Today I’m gonna show you the highlights from the 1984 Consumers Distributing catalog. Don’t run — it’s more interesting than it sounds!
I’ve mentioned Consumers Distributing before, but to save you a click, here’s a primer: The odd stores were more like OTB centers, where instead of wheeling around shopping carts, you stood at little kiosks filling out catalog order forms. Workers would then seize your goods from a warehouse in the back. If not for the financial frivolity, it might have seemed dystopian. With little space dedicated to “ambiance,” costs were kept down, and Consumers could price things lower than most department stores.
Physically being there was never much fun. With so few things on display, the store was all-business and not at all for mindless browsing. Still, I had a special affinity for Consumers, since their catalogs were nearly as good as Sears Wish Books!
Even as a kid, I couldn’t believe their prices. Everything was cheap, but certain things were really cheap. (Of course, this often led to disappointment. You’d go to Consumers clutching their clearance pages, only to find out that nothing you wanted was in stock. 49 cent Karate Kommandos? I knew it was too good to be true.)
Those old catalogs have been one of my “grail searches” over the years. I was recently able to acquire a big pile of them, and they’re every bit as sweet as I remember. For starters, let’s check out the highlights from their 1984 catalog!
Star Wars Figures!
Price: $2.97 each
If I’ve not made this clear in prior articles, Kenner’s original Star Wars line is my favorite action figure series of all time. Those toys shaped my childhood, and were absolutely what drove me to become a collector in my teen years.
One of my literal earliest memories is of sitting in my childhood bedroom, throwing a party for my Star Wars figures with the Ewok Village playset. There were over a hundred available, and I damn well tried to collect them all. While falling short of that lofty goal, I certainly had every single figure pictured in that spread. What amazes me is how each one sparks a different memory.
The Gamorrean Guard? My mother brought me along when she visited her best friend, who happened to be my godmother. I didn’t see her often, but she always lived up to her title with great gifts. That afternoon, she gave me the Gamorrean Guard, and hoped it’d keep me quiet as she and my mother smoked their way through eighty cups of coffee. It did.
Nikto? On some ridiculously long ago evening, I was at TRU. (Which, come to think of it, is the same TRU I just did that shopping spree at.) The goal was to get a new Star Wars figure, but as the line’s vitality was already waning by then, the pickings were slim. From the poor selection, the only one I didn’t have was Nikto. I chose him begrudgingly. He was a fresh face, yes, but not a very interesting one. I should’ve just gotten an extra Boba Fett.
The Emperor? As mentioned in this article, I got him through one of Kenner’s mail-away offers. You haven’t lived until you’ve received an ostensibly free Star Wars figure by mail, trapped within a stark white cardboard coffin.
I’ll stop there, but I could write similar paragraphs for each of the pictured figures. God, I loved that line. I still do. Nothing else has come close.
Remote Control Avenger Vehicle!
WHOA. I’ve been at this retro blogging game for longer than some of you have been alive, and at this stage, I’m always surprised when I rediscover something that I’d completely forgotten. I can’t imagine that there are many stones left unturned, so pardon me while I savor the moment.
In a spread of official Masters of the Universe toys was one peculiar vehicle. I immediately recognized it, but it couldn’t have been from MOTU, since I certainly would’ve stumbled upon it after all of these years spent searching eBay. What gives?
Made by Playtime, the remote control Avenger vehicle was intended to be used with He-Man and Skeletor, but since Mattel had the exclusive rights, Playtime had to be coy about it. With cumbersome wheels and a light-up laser, this toy was awesome and strange. The best thing about it was the weird little “headpiece” above the vehicle’s seat. This let every MOTU figure who rode the Avenger look like he was either at the salon or in a electric chair.
I honestly haven’t thought about the Avenger in almost 30 years. Now I must find one.
The Chipmunks on Tour Van!
I admired The Chipmunks from afar, enjoying their antics but never feeling particularly compelled to ask for things that looked like them. Still, I wish I’d made an exception for this tour van playset. I loved store catalogs just as much as a child, and every time I saw that baby in one, it was time to drool.
