promos were produced in just about every body style from 1951 through 1954.

My favorite era for these cars is the 1950’s, which also happens to be my favorite era of big cars as well.  I am fortunate in that I still have a few of the ones I received as a kid, my favorite being my yellow and white Metropolitan made in 1960 by Hubley.  I received it in June of that year as a present from my father for getting promoted from third to fourth grade.

 

My favorite promo car is this Metropolitan which I received new in 1960.

I remember going to my favorite toy store, which was Glenn Toys, located on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey.  Among the Steiff animals, Tonka trucks, toy boats and all sorts of other great stuff, there was always a good assortment of scale model cars.  You would enter the store and hang an immediate left and keep going to the wall.   There they were, all lined up bright and new like a miniature show room.  In this little car showroom, however, all the cars from a Ford Falcon to a Cadillac Fleetwood cost the same – two bucks!

 

1960 Ford F-100 Pickup, another survivor from my childhood!

Plastic-bodied scale model cars were first produced in 1949 and are still being made today.  Among the earliest examples are a 1949 Ford and Plymouth both made by AMT.  A very rare 1949 Oldsmobile was produced by a company called Cruver.  Before plastic, some metal promos were made by such companies as Master Caster and Banthrico, and continued into the 1950’s overlapping production of the plastic bodied models as well.

 

1949 Ford and Plymouth manufactured by AMT. Each has a wind-up motor.

 

 

Metal bodied 1/20th scale Nash from 1949 or 1950 along with dealer award plaque.

Most of the manufacturers eventually started producing model kits, AMT being the first in 1958, using the same body and interior and chrome molds as with the promos.  These kits became very popular with boys of my generation and could be “customized” by adding all kinds of accessories such as fender skirts, spotlights and flame decals. Unfortunately, if a kid put them together, they usually suffered from globby paint, glue marks  and sloppy construction!

 

1952 and 1954 Pontiac dealer promos. No friction motors!

New models came out each model year and the previous year’s models were discontinued as with real cars.  It’s usually pretty easy, therefore, to date a promo car.  There are, however, some reissues in later years to add some confusion, but originals are usually easy to spot over their later counterparts.  The reissues often have plastic screws holding the body to the chassis and the bodies do not warp.

 

1965 Pontiac GTO dealer promo with original box.

The nice thing about these little cars is that they don’t depreciate and you seldom get a lemon.  You don’t even have to change the oil!

1954 Nash with original box (dealer promo)

1957 Plymouth Taxi by Jo-Hann. Whoever heard of a two door taxi?

Posted in 1950's, 1960's, Jim, Miniatures, Toys, Vehicular | Leave a comment

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Scratch (A “Tail” in Friendship)

Having cool friends makes me want to yell “COWABUNGA!” at the top of my lungs.

I was born in 1983, so I was about six years old when the Ninja Turtles phenomenon had really swept the nation. They were inescapable by 1989. Knowing the names of the four turtles was as essential as knowing the alphabet by the time I hit kindergarten.

There have always been hard core Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans, but I think that fandom has become much more mainstream in recent years, and a lot more collectors are hunting for key pieces. Certain vehicles and playsets in mint condition are commanding prices that I couldn’t have dreamed of years ago, regularly reaching hundreds of dollars. I think for many years, collectors were turned off because there’s just so much TMNT merchandise to collect. It was a very successful franchise and while not as daunting to collect as something like Star Wars, it’s certainly up there in terms of popularity and the breadth of items to collect.

I was very heavily into Ninja Turtles in 1989 and 1990, but by 1991, they were replaced by Toy Biz’s X-Men figures in my house. Like any phenomenon that gets as popular as Ninja Turtles, there are a few key years where EVERYONE is into them, and then they move onto other things. But my friend Brian was different. He was completely loyal to Ninja Turtles well into their popularity and stuck with them long after most of my friends had given up on them.

Brian and I remain friends all these years later, and since we bonded early on by our shared love of toys like Battle Beasts and checking out flea markets, we often bring up those subjects in conversation all these years later. During one of these conversations a few years ago, Brian made the kind of claim I hear a lot as an action figure collector: “I had EVERY Ninja Turtle figure.”

Not to brag, but I consider myself a pretty well-versed expert on the topic of action figures, so whenever someone claims they had EVERYTHING in a particular line, I immediately become suspicious. There are several incredibly rare Ninja Turtles figures that were released after most kids collected them, and even if a kid was still actively adding Ninja Turtles to his collection as late as 1994 or 1995, it’s entirely possible that they might have missed one of these rare figures.

Knowing that I was suspicious, he said, “What’s the rarest figure?” And without hesitation, I said Scratch. (I know some people will certainly debate this, but he is certainly among the top five rarest figures and is at the very top of most collectors’ want lists.)

Released in 1993, Scratch was one of a handful original characters released very, very late in the Ninja Turtles line. By 1994, the line became mostly variations of the main characters, both heroes and villains, so Scratch was one of the last completely new action figures to be released. He is literally a “cat burglar,” a mutant cat in a black-and-white jailbird outfit. While several other characters who were in the same assortment as Scratch are also very, very difficult to find, Scratch appears to be the absolute most difficult figure to find from this particular assortment.

When I described to Brian what the character looked like, he said, “Oh, I have that.” He probably knew that wasn’t good enough for me. After all, I had been led onto claims like fellow classmates owning Rocket Firing Boba Fett figures before. But Brian did have a particular advantage when it came to toys growing up: his mom worked at K-Mart, so whenever new Ninja Turtles figures were put on the shelves, his mom got first dibs. So it was entirely possible that with a connection like this, he could have gotten his hands on Scratch as a kid.

During one of his trips back home, he had me go down with him to his parents’ basement to look for his boxes of Ninja Turtles toys. We started rooting through, and sure enough, he held up a figure and said, “Is THIS the figure you were talking about?”

That moment was the first time I had ever held an honest-to-goodness example of Scratch. Brian wasn’t lying. His mom probably picked up the only Scratch figure that ever hit the shelves of our local K-Mart. While Brian clearly loved his toys, he was also about 11 or 12 years old by the time Scratch came out, so he was in much better shape than the rest of his childhood collection.

Seeing my excitement, he let me have the figure. Pretty cool, right? Still, I don’t consider myself the owner of the Scratch that I display on one of my toy shelves. Instead, I consider myself more of a caretaker. If I’m ever tempted to sell it, Brian gets the money. I mean, I HIGHLY doubt I would get rid of such a rare figure, and I’m honored that it’s getting proper display instead of sitting neglected in a basement. And it’s very cool that I can trace the lineage of the toy back to the original owner.

The moral of the story is that you should keep in touch with your childhood friends and pick their brains about their various toy memories. You might be surprised what you’ll find! Just don’t resort to Scratch-like antics and wind up in jail trying to get your grubby paws on some rare items!

 

Posted in 1990's, Action Figures, Animation, Ben, Comic Characters, Toys | 1 Comment

My Love Affair With LIFE (Magazine)

This tenth anniversary issue of Life magazine shows the first issue with the famous Margaret Bourke White cover.

I’m sure my love affair with Life began when I was about ten years old. Unlike just about every middle class family in America in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, my family never had a subscription to Life magazine. However, my aunts and uncles did, and they would pass along their outdated copies to us when we came to visit. Indeed, I really looked forward to riding home with several stacks of magazines piled up around me in the back of the car. Life, McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, and National Geographic were eagerly read by me even when I was still in elementary school. Sometimes I would cut the magazines up and put photos and articles in my scrap book. When I was about 13 or 14, I started making a gigantic collage of famous people’s faces, and most of the clippings came from Life.

Now you know what a weird kid I was and how my addiction to printed matter, especially magazines, began.

Early on, when Jim and I first started going to flea markets and into antique shops over forty years ago, I would be drawn to any old magazines that I saw, and if they were affordable (i.e. cheap), I would usually buy them. With thousands upon thousands of each copy sold during its heyday, old Life magazines were not hard to find. I could usually pick up nice examples from the 1940’s and 50’s, my favorite era because the magazines were bulging with fabulous advertisements and interesting articles, for fifty cents or a dollar. Once, about thirty years ago, I came upon a table at a flea market piled high with the old Life’s for a quarter each, and I bought a couple dozen.

However, that was nothing compared to what happened about ten years ago. Our county library holds a book sale a few times a year. When I first discovered this, I went crazy and was coming home with two or three boxes full of printed matter after each sale. This is not a good thing when we already have many, many boxes full of books and magazines in the basement. On this particular occasion, I was trying to behave by avoiding the sale, but Ben ended up checking it out. At lunchtime, he reported that they had “tons” of vintage Life magazines for ten cents apiece. Ten cents! Heck, that was the original cover price in the 1930’s and 40’s! The sale closed at 3 pm, so I hopped in the car and headed to the library. My willpower had crumbled.

Ben was right. Almost as soon as I walked in, I saw several piles of Life from the 1940’s and 50’s. Why they hadn’t all sold at that ridiculously low price was beyond my comprehension. Within minutes, my stack was an impressive size – and I’d only spent about $2.00. Then one of the volunteers at the book sale said the fateful words, “We have more magazines in the back if you’re interested.” Of course, I was. So I accompanied her to a large employee office/workroom, and there were about three or four eight-foot long tables just piled with Life magazines. I was stunned. It turned out that it was the entire archive that the library owned, and they had decided to get rid of it. There literally were hundreds of Life magazines from about 1937 to 1999. Obviously, it was not a complete collection. Certain issues had probably been lifted forty or fifty years ago. Others had probably been sold that morning at the book sale. Still and all, there were many, many issues from just about every year of publication.

Again, I dove in and started making a hand-selected pile, probably another $2.00’s worth. Then I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. “Would you be willing to sell all of them to me for one price?” I asked, knowing full well that if I bought them, Jim was surely going to kill me. In my mind, I thought that any price of $50 or less would be an absolute steal that I couldn’t turn down. Any figure above $50 would have caused me to hesitate and perhaps regain my sanity. Naturally, the woman said, “You can have them all for $50.”

And that’s how I came into possession of our county library’s Life magazine archive.

There was no way I could fit them all into the car on one trip. I took several boxes with me, and over the course of the next month or two, I would make a trip every week or so and pick up another five or ten boxes. Into the basement they went, and in the basement most of them still are.

Quite honestly, I have sold a few. I’ve certainly gotten my money back and then some. I’ve even given a few away as gifts. Life magazines are the perfect birthday or anniversary gift. It’s always fun to see what products were being advertised, what big stories were in the news, what the fashions looked like and what famous person might have been interviewed.

Whenever I go through the “archive” and try to choose a few magazines to get rid of, here’s what happens: First, I’ll see a great cover photo and be attracted to it.

Then I’ll see some ads that are colorful, nostalgic, or fun.

Then, invariably, there’s an interesting article to skim or scan or even read in depth. I swear to you that it’s a rare Life magazine that doesn’t have at least three or four different things going for it. And sometimes that’s what makes it difficult for me to part with some of them. They are like little weekly time capsules. Sometimes they capture an era with which I’m familiar – like the 1960’s or 70’s. More often, though, they bespeak a time that I either never lived through or was too young to remember.

It doesn’t matter. I love Life, and that’s that. I have promised that I will begin parting with them more seriously, and I will keep my promise. But will I always have some Life magazines in my possession? Yes, without a doubt.

Posted in 1930's, 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's, Advertising, Americana, Carol, Ephemera | Leave a comment

Santa’s World Marvel Stocking Stuffer Toys: Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk See You When You’re Sleeping!

I think at this point we’re all convinced that Santa Claus has superpowers. Now, granted, he has to conserve his energy for an entire year so he can fly to every child’s house in the entire world at incredible speeds that would rival those of the Silver Surfer. He also has to manipulate his body to be able to fit through chimneys a la Mr. Fantastic. He also has the powers of The Watcher in that he knows what all children are doing at every waking moment.

Yes, even though Santa Claus was around before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were creating the Marvel Universe, it certainly seems as though Jolly Ol’ St. Nick is the product of the Marvel Universe.

I’d like to think that if Santa Claus was the star of his own monthly recurring comic series, he’d have to battle various villains whose sole purpose is to thwart Santa on the one day where he really matters, and it stands to reason that other Marvel Superheroes would have to come help Santa get his work done on the big day.

That’s the story I’m telling myself for why this set of dime store or rack toys (most certainly intended to be stocking stuffers) features Spiderman and the Hulk.

These toys are part of the “Santa’s World” line by Kurt S. Adler. The Adler name is synonymous with this festive time of year, as they claim to be “the leading importer of holiday decorations for 60 years.” In the 1970s, products like the Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments were still in their infancy, so the idea of a company churning out a specific line of various holiday decorations was still relatively new. What sort of shocks me is that with a little bit of digging, I’ve been having difficulty scrounging up any other licensed characters used in the “Santa’s World” line, at least while the same packaging was used.

