Gender Roles Included: The Unreal Estate of 1980s Playsets

By J.E. Anckorn

In the 1980s, the action figure ruled the toy store shelves. Some kids were loyal to one franchise (I was a strictly My Little Pony girl, myself). Some children’s affections and parental pursestrings could stretch to several different brands, but whatever flavor of molded plastic you were hooked on, the pinnacle of aspirational toys was always the playset. These big-box behemoths offered a fantasy local where our toys…

“21st Century Global Guardians”: Corgi’s X-Ploratrons, 1979

Billed as “global guardians,” the X-Ploratrons were four toy vehicles, each equipped with its own novelty tool—mirror, magnifying glass, compass, and magnet—and charged with protecting humanity in the “fictitious disaster-wrecked world of the 21st century,” where “the elements rebel against man!” They were long-established die-cast toy brand Corgi’s attempt to adapt to the wave of SF-driven commerce that followed the unprecedented success of Star Wars

Diaclone Television Commercials, 1980 – 1984

Having become an aficionado of YouTube compilations of television commercials from the ’70s and ’80s, being introduced to this particular collection was a real treat. And such an uncanny one! Here are the Transformers I played with as a kid—Optimus Prime, Wheeljack, Ratchet, Sideswipe—in their original context as members of the Diaclone (ダイアクロン Daiakuron) line of toys from Japan…

Avalon Hill’s Occult Ritual Kits, 1974

Avalon Hill, known for historical wargames like Blitzkrieg (1965) and PanzerBlitz (1970) at this point, released the Witchcraft Ritual Kit and Black Magic Ritual Kit on the heels of The Exorcist, the occult blockbuster that saw demon “Captain Howdy” enter the material world (and eventually a 12-year-old girl) via a Parker Brothers Oija Board…

Recollections: Wonder Bread’s ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Trading Cards

It sounds ludicrous now, but the neighborhood grocery store was once an exciting destination for kids. Along with a serviceable “toy section,” where you might find an overpriced Micronaut or Metal-Man, dinosaur and army man playsets, Presto Magix “dry transfers” (the paper had a distinctive and delicious smell), die-cast mean machines like Dyna-Flytes, and a host of other tangible pleasures…

LJN Toys Catalog, 1987

Toy guns have existed in the United States for nearly 150 years, becoming a niche market in the ’30s and ’40s following the popularity of Hollywood gangster pictures and The Lone Ranger serial. After the U.S. entered World War II, the market became an industry, and sophisticated new designs proliferated until the late 1960’s…

Revell ‘Space Age’ Model Kits, 1957 – 1959

Southern California-based Revell started as a plastics company in 1941, established by Lewis Glaser only weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After a series of British-made “Highway Pioneer” replicas (including the Ford Model T) sold well in 1950, Glaser decided to try his hand at plastic model kits—soon-to-be competitor Monogram had been doing the same since 1945—and Revell’s first mold was 1953’s USS Missouri, the battleship on which the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed…