This blog will discuss the wide field of military action figures. The first generation 1/6 scale action figure was the Hasbro GI Joe. He appeared in 1964 and quickly became popular. GI Joe started life as a 1960’s US GI and came with realistic uniforms and equipment. One could also buy a GI Joe Marine in Dress Blue Uniform or a GI Joe Astronaut with Space Capsule. To keep the franchise expanding Hasbro even introduced WWII Soldiers from Axis and Allied Nations. The nations offered were Great Britain, Soviet Russia, French Resistance and Nazi Germany. I remember seeing these in the 1965 Sears Christmas Catalog. One of my greatest childhood regrets was not being able to own one of these. Later in my college years my best friend showed me his British Soldier. His family ordered the German Soldier, but Sears substituted the British one instead. Something they often did in those days.
Over the years GI Joe was forced to change with the times. The unpopularity of the Vietnam War heralded a big downturn in the war toy market. GI Joe became an Adventurer and a First Responder. The sales of GI Joe continued to dwindle until the 1980’s when the Second Generation was created. GI Joe became much smaller and was molded from a hard plastic with molded uniforms and equipment. The smaller figures were able to drive and operate vehicles and aircraft. To further grow the merchandise GI Joe manned Missile Bases and other large firing platforms. This culminated in 1985 with the USS Flagg a giant Aircraft Carrier. One of these is currently being offered on e-bay for the paltry price of $3,700! The value of these items are determined by the completeness of the item and the condition of the original box. The most desirable example being identical to the one that was under the 1985 Christmas Tree. I also noticed that the Carrier’s Commander Admiral Keel Haul is being offered for $84. There was also a GI Joe Shipwreck Sailor with Polly Parrot being offered for $55. These are purchased by well healed adults in an attempt to capture their childhood dreams.
Sometime in the mid 1990’s, a third generation of 1/6 scale action figures emerged. These came out of China and were primarily made by the companies 21st Century Toys and Dragon. I was very excited when these appeared and attempted to collect them all. I was a late comer to the field and had to buy several of the early releases from the secondary market at much higher prices. These figures had accurate and authentic looking uniforms, arms and equipment. Dragon would personalize their figures by giving them a first name. One of my long-time collector friends, George Petersen of National Capital Historic Sales, used authentic items from his collection to assist the designers of the 21st Century Toys. The 21st Century Toys were mass marketed and available at big box retailers while the Dragon Figures were mainly sold in hobby stores or the Internet.
I purchased several dozens of these figures in the late 1990’s. But became disillusioned when new figures keep emerging in ever greater numbers. I realized that no matter how hard I tried I was probably never going to be able to collect them all. I received orders transferring me to Germany in 2000 and that opened my world to many new military collecting opportunities. I brought my action figures with me to Europe and was able to sell them to collectors there. I remember selling some of them to a father and son at the La Glieze, Belgium Military Show. I could tell from the glow in his eyes that the young son shared my enthusiasm and fascination for them. I had taken very good care of them, and they were all complete in the original boxes.
Fast forward twenty years, I am now retired from the US Army and running my own military store. Action figures have changed several times and I haven’t stayed current with them. I visited a widow in Tulsa whose husband was a collector of WWII German Armor. As part of his collection he had a 1/6 scale diorama of mostly Dragon military action figures. I bought the collection with the knowledge that they were all mixed up and missing their original boxes. I recently dug them out of my garage and started the process of finding new homes for them. I have two 30 gallon plastic tubs that were full of action figures. I have spent the better part of three days sorting through them.
The photos give you some idea as to the scale of this endeavor. One of things that I have learned is that these figures have become more specialized. I did find several non-military figures that are collectible and will still sell for good money even without their boxes and accessories.
Next, we have the new generation of Dragon Military figures that features well known German WWII military celebrities. This is the latest trend that I have identified but has probably changed several times since this collection was built. The bottom line is that these are an interesting military collectibles that can be obtained for not a lot of money. But they are primarily toys and in order to receive collectible prices they need to be in excellent condition in their original packaging.