The van featured a pop-down stage, thus eliminating the need for the singing rodents to find actual venues when they crossed state lines. A cardboard backdrop suggested that they made quite a home for themselves in that van, and any toy that reminds me of the Mickey’s Trailer Disney short is an immediate win.
The actual Chipmunk figures weren’t included, but David Seville was. It occurs to me that while the whole internet lampoons Jon Arbuckle, David Seville has somehow gone unmolested. Think on that.
Cobra Rattler Jet!
Ah, this one sparks another great memory. During the Christmas season of ‘84, my five-year-old brain decided that I was going to buy everyone in our family presents, on a total budget of $20. But then I was in Sears with my parents, and saw THIS.
It was around fifteen bucks, which even then seemed like an incredible bargain. As five-year-olds don’t carry cash and can’t pull off in-store purchases without help anyway, I had to consult my mother on this one. After giving me the Stare of Shame for spending the $20 on myself, she acquiesced. Only now do I realize the reason: It was a heck of lot easier to let me buy a G.I. Joe vehicle than to take me to eighteen stores searching for $3 Christmas presents. In a sense, she was as guilty as I was.
What I remember most about the Rattler was the ten thousand missiles it came with. Since this marked the first time I’d ever bought something with my own money, I was determined to assemble the toy myself. Getting those missiles into place was almost as hard as comprehending the sticker guide.
Best of all, the jet came with a figure! Wild Weasel was so cool. Since my beloved Crimson Guards were so impossible to find in stores, his red outfit made him a nice ringer.
A strong contender for the best page in the whole catalog, here’s an army of board games. Some are timeless classics that are still in production today, but the bulk of them lived and died over the course of one year. They’re remembered only by those who never got what they really wanted for their birthdays.
Robo Force Figures!
Price: $4.93 each
Many times over the last several years, collectors have noted a certain dip in the quality of “regular” action figures, which sometimes lack the detail, paint jobs and intricacies of the crap we grew up with. This isn’t because artists aren’t trying as hard. The industry simply isn’t what it used to be, nor does the money go nearly as far. To stay profitable, corners must be cut.
But back in ‘84, the industry was at its peak, and boy, it showed. Ideal’s Robo Force line was never positioned as a huge deal, but you’d never guess that from the figures. With suction cup bottoms, extendable arms and crazy robot heads, each was a veritable circus of fun.
It strikes me that Ideal didn’t even need to give these figures so many gimmicks. Given how badassedly awesome the robots looked, it wouldn’t have mattered if they were barely articulated and capable of nothing. These guys were like pimped-out Daleks.
Ewok Talking Telephone!
“Wicket can dance! Wook wook!” That was one of the six phrases kids would hear after “calling” Wicket on the Ewok Talking Telephone. I’m confident that none of you had this, but you probably had similar “talking phone” toys. They all worked the same. Pretend to dial, and listen in for your favorite cartoon character’s catch-phrases!
(Yes, cartoon character. Most of us remember Wicket only for his live action exploits in Return of the Jedi, but he was also the star of the Ewoks animated series, where he spoke perfect English and kind of had a girlfriend.)
All Kinds of Dolls!
If you’re reading this site, I’m guessing you had at least one of the dolls on this page. Which one speaks to you most? For me, it’s gotta be the six inch plastic Gizmo figure. I had it as a kid, and I now own several as an adult. (Each with its own degree of yellowing. The worst of them looks like a Mogwai made out of cheese.)
I’m not sure why Gizmo is pictured with a bunch of actual dolls, though. It’s as if he snuck into frame at the very last second, while the photographer was oblivious to everything but his composition. Since it’s clear that the photo would’ve been missing something with nobody in that space, now I’m picturing Gizmo bullying some Care Bear out of his rightful position.
When I segue into short stories about dolls invading photo shoots, it’s a good indicator that I’m tapped. Thank you for reading. I’ll be featuring the goodies from other old Consumers catalogs in the weeks and months ahead!