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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

M is for Men of '76 . . . 1776!

So with great thanks - again - to Brian Berke, we are going to look at the Men of '76 swoppets from Toy Innovations, a minor favourite of mine, but which I told Brian I'd 'hold' for a while until I got my loose figures out of storage - as he's sent me pictures of the official sets, on the card - and I wanted to show some loose ones I've got and pose a question or two.

However I had a small lot here (god knows where they came from, but it must have been one of the last four Plastic Warrior shows, I can't think where else I would have got them?), which are just enough to make a couple of points, so we're off, and thanks to Brian!

I've seen them described as being ' copies of Timpo American Revolution figures', but if anything they are copies of the Britains Swoppet figures, however; given they were first issued in 1972, by which time most people had had a go at 'swoppets' of some kind or another and the crates coming out of Hong Kong were stuffed-full of knock-off swoppets, and given also certain differences in construction, and the wider range of poses; it's fairer to say they are 'after' Britains, or 'influenced by', while being a relatively original application of the whole swoppet concept.

The downside is that while they are described as being with 'moveable and changeable parts', they are mostly pose-specific parts, so actually giving a kneeling Frenchman some Indian arms hardly enhances play-value! But the officers can be given 'foot' legs, or the lady/Indian can take to the saddle, so long as they want to wear britches! Also several of the standing poses are unarmed and have no way of arming themselves?

My local sample, also the two poses
closest to Britains Swoppets

They had previously been issued as 'Shell Liberty Toy Soldiers' by the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company as premium giveaways with fuel and/or motor oil. I used to think this was only in the 'States, but evidence would suggest that both issues (and possibly a third) were wider ranged than just America.

The 1971 petrol premium's sets contents (with full acknowledgement to Kent Sprecher and his Toy Soldier HQ website for this list) were as follows.

Unit 1 - Kneeling Bluecoat, Standing Redcoat
Unit 2 - Kneeling Redcoat, Standing Bluecoat
Unit 3 - Marching Bluecoat, Marching Redcoat
Unit 4 - American Officer on Horseback
Unit 5 - British Officer on Horseback
Unit 6 - Standing Frenchman, Kneeling Hessian
Unit 7 - Indian Scout, Standing Minuteman
Unit 8 - Kneeling Minuteman, Molly Pitcher
Unit 9 - George Washington on horseback
Unit 10 - Cornwallis on Horseback
Unit 11 - Paul Revere on Horseback
Unit 12 - Cannon

To which was added a cut-price fort called Fort Liberty which you had to ask the petrol/gas station for, although I dare say there was a display of some kind, as with the current run of Lego promotions in Shell stations which have been going for 15 years or more now. Whether it came with the same tray of figures as the Men of '76 issue I don't know, but from the original pricing given on Kent's site I suspect not.

Note: no kneeling Frenchman or Standing Hessian? Both of whom are quite common - loose?

When the set was 're-issued' (more on that below) some - but not all - the carded sets included a flyer/catalogue/collector's check-list with a potted history and the other sets in the range. Now . . . first question arising: When Barry Blood sent a copy in for Plastic Warrior magazine's article (published in Issue 149 - back issues available from above link) by the above mentioned Kent, the flyer showed only eight of "Collect All 8 Sets" plus the fort, however: there are ten sets?

Brian Berke has sensibly left his mint so I can't know what the US flyer says. Is it the same flyer Barry has with the two additional sets being added to the range after the flyer was printed, or is the 8-set flyer (and the 8-set printed cards it illustrates a UK/Rest of World only thing? The sets we are looking at here are all clearly printed-up as "Collect All 10 Sets" cards.

I ask - in part - because it's a query in itself, but also because after a fortnight of following these online (there's a fair-few on evilBay - but watch the silly BIN prices!) I haven't seen a single card printed with the 8-set graphic? Also, while the cards are all ten set graphics, it would seem that 9 and 10 are harder to come by, but I'll be the first to admit that a couple of weeks scratching the 'bay is no scientifically-binding, empirical research sample!

Some sources give 1975 for the MO76 issue, others ’76, but the cards are copyrighted to ’72, ’73 and ’75 (which gives some indication as to the variety discussed below), they must have been pretty popular in all guises: Petrol premiums, 8-cards and 10-cards?

