Books and magazines regularly feature photos and articles on rare expensive items, but pay little attention to vintage -- yet common -- Popeye collectibles. In the 1930s, a King Features license to plaster Popeye's image on a product often meant rewarding profits for many struggling manufacturers in the cash-tight Depression. Naturally, if a product made money, then the maker continued to produce more and more, year after year.
Such large inventories of these "dime-a-dozen" Popeye toys were manufactured and sold that they remain extraordinarily common today. Some of these vintage toys show up so often on eBay, one might think they are still being manufactured! In fact, some are. Knockoffs of many vintage pinback buttons, cast iron toys and a handful of other items have become so prolific that they should always be purchased with great caution. But they will not be discussed here. Instead, here are a few examples of some easy-to-find, yet still desirable Popeye collectibles. Despite the fact that ample supplies make these items readily available, they are -- nevertheless -- great additions to a character toy collection and nice condition examples should not be ignored.
The most common of them all. The Popeye Paints At's Perfik! tin by the American Crayon Company of Sandusky OH was produced from the mid-30s to the early 50s, with time off during WWII to save metal for the war effort. The tin is copyright 1919, 1929 and 1933, the KFS renewal dates for the first appearance of Olive Oyl, Popeye and the Paramount cartoons, respectively. While the tin stayed the same over the years, at least two different paint pallets with art of Popeye were used, one of which also sports a 1949 copyright date. The Rosebud Art Company opened its doors in 1923 and began manufacturing one of the most popular of all Popeye toys the Pipe Toss Game No. 17 in 1935. There were two versions of this toy, one with a wood pipe and one without. The version (pictured) with the wood pipe was by far the best seller and shows up frequently on eBay. In 1937, Rosebud Art also issued two versions of their Popeye Ring Toss Game No. 18 which featured a diecut Olive along side of Popeye. The deluxe version of this game had a wooden pipe and rope rings vs. the cardboard rings in all the others. The deluxe games and the pipeless No. 17 are all fairly uncommon. The New Jersey company still does business as Rose Art Industries and produces children's crafts, puzzles and games.
Can you say Warehouse Find? It seems like hundreds of these showed up one day in the 1980s, suggesting there was a substantial find. In fact, it's rarer to see one without the box than with it! The 10-5/8" Popeye (Giant Marvelusk) Pencil carries a 1929 copyright and was marketed by the Eagle Pencil Company in the 1930s. Silver and gold tint versions of the pencil have been observed with the silver one (pictured) being the most common. The Eagle Pencil Company (today the Berol Corporation) was originally founded by Daniel Berolzheimer, a Bavarian immigrant, in 1856 by opening a pencil shop on John Street in New York City and a manufacturing operation at Yonkers. Eagle also produced many other licensed Popeye pencil cases, rulers, pencils and pens.
The Whitman Publishing Company first issued the Popeye Playing Card Game No. 3070 in 1934. Its popularity kept it in production for many years. Two different versions of the box were issued in 1934, the one pictured being the most common. Two additional boxes were produced in 1937 and 1938. The cards remain the same throughout the production run. Whitman is best known for their Big Little Book line. The company produced more than 20 Popeye BLBs, storybooks, and paperdoll books in the 1930s and 40s.
The tin Popeye Dime Register Bank retailed for a dime itself in the mid 1930s. At that price, thousands upon thousands must have been sold and many survive to this day. Manufactured by the Behrend & Rothchild Company of NYC, the bank automatically locks with the deposit of the first dime and opens at five dollars. A great, easy-to-find tin toy copyrighted 1929. A second version with slightly different, cruder Popeye artwork has also been observed. The Jaymar Specialty Company produced this five inch wood jointed Popeye toy in the 30s. Back before eBay in the 1980s, I purchased this toy for an amount I am ashamed to reveal. Since eBay, I've seen at least a hundred of them sell for anywhere from 15 to 50 dollars. Considering their availability, $15 is probably the better investment.
Ultra common, yet one of the neatest of all dime-a-dozen toys. The Popeye Kazoo Pipe was made by Northwestern Products of St Louis from 1934 clear into the late 50s or maybe even early 60s. Not being musically inclined, this is the only instrument I have learned to play the Popeye the Sailor Man theme song on!
Can an early tin windup really be common? Introduced in 1932 and on the market throughout the 30s, the Walking Popeye with Parrot Cages had to be a top seller for Marx considering the plentiful number available today. A Butler Bros wholesale ad declares, "I'm Popeye. I'm full of action. I pull customers to your counters. I sell for two-bits." Just think, these toys wholesaled MIB for only $2.25 a dozen, making them an attractive buy for retailers and an affordable Christmas stocking stuffer for penny-pinching parents in the Depression. Nevertheless, Walking Popeye is still a nice addition to any tin toy collection and, of course, the original box is rarer than the windup itself.
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