The toys are fairly basic. Among the three that I own, I have pinball games featuring Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk delivering gifts. Spiderman could easily swing through chimneys, and he sort of specializes in stealth. But Hulk? Sure, he’s big and strong enough to wield a magical sack filled with millions of toys and gifts, but how is he going to get down the chimney? Also, he’s looking rather festive and happy. Isn’t he angry at something? Perhaps the Hulk was angry at Santa for not bringing him, like, a new pair of purple pants or something, so he incapacitated the jolly old elf and took his job from him. Merry Christmas.

On that delightful note, my favorite of the lot of toys that I own is this Hulk-as-Santa pull puppet. It’s a whimsical take on a gamma radiated-super being that will likely destroy us all if his alter ego gets the least bit upset. It’s old world meets modern (well, 1970s modern), in that it’s a popular character in the form of a toy that would have been much more popular decades prior when this didn’t have Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes toys to contend with.

What I particularly love about all of the imagery is that it’s so straightforward. You can tell the artists are having fun with the characters, but they’re not trying hard to be overly ironic or stylish. It’s Spiderman and the Hulk pretending to be Santa, plain and simple. These are fun in the same way all those wonderful Hostess Fruit Pies advertisements are fun.

A cursory search revealed that these are pretty hard to get. The Santa’s World line was also responsible for a series of comic books featuring a variety of Marvel characters.

While these aren’t exactly the most exciting superhero toys ever made – although that statement might be the biggest understatement on all of Collector Gene – if you are even mildly a fan of either Marvel Superheroes or Christmas, these are just about the perfect stocking stuffer that was ever made or will ever be made.

Posted in 1970's, Christmas, Comic Characters, Toys | 1 Comment

Oh, What Fun!!! Where Exactly Are These Vintage Skiers and Sledders Skiing and Sledding?

 

 

These vintage Christmas decorations date to the 1920′s and 30′s.  Only one is marked “Japan,” but I suspect that that’s where all of them were made.  A combination of cardboard, composition, and cotton batting, they have that old-fashioned charm that just can’t be duplicated.  These decorations have been a part of our collection for quite a while, but Jim found a new place to display them this year.  Can you guess where that might be?  If you’re a regular reader of “Collectorgene,” you might be able to tell.  The “rocky mountains” that these little guys are perched on were featured in an article several months ago.

The following pictures tell the whole story.

 

 

Yes, indeed, those whale bone fossils that we now display in our living room window have become a part of this year’s holiday display.  Collecting to the extent that we do forces us to be creative when it comes to squeezing one more thing in!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Posted in 1920's, 1930's, Carol, Christmas, Holiday, Humor, Weird | Leave a comment

Collecting JFK – Fifty Years Later

This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I remember that day well, as does anyone else who happened to be alive at the time.

Perhaps it’s because I was a kid – in the fourth grade when Kennedy was elected in 1960 – that I remember his presidency better than those of many that have come after him. A lot happened in the less than three years that he was president, including the earliest manned space flights, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, which was probably the scariest two-week period of my then short life.

I also remember the lighter side such as Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the refurbished White House and his famous press conferences which pre-empted the TV shows I was watching after school. At the time they called it “charisma,” and he certainly had it.

I had the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum outside of Boston a couple of months ago. It’s a good place to go to get a feel for the history and also the style of the Kennedy White House through the numerous objects on display. I particularly enjoyed the “campaign” section.

So much has been written about JFK, from endless conspiracy theories about his assassination to the sometimes questionable conduct of his personal life, that time does not seem to have taken away our fascination of him. It’s hard to believe that he would be 96 years old if he were still alive today! One may also wonder what would have happened had he lived.

It’s no surprise that Kennedy is popular with collectors of political memorabilia. Here are some items that were available during his 1960 campaign and presidency.

Campaign buttons

Convention hat

 

Broadside advertising rally & coffee cup

 

Assorted figurines of Jackie, Caroline, and John-John plus  bottle stopper and salf & pepper set


Halloween masks of JFK & Jackie

Personalized autographed photo

 

Please NOTE: JFK was notorious for using secretaries and an “auto-pen” for autographs.

After studying samples of his handwriting at great length, I believe this to be a genuine autograph.

Posted in 1960's, Americana, Historical, Jim, Political | Leave a comment

Mortimer Ichabod Marker from Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages

A few years ago, for some reason, I got slightly obsessed with Bill Cosby. America’s number one funnyman and TV dad has to be one of the most recognizable figures on the planet, and while he occasionally says something controversial once in a while, for the most part, he’s beloved the world over. Also, doing impressions of him is one of our nation’s favorite pastimes. Zippy zop zop doo bee bop Jello-O pudding.

Cosby’s career spans for decades, and the number of different roles he’s played over the years is seconded only by the number of different sweaters he must own. Depending on when you grew up, Bill Cosby was either a secret agent on I Spy, a wildly successful stand-up comedian, Dr. Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, or a ubiquitous pitchman for Jell-O, Kodak, Coca-Cola, Texas Instruments, or any one of a number of companies that paid to have Cosby as their spokesman.

But there’s a lesser known part of Bill Cosby’s career that has developed a rather passionate fan base (and no, I’m not talking about Leonard: Part 6…how dare you even think that). In the early 1980s, Cosby took over the hosting duties of a program called Picture Pages. The program began as a children’s television show on a local Pittsburgh affiliate before being assimilated into the Captain Kangaroo program. The show was based on the idea that children would have workbooks with images that matched what was being shown on the screen, and the host would walk the children through these segments to teach them simple lessons about the differences between inside and outside, shapes and sizes, colors, animals, and a bunch of other lessons aimed at a very, very young and impressionable audience.

During Cosby’s time as host, Picture Pages was shown in the very, very early days of Nickelodeon on Pinwheel, which ran until 1989. Nickelodeon also used short segments from the show as filler in between their programs, and so segments of Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages were being shown into the early 1990s. In other words, there is at least an entire decade where Picture Pages was shown on Nickelodeon for a nationwide audience, and it coincided perfectly with Cosby’s tenure on his self-titled NBC sitcom, despite the fact that they were not being taped simultaneously.

As an adult, looking back on Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages has been rather interesting. Obviously, the show was done on the cheap side. Cosby has made it clear time and time again that believes in the importance of educating the youth of America, but in this show, rather than go about it with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm seen in most children’s programming, Cosby appears sleepy and possibly drunk most of the time, slurring his way through dialogue with the excitement of watching bananas rot. If you caught episodes in their entirety, he would do improvised transitions, most of which seemed to result in Cosby getting progressively more annoyed at an unseen gaggle of children imploring him to provide them with more Picture Pages. Also, I know it’s a show aimed at children, but you have to question the educational value of drawing lines from one thing to another. It’s the kind of mindless busy work given to nursery school and kindergarten students while the teacher grabs a smoke or quick glances at the latest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, not something that can be broadcast on national television for 22 minutes at a time.

I think a combination of vague but positive childhood memories of Picture Pages coupled with nostalgia buffs like myself who look for subversive, unintentionally hilarious vintage programming are responsible for a cult-like following of Picture Pages today. When you mention it to someone between the ages of 25 and 40, either you’re met with a look of utter confusion and no concept of what the show is like or a juiced up enthusiasm from someone who truly understands the nature of Picture Pages.

Now, not surprisingly, there is not a whole lot to collect if you want to start a Picture Pages collection. I discovered the program by stumbling upon VHS tapes at various thrift stores in the area, and you shouldn’t plan on paying more than a couple of bucks at most for each one. If you’re lucky, you might find one of the workbooks tucked in with the VHS tape. This is crucial if you’re hoping to follow to follow along with the program, especially when Cosby asks you to flip to page J-5 or something like that. The show works without the workbook and essentially because participatory in the same way something like Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues does, but Cosby references the book and the use of a writing utensil just enough to seem confusing to anyone that doesn’t realize a workbook is required.

However, one piece of merchandise in particular is very, desirable, and that’s a fun little character named Mortimer Ichabod Marker. Mortimer Ichabod (or MI for short) is an anthropomorphic bee or insect-like creature that acts as a gatekeeper between universes: our own world, and that of Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages. While crayons and pencils will serve just fine for drawing lines from object to object, MI was blessed with special powers. Specifically, he was able to make what has been described as a “doodly doo” sound, an ascending or descending scale of beeps and boops as the line was drawn.  To children of the 1980s and early 1990s, this sound was like the voice of an angel, soothing, familiar, gentle.

A company called Kusan was called upon to recreate Picture Pages’ closest thing to a mascot. In doing so, they created an object that is highly prized among collectors of everything 1980s.

Mortimer Ichabod Marker

This is the official Mortimer Ichabod Marker. If it seems big an unwieldy, that’s because sometimes, you have to make certain sacrifices to get things perfect, especially if it was the early 1980s and electronics were involved. MI takes one 9-volt battery, and then you insert your own pen, pencil, marker, or crayon into the tip. Press it down to a piece of paper, and the descending “doodly doo” noise will follow. So simple, yet so elegant in its execution.

I’m not the first person to document the rarity and the desirability of this little guy. One just sold on eBay a couple of weeks ago for $163, and that one had condition issues (although it did work). I’ve seen them sell for as high as $290 in nice shape, so clearly, this is a valuable item with a track record of high sales for what is essentially an electronic attachment for a pencil-shaped object. I think so few were saved because the show is meant for a preschool audience, and so once you are too old for picture pages, why save it? So how are you supposed to stumble upon one outside of something like eBay?

I guess you get lucky like I did recently. Very, VERY lucky.

I was checking out a neighborhood yard sale in South Jersey. Since I finished up earlier than expected, I decided to drive about 20 minutes to a local flea market. On the way there, I noticed that a mini flea market/community yard sale was being held by the Knights of Columbus. Since it was only a slight detour, I decided to pop on by.

My, my, that's quite a lot of Picture Pages videos!

The first thing I noticed at the first table I checked was a box of seven of the VHS tapes with the original sleeve that was clearly designed for them. As I alluded to earlier, I collect the VHS tapes when I find them cheap. I asked how much the set of tapes were, and the seller said two bucks. I said, “Sold.”

These Picture Pages workbooks are worth it just for the Coz's various insane expressions on the covers!

I found a few other things, and as the seller was getting ready to bag them, I noticed that they had a pile of the Picture Pages workbooks behind them. They said they would throw those in with the two bucks I already spent. Again, I don’t consider these to be terribly valuable, but it’s nice to have them.

So I asked them if they had “the pen” (I didn’t want to look like too much of an obsessive Picture Pages fan), and they said they didn’t think so. Just as I was about to leave to look around at the other tables, the seller said, “Hey, look what I found!” And sure enough, there was Mortimer Ichabod Marker, in fantastic shape, in the original clear plastic sleeve he had been shipped in so many years ago. The battery cover was intact, and when I got home, he worked perfectly.

The box that brought everything together

After I got home, I noticed that the VHS tapes, the workbooks, and Mortimer all fit in rather snugly in the seemingly random cardboard box the seller had given me. That’s because it turns out it was in the original mail away box, complete with an image of Mortimer Ichabod on the shipping label (ah, the effort companies used to put into packages for kids), and in the bottom of the box was a mail away form with Bill Cosby’s visage on it if you wanted even more Picture Pages tapes. Sadly, the former owner did not ever use it, but instead, they left me with a piece of ephemera that I’m pretty sure is not all that easy to find.

One of the most interesting details about this box is that it was shipped in 1992. While Picture Pages was still being shown, I’m a little shocked that the mail-in offer was still valid that late into Picture Pages history. Then again, The Cosby Show was still on, so why not continue to capitalize on the rather fortuitous association? While it’s shocking, I did find advertisements that said the Picture Pages tapes were still available in 1994.

In other words, Mortimer Ichabod is clearly not easy to find, but he also seems to have been available for several years, so with enough persistence, patience, or just plain ol’ dumb luck like what I had, you may be fortunate enough to add one to your own collection, and when you do, it will truly be time to let Bill Cosby do a Picture Page with you.

Posted in 1980's, Art, Ben, Humor, Toys | 5 Comments

Happy Halloween! A Nostalgic Snapshot of a 1960′s Yogi Bear Trick or Treater

Sometime in the early 1960's, two trick or treaters stopped in front of the news-stand to pose for this Halloween snapshot.

 

What a great photo!  It combines two things I love – old magazines and Halloween.  Anyone over forty will probably admit to going out on Halloween wearing one of those lame, out-of-the-box costumes at least once during their trick-or-treating years.  It was so easy for parents.  I know I had a Minnie Mouse costume, and Jim was Donald Duck more than once. They were made of a silky, synthetic fabric that I believe was flammable.  The plastic masks were held on with thin elastic bands, but at least they were easy to flip up on top of your head for better vision when walking from house to house.