Anyway, there ARE 10 sets from the US, whatever the reasons for the discrepancy, and let's look at them in order with the images from Brian:

Set No 1
Muster List

1 George Washington
1 White Horse
1 Standing Minuteman
1 Standing Bluecoat
3 Stands

Set No 2
Muster List

1 Cornwallis
1 Black Horse
1 Field Cannon
1 Marching Redcoat/Cannoneer
2 Stands

You can see that card 1 gives you a nice starter for the insurgent forces, with card two the legal government's troops (you love it when I'm contentious!). Buying both cards gives you a balanced fight with two cavalry/commanders, foot figures and a gun. I don't know if the George Washington biographic is only on the card containing him, or on all of them or on the ones without a flyer?
Note that the Set 2 card had been quite distorted by the shrink-wrapping for the flyer/catalogue.

Set No 3
Muster List

1 Paul Revere
1 Brown Horse
1 Indian Scout
1 Kneeling Redcoat
3 Stands

Set No 4
Muster List

1 Field Cannon
1 Molly Pitcher
1 Kneeling Minuteman
2 Stands

The next two cards gives you more historical characters and a native or two (do the Minutemen count as natives?!! Turncoat B-Star'eds). You can also see why I'm reticent to ascribe these as Britains plagiarisms; the Indian and the Molly figure are quite unusual, well executed and owe more to Italian swoppets (of the type later to find their way into Kinder Eggs) or Elastolin's foray into the genre.

You are also starting to see why that cannon is so common in collections, in stock with dealer's, on tables at shows and in mixed-lots on feeBay - almost every other set has a cannon!

I have a couple of loose Mollies in storage and her barnet is to be seen to be believed, I'm never sure if it's supposed to be a hairstyle, a 16th century hat or a passing swarm of bees? Whatever the truth, she looks like one of the younger Gibb Brothers!

Set No 5
Muster List

1 American Lieutenant
1 Brown Horse
1 Kneeling Bluecoat
1 Kneeling Redcoat
3 Stands
Set No 6
Muster List

1 American Trooper (Afro-American)
1 Field Cannon
1 Standing Redcoat
2 Stands

Sets five and six are a couple of what today would be called 'Army Builder' sets with more troops for the two main protagonists and, yep; another cannon! Although I prefer to think of these as 'influenced by' rather than plagiarising, it has to be said: The horse IS a straight steal from Britains!

Set No 7
Muster List

1 British Lieutenant
1 Brown Horse
1 Kneeling Hessian
1 Standing Frenchman
3 Stands

Set No 8
Muster List

1 Standing Redcoat
1 Kneeling Redcoat
1 Indian Scout
1 Standing Bluecoat
1 Kneeling Bluecoat
5 Bases

I have no picture of set 8, but the details were readable from the Plastic Warrior article, so I know what the contents are. Set 7 is the more interesting as we start to get the 'allies', really both were exploitative or profiteering mercenaries, sent by rival governments, both of whom had two eyes on the spoils.

The following two sets were either released after the flyer had been printed, or they weren't issued in the UK vis-à-vis the musing above?

Set No 9
Muster List
[Full contents unknown but must include '1 Kneeling Frenchman' as I know he exists, he's in this post! the equally missing '1 Standing Hessian' may not exist?]

(Added 1st Aug. 2016)
Set 9 (courtasy of 'Gisby')
Muster List (not necessarily in correct order)
1 Standing Minutemen
1 Indian Scout
1 Kneeling Hessian
1 Standing Frenchman
4 Bases

Still no standing Hessian? I now know he doesn't exist - except when found with other people's trousers on! The whole point of swoppets!

Set No 10
Muster List

1 Aaron Burr
1 Field Cannon
1 Standing Bluecoat (Afro-American)
2 Stands

The inclusion of the Aaron Burr 'character figure' in the final set, suggests A) that all ten sets were there from the start, and that B) one of the missing items on Set 9's 'Muster List' may be another character? Also there's a shortage of white horses in the others sets, so could the missing figure/s be/include a mounted figure/character?

Other Items
Men of '76 Revolutionary Fort
(copyrighted to 1973, with moving gates, jail, British and American flags and flag-pole)
Muster List (bases fitted to figures)
1 George Washington
1 Standing Bluecoat [seems to be a typo printed on all boxes, actually: x2 are present]
2 Kneeling Bluecoats
1 Marching Bluecoat (Afro-American)
1 Standing Minuteman
1 Kneeling Minuteman
2 Cannons
1 Cornwallis
2 Standing Redcoats
2 Kneeling Redcoats
1 Marching Redcoat
2 Indians
1 Molly Pitcher
1 Fort (with British and American flags, jail, gates, etc.)

A comparison with the remains of a Britains American Regualr with a brittle-torso, which is now away to recycle-heaven: The most obvious links are the legs, the hat/hair/head arrangement and the musket. The musket plugs into the right arm while the legs are slimmer mouldings on the Innovative figures, with thinner ankles and boots.

