Thursday, September 29, 2005

Retro-Toy Thursday Flashback # 11: Amsco Cardboard "Adventure" Playsets

In the early-to-mid 1970s, Amsco and Milton Bradley produced three fantastic cardboard playsets that are highly-prized collectibles today, all from popular franchises of that era. In my life, I've had the good fortune to own two of the three sets, though today I only - alas - own one, and because of skyrocketing prices, will probably not possess any more!!

These giant Amsco playsets came in attractive and colorful rectangular boxes, were made of "durable" cardboard and were complete "cut" and "fun to assemble," and, hell, I absolutely loved them. Today, I don't know if kids weaned on X-Box would get a kick out of playing with cardboard toys, but these fantastic dioramas were the closest things to action figure back in the day. Of course "the day" was over thirty years ago!!!

The first set I'll describe is the one I actually still own (and which my wife bought me as an anniversary present about 10 years ago...). It's also the most common one apparently, and thus the one most affordable today (you can usually get it for around sixty to seventy-five dollars). It comes from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's outer space epic, Space:1999 and is a diorama of the lunar installation called Moonbase Alpha. There's a landing pad, two Eagle transporters, two atomic charges (for detonating asteroids...), a cross-section of Moonbase Alpha's interior, including Main Mission tower, a yellow moonbuggy, and plenty of cardboard representations of characters and aliens.

The cardboard heroes in the Space:1999 set are made in the likenesses of Martin Landau's Commander John Koenig, Barbara Bain's Helena Russell and Barry Morse's Professor Victor Bergman (unfortunately, the set was produced pre-Maya, so there's no Catherine Schell figure...). What's great about all these sets is that some real effort was made towards accuracy. For instance, three cardboard figures in the Space:1999 set are "aliens" directly from particular Year One episodes. Peter Cushing's Raan, from "Missing Link" is here with his daughter. The popular and horrifying octopus-like monster from "Dragon's Domain" is featured. too Even the scorched Zoref (Ian McShane) from my favorite episode, "Force of Life" is included in the set.

The interior of Moonbase Alpha could be more accurate, with instrumentation that more resembles the series, but hey - there's a working elevator on one side, and that's pretty cool As you can tell from the pictures, this is a set that I cherish, (and display in my office.) unfortunately, my cats occasionally decide to sleep on it...

When I was a kid, I bought for $1.00 at a Toys R Us clearance sale the Planet of the Apes Amsco Cardboard Playset. And boy, do I wish I still had it. Somewhere in my teenage years in the 1980s, it got tossed in the trash. I know. It's a painful memory I don't want to discuss further...

This set came out in 1974 (and today sells for over four hundred dollars...), and is an interesting blend of the TV series and movies. For instance, there's a "Cave of the Doomsday Bomb," which is straight out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. There's also a view, from Zira and Cornelius's house, of the half-buried Statue of Liberty jutting out of the sand (from the original Planet of the Apes.) But the astronaut cardboard figures are clearly Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton), from the short-lived TV show. The Dr. Zaius featured in this set is also from the TV series, not the Maurice Evans' interpretation from the early films. The Apes play set came with a space capsule, Ape Headquarters, a jail (with a gate that opens...) and the underground ruins of a San Francisco Tram Station, featured in one of the early episodes of the TV series, "The Trap."

Finally, the holy grail of Amsco Cardboard playsets and unfortunately NOT pictured here either, is the one that I never ever owned but desperately long for. It's called The Marvel World Playset. The box promised "A complete play experience right from your favorite Marvel Comics," and the diorama was of a Manhattan City block. Included in this set (which often sells for over five hundred dollars today...) are the Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle offices, Peter Parker's apartment, The Avengers' town house, Dr. Strange's Mansion and the Fantastic Four air car. Oh man...why can't I run into this at a flea market?

Even better - and unlike the Planet of the Apes or Space:1999 set, the small cardboard representations of the characters are actually double-sided. One side features the superhero, the other side their secret identity. This is just cool beyond words. Among the characters featured in this set are: Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, The
Red Skull, Green Goblin, The Lizard, J. Jonah Jameson, The Silver Sufer, Galactus, The Lizard, Aunt May and even MJ!

Designed for ages "5 and up," the Amsco Cardboard Playsets from TV, movie and comic franchises promised hours of fun, and I recall absolutely playing the Planet of the Apes set out. Boy, I wish I had that one today.

And I still dream of the Marvel World Playset...

Anyone out there remember - or better yet, own these? If you still have 'em, howz about sending me some jpgs so I can post photos of 'em here?


  1. I feel your pain; I had the Marvel World set as a child (the Space:1999 one too).

    I found a picture of the box online but I don't remember where. If you shoot me an email, I'll send the jpeg to you.


  2. Anonymous11:31 AM

    I'm with you guys - I had the marvel playset. I loved that thing as a kid, and have been trying to find info on it.

  3. Anonymous3:46 PM

    Not sure how long these will be online, but...

    Here's an eBay listing (seemingly in Poland).

    Here's a link to the image included in the listing.

  4. Anonymous5:33 PM

    I have one on ebay right now and it's sealed!

  5. I have recently posted a complete and exhaustive pictorial essay on the MARVEL WORLD play-set for my blog:

    Main blog url:

    Feel free to stop by.