The Modern Day Cost of 1980s Toys
This article was originally published back in September, but saying as Christmas is a time for love, joy, peace and, most importantly of all, TOYS, we thought it seemed appropriate to share it with you again…
A few years ago I was going around a craft fair in Liverpool with Mrs C, looking at all the handcrafted goods, buying a few presents here and there, but nothing was really grabbing my attention. That was until something caught my eye – something I hadn’t thought about in over 20 years. There, sat amongst tapestries and knitted scarves was a little wooden box frame, and in the frame were three small plastic figures whose names I knew instantly: Chief Chirpa, Logray and Teebo – Ewoks! They were proper, classic Star Wars toys from the 1983 Return of the Jedi tranche of figures.
Naturally, I wanted to buy the diorama IMMEDIATELY, but the guy wanted something silly like thirty-five quid for it, so I thought to myself “Hmmm” while stroking my imaginary beard and formulating a plan “I bet I could do this. I mean, these are just figures in a box, with no decoration. If I could get some boxes, some background images and of course, the figures I could make a much better one!”
Before I realised what I was doing my phone was out and I was bidding on vintage Star Wars figures on eBay. A week or so later, Luke Skywalker (In Bespin Gear), Lobot and Lando Calrissian turned up in the post. In the meantime, I had acquired some box frames from IKEA (other Scandinavian furniture outlets are available) and printed off some suitable backgrounds on photo paper. And I threw this bad boy together…
I know right? Who wouldn’t want to buy that magnificent display?
Another week later these three “mysteriously” appeared (I can’t imagine where from…):
But I couldn’t bring myself to sell them. In fact, I think I had become addicted to buying vintage Star Wars figures because within a year I had the full set of 79 original standard release figures, and also a handful of the much rarer last wave from 1984-5 (known to collectors as the Last 17). I spent anything between 50p and £15 for the individual figures and this got me wondering… How much did they, and the other toys the kids of Generation-X played with, cost back in the day? And how much would they set parents back today?
With the help of a pile of old Argos catalogues and an online inflation calculator I decided to find out:
I can still remember my first Star Wars man. It was the Tusken Raider (or Sand People as the card said). That would have been mid-1979 when I was four. I know this because I lost his little gaffi stick in my littlest, newborn brother’s pram. I got into a fair bit of trouble over that! And you know what? We NEVER found it! Goodness knows where it is now – could still be lodged in his lower intestine 39 years on!
Other early figures I remember owning were the Power Droid, R5D4 and X-Wing Pilot Luke Skywalker (but of course, by 1984 my brothers and I. like many children of the early 80s, owned a large percentage of them). For Christmas 1983, when Return of the Jedi was the big film of the year, the three of us received a Millennium Falcon each from our grandparents (in the interests of fairness!).
Recommended Retail Price (RRP) in 1981: £29.00
Adjusted for Inflation (AFI) to 2017: £118.52
Recently sold on eBay: £58.00
Something that always bothered me with Argos was that, until much later, you couldn’t buy individual figures. The catalogue would show you a list of characters but only one code to take to the till with the disclaimer “One Figure Supplied”. And you either got one you needed and were happy or got one you already owned and had to fill in the form again and wait for ages for another to come down the conveyor belt. Either that or they forced you to buy a job-lot with no choice which ones you got!
Four Return Of The Jedi Figures (Darth Vader, Imperial Guard, C3PO, Snowtrooper)
RRP in 1983: £4.95
eBay (combined): £45.33
Masters Of The Universe/She-Ra Princess Of Power
He-Man took the world of action figures by storm in 1983. The toys were much larger than the, by then, popular three-and-a-quarter inch figures, and they came with a comic book to expand the mythology and promote imaginative play. Aside from Star Wars, it is the only action figure that all my brothers and I were interested in playing with. However I did accidentally throw my middle brother’s He-Man doll up on Mr Perry, the school Caretaker’s shed roof and never got it back (Shhhh. Don’t tell him – he still doesn’t know what happened to it).
RRP in 1983: £4.49
RRP in 1983: £7.99
Brace yourself for this next one… which came on the market in 1985 as part of the She-Ra spin-off aimed at girls:
She-Ra Crystal Castle
RRP in 1986: £49.99
Compare that to the He-Man’s similarly sized base of operations the year before (by 1986 MOTU was reduced to a fraction of a page, selling only Hordak and his minions who were, of course, villains in the She-Ra cartoons):
RRP in 1985: £34.99
Remember the famous riots to get Teletubbies, Cabbage Patch Kids or Turbo-Man? They were not a pretty sight! And in 1984 it was a similar story for the imported Japanese transforming robots (with a story written by Marvel to make them palatable to a western audience). But the rush was for just one figure in particular – Optimus Prime. My parents had been very lucky to secure one for my brother (yes, the same one as above) that Christmas. However, they went straight to a Christmas party from the shops and, rather foolishly, left it on the parcel shelf. Of course, when they returned to the car the window was smashed and Optimus Prime had rolled out. Three days before Christmas. Quite how they managed to find another one in time for Santa’s visit, I still do not know to this day!
RRP in 1984: £11.99
I wasn’t bothered about having Optimus Prime but one I really did want, and which came over a year after the initial wave, was Jetfire. While the other early Transformers were reconditioned from Takara’s Diaclone or Microman toys, Jetfire was acquired from Takatoku’s Macross range. Because of this he looked and felt quite different. He was far bigger and sturdier than previous Transformers. Although Jetfire was only on limited release in the UK he was not as popular as Prime so my parents managed to get me one quite easily.
RRP in 1986: £24.95
Cabbage Patch Kids
The other toy that caused a rush in the winter of 1983 and 1984 (although they had been around since the late 70s) was The Cabbage Patch Kids. Each came with adoption papers and the promise that no two dolls were the same (I’m not sure how true claim actually turned out to be).
They were so popular that they inspired a range of parody trading cards, The Garbage Pail Kids, which my brothers and I collected!
RRP in 1984: £21.99
I was not quite accurate when I said my brothers and I only played together with Star Wars and He-Man. I’m talking about action figures of course because the three of us always got annuals and board games, but there’s one toy everyone had a little bit of no matter what you were into.
Who didn’t have Lego? I can’t think of anyone! And the big model that was lusted after by children around 1985-86 was the airport (that’s model no. 6392 for the Lego geeks).
Legoland Airport (6392)
RRP in 1986: £22.95
Another toy most kids had at one point, especially when a little younger, was Fisher Price. They had all kinds of toys for toddlers and pre-schoolers, as well as an action figure range (which were all about outdoor pursuits like camping and deep sea diving rather than shooting each other). The most iconic of those are probably the Chatter Telephone and the Play Family Garage. I can still remember writing my first letter to Santa (sometime around 1978-79) asking for that garage and walking over the street hand-in-hand with my mum to post it. And I got it! I must have been good!
Play Family Garage
RRP in 1980: £22.99
RRP in 1980: £5.29
Most 80s girls were either fans of Barbie or Sindy and didn’t tend to have a mix of both. My wife was a Sindy girl and remembers hearing the story of her dad staying up with her uncle until some ridiculous time of night on Christmas Eve building Sindy’s luxury abode. I stood at over three-and-a-half feet tall, had a working shower and elevator and even a toilet! My second cousin Louise also had this and her Sindy’s boyfriend (my Action Man, who I named Jason) often came round in his Jeep or key-wound helicopter to visit!
Sindy’s House (Unfurnished)
RRP in 1981: £29.99
Full Set of Furniture and Accessories (Not including Garage and Bedroom extensions)
RRP in 1981: £94.46
eBay: I’m not even going to attempt it!
The dawn of home computing in the early 80s saw a rise in electronic toys. You couldn’t walk across a school playground without hearing the bloop-bloop-bleep of StarBird, BigTrak, Battleship, Simon or Tomytronic 3D (an early precursor of VR). So popular were these contraptions that even Rocky IV incorporated one (a robot butler) into its story. But there were two which stood above the rest and which every kid wanted. One is still around today, albeit in a slightly different format, and the other received a lot of attention after some film about a little fellow who wanted to go home.
Nintendo Game & Watch: Donkey Kong
My middle brother had Donkey Kong and I got one called Lifeboat (where you had to save people leaping from a burning ship) – but it was Donkey Kong II that everybody wanted!
RRP in 1983: £23.95
After seeing E.T. I desperately wanted a Speak & Spell. On my 8th birthday, my parents called me into their bedroom, wished me a happy birthday and handed me a box, the size and shape of which I instantly recognised. I tore the paper off with great excitement but the smile soon dropped from my face. It was nearly what I wanted… but it was a Speak & Maths!
This would not do at all!
I am sorry to say that, very much against my usual chilled out demeanour, I threw a major wobbler, screaming that I didn’t want it. As it was a Sunday and I was in the Cub Scouts, I was due at the monthly parade service so I was dropped off at the church by a very silent father. During the service, the vicar talked about being thankful for what we had and I suddenly felt very ashamed. When my grandparents brought me home I immediately apologised, said I did want it, and took my present up to my room to find out if that was indeed true!
I did like it.
And… my little brothers got a Speak & Spell to share the next week (we all have our birthdays within a 9-day period) so I got to play with one anyway. After that, I was even more pleased with mine as I found theirs to be a little too childish and simple for my sophisticated eight-year-old intellect!
Speak & Spell/Maths
RRP in 1981: £33.95
During the winter of 1982/83 you couldn’t move for E.T. People forget how big it was. Stephen Spielberg, taking a cue from his friend Geroge Lucas’s success selling the merchandise rights to Star Wars, made sure that his friendly little alien was plastered over every household object imaginable. This included, naturally, lots of toys.
The day before the birthday I mentioned above, I had a small party with some friends round for sandwiches and cakes, with games afterwards. My friend Grant bought me two presents. One was a pencil case with naval insignia on it, and the other was an E.T. action figure. Even to me at the time, it seemed an odd thing to sell because there were no other characters in the range, just a variety of E.T.s in different costumes from the film. The one Grant gave me was a basic, undressed figure with extending neck and a Speak & Spell accessory. He was the only E.T. figure I had so, therefore, he became a character in my Star Wars adventures! I also had the pull-back-and-go Stunt Spaceship, which we used to race across the kitchen against my Knight Rider car which, if the box is to be believed reached the proportionate speed for its size of 520mph!
E.T. Action Figure
RRP in 1982: £2.49
E.T. Stunt Spaceship
RRP in 1982: £1.99
Darda Demons: Knight Rider
RRP in 1982: £2.49
The Ultimate Stocking Filler
By the time I started secondary school my interest in toys was waning. I gave it one last ditch attempt with M.A.S.K in 1986 but soon after that I was more interested in music, video games, clothes, girls, hair gel and films (not necessarily in that order). By 1989 I had a Saturday job pumping petrol and a Sunday paper round, the combined wages of which I often spent on the cinema, McDonalds, games for my Spectrum, magazines or films on VHS. I always put a little away though and saved up for something which made me the envy of my year at school – a video recorder in my bedroom.
So what better gift for me than blank video cassettes to record Red Dwarf, MovieDrome and all the other cool (or naughty) stuff my parents and brothers didn’t want to watch. The USP of Scotch’s tapes was that if they wore out, they would replace them free of charge, due to its famous Lifetime Guarantee. Although they no longer manufacture VHS tapes, they do still hold to that promise and, if you send them a faulty tape of theirs, they will replace it with one made by BASF (who are one of the few companies still making them).
Altogether now… “Re-record, not fade away… re-record, not fade away…”
2 x E180 Scotch VHS Video Cassettes
RRP in 1989: £6.99
Want to play along with your own childhood toys? Most of the Argos catalogues from the 80s and 90s can be found Issuu.com.
Here’s the inflation calculator I used – let us know in the comments how yours compare!