The torso is a different design altogether, although roughly the same pose, it has a plug-in unit 'facing' piece in different colours, gold for officers and other colors for the various units. There is a slight problem with it though . . . it sometimes pushes the head back up the neck hole again, so a bit of trimming is necessary to get everything ship-shape and Bristol Fashion!

In storage I'm sure I have other colours of facing, yellow (instead of gold?) and pink (for the mauve?), which suggests a third issue, or a third source, as while both 'known' sets may have been handled by Innovative Promotions, they are not quite the same.

The base at the bottom/on the left of each shot is the Shell issue, it has a full Innovative Promotions Inc. stamp and a clear 'snowflake' logo with a little 'Hong Kong' stamp, set alongside it, the others are of poorer finish, unmarked and have a shallower, blurred logo. I've been looking at these for a week or two, and there is no real difference in the contents of the various cards I've seen, while my little sample here reinforces the questions raised by the sample I have in storage.

Shell have the pale green bases with fine texture to the groundwork, the figures are all of the same design/colour pallet, likewise the Men of '76 are all on dark green bases, with a cracked groundwork, but similarly consistent in their 'look', but I've been unable to ID the base mark as they are usually face-up under the blister - perhaps a US reader could help? Neither explains the brown base above, nor the obvious mould-damage to the base undersides of the two non-Shell bases.

Neither is this variation of green for the Hessians explained easily, by the available evidence of the two sets. It would seem there are three or more sources for these figures.

What I suspect happened is something like this (I emphasise 'something like', not actually!), Innovative approached their HK source in 1970 or '71 and did the deal for or on behalf of Shell for the set of premiums, they were fully branded to the US importer/jobber and probably did quite well, running for six months, maybe a year, one pack per 10 gallons, or can of oil or whatever? Also, I think they must have been available elsewhere (as Shell premiums) such as this side of the pond, as they turned-up quite commonly before the advent of evilBay and the Internet.

Then, a few years later, Innovative think "Hold-on, the Bicentenary is coming-up? We should re-issue those figures we sorted out for Shell!", they go back to their supplier in HK, who informs them that the moulds were scrapped, or are damaged or whatever? Innovative have the 1970's equivalent of a WTF moment (imagine De Niro using real swear-words down the 'phone!) and explain that the moulds had better be replaced, renovated, copied or whatever? As they were, are or remain the property of the client or whatever?

Ergo, when the Men of '76 appear in ten sets or eight (?!) wherever they so appear, there are a bunch of subtle differences which are - within the line - as consistent QA-wise, as were the Shell figures consistent, within their line.

Which would explain two 'types', particularly the bases, but other differences are obvious, one lot (Shell?) has gripping ring-hands, the other lot (MO76?) have blob-hands the musket rests on, although it's not hard and fast, some of the kneeling legs are soft PVC Vinyl others are harder ethylene, bodies and separate arms likewise, flesh - both paint and plastic varies, hair colour etc . . .

But three of this lot of mine (an unscientifically small sample, but I'm musing here) seems to have been sent out with a clearance batch of French arms! The colour variations of Hessian particularly, but also Minutemen, not only between Shell and MO76, but third shades suggests that someone else got the moulds, put the moulds back into production sans Innovative's knowledge/input, or just copied them - explaining the poor quality fit of later figures and the facing/head fit thing?

If a US reader can confirm that the bases of the MO76 are (or are not) clearly marked as the Shell figures were, then we would be looking at four possible issues, but with the two dodgy issues maybe being unofficial back-door production for European and/or UK rack-toys, whether bagged or blistered we won't know until some turn-up!. We definitely had them here, as the cannon are as common as muck - loose, as are the sub-quality figures in both my samples.

It's food for thought, and more work needs to be done, but that there are different issues of these I'm sure, and yet they've always been talked about as two issues of the same figures. I'll return to them when I get my larger loose sample out of storage, as I used to look at them and be sure they were from different sources/batches.

The real reason this post came about was because Brian asked me if I knew of any African or Afro-American swoppets and sent me these pictures with one of the others above. I answered as you might expect, with a note about a few Kinder, the Kinder Zulus, possibly the odd Italian (CGGC-Grisoni) pocket money swoppet, the slightly swoppet elements of the Dulcop African's and the possibility of one or two more? I then asked him if he could photograph any others!

Now: one's always worried about the charge of racism entering such a subject, but I write this with one eye on the few historical facts I imagine I know and the other on my 'liberal leftie' credentials . . . knowing also that I haven't Googled the subject!

That there were some Free Men or Freedmen in the colony there is no doubt and including a couple of African American figures in the line is an inclusive act, especially in a multi-racial society, particularly one as riven with racial problems as the US had been a few years earlier with the civil rights/students/anti-Vietnam War movement stuff going-on (how looped is history's tape!), AND when it's about to celebrate 200 years of independent 'inclusive' ("Send me your . . ." etc.) sovereignty.

So while I wonder how many black troops actually did fight for or against the British, I like the fact that they are present in the set! Along with the native Indian figures and the woman, but I would have liked a Tarleton-helmeted cavalryman!

While sorting out the shots for this post, I noticed one of my tricorn hats had a brown inclusion, or contaminant, which had been well melted into the front brim, but created a little dink in the back edge, probably flicked there by another machine in the factory.

The German with American legs!

The other question to ponder, is why the hell didn't Britains re-issue their AWI Swoppets in 1976, I know we (Brits) probably didn't have the same desire to celebrate the loss err . . . 'occasion' as the Americans, but A) they would surely have been worth a shipment to the US, and B) my memories of the year (it was also the great heat-wave year of killing wood-ants with magnifying glasses while slowly melting, myself, at interminable cricket matches) are that actually our popular media got quite 'into' the whole bicentennial thing, and they probably would have sold well here? I think Timpo's were still in the shops? Probably alongside some of these!


Jan Ferris said...

Bloody rustics! Nice post though!

Brian Carrick said...

Hi Hugh
I spent the summer of 1976 backpacking all over the U.S. with a couple of mates, I only ever saw the "men of '76" on sale in one store. I bought sets 3,4,5,6 and 10 which were all they had, they also had the star fort in box but it was too big for my pack so I had to leave it. Mine all have the darker green base with just the snowflake logo.

I don't recall ever seeing them in the shops over here but a number of dealers had lots of them in the 80's that they got from the U.S. I found some very similar but poorer quality Hong Kong copies on Timpo style bases while back packing round Italy in 1980, they came in header bags printed in Italian.

Britains did reissue their AWI swoppets for the bi-centenary in souvenir boxes but only for export to the U.S. they were poor quality plastic compared to the originals and unpainted.

All the best, Brian

Hugh Walter said...

Cheers Jan

Thanks for that Brian! Brian Berke found one of the Timpo-based lots finishing on feebleBay yesterday, after the arcticl published, I think over here they were 'Star' or 'S for Star' (a red or black S in a white star), they seem to be among the better Timpo-base-like copies though, they did the Timpo Mexican clones - I think, but in softer vinyl than Transogram?

And thanks for confirming the base-mark thing, that means the pale-green (full mark) are the petrol premiums, and the later sets were 'own' copies! The brown being from a possible 3rd source?

Best to both

Hugh Walter said...

I've been sent a couple of images, so there will be a follow-up post, or an update to this one?


Hugh Walter said...

Follow-up gone-in here:


julian said...

very interesting article on Men of 76 AWI swoppets.
I had set 9 which had a figure of Danniel Boone in hunting shirt and trousers, complete with fur skin cap and white ammo bag, not another Minuteman. A nice figure except for his legs which were extremely short and out of scale.
So set 9 comprised of.....Frenchman, Hessian, Indian and Danniel Boone figures.
hope that helps, Julian.

Hugh Walter said...

Cheers Julian - it all helps! There is a third post/second update in the pipeline, I'll mention your info there too!

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

In fact, Britains did release two boxed sets of UNpainted AWI swops for sale in America in 1976. They came in window box set and included all 6 poses.
These are much more common than the original painted versions in the States
In the early '80's, I walked into a Shell station and saw cartons of the figures stacked up outside the store room. The attendant told me that his boss told him to throw them out. The station owner never bothered to unpack them or give them away.
I gave the attendant 10 bucks and drove away with my car full of toys. And I mean FULL! Several thousand of them.
I even took the hard plastic fort, that was supposed to be for the display.
The soft plastic fort is common in both gold and gray.
The hard plastic fort is very hard to find and is really a nice piece.

The pegs of the figures can be cut under the feet and holes drilled to accept the Britains swop bases. This really improves the overall look of the figures and makes intermixing with Britains and Timpo swops easier.

Hugh Walter said...

Well Mr AOL-opaque identifier;

In fact - Brian already told us!

The Fort is quite common on evilBay (usually a couple, at least one complete with box) and they go reasonably cheaply - and it's hard plastic. The soft ones you refer-to sound like the MPC ones to me? maybe you've got your wires crossed?

However thanks for the story, isn't it nice how attendants let lorry-loads of stuff go for a tenner on their own recognisance!

Commonly it's either 'Swoppets' or 'Swaps' and remember, if you remain anonymous on the Internet, like a piss-stain you also remain known only to the person wearing the panties!


Anonymous said...

Hey Hugh, I'm not shy about who I am or what my name is. I seem to be having trouble signing in with my account, so I used this. I am Bill Nevins know as "nevinsrip" on the 'net.
I liked the Men of '76 article and relayed my experience.

I find that the harder plastic legs take paint very well and have changed trouser colors on many figures, just to break them up a bit.
You can use any standing/kneeling figures legs and just paint them to match. Like the Hessians.
The artillery pieces can be stripped of their awful gold plate and repainted a brass or metallic color. I drilled out the barrels to make them more realistic, too.

The mounted figures are junk and I replaced them with some Helmet conversions.
A mixture of Britains, Timpo and these makes for a fun battlefield.
Please update with any new info. Thanks.

Hugh Walter said...

Cheers Bill - don't mind me! I give annoy'mouse's a hard time as I believe the world will only benefit from the Internet's true potential when everyone has to face-up to what they write! I even ripped into Brian when he got a new ID, and he's done more for the Blog than anyone else!

There were two updates in the days/weeks after this post and I will hopefully be completing the 'triumvirate' in a day or few (waiting on a parcel!).


Anonymous said...

Hugh There are 3 different forts. I have all three. Fort one is uncommon in the States and only came direct from Innovative Products when you sent in a coupon that was found with the cards. It was mailed in a plain brown cardboard box, not the colorful box that the other forts came in.
It is molded in an excellent hard, gray plastic. It would remind you of a Timpo Castle. This is the one to own.

Fort Two and Three

Both are soft plastic and both came in colorful boxes. The only difference was that one was in a silver gray soft plastic and the other in gold plastic. Both tend to get brittle over the years and I have several walls with broken pieces. These are much more common here in the States.

Now, twice I have seen hard plastic forts inside the white litho box.
I'm just guessing here, but I don't think that a lot of people ever sent in the coupon and they probably got stuck with a load of hard plastic forts. So whoever got the molds probably got the extra forts and repackaged them for sale. This is just my opinion. I have no proof of this.

"The soft ones you refer-to sound like the MPC ones to me? maybe
you've got your wires crossed?

Absolutely not. I have the MPC fort. It's not even close.
Hugh, I've been at this for for more than 40 years. Believe me, I know the difference.....Bill

Anonymous said...

Thinking about it, if the hard plastic fort is common in the UK, then perhaps Innovative sold them off a European distributor.

What packaging have you seen them in?

Hugh Walter said...

Hi Bill

I've only seen the evilBay one's (whole hard plastic fort made-up in a big box with bag of small parts), so you are talking about two others which aren't common, clearly! They aren't on Kent's site and he has most things!

Also I'm not questioning you, I was querying an anonymous poster in my usual cynical vein!! What you suggest about clearance is very plausible, not - I think - the UK, but certainly you see today with things like the Horror-klicks that something which was 15.99 in the Toysaurus ends-up at 3.99 ("Buy two for £5's") in Poundstretcher!

So I'm sure there was a deal of that sort? Maybe even one of the obvious candidates (from that time); Arco, Imperial or Jaru, they were all FoB'ers/Jobbers and would have been looking for a bargain at home just as well as from their HK offices?

Like that Arco Noah's Ark which keeps turning up in a more provincial companies box!

It's that sort of speculation that keeps me in the game!

I have the MPC fort in gold, it's one of the few 'large-scale' forts I've had since my small-scale specialisation days, due to it's being for those 45/50mm-odd knights, which is why I mentioned it.

Now - were you to sent the Blog images of the other two, we could put the subject to bed (until the next time!!) as I've realised the promotion was Shell (it's on the bag's header-cards), just not in Shell Petroleum logotype), and the blue MO76 cards were only [?] a hight-street retail thing. Even a single image of the same part from the three diferent forts would help?

I suspect also the Shell ones are the unmarked/different colour base ones with a wider variation in uniform colours? Can you confirm that?


Hugh Walter said...

Re-reading Brian's comment at the top - it may be that the big-box fort is commonest because it was retail, and the others were sort run (hence two versions) for the promotion?


Hugh Walter said...


Anonymous said...

I have dug the forts out, along with some new information. I will send pix in a day or two...Bill

Anonymous said...

Hugh I have sent you pictures of the forts and packaging to the email listed on this site. Please let me know that you got them. There are about 20 photos in all....Bill