By the early sixties, Hanna-Barbera was on a roll.  Huckleberry Hound was introduced in 1958, and Yogi Bear became a break-out star in 1961.  The older kid on the right has the cool Yogi costume; his/her younger sibling appears to be wearing a more generic clown costume.

Of course, what really makes this photo for me are all of the magazines on display behind the kids.  It looks like Fidel Castro is on the cover of the “Look” magazine.  This could very well be from Halloween 1962, in which case the Cuban Missile Crisis had, literally, just ended.  The kids, however, probably don’t care.  They just want to load up on those nice, full-size candy bars that everyone got back then – and avoid the apples at all cost!

 

 

Posted in 1960's, Americana, Carol, Comic Characters, Costumes, Ephemera, Halloween, Holiday, Humor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spaghetti-O’s Monster in my Pocket Display: One Monster That Won’t Fit In Your Pocket…

When most people start collecting little rubber and plastic figures, part of their reasoning for buying tiny toys often stems from the fact that these collections don’t take up a lot of space. You can fit hundreds of tiny figures in a shoe box if you want to, and they don’t take up a lot of shelf space if you choose to display them (and why wouldn’t you!). Beyond their ability to occupy very little space, most little figure toy lines have dozens if not hundreds of designs to collect, as well as tons of color variations. They also tend to come in all sorts of wacky and wonderful character designs, which make little rubber figure collecting very popular with both kids and adults.

One of the more popular little rubber figure lines from my childhood was Monster in my Pocket. They came out in 1990, and found success all over the world. The line consisted of a bunch of small, solid colored rubber monsters based on popular monsters from international folklore and popular culture. Everything from Frankenstein’s Monster to Baba Yaga are represented in the line. If you don’t remember Monster in my Pocket yourself or you want to know more, here is a quick pictorial crash course on the line.

A Sampling of Series 1 Monster in my Pockets.

A Sampling of Series 2 Monster in my Pockets

A Sampling of Super Scary Monster in my Pockets

U.K. Kellogg’s Sports Monsters in my Pocket

A Sampling of Monster in My Pocket Wrestlers

Now that you have met some of the Monster in my Pocket gang, I can get to the main focus of this article. Clearly I have spent a little bit of time collecting Monster in my Pocket. The photos above represent a small fraction of my collection. Monster in my Pocket were made by Matchbox and were sold in retail stores everywhere in the country. They were popular and cheap to produce, so they naturally found their way into promotional tie-ins with restaurants and food products. Most of the Monster in my Pocket figures that were produced for product tie-ins were Series 1 figures cast in different colors than the red, green, yellow, and purple seen above. Many were produced in Series 2 neon colors, with occasional oddities in slightly different shades of bright colors, or a dark forest green color.

Monsters in strange colors.  These Monster in my Pockets were packaged with food tie-ins and other Monster in My Pocket products other than the main figure lines.

Monster in my Pocket had an American cereal tie in with Nabisco Frosted Wheat Squares. They also had a promotion with Bob’s Big Boy.

The tie in that is really the point of this article is a promotion run with Spaghetti-O’s. Every kid loves Spaghetti-O’s, and what could be better than getting a free toy with your purchase? Of course they didn’t put a Monster in my Pocket in the actual can of Spaghetti-O’s. That would make a mess. You had to mail away to get them. Since kids are impatient, and Spaghetti-O’s needed to get you excited to have to wait to receive your toys, they had to find a big way to get kids attention. Behold the inflatable Spaghetti-O’s Monster that is the size of an actual child!

This inflatable display is based on a Series 2 monster design, Dryad. I wouldn’t call this figure the obvious character choice that kids could relate to, but it kind of looks like it could be made out of spaghetti when you color it red-orange like this, so I am going to go along with Spaghetti-O’s decision making process on this one.

When this 4ft tall pile of inflatable awesomeness found its way onto eBay several years ago I made it my mission to make him mine. In a collection that could otherwise fit in a shoe box, he is certainly a stand out. I have always liked store displays, and when I can find a display based on something I specifically collect it becomes a must own for my collection. I only wish that my local super market had had one of these guys on display when I was a kid. I am pretty sure a Monster in my Pocket taller than I was would have made my day. It sure made my day when I found one as an adult.

Posted in 1990's, Action Figures, Amy, Comic Characters, Food, Foreign, Halloween, Humor, Kitchen, Monsters, Toys, Weird | Leave a comment