Before the Interwebs…
June 14, 2010

I’ve been collecting toys for longer than I care to admit. 

Most of the time when I was a kid you found out about a new toys was to be surprised by it when you saw it in a store. Back then (and we’re talkin’ the 70s here) there were only a few ways to hear about toys before they hit stores. The biggest ones for me were the Christmas catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Wards and JC Penney, the BEST catalog (now defunct catalog-based store chain) and, especially,  the Heroes World ads that ran in comic books at the time.

Obviously, back in those dark days there was no public internet, or home computers for that matter. There were no action figure news sites, or even print magazines such as Tomarts, Lee’s or ToyFare.

One might argue it was a more magical time for toys and toy collecting. There was, as I mentioned, element of surprise that is missing today for participants in the online collecting community. I can’t tell you the last time I walked into a store to be surprised by a new action figure that I knew nothing about. Generally today we know about new product 3, 6 or even 12 months out from when it is going to start appearing in stores. I love knowing about stuff ahead of time, but the downside is it makes the wait for that high anticipated figure/character much longer.

I still vividly remember walking into Kiddie World toy store in Santa Clara, CA one day in 1982 and seeing this blond, Conan-like action figure of some guy with the goofy name of He-Man. I was stopped in my tracks. I picked him up, examined the figure, read the back of the card and put him back on the peg. I thought he, and his companions and enemies were a bit on the goofy side.

But, after going home I found I just couldn’t stop thinking about those crazy, colorful figures. The wild blending of science fiction and fantasy already had me hooked. I knew I had to go back and get them. Which I did, and a Masters of the Universe fan was born. But, until that fateful day I had absolutely zero inkling about the Masters of the Universe.

I miss those days.

For you younger collectors, I found a page that has archived some of those classic Heroes World ads at the Mego Museum.

They were produced by the Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, and were more often than not the first place I heard about new Mego figures coming out. It was always so thrilling to see a new ad that showed some new characters that were coming out soon. As a kid I would incorporate this new found knowledge into my play pattern. The Falcon was coming out soon? Cool. Suddenly, the Falcon had been kidnapped by the Green Goblin and Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor would have go on a search and rescue mission to find him. When the day came that my parents bought the Falcon our intrepid heroes would finally succeed at their mission, and the world was safe yet again. Until next time…

I mentioned Christmas catalogs as being another early source of pre-release knowledge. Here’s a site that has archived some old Sears Wishbooks, so you can see (or relive) what it was like to read one of these magical tomes back then.

I love the internet and the news access it provides us, but I do miss the magic of those days of collecting more or less in the dark.


Jeff Cope
Jeff Cope has been collecting toys and action figures since he was a wee lad growing up in the 70s, and is still waiting to grow out of it. He's been involved in the online collecting community since he first started writing for Raving Toy Maniac in the mid-90s, and is proud to call AFi his online home.
Read other articles by Jeff Cope.





  • texgnome1 says:

    I still remember those days too, and yes there was something amazing about getting the Christmas catalogues each year. But there is still some magic. Twice a year, we all sit around our computers instead of the mailbox. We wait with baited breath for the news to trickle in from Toy Fair and SDCC. And we pray each time that our personal favorites are made, in whatever line we collect.

    Yep, there are leaks, but for the most part, we’ll all be clicking that refresh button. Waiting to capture a piece of the magic.

  • Jeff Cope Jeff Cope says:

    You’re absolutely right. SDCC/Toy Fair are analogous to the old Christmas catalogs!

  • demoncat says:

    i recall those days also . either going to the store and finding a new character or just thumbing through the wish books and seeing the ads showing now avaible. which now a days toy collecting has kind of lost a core element with all the ways to know what is coming the joy of surprise

  • Shellhead says:

    What I really miss are those cool GIJOE and Transformers ads where they had 30 seconds or so actual animation that tied into whatever toys they were hawking. Kind of like original mini-films. The animation seemed superior to what was on the cartoons, but I could be wrong. I seem to recall actual ads for the GIJOE comic as well. When’s the last time a comicbook had a TV ad?

