Production Variants

First release Castle Grayskull

I’ve written previously about the first release of Castle Grayskull, and how it differs from later versions. I’ve recently been able to acquire a rather unique piece, a 100% complete and quite pristine first release Castle Grayskull. I’ve been looking for one like this for years, especially after my friend and fellow first-release enthusiast John Oswald acquired one similar to this a couple of years ago.

So there are a few things about this example that differentiate it from even other early 1982 Castle Grayskulls (I’ve owned several early examples, but none quite like this). I’ll go over that, but first some wide shots:

The most obvious difference between this and any other Castle Grayskull is the paint on the front of the Castle. As we learned in the MOTU documentary, The Power of Grayskull, factories initially were looking to use some kind of paint mask for Castle Grayskull, but they were instructed by Mattel to do the painting free-hand (presumably to save time and therefore money). As a result, the paint applications seem to be rather haphazard, especially in later editions of the castle. The earliest versions of Castle Grayskull therefore tend to have the best paint. The two best examples I’ve seen are my recent acquisition and one owned by John Oswald:

Image source: John Oswald. This one has a very even and careful paint pattern on the front.

I have owned a number of other castles (below) that are also nice early versions. You can see they all have pretty decent paint work around the face, with some good definition to the eyes and nose, but not quite like the two examples from above:

The vast majority of Castle Grayskulls, however, have much less care taken regarding the paint, particularly on the black overspray, which is usually applied without any precision at all:

The other thing that sets my first release castle apart from other early examples is the color of the green removable pieces. The jawbridge, turret floors, trap door activator, and trap door floor are all a very pale shade of green, unlike any other example I’ve seen before:

Typical jawbridge on left, first release jawbridge on right
First release turret floor far left, early turret floors (middle three), and revised later turret floor with added slots for cannon (far right)
Pale green trap door and activator

Some variation in color is pretty normal on these parts (and I think early examples do tend to be somewhat lighter in color), but the very light green on this first release stands out from any other example I’ve seen. The color is about the same as the base plastic of the castle itself.

Interestingly, John’s castle has a half-and-half jawbridge – the inside is pale green, like my example, while the outside is the more common darker green. This indicates it may have been put together just as the color for the jawbridge was being revised to the common darker version.

Image source: John Oswald

In this example in Mattel’s 1982 Wish List mini catolog, you can see a castle similar to John’s example, but with a jawbridge that is pale green all the way through:

Another example appears in the 1982 JCPenney Catalog:

Image source: R.M. Hart

You can also see what look like very pale turret floors on this example in the 1982 Sears Christmas catalog:

Most early Castle Grayskulls seem to have a stamp under the entrance that generally looks like 1xx2C2, with a lower number in the first three digits corresponding to an earlier castle. For example, John’s first release example is stamped 1162C2. Other early (but not quite as early) castles I’ve owned have numbers like 1242C2, 1322C2, 1332C2, etc. Interestingly all of the numbers I’ve seen are unique, at least under the entrance.

The code for my first release castle is 3021C2 – a higher number on the left three digits, but a lower one on the right three digits. I’m not entirely sure what that means. Perhaps the right three digits are general batch code (1C2 = batch 1, 2C2 = batch 2, and so forth), and the left three digits are a more individualized number given to Castles produced on a certain day or week. I can only guess here.

Everything else about my first release castle is pretty typical of any first year Castle Grayskull, including all of the other codes stamped in various places around the castle.

If you’re looking to find a first year Castle Grayskull, there are some easy things to spot that are typical. The smaller of the two turret floors should have no slots for the cannon, and the cannon top should fit loosely into the cannon base, as opposed to within round slots, as shown in the images below.

First year castles would have come with a smooth small turret floor. The one on the right comes from a later release.
First version of the instructions. Note that the laser canon isn’t associated with the turret floor.
Revised version of the instructions. With the new turret floor, the laser cannon is now intended specifically to be placed in that spot.

All early castles also seem to have some green overspray on the teeth, while later ones often (but not always) have unpainted teeth. The best early castles will have some definition around the eyes and nose, rather than the whole area being painted black. These are general characteristics, but there will be some exceptions. All early castles should have USA stamps throughout. Of course because most of these are sold loose, any castle you find could have a mix of parts from different playsets, so you could find an early castle with later accessories or vice versa.

As I mentioned in a previous article, early versions of the castle came in a box that featured only the 1982 figures on the back. The artwork here was traced directly from a photo used in Mattel’s 1982 Dealer Catalog and also shows up in the first version of the Castle Grayskull instructions:

Starting in 1983, the back of the box was altered to feature cross sell art from both the 1982 and 1983 figures:

A very typical example of a second-release, USA-made Castle Grayskull is shown below. The distinguishing factors are again evident in the design of the back of the box, the face paint pattern on the front of the castle, the small turret floor, the laser cannon, and the instructions. This is very much like the Castle Grayskull I had as a kid, and as much as I loved it, I was always dissatisfied with the paint job on the front, which didn’t quite live up to the look of the castle in the box art.

And that’s about it for this discussion on the first release Castle Grayskull. I’ve been fascinated for some time with the earliest release MOTU toys of 1982. You can read more about this topic in the following articles:

I’ll close out with some additional photos of this very interesting early example:

Special thanks to John Oswald, who is always a great resource for thoughts and ideas about this topic, and who alerted me about this castle before I was even online for the day!

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Production Variants

1982 MOTU Figures: The First Production Run (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1!

Because Masters of the Universe figures were produced over many years in a number of different countries, there is no shortage of production variants, some subtly different and some radically different from the norm. In my own collecting, I’ve always gravitated toward the earliest figures released in the US, particularly for the first wave of figures. They tend to have the nicest paint and plastic applications, in my opinion. All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the US. A common term for the very earliest figures in the line is “test market figures”, although the term isn’t usually used for the vehicles or Castle Grayskull.

Much assistance for this article was given by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. The research of Mantisaur82 and Tokyonever has also been invaluable.

Broad Characteristics

The early Taiwan figures tend to have the sharpest detail and the finest paint applications compared to later reissues. Subsequent releases tend to cut down on the paint applications and sometimes on the sculpted detail. The earliest figures tend to have boots that are painted on using spray paint and a paint mask, which sometimes shows up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures seem to use a dipping method. Since this seems to apply to all the early figures (or at least those with painted boots), I won’t mention this when I talk about each individual figure.

On the lower backs of the figures (or in Teela’s case, the lower part of the back of the head) they are stamped © Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan. This stamp can also be found on the undersides of the male heads. These figure were released in 1982, but most MOTU figures are stamped the year before they were sold in stores, when the tooling was being created. However, as these Taiwan figures were released in subsequent years, they often retain the 1981 date, albeit sometimes with a slightly larger font.

Stratos

V1: Blue Beard

The earliest Taiwan Stratos figures have the following characteristics:

  • Blue beard and eyelids
  • Gray goggles
  • Three tabs each strap
  • Short straps

Commonly referred to as “Blue Beard” Stratos, this figure is quite rare and difficult to find. From the beginning, Stratos was available with either blue wings and a red backpack, or red wings and a blue backpack. This continued throughout the production run.

Image source: Carlo. Per Tokyonever, the back of this card is the first release 8-back “test market” card, with no warranty or SKUs listed under the figure names.

V2: Short Strap

The next early run of Taiwan Stratos figures have the following characteristics:

  • Gray beard and eyelids
  • Blue goggles
  • Four tabs each strap
  • Short straps

Even this version of Stratos is a little difficult to find – the subsequent versions with elongated straps seem to be much more numerous. V2 can also be found on the first “no warranty” cards, so the run of Blue Beards must have been VERY limited. Like all US-release versions of Stratos, this one was available in both red and blue wing variants.

“Test market” cards. Image source: Asher99
Short strap (top) vs long strap

Mer-Man

The first Taiwan Mer-Man figures have a couple of distinguishing characteristics that are easy to spot:

  • Green belt
  • Short straps on the back of the armor

Subsequent Taiwan releases added the longer straps and eventually omitted the painted belt.

Green (top) vs unpainted orange belt
Short straps (top) vs long straps

Teela

Taiwan Teela figures don’t have a ton of obvious variations during the first two years they were produced. The general characteristics are deep red hair and boots and dark red accessories in the figures released from 1982-1983.

However, an extremely rare first issue Teela has recently been discovered by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. Like the Striped Tail Battle Cat, this variant was probably an early sample used for catalog photographs (and indeed this version shows up in several of them.

V1: Green Snake Eyes Teela

Characteristics include:

  • Painted green eyes on snake armor with “v” pattern
  • Accessories seem almost translucent, like hard candy
  • Dots in eyes are hand painted (uneven)
  • Dark red accessories and deep red hair/boots
  • Marked “© M.I. 1981 Taiwan” on back of neck.
  • Shield slightly deformed on one side
Image via John Oswald
Image via John Oswald
Image via John Oswald
Image via John Oswald
Image via John Oswald
Image from the 1983 Mattel dealer catalog, via John Oswald
Image from 1