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Tanks for the Memories: Popeye,
Patton and the Man of Steel

Part II


by John Graham

Popeye Toy Tank ToysSomewhere back in the 60s, it seems Line-Mar decided to apply the '2 for the price of 1' rule again, just as they had with their successful miniature 'turnover tank' line. This time, they would replicate their deluxe battery character tank design... to create a comically brilliant Popeye Tank. Not much change was needed from the Superman blueprints. Apart from a new pressing for a Popeye figure (laboring at tank's front), a flip-top turret for Olive Oyl's head (rising from within at the zenith of Popeye's lift, to see what's going down) and a bright new paint job, the toy was pretty well identical to the Superman version. For some reason, however, it is incredibly rare. There are less than 5 known specimens in captivity. And the specimen sold on Ebay in November 02 was ultra-incredibly-rare, being accompanied by the only known original box on the planet. This may explain its final selling price of $14,000 plus.

So which came first? I have implied above that Superman was first, but is that likely? Here we should revisit at a little lesson I learnt many years ago, from the great toy sage and guru, the inimitable Mark Bergin. When you're dealing with a family of recycled pressing toys, and your trying to work out which was the chicken and which was the egg, just think simplicity. Now I don't mean simplicity in the 'evolution moves from simple to complex' sense. I mean 'when you make something great, can you make it cheaper?' Businesses the world over have a long history of cost cutting, and tin toy factories in Japan were no exception. Their designers would come up with wild and fanciful daydreams, ideas that would later become classic tin toys. Even better if an amusing design for a successful toy could be simply reworked... in this case, our small family of battery tanks. The rule for these generic toys was: first, we make the toy, and ship it out to the kiddies for Christmas. If that works well, that's just fine an' dandy, but can we save some yen on our next version, and still make good sales? What if we take out this moving part? Surely the kids will still love it? Complex designs were later simplified, the reverse rarely if ever true. And it was within this penny-pinching but well-meaning philosophy that Superman and Popeye were created. The obvious extension: that Popeye is Superman's big brother. Most likely, his and Olive's tank came first, as it had a more complex action and design, and was later refurbished (or perhaps defurbished!) to the more casual push-pull-only affair that Supes ended up with.

OK, so Popeye probably came first... but why the 14K scarcity? Well, there are a number of possibilities. The toy may have been test-marketed, and met with a mediocre consumer response. All known Popeye Tank specimens have been captured Down Under. Australia's cultural similarity to the US may be a supportive argument for the Test-Market theory. Another possibility is the Dump-Em-And-Run scenario. This tale has been repeated through toy history many times... the elusive Nomura Robby Space Patrol, and Yak-Face, the rarest vintage Star Wars action figure: both are far more common per capita Down Under than anywhere else on the Globe. Australia has always been a popular place for disposal of production leftovers. Perhaps in Popeye's case, a licensing agreement was anticipated with King Features Syndicate? After all, LineMar marketed many KFS-approved Popeye toys, and the toy bears license indica on its battery case cover. However, what if a small stock of tanks were made, maybe in the low 100s, and then for some obscure reason, management pulled the plug? KFS didn't like the design, and full licensing approval was never actually achieved; or maybe the Superman Tank was seen as a far more lucrative product, and all energy was put toward that project instead... whatever the reason, they were promptly and unceremoniously dumped on Australian shores, and it would not be until the late 1980s that the first would resurface, and stun the upper echelons of the tin toy collecting world by its mere existence.

And so we come full circle. Another LineMar Popeye Tank has been liberated, but this one was gracious enough to come with its box... and for all we know, it may be the only one we ever see.

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Popeye Toy Tank Toyss

The incredibly rare large Popeye tank, less than 5 known specimens in captivity. And the specimen sold at Auction was ultra-incredibly-rare, being accompanied by the only known original box on the planet. This may explain its final selling price of $14,000 plus.

Popeye Toy Tank Toys

 

Popeye Toy Tank Toys

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