    • TRDouble says:

      I thought those Joe commercials hawked the comic book (image a commercial for a comic book!). I loved G.I. Joe:RAH toys, but I wouldn’t touch the comic book. Not until I saw the commercial for Issue #14 with Destro on the cover: “Hmm? What’s this?” I was mesmerized so much that I bought the comic, every back issue I could find (all but #2 or #3; I forget) and was hooked. The comics helped inspire my toy scenarios from that point on.

  • Hourman says:

    I have hugely, HUGELY fond memories of Heroes World catalogues and ads in comics, and I have been picking up old HW catalogues here and there for a couple of years. I’ve got about 8 or so of them and they really take me back to when I was 6 and 7 years old. And what’s really fun is they’re still totally useful as catalogues – only now, instead of filling out the order form and sending in a check or money order, you glean information from the catalogue description and go browsing eBay. Delayed gratification is still gratification!

  • TripleM says:

    Jeff, what about those little product booklets that you used to get with Kenner vehicles and playsets? I learned about new Star Wars, Super Powers and Batman stuff from those booklets. Mego had one that I know of as well. It unfolded into a long strip of paper with many of the figures depicted. I think one was included in the box of the Mego Supervator Playset. Remember that piece of junk?

  • George says:

    I think it’s the same for comics. I used to go into the shop every week, see what’s on the shelf. Maybe I got a Comic Shop News insider pamphlet with my comics that time around. I loved those things. For a while, that’s the only news I got. Now, forget about it. I think if I was a casual reader, I’d probably go back to that (getting closer to that each year). The Internet, in a way, destroys your innocence.

    It’s good for information and all, but it does take away why you probably got into whatever hobby–just for the enjoyment & fun of it. I think sometimes we all forget that when we’re scouring the shelves, the Web, wherever for that one action figure & get pissed off when we don’t acquire it.

    As for toys, back when you were a kid, you were a kid. Not a collector. I didn’t even know what that was. And I never equated getting toys of a certain line as collecting. They were just toys. They were cool. Had to get Skeletor to fight He-Man. And always gravitating to the bad guys (they always looked cooler, didn’t they?), had to get Tri-Klops, Trap Jaw, to fight Stratos and whoever else. Collecting, to me at the time, was baseball cards, stickers (sad to admit–they were like the Silly Bandz of yesteryear), etc.

    Those catalogs were cool, Sears & JC Penney for me. Or a toy store called Kiddie City. That was the Toys R Us in my day.

  • Great article, Jeff! I have a stack of those Heroes World catalogs, and can spend hours with ’em. I’m in complete agreement with you, and have been thinking of writing something similar, but about how different ‘collecting’ was, say 15-20 years ago. Having to find stores in your town, or using the collector’s yellow pages, Toy Shop, to get second hand items. But there’s nothing that beats that ‘holy cow’ moment of seeing something you had no idea was coming. Thanks for the cool read!

    • Hourman says:

      I spent many happy nerdy hours with new issues of Toy Shop and a highlighter 🙂

    • TRDouble says:

      As much as I loved the Sears Wishbook (it’s how I used to look at the Joes and got the tank with the bridge), nothing beats Heroes World! How they could get away with advertising items with drawings instead of actual photos of the product is a testament to how good the art was and how well put together those catalogs were. I used to drool over the Mego pages and those stuffed Super-Hero toddlers (Super-Babies?).

  • Danny CantinaDan says:

    Good stuff, Jeff. Spent many many hours pouring over the JC Penney X-Mas catalogs. But I’ve got two very clear childhood collecting recollection: the first time I saw MOTU on the pegs and the first time I saw G.I. Joe on the pegs.
    Like yourself, I spent a long time just staring at the He-Man endcap in a KB at some mall. I was mesmerized. Another kid came over and his mom asked me which figure I would choose. I remember thinking: “is she gonna buy me one?” Ha. For some reason I did eventually get Merman as my first MOTU.
    I saw G.I. Joe RAH on the pegs for the first time in a Bradlees in Wayne, NJ. Same thing, I was immediately sunk. Rock n Roll was my first Joe.

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