Before the 1960s, it was thought impossible to sell dolls to boys, but Action Man, undeniably macho and virtually
indestructible, changed all that.
Dolls have long been a popular subject for collectors, but today it's not only
gorgeously gowned Victorian china dolls which command good prices. As the
children of the 1960s and 1970s grow into adulthood, the vinyl fashion dolls or dress-up
dolls of their youth, such as Sindy, Tressy,
Tina and their American cousin, Barbie, are
increasingly sought after.
To toy manufacturers, the dress-up doll was a marketing godsend. Once they had sold
the basic doll, they had a captive market for the various outfits and accessories - even
furniture - produced for them. The only problem was that they were only reaching half
the children - just the girls. Then, in 1964, the American firm, Hasbro, produced
G I Joe, a soldier doll that boys could play with without
taunted by their peers.
Two years later, Palitoy, the British firm that
created Tressy, launched Action Man, voted
Toy of the Year in 1966. The secret of his success was his flexibility; jointed at the
neck, shoulders, waist, elbows, hips, knees, wrists and ankles, he could be posed in many
different action situations. By regularly
introducing new, finely detailed uniforms, equipment and weaponry Palitoy ensured Action Man's continued popularity.
Rival British firms tried to capture a share of the new market with their own versions, but dolls such as Pedigree's Tommy Gunn had very short runs before failing and are now collectable only for their scarcity value.
In 1968, Palitoy was taken over by General Mills of America, but production of
Action Man continued until rising costs priced him out of the market in 1983. During this time, the doll was produced in over 36 body variations, and with an enormous range of clothes and accessories, which were sold separately.
Military gear, including dress uniforms and battledress, were the most popular costumes, but Action Man could be dressed as a police motorcyclist, a frogman, a polar explorer complete with skis and a first aider. He also wore uniforms of other countries, including Germany and Canada, while the Space Ranger series came with space helmets and cloth or rubber suits as well as a ferocious alien doll.
It's still possible to find Action Man dolls and outfits, particularly ones from the late 1970s and early 1980s, at jumble and car boot sales, as well as in old toyboxes that have been relegated to attics. Toy fairs have the best selection. There are still bargains to be had, although dealers specializing in modern dolls and other toys are on the increase. The recent introduction of a modern version of
Action Man by Hasbro may boost interest in the original dolls, pushing the price up further, so now is the time to start a collection.
Dolls are always more valuable if they are in mint condition, in their original box and original outfit. Better still if the box is still sealed, although it seems rather sad to see a toy that has never been played with.
Sets will be more valuable if they still contain all the accessories as listed on the box. This is unusual as the small plastic items, such as grenades, guns and so on, were easily lost once the box was opened. Outfits and accessories were usually sold mounted on card and bubble wrapped, which makes it easy to tell if a set has never been used.
Vinyl is more or less unbreakable, but it can be damaged by heat, and body parts could, if the action got a little too rough, be separated from the rest at the flexible joints. Evidence of this, or of the effect of fireworks, say, will render an Action Man valueless.
Although the loss of an odd rifle from a rack will not be too serious, missing wheels or other vital moving parts will seriously downgrade the price of a vehicle. Some of the toys included battery-operated moving parts. Before buying any of these, look in the battery compartment to check there has been no leakage and that the connections are clear and bright. If there's a battery in there, take it out and examine the compartment closely.