Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Mattelian Missile Crisis!

The 48th seal of the Roboplastic Apocalypse is exterminated by your command! Yes it's a Battlestar-tastic podcastalypse as we fire up the GobackaTron 1978thousand to witness the rise and fall of one of the most significant and notorious, yet short lived toy lines of my childhood-Mattel's Battlestar Galactica! Well actually all I do is talk about packaging and mold variations of the first four spaceships in the line. But that's more than enough to fill a show considering the controversy surrounding the release of these toys, from complaints by consumer activists who felt they were unsafe in the first place to the rising number of children who choked on their missiles during the holiday season of '78 to Mattel's response and the subsequent missile mail-in campaign. Were these toy spaceships too dangerous to have been sold to kids? Was it just one child that got hurt or was the casualty count much, much higher? Was Mattel's response to the injuries suffered by its customers adequate? Was there ever really any recall at all? Find out all this and more in this SPRING LOADED FOR YOUR DISPLEASURE edition of the podcastalypse!

Or download it directly

Check out the ships in their prototype colors over at Slow-Robot's Starlogged


There is perhaps no other toy line with as huge an impact on toy history as Mattel's 1978 Battlestar Galactica. Their notoriety is due mostly to the tendency of children to choke on the small missiles included with the space ships and Mattel's subsequent attempts to prevent further injuries with a warning sticker campaign and a mail-in missile exchange. But before all that happened the toys had to get into the stores first. The first four ships in the BSG line could be ordered by retailers in six ways, as evidenced by the Codename:Galactica sales brochure/order form linked to above. Retailers could order either complete cases of each kind of ship or two mixed cases, one with an even spilt of Colonial Viper and Cylon Raider, and the other with the Colonial Scarab and Colonial Stellar Probe. The Viper and Raider usually cost a few dollars less at retail than the Scarab and Stellar Probe.

Retailers in 1978 advertised Battlestar Galactica toys rather regularly and ads for them like the one below were quite frequent from September through December of that year, but they dropped off considerably in 1979. Mattel solicited the line in their 1979 toy catalog along with a fifth vehicle, the Colonial Land Ram, but since that has only been known to appear in Canadian markets I suspect the 1979 toyline was only ordered by Canadian retailers or a very tiny minority of US stores. No retail sold examples of Land Rams have ever appeared on the secondary market in purely english packaging. Based on the lack of retailer advertising of non-clearance Battlestar Galactica toys in 1979, I think the line may have only lasted one year in the United States before being discontinued due to the missile crisis.

You can find more Mattel Battlestar Galactica spaceship ads online like this Jefferson ad from November 13, 1978 and this Target ad from September 28, 1978.

AyrWay 24 September 1978


At the onset of the line the packages of each ship had art showing them flying along in space, firing yellow laser beams and/or missiles. These early boxes did not include sticker related warning labels until Mattel began their warning label campaign. There were two types of stickers I've seen attached to these early boxes, both of which were white. The first read "CAUTION: Do not point or fire red missiles into mouth or towards face!" and the other was the message "Missiles not included. Launchers do not work". In addition to Mattel adding circular warning stickers, another change came when at some point the box art on the Battlestar Galactica packages was altered. The yellow lasers and launching missiles in the illustrations were omitted and the missiles that did remain on the box paintings were shown attached to the ships in addition to being recolored red. These altered boxes are most commonly found stickered with a red "Note: Re-designed toy! Missiles cannot be launched!" label. There also exists a variation where ships came packaged with bonus larger figures and a graphic was included on the boxes to show the promotion. You can see examples of those boxes at David Moss' Battlestar Memorabilia site.

Here's an example of the extremely rare earliest warning sticker variation-the white circle "Do not point or fire red missile..." which preceded the death of Robert Warren. Attorneys in the Warren case argued these stickers were not implemented in time to prevent serious injury. Image courtesy of ebay seller crazy88monster

First style (upper left) and second style (upper right) Colonial Viper boxes. Note the yellow missiles firing on initial release version box art. (Initial release box photo courtesy of David Welch of Childhood Memorabilia, eBay seller i.d. pezdudewelch)

First style (upper left) and second style (upper right) Cylon Raider boxes. Note the yellow missiles launching on initial release version. (Initial release box photo courtesy of eBay seller creativemailroom, later release box photo courtesy of eBay seller bakcoach1)

First style (upper left) and second style (upper right) Colonial Scarab boxes. Note the yellow missiles on box art of initial release version. (Initial release box photo courtesy of David Welch of Childhood Memorabilia, eBay seller i.d. pezdudewelch, later release box photo courtesy of eBay seller thetoyshophop)

FRAKKIN' BEWARE! Upper left is a comparison between a correct Viper and a Viper rocket back that has the nosecone of a Scarab or Stellar Probe attached to it. Although the pieces fit because they're modular, the correct Viper nosecone is much longer than the one from the other toys. If you're buying loose Vipers, make sure your nosecone is correct by measuring the overall length of the forward fuselage. It should be three times as long as the cockpit canopy. To the right is a comparison between a Viper and the much greyer missile firing Probe and Scarab. The rule of thumb is that if your Scarab or Probe is grey, it's the missile shooting version. Later non firing ones were white like Vipers.


Toy City 01/21/79
Mattel's announcement of their missile mail in campaign on January 11, 1979 coincided with the beginning of a rash of retailer clearance ads of Battlestar Galactica product that lasted the rest of the year. Mattel published the missile mail in notice in ten newspapers throughout the country during the week of January 17th and within days, ads for BSG ships on clearance started running in newspapers everywhere. While it was normal for stores to clearance toys after the holiday season, all the ads from US stores I've seen never sold the line at non-liquidation prices throughout the duration of 1979. By the holiday season of '79 any remaining Mattel BSG stock was sold at deep discounts as evidenced by the Kresge's ad below right.

17 January 1979
Kresge's 21 December 1979


1 comment:

Christian said...

This was a well said and very informative podcast, thoroughly enjoyed it.


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