Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Kenner Store Displays by the Numbers

Ron writes:

Kenner store displays are hot right now. Have you noticed?

They're so hot that I've decided to devote a blog post to them. I figure I better do one now before displays sink back into obscurity, leaving the limelight to the real treasures of the hobby, like red-bar R5-D4.

A good buddy of mine was lucky enough to acquire some Kenner documents containing information concerning the company's vintage point-of-purchase material. He's graciously allowed me to share some of it. As far as I know, this information has never before been revealed to collectors.


The first of these documents dates from January of 1979; it concerns display material issued in support of Kenner products during the course of 1978. The title "Point-of-Purchase Re-Cap" suggests it covers store-display distribution for the whole of '78.

If you're not very familiar with Kenner's Star Wars displays, the information contained on the document is probably a little cryptic.


The "Merchandisers & Displays" page from the Star Wars section of Kenner's 1978 Toy Fair catalog will help clear things up. As you can see, the terminology on the document matches the photos and text in the catalog.
  • "Star Wars 144 pc." is the cylindrical wire rack topped by the aforementioned mobile -- though of course in this case the item wasn't intended to be used as a mobile but rather as a stationary sign.
  •  "Star Wars figure header" is the action-figure header on its own.


The "Merchandising Aids" section at the back of the catalog provides info on two of the remaining Star Wars items referenced by the document.
  • "Star Wars Toy Galaxy" is the Star Wars Hang/Pole Display, a double-sided rectangular sign designed to fold in such a way as to allow a cardboard pole to be inserted through its center.(Interestingly, the pole display bore the same product number as the Toy Galaxy bell-shaped mobile, which is not featured in the catalog. Consequently, it's hard to know whether the display referenced on the re-cap is the pole or the bell. Since the pole is in the catalog, that's what I'm going with.)
  • "Star Wars Battle Game Demo" refers to the rare display for the Electronic Laser Battle Game. The display was interesting in that it incorporated a working example of the game. Presumably this was done so that consumers wouldn't be disappointed once they got it home, opened, it and suffered through the arduous process of playing it.
  • Interestingly, the displays for the 3 Position Laser Rifle/Laser Pistol and the inflatable light saber are not advertised in the '78 catalog but are referenced on the document as having been produced and shipped during '78. Retailers must have had some other means of ordering those displays.
Three additional Star Wars items are mentioned in the re-cap.
  • The shelf-talker must refer to the cardboard Toy Galaxy shelf-talker, the first display of that type issued by Kenner in association with the Star Wars license. As six shelf-talkers were included with both the individual mobile and the Toy Galaxy pole display, the 100 that were produced as stand-alone items must have been extras that Kenner kept on hand, perhaps to replace examples that were damaged, or to send to retailers who requested them.
  • "Dept. Store Promo Kit" likely refers to a Star Wars-specific kit containing a variety of displays and other materials. As I speculated here, the version of this kit released in 1977 may have contained cardboard character standees produced by Factors. No one knows exactly what the '78 version included because, as is true concerning the Sphinx's nose or Donald Trump's coiffure, no one has seen an intact example. But it must have included, at the very least, the mobile and the pole display, as the document's footnotes make it clear those pieces were used in the promo kit.

The next document we'll discuss dates from July of 1979, or around six months after the 1978 re-cap. Like its predecessor it's a summary of display material produced and shipped during the months immediately preceding the date on the document.


This page from the 1979 Toy Fair catalog will help you visualize the items referenced in the re-cap.
  • "SW 144 pc. Boba Fett" is the floor-merchandiser rack topped with the Fett mobile.
  • "SW Boba Fett Header" is the Fett header by itself.
  • By now you've probably noticed the "Collect 21" displays mentioned alongside the Boba Fett items. These are references to the POP items released close on the heels of their Fett predecessors; they promoted the complete 21-figure line that was available once Boba Fett hit stores. These displays, the mobile and the header, bore the same product numbers as their precursors, and they served the same purposes. Notice that quantities of displays of both types are noted as being "repacked." I believe this means that at some point the older displays were pulled out of merchandiser packages and replaced with the new ones.

The "Fun Center Merchandising" section near the back of the catalog pictures several additional Star Wars displays referenced by the re-cap.
  • "SW Toy Center Mobile" is the bell-shaped display pictured on the top right of the catalog spread.
  • "SW Light Saber Header" and "SW Pistol/Rifle Header" are the aforementioned displays advertising the early role-play toys. Unlike in 1978, these were featured prominently in the 1979 catalog.
  • "SW Toy Center Header" is the large header pictured on the lower right of the above photo.
  • "SW Battle Command Demo" refers to a demonstration unit for the Electronic Battle Command Game, which is shown on the catalog page pictured above. You'll note that though 2,000 of these were received by Kenner none were shipped. I think it's likely that someone at Kenner realized that allowing consumers to actually play the game prior to purchase would alert them to the fact that it was an unmitigated turd. So they killed it. Either that or public health officials stepped in and nixed the display due to fears that permitting children to play the game in stores would cause them to 1) come to the realization that life is meaningless, and 2) kill themselves.

We now skip ahead to late 1981, the first full year in which toys based on The Empire Strikes Back graced store shelves.

Kenner's POP output had shrunk quite a bit by this time. Not including shelf-talkers, only three Star Wars-themed displays were released by the company.


The "Merchandising" pages from the 1981 Toy Fair catalog show the displays referenced in the re-cap.
  • "Star Wars Collect 41" mobile refers to the action-figure display promoting 41 figures, the successor of the earlier "bell" displays. By this time the wire merchandisers had been discontinued; the 41 mobile was available solely as a stand-alone piece. You might be wondering where in the above image this display is pictured. It's shown in the lower left, mounted above the carded figures and Darth Vader Collector's Cases. At some point prior to production, the black design was ditched in favor of the familiar red one.
  • "Star Wars Header" is the rectangular piece you see above. Bearing movie rather than toy imagery, it featured a different design on each of its sides.
By the way, the "Graphic Mobile/Hang Display," though featured in the catalog, was never produced -- which explains why it isn't mentioned on the re-cap.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way we can talk numbers.

Combining the stand-alone action-figure pieces with their counterparts packaged with wire merchandisers, I get the following:

Produced/Shipped as of January 1979

12-figure mobile (69180/19181): 10,500/10,273
12-figure header (69182/69184): 2,700/2,402
3-figure dangler (69197):  10,000/9,760
Toy Galaxy pole display (69185): 1,000/846
Light Saber header (69194): 1,050/1,040
Rifle/Pistol header (69196): 1,030/786
Battle Game demo (69187): 50/47
Department store promo kit (69198): 200/198
Toy Galaxy shelf-talkers (60186): 37,300/35,078*

* Figured by adding the six that shipped with the pole display, the six that shipped with the 12-figure mobile, and the 100 individual pieces referenced on the re-cap.

Produced/Shipped as of July 1979

Boba Fett header (69182/69184): 3,000/2,228*
Boba Fett mobile (69180/69181): 4,000/1,106*
21-figure header (69182/69184): 2,500/0**
21-figure mobile (69220/69181): 2,500/0**
Toy Center header (69207): 1,000/332
Battle Command demo (69209): 2,000/0
Light Saber header (69194): 1,000/319
Rifle/Pistol header (69196): 1,000/439

* You'll see that a number of the Fett displays are noted as being "scrapped for metal." To be honest, I'm not sure what that means. As these words appear beside the stand-alone displays as opposed to the ones that came with wire merchandisers, it must refer to the former group -- meaning there wasn't much metal to scrap. It may mean that a number of the stand-alone pieces originated with merchandiser packages, but were pulled out and issued independently when the merchandisers proved to be poor sellers. In that event, the racks used in the merchandisers may have been scrapped.

** I don't think the 0s in the shipping column mean that none of these shipped. My assumption is that, at the time the re-cap was compiled, Kenner had only just received these displays, and had not yet shipped them to stores. Of course, the 21-figure header is notoriously rare whereas its mobile counterpart is notoriously not rare.


Produced/Shipped as of September 1981

41-figure mobile (69245): ~1,344/1,344*
Space/Hoth battle header (69246): ~1,067/1,067*
Yoda vacuum-formed (69264): 1,995/1,976

* The post-it note obscures the numbers on my photo. However, as no quantity of these displays remained in Kenner's possession at the time of the re-cap, I think you can be confident that nearly all of the displays received by the company were shipped to retailers. As appears to have been the case with the vacuum-formed Yoda, it's probable that a small number of each of the displays received by Kenner were never shipped to stores, perhaps because they were damaged, retained by employees, or stored away in the Morgue.

Little documentation of Kenner production numbers has surfaced over the years. To come across such documentation relating to the company's store displays is truly special. Admit it, you're a nerdlinger for this stuff.

5 comments:

  1. Great blog post Ron. It's great to see the number of these. If only we knew how many ended up in a landfill vs those that were saved. It's amazing that at this stage in the hobby, we're still seeing new information like this. Great stuff.

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  2. Although I drained all my "force units" doing so, I read this, all of this! I have or had the color transparency for Vader's Tie swirling into the black hole. I had forgot where I had seen it before, now I remember and can retract my statements that Roy, the early Kenner photographer, was on acid at the time.

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    1. I was going to comment on those wacky drawings in the post, but then didn't. Hilarious that the game apparently involved a black hole.

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  3. Any idea what the NO. 69180 - bell sign is worth? We found one for an auction we are having and was just wondering the value. Can't find where it has sold online recently.

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    1. How many figures does it advertise? If you want, you can email me at rsalvatore11@hvc.rr.com.

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