Collecting through the decades - the 1970s

21 July 2022
Continuing our series, we take a look at popular children's toys through the decades.
Collecting through the decades - the 1970s Images

The 1970s saw the introduction of some sensational toys that have stayed with us for the last 50 years. Iconic toys from films and TV series with cult followings, sometimes selling for tens of thousands of pounds. Super 70s indeed!

Video games first came into our lives in the 1970s. The concept had been around since August 1966 with Ralph H Baer designing the hardware for such a thing. The Odyssey, manufactured by Magnavox, is said to be the first commercial home video game console.  With lots of wires, control knobs and joysticks, we were all fascinated by the fun of batting dots back and forth across the television screen or landing a little aircraft on a clear runway after destroying a skyline of buildings!

From those early consoles, things as we know, quickly developed as technology improved to the amazing standards we see today. As for those early Atari consoles and the like, perhaps they will be valued in toy museums, but as collector’s items they don’t seem to have a great deal of value.

Plenty of toys from the 70s are still of great value, however. The 1970s was the era for action figures from the many television series that became so popular: The Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Charlies Angels, Starsky and Hutch and Fawlty Towers to name a few. And soft toys became collectable for the cartoons of the time, such as Dick Dastardly and Muttley which although came out originally at the end of the 1960s, were repeated throughout the 70s and episodes are still being enjoyed by today’s generation.

Doctor Who had been sending kids scurrying off to hide behind the settee since 1963, and the show continued to gather fans with the arrival of Jon Pertwee as the third doctor and Tom Baker as the fourth. Plastic figures, models of the Tardis and Daleks and other aliens became the prised possessions of countless youngsters, who for many have continued to be fans through to the present day. For some, collecting Doctor Who memorabilia has been a lucrative move.

A Doctor Who Dalek made in 1966 was sold off by a private British collector in 2016. It was one of 67 items on sale. Beating off bids from around the world, it sold to a London collector for £38,500, with the entire collection fetching £90,000 in total.

Not quite in that league but nevertheless showing the value of rare Doctor Who toys, was a 7-inch Bendy rubber Dalek produced in the mid-1960s. At the time it would have cost 10s 6d and usually played with until it fell apart. However, one that survived fetched £1,500 at auction 50 years later.

The original American TV series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry, which had run from 1966 to 1969 in the US, gathered British fans through that original series being shown over here and the subsequent Star Trek Revival in the late 1970s and beyond!

Actual props from Star Trek have fetched tens of thousands of pounds at auctions over the years. According to Profiles in History, who specialise in auctioning Hollywood memorabilia, two top-selling items have been Mr Spock’s season 3 tunic which sold for $123,250 in 2003; and the command chair and platform from the original series which sold for $304,750 a year earlier. While a fully working model of the Starship Enterprise with internal neon lighting was sold at Christie’s action in 2006 for £452,000.

The 1970s also saw the launch of the phenomenon Star Wars created by George Lucas, introducing us to the most wonderful characters of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, storm troopers, Boba Fett and other classic characters and their spaceships. In 2020 the Star Wars franchise was estimated at US $70 billion, making it the fifth highest grossing media franchise of all time!

The Guinness Book of World Records reports that the most expensive Star Wars action figure sold at an online auction was a Boba Fett rocket-firing action figure which sold for £144,939. It was auctioned by Hake’s Auctions in November 2019.  It was a prototype rocket-firing bounty hunter Boba Fett made by toy company Kenner in 1979 but never released. Most of the prototypes had been destroyed in the factory and only a handful have ever come on the market.

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Kenner’s decision to abandon production of an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure with double-telescoping lightsabre also resulted in a massive sale at Hake’s auctions in 2017 where this toy fetched £58,000. The company stopped production because of a safety issue with the telescope. This, along with the fact that it was one of only a few left in the box with a hole unpunched at the top, aided the high bids on the item. Similarly, a Luke Skywalker boxed figure, also with a double-telescoping lightsabre made big bucks at auction, fetching £19,000.

The 1970s also saw the launch of one of the best-selling toys of all time – the Rubik’s Cube. This 3-D puzzle was invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, Ernö Rubik and originally called the Magic Cube. When Ernö first made it, he didn’t actually know how to solve it, and it took him a month to work it out.

With six coloured sides, 27 pieces and 54 outer surfaces, there are over 43 quintillion (that’s 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 to be precise) different possible configurations. Although it’s said that every single position of a Rubik’s Cube can be solved in twenty moves or less.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest time achieved to solve a Rubik’s Cube stands at 4.22 seconds, achieved by Feliks Zemdegs. More than 350 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold to date.

Other fun toys that emerged in the 1970s include Weebles – you’ll remember the catchphrase, ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’. They have been wobbling since 1971. Connect Four officially emerged on the toy market in 1974. And Hungry Hippos have been noisily snapping up those little white balls since 1978.

The Muppet Show came to British television from America from 1976-1981. They had been created by Jim Henson in 1955 and had been rising in fame through adverts, late night TV and appearances on Sesame Street. The show won numerous awards and in 1979 came The Muppet Movie. The iconic characters such as Kermit the Frog, Miss Peggy, Animal, Fozzy Bear and Gonzo have inspired collectors for more than 40 years.

Meanwhile, Dinky Toys had been manufacturing the entire spectrum of vehicles, real and fictitious from passenger, sports and racing cars to buses, farm vehicles, military, emergency vehicles, aeroplanes, spacecraft and vehicles from TV series. But despite all that, they couldn’t compete with Corgi, and Dinky Toys ceased in the 1970s. Corgi continued their successful production of rally cars, film and TV-related cars and more, and in 1970 introduced their Whizzwheels range.

Both Dinky and Corgi have seen amazing sales of rare models over the years. A pre-war Dinky WE Boyce delivery van was sold at a Vectis auction in 1994 for more that £19,000.

On the model railway scene, Z scale railways were introduced by Marklin in 1972 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. Marklin’s head design engineer, Helmut Killian was the man behind the idea, calling it Z scale as that was the last letter of the German and English alphabets, and there never would be a smaller commercial model railway scale.

In 1978, a Märklin Z scale locomotive pulling six coaches made its entry into the Guinness Book of World Records by running non-stop for 1,219 hours, and travelling a distance of 720 km (450 miles) before the train stopped due to failure of the motor. The 1970s certainly was a decade for some iconic collectable toys!