Saturday, April 16, 2011

Anorexic Toy Soldiers

Believe it or not, I didn't only watch monster movies as a kid. I also enjoyed partaking in other childish behavior like playing Army. This included both running around and imagining great battles as well as playing with little plastic Army Men (like the ones in the movie "Toy Story").

Another interest was comic books of course. While not a voracious reader/collector of comics I did have my share of titles that I liked to read. They included "Sgt. Rock", "The Haunted Tank", "Swamp Thing" and "Micronauts" (which was based on the line of Micronauts toys by MEGO, which I also loved).

Regardless of the comic book, one of the most interesting things in them (for me at least) was always the ads. You could find (seemingly) amazing stuff available to kids for a very small price. I imagine that everyone remembers the classic "X-Ray Specs"--which filled pre-pubescent boys' minds with visions of being able to see through women's clothing (as well as seeing the bones of your hand through the skin I suppose--but that was pretty minor compared to seeing through clothes!). Other things offered in the pages of those comics (as well as magazines like Boy's Life) included Sea Monkeys, hovercrafts, six-wheel all-terrain vehicles, 8mm movies, T-shirt iron-ons, posters, magic tricks, practical joke stuff (disappearing ink, snapping gum packs, hand buzzers, soap bars that stain the hands of those using it...), and on and on and on... This isn't even mentioning all those ads for things you could sell to earn prizes. You could sell greeting cards, subscriptions and even Grit (whatever the heck that was!). Prizes included telescopes, remote-control cars, walkie-talkies, watches, binoculars, metal detectors...

There are many places online to find those old ads and discussions about them by people who grew up reading them and wanting all that great stuff. There's a message board dedicated to the old Boston-area Saturday afternoon show Creature Double Feature that I'm active on. A thread was started there a couple years ago that's all about comic book ads. See it here. And here's a site that's full of old comic book ads: Comic Book Ads.

I wasn't able to actually send away for many of these treasures, and that was probably a good thing. Most of these offers were just ways to separate kids from their (or, more likely, their parents') money. The actual products left a lot to be desired compared to what the descriptions and pictures in the ads stated. One of the few ads I was able to respond to was this one:

ONE HUNDRED toy soldiers for only A DOLLAR AND SEVENTY-FIVE CENTS?!? AND they were all packed in your very own footlocker too? Sign me up! I remember sending in my money and waiting impatiently for the package to arrive. When it did, I distinctly recall the feeling of disappointment when I saw the "footlocker" and its contents. I guess that the people who put this offer out were cashing in on the naivety, gullibility and imagination of kids. They actually delivered everything they promised, but it simply was not what one expected when sending in the order form. I remember trying to play with the set a couple of times before putting it away and never seeing it again. Or, at least never seeing it again until...

Last summer I picked up a number of "Micronauts" comics at a couple comic book stores. Apparently "Micronauts" never became a highly sought after collectible title, so I was able to pick up a bunch of them for around fifty cents apiece. Even though thirty or more years have passed since I first purchased these comics, the covers instantly evoke old feelings and memories. I recognized a couple of the covers like I just read them yesterday instead of decades ago. Issue number five was one of these covers:

Inside this very same issue is the old ad for the 100 Toy Soldier set. That is the one I ended up scanning for the photo above. It may have very well been the exact issue that I originally ordered my set from (though that's purely speculation). Anyway, it was neat to see some of these old comics (and the ads within) that I fondly remembered from my youth.

Fast forward to last week. I was at my parents' house and poking around in the attic. I found an old box of stuff I had put up there many years ago. Not sure exactly what was in it, I brought it home to check out. Wouldn't you know, buried in that box was my very own little footlocker filled with Army men. Yes, the very same 100 Toy Soldier set I bought all those years ago had somehow avoided being thrown out--as has traditionally been the fate of so many childhood memories. Suddenly I had a physical form to put with my vague memories of the set. I could see exactly why I had been so disappointed when it came in the mail. At the same time I actually managed to find a greater appreciation for the set. More on that later. For now, here is my very own set of 100 toy soldiers!

Here's the "footlocker" that the set came in. I was disappointed by this. I imagined it being a lot larger (and even being green--as it was in the ad). To be fair, the ad did specify its dimensions as 6 1/2" X 3" X 2 3/8". Other than the color, it actually does look just like the one in the ad! Because they called it a "Toy Storage Box" I was envisioning something that I could actually use as a cool toy box in my room.

And, here's what's left of the set itself:

Ready for battle once again after all these years!

Here are some of the individual parts (and note how "HONG KONG" is proudly emblazoned on the vehicles!):







(Not exactly sure which is which)

That is certainly a lot of product for $1.75. I counted a total of 85 pieces in my box. Most likely a few were lost/broken during the short period of time that I played with them, but I have a feeling that I never received exactly 100 pieces to begin with. There is a list of what you were supposed to get on the comic book ad:

While I am missing a number of pieces (whether because they weren't included or because I lost/broke them) there are also some items that I received too many of. For instance, there were supposed to be four Riflemen--I have five. There were supposed to be four Machinegunners--I have seven. They didn't seem to put too much effort into quality control (what do you want for a buck-seventy-five?). But, whether I received 100 pieces or only 85, this still seems like a pretty good deal for the price. So why was I (and so many other kids who sent away for this set) so disappointed? I suppose a lot of it can simply be chalked up to the imagination of a child. Looking at the "Imaginary War Scene" depicted in the ad and picturing 100 toy soldiers in my mind made me expect quite a bit from this offer. I was also expecting these soldiers to be like the Army Men I already owned. These ones were of a similar size, but...they were wafer-thin! Check out this Bazookaman for an example:

From the side he looks fine...

But, from head on, he was quite...skinny.

Another problem was the fact that eight WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and eight WACS (Women's Army Corps) were included. I had no problem with them including some of these--but SIXTEEN? They just stood at attention. It wasn't like you could put them in the middle of a battle. Not only that, but they looked very similar to each other. There are subtle differences, but I don't really know which ones are supposed to be WAVES and which are WACS. The ones on the right in the photo below appear to have rank insignia on their left shoulders, so I'm guessing they are the WACS.

Along the same lines, the eight Officers included were also pretty useless. They were standing at attention too--the only difference was that they were also saluting. I suppose you could have set up a nice diorama of a company of WAVES and WACS in formation with an Officer(or eight) saluting them, but that's not really what I envisioned doing with my Toy Soldier set. I was more interested in recreating the "Imaginary War Scene Shown" in the ad.

A dramatic formation of seven WAVES, seven WACS and six Officers!

Between the WAVES, WACS and Officers (24) you had nearly a quarter of your total set made up of items you couldn't really use in battle. The funny thing about the number of women soldiers included was that this set came out LONG before Political Correctness came along and dictated such things. I could see a set of army men coming out these days that included soldiers of many different races and nationalities as well as of both sexes, but I wouldn't have expected that in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

I think the most glaring problem (besides the flatness of the pieces) was one of scale. They included not only soldiers, tanks, cannon, trucks, Jeeps and planes, but also included sailors, battleships and cruisers. My set only has one remaining sailor (who seems very lonely and out of place). The problem is that the sailor (as well as the rest of the soldiers for that matter) is nearly as big as the battleships! It's hard to imagine (even with a child's active imagination) a crew of sailors being able to board and run these mighty ships.

To make things worse, the sailors are even larger than the cruisers! That just doesn't work, no matter how much you try to suspend disbelief.

So how is it that I can now have a greater appreciation for this set that disappointed me so much as a kid? Well, the ad really didn't lie--other than the exact number of soldiers (100 vs. 85) I got pretty much exactly what I paid for and what they promised. The footlocker did look like the one in the ad (other than being white instead of green). They clearly state the dimensions of the footlocker, the fact that it's made of "pasteboard", and that the ad depicts an "Imaginary War Scene". And, the soldiers and vehicles even do look much like the ones in the ad (other than being flat of course). Note how you can even re-create scenes from the comic book ad using the pieces of the set. To wit:

Pretty impressive re-creation, huh?

While the pieces of the set don't resemble the traditional Army Men toys I was expecting, it's hard to say that I didn't get my money's worth. Even if there were only 85 pieces when I received the set, that's comes out to about two cents apiece--and that doesn't include the "footlocker" or the shipping (which today would cost well over $1.75 itself). The ad states "Satisfaction guaranteed or money refunded". I wonder how many people took them up on this. Considering how much it would probably cost to send the set back to get your $1.75 back, it would be cheaper and easier to simply toss the whole thing in the trash.

I guess the best thing that kids could have gotten out of this set was a valuable life lesson. They learned that adults were willing to take advantage of anyone to make a quick buck (even naive little kids). Other important lessons include: "Let the buyer beware" (Caveat Emptor), "You get what you pay for", "If it looks too good to be true then it probably is" and "A fool and his money are soon parted". Lesson learned.


  1. I bought the Revolutionary War soldiers. 204 pieces for only $1.98!

    They were also wafer thin and the ones I got wouldn't even stand up.

    The canons were stuck together and while I suppose you could break them apart there was a serious risk the barrel would break off if you tried.

    I waited for the mail man and he handed me a tiny box and opened it and became a cynic.

    Eventually I leaned a few guys up against a chair and tried to play with them. It was hopeless. I have no idea what I did with them, but I suppose my mother threw them away.

    She and my father had warned me. "They're molded plastic. They're going to be worthless."

    But I knew. I had seen the ad. They would be magnificent.

    I couldn't even tell who the Mohawk Indians were.

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal story! It's nice to know that I wasn't the only one who got fleeced by these things. I didn't really remember all the other sets that were sold until I started looking this stuff up online. It's amazing the variety of rip-off schemes they put out rather than just continually advertising the same one. I wonder if anyone ever bought another set after receiving one. Hard to imagine.

  2. I remember the adds: 100 Toy Soldiers, 132 Roman Soldiers, 204 Revolutionary War Soldiers. My disappointment was different though...

    When I was a kid, I tried to order them, but they could only be shipped within the Continental US. I'm Canadian. I went to the Post Office, obtained a money order in US dollars (the exchange rate was a lot different than it is now!) and sent off my duly completed form and waited. A week or two later, it arrived...My money order and form, with a note that they could not ship to Canada!

    I was so disappointed. Like you, I KNEW that the toy soldiers would be great! So, I was saved from one disappointing truth of life, only to learn the hard way about pre-NAFTA cross-border ordering.

    Thanks for this little trip down memory lane.

    1. Thank you for sharing. That's very interesting how you had a different level of disappointment. The worst part of it was that you probably still had a vision on your head of an awesome deal on cool toys that you just couldn't get, rather than learning the cold hard truth yourself. Hard to know which disappointment would be worse.

  3. I dont collect the 100 soldier pieces set but i did see this...

    And of course there always ebay.....

  4. those sure are thin--the green soldiers toys were a little fuller than that....just about as thin as the American Revolution toy sets....I rmembers the A Rev toy adds...and the classic roman armies sets from comic books.....

  5. Great info.. I remember the ads well, but never ordered one... but I was tempted. I just saw a set on Ebay for 100 US dollars from 1956. It's listed as manufactured by "COSSMAN". There's a military chess set from the 50's with similar figures manufactured by "JOSEPH COSSMAN & CO".

  6. I had a Roman set....of course it got lost...Aw nuts

  7. I ordered one too, and felt the same way!!! Ha ha, this is great! The cruisers vs. the nurse size was painful for me too. I remember I was pissed off when the tank was as thin as a quarter!

    1. What a trip down memory lane! I did the Romans and the WWII. yeah they were cheap and the WWII WAS totally out of scale but I had a lot of fun with them-especially the Roman set

  8. great story.. enjoyed reading it.. remember these ads well from my childhood.. I always wanted to order these things but thankfully got talked out of it. Great marketing from the time though.. it really did play on our imaginations.

  9. Thanks for sharing such great information and memories.. I remember these ads well from my childhood.. I always wanted to order this too but thankfully got talked out of it. Great to find these pics and descriptions though. Was certainly great marketing at the time.. really played on our imaginations.

  10. I never ordered any - i just didn't know how to go about it but i did drool over the ads. I found the Roman civil war one the most enticing, followed by the Revolutionary War set. on another note, i was pretty excited by the midget submarine which appeared to actually work for its child occupants!