Antiques Column: Action figures were first dolls for the boys

The 30th Anniversary Figure edition of Action Man
The 30th Anniversary Figure edition of Action Man

In 1966 Action Man was born in Britain, two years after the American G.I. Joe. He was produced by the toy manufacturer Palitoy, under licence from parent company Hasbro Industries. G.I. Joe and Action Man were a brand new concept – the first doll designed specifically for boys and the first moveable, jointed action figure.

The first figures produced were a sailor, a soldier and a pilot, complete with uniforms, accessories and even dog tags. The early figures had static hands and painted hair available in brown, auburn, blonde and black. In 1970, more realistic hair was introduced to black and blond haired Action Man. The new hair was extremely hard-wearing and is usually found in good condition today. Alongside the new hair came a softer head with more realistic skin tones and a more enhanced scar.

Collectors like early figures for their superior quality

Action Man’s body had remained largely the same until in 1973 the ‘gripping’ hands were introduced to hold weapons, climb ropes or cling from walls. Unfortunately these early gripping hands were fragile, made changing outfits difficult and haven’t stood the test of time. It is hard to find these early Action Men with their hands intact.

In 1976, ‘eagle-eyed’ Action Man was produced. His eyes moved from side to side using a lever on the back of the neck. These new heads were made with a bit more shine and ‘tan’ to them and led the way to the more muscular and sun-kissed model available from 1978 onwards.

Collectors like early figures for their superior quality and the quality of their clothes and uniforms. Uniforms were originally made from thick twill material with stitched insignia or metal buttons but later they were produced in cheap thinner cotton often with printed insignia or plastic buttons.