Courtesy of Olmo (catone82), I’d like to share some images he scanned from a hard-to-find copy of the German version of Mattel’s 1984 dealer catalog, from Germany. All of the images he shared feature hand-painted finalized prototypes with beautiful matte paint jobs.
In this image we can clearly see that Whiplash has been put together using some donor arms from Skeletor, as seen in the paint wear on his hand. The early Whiplash prototype is shown elsewhere with a purple spear (it was orange in the final toy). This one instead features the “Man-E-Weapons” brown sword.
On the Buzz-Off prototype below, we can see that Mattel cast his legs using a pink material, and his wings are cast in clear plastic with an uneven yellow paint job. His eyes are painted metallic blue rather than the metallic green used on the production figure. This photo appears to have been image flipped – Buzz-Off’s open claw should be on his left. Buzz-Off features the “Man-E-Weapons” axe, rather than the modified axe he would eventually come with.
On the Mekaneck prototype below, we can see that he has been hand painted with a combination of matte and metallic paints.
This is another beautiful hand-painted prototype. The fact that it’s hand painted is most evident in the area around the leg joints. For some reason Webstor is holding one of Trap Jaw‘s attachments in his left hand.
You can see the paint coming off on Mer-Man‘s hands and sword, which were cast in a white material. He apparently features a blue paint job (unless the lighting is distorting the color). Most versions of the mass produced toy had more of a blue/green skin tone.
This early prototype Stratos features a bare chest and lacks the feathery detailing on his harness. He appears to have been cast in a white or light gray material.
This early Teela prototype appears to be unarticulated, with a greater level of detail on her costume and shield than the production toy. She features white tops on her boots, and a golden spear and shield.
Thanks again to Olmo for sharing these images with me!
In collaboration with Club Masters del Universo and Yo Tengo El Poder, and in celebration of the 35th anniversary of Masters of the Universe in Spain, I’d like to present the first Mattel/Congost dealer catalog, dating from 1984. Images come courtesy of Dani Ramón Abril. All of the photos in the catalog were taken in Spain, with the exception of the Attak Trak photo, which was originally taken for the 1983 US Mattel catalog. The catalog largely focuses on first wave figures and vehicles. Although those toys were first released in the US in 1982, this was their debut in Spain, so Mattel/Congost started with that wave. The only exception is Attak Trak, which in the US was a “wave 2” vehicle
The photos themselves include lots of great rocky dioramas, with a bit of fog to give the scenes some extra mystery and drama, making the figures seem larger than life in their Spanish market debut.
He-Man.org poster R.M. Hart has graciously shared some high resolution scans of JCPenney catalogs from 1982 to 1986. Where there is a high resolution scan available, I’ve offered a link so that readers call see these images up close.
1982 JCPenney Christmas Catalog, page 517
This page has few rarer images, including the striped tail version of Battle Cat (an early version produced in very low numbers), a hand painted version of Teela with white boot tops and bracers, and an early Castle Grayskull with much finer paint work, also produced in very limited numbers. More discussion on this topic is available here.
There are also some interesting toy descriptions included as well. For instance, Castle Grayskull is described as a “sinister stronghold.” Teela is the “patroness of warriors”. Stratos is a “winged sky baron” and Beast Man is his henchman! Skeletor is the “master death-dealer” and Mer-Man is a “cunning sea lord.” The Wind Raider is described for “air or sea”, which is as it was intended originally, although it was almost always described as an air vehicle after it was released. (Thanks to Jukka Issakainen for pointing some of this out.)
1983 JCPenney Catalog, page 316
The tent and sleeping back in this collection feature artwork by Errol McCarthy.
1983 JCPenney Catalog, page 487
1983 JCPenney Catalog, page 502
1983 JCPenney Catalog, page 522
Point Dread and Attak Trak appear to be hand painted. Trap Jaw is missing his chest armor and his attachments.
1983 JCPenney Catalog, page 523
This page contains some text describing the images on the previous page. Items 7-9 are describing two-pack giftsets. Interestingly I have never seen an example of a Ram Man/Skeletor giftset or a He-Man/Trap Jaw giftset. Either these existed and just haven’t turned up yet, or the sets were planned but not released, or the catalog copy writers were simply mistaken.
1983 JCPenney Catalog, page 545
This page features the Genadier lead model set. The models come unpainted, but in the picture Ram Man features his concept colors, as does Panthor. The Monogram Attak Trak and Talon Fighter kits are also shown.
1984 JCPenney Catalog, page 474
He-Man is pictured here along with the Trundaxx Battle Transporter, which looks like a cousin to the Attak Trak, but was not a part of the Masters of the Universe line.
1984 JCPenney Catalog, page 486
This page features the JCPenney two-packs, which came packaged in brown boxes with simple line art representing the included characters. Webstor in this image features his blue rifle, a rare accessory included in only the first run of the figure.
1984 JCPenney Catalog, page 487
This page contains a selection of new for 1984 toys (Snake Mountain, Whiplash, Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor, Roton, Stridor, Prince Adam, Buzz-Off, and Dragon Walker) as well as some older favorites.
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 57
Masters of the Universe rain slicker and long-sleeve shirt, perfect for fall weather.
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 348
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 387
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 406
Two different Masters of the Universe toy chests are presented, along with the Battle Cat Spring Ride. A MOTU table and chairs set is also included, something I’ve never seen posted anywhere online before.
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 414
This page again features a number of MOTU JCPenney exclusive two-packs. Webstor again includes his rare blue blaster. Some interesting product descriptions are here as well. Dragon Blaster Skeletor is “wrapped in treacherous magical metal chains.” Snake Mountain apparently includes a “scalping ladder” (a typo – it’s supposed to be scaling ladder).
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 415
Featuring some of the new for 1985 vehicles, including Night Stalker, Land Shark, Spydor and Bashasaurus.
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 416
This page features the rare, first release “black belt” version of Leech. This page also features the Infaceables, a rather bizarre, short lived action figure line with characters that could change their faces in an unusual way.
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 471
This pages features the Road Ripper Mighty Cycle, which has a handlebar section sculpted and decorated to resemble the Road Ripper vehicle.
1985 JCPenney Catalog, page 490
This page features a Kidstuff MOTU story book with cassette or record, as well as a couple of Golden stories with cassette or record.
1986 JCPenney Catalog, page 353
1986 JCPenney Catalog, page 428
This page features a large selection of new for 1986 toys, most notably Eternia, Monstroid, Mantisaur, Blasterhawk, Fright Fighter, Laserbolt, the Snake Men, the Slime pit, and others.
1986 JCPenney Catalog, page 429
Descriptions for the toys shown on the previous page, as well as a closer look at some of the new 1986 figures. Thunder Punch He-Man, Dragon Blasters Skeletor, Flying Fists He-Man, Terror Claws Skeletor and Hurricane Hordak are considered “deluxe” figures and cost a dollar more than other MOTU figures.
1986 JCPenney Catalog, page 482
Featuring the amazing Masters of the Universe Pop-Up Alarm Clock, as well as He-Man and She-Ra watches.
Mattel’s 1982 Wish List is a pamphlet-sized little advertisement for the latest and greatest Mattel had to offer at the time. It was distributed as an insert in the November 16, 1982 issue of Family Circle magazine.
Barbie gets the most print space in the Wish List, but there is a page and a half devoted to the brand new (at the time) Masters of the Universe toyline.
The photographer attempted to spice things up with some clear plastic rods, although I’m not really sure what they’re supposed to be in this context.
Quite often catalog photography can be a good source for images of prototype or at least hand-painted pre-production versions of these toys. In fact, you generally tell how early or late these images were taken by the number of prototypes in them. The more prototypes, the earlier the photo was taken.
In this case, almost everything in the Wish List is a standard (first release) version of the mass produced toys. Skeletor is the first run “orange cheeks” and half boots version. Unlike earlier catalog photos, both Battle Ram and Wind Raider are the final, mass-produced versions. Stratos in this picture is not a prototype, but he is the ultra-rare, early “blue beard” version.
The Battle Cat in this catalog isn’t technically a prototype, but it’s rare enough that it might as well be. A small number of factory Battle Cats were made with striped tails and orange lines around the mouth, based on pattern of the original hand-painted prototype. Unlike “blue beard” Stratos, this version does not appear to have ever been sold in stores. They may have been early samples that were intended to be use for product photography.
Castle Grayskull is a little unusual here as well. I’ve only seen one example in the wild with so little black paint around the eye and nose region. This could be another early factory sample intended for product photography, or it could just be an early release example.
The Man-At-Arms in the photo is the second prototype version – you can tell by the wrist extension on his armor that was removed on the mass-produced toy:
The earliest known example of Mattel photography of MOTU toys comes from a series of promotional slides shared by Andy Youssi (below). All of the toys in this series are early prototypes. In fact this series is so early that we see the “Lords of Power” label, a working title for the toyline before “Masters of the Universe” was settled on. This is an amazing assortment of early concept images, some of which had not been seen until recently. Most of them (Skeletor, Beast Man and Mer-Man) are not even articulated.
He-Man is the closest to being finished, but he lacks his left forearm bracer and his hands are both closed and not quite finished. Man-At-Arms is quite a bit more detailed than the late-stage prototype that came out later. Battle Cat is hand painted and features the orange mouth and tail stripes that persist in early product photography. The Battle Ram prototype is more finely detailed than the final toy. Castle Grayskull is also larger and more detailed, with the ledge and pointed helmet that appeared in many early illustrations. A more in-depth look at these images is available here.
The second earliest known example of MOTU photography comes from the 1981 licensing kit, called Fast Male Action For Licensees. The kit contains some amazing Errol McCarthy artwork, but it also has some great toy photography featuring quite a few of prototypes, although most of them more late stage than the ones featured in the “Lords of Power” series. Prototypes include: Teela, Battle Cat, Zodac, Stratos, Man-At-Arms, Wind Raider, and Battle Ram. The Battle Ram prototype is the same one seen in the “Lords of Power” set. Teela appears to be an unarticulated statue.
Castle Grayskull here is a finely painted pre-production model, finalized in shape and modified in many ways from the previous prototype. In fact, just about everything here, with the apparent exception of He-Man, appears to be hand-painted, at the very least. I would guess that many of these that appear to be final sculpts were cast at Mattel, and hadn’t gone to the factory yet.
You can follow the development of these photos as you see prototypes start to disappear. The photos from 1982 Mattel Dealer Catalog show the same prototypes and models as the license kit photos, with two exceptions; Battle Ram, which appears in its final (albeit hand-painted) form, and Stratos, who now sports a hairy chest:
A similar photo used in the 1982 dealer catalog shows up in a 1983 Dutch catalog. This one features smoke in the background, and it’s cropped and arranged slightly differently.
It also shows up in this 1985 Mattel France catalog:
The same photo also shows up in this 1982 store display:
Very similar-looking photos with identical models appear on the sides of the original Castle Grayskull box. They appear to have been taken during the same session as the photos used in the 1982 Dealer Catalog:
Some higher quality versions of a few of these photos (and an alternate version of the Beast Man picture) come to us via Grayskull Museum (who in turn got them from Mark Taylor):
I suspect several of the images from the 1984 UK Masters of the Universe Annual were also taken at about the same time. These images also give us an interior view of the hand-painted Castle Grayskull model (although the image is reversed):
The photo in this MOTU advertisement seems to have been taken a bit later than the dealer catalog photos. Every figure here seems to be hand-painted. We still have the late-stage prototype Man-At-Arms (evidenced by the wrist extension on his armor). We also see a new prototype version of Teela, different from previous versions, with Barbie-like leg articulation.
The photo that appeared in an early French mini comic appears to come from a slightly later session still. Stratos’ colors have now been reversed (this is the “blue beard” version that we saw in the Mattel Wish Book). He appears to be a production sample rather than a hand-painted model. We have final, production versions of Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and He-Man. We see the striped tail Battle Cat (like the 1982 Wish List, this one does not appear to be hand-painted). We still have the finely painted Castle Grayskull model. We see the same Teela prototype that appeared in the previous advertisement.
The 1982 Sears and JCPenny Catalog pictures (below) were probably taken sometime after the photo from the French mini comic. We can again see the striped tail factory sample Battle Cat, and a later, almost final Teela prototype. Her sculpt is finalized, but her paint applications are more in keeping with earlier prototypes and design drawings. The castles are first release factory versions. Everything else looks pretty “off the shelf”.
The 1982 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog is very similar to the above 1982 Sears catalog, featuring the display model Castle Grayskull and striped-tail Battle Cat:
The photo used for the Masters of the Universe Poster (below) was probably taken later than many of of the product photos in this series (I would place the 1982 Wish List photo second or third to last). Just about every toy here is a mass-produced example. This is the only photo in the series to feature a standard Battle Cat. The Castle Grayskull in this photo is likely another very early factory example, similar to the 1982 Wish Book photo.
Again we see the “blue beard” Stratos. I believe that while the hand-painted prototypes for Stratos had red wings, blue armor and a gray beard, the very first-factory produced versions had the blue beard, blue wings and red armor (which is consistent with Mark Taylor’s original B-sheet drawing). Then at some point the factories started producing figures using the prototype color scheme. It sounds a bit convoluted, but that seems to be what the photographic evidence is saying.
Finally, this photo from the reverse side of the 1982 store display (discussed earlier) shows finalized and typical examples of the 1982 Masters of the Universe action figure lineup:
This technically isn’t “early” product photography, but strangely it does feature a hand-painted Castle Grayskull, along with the new product lineup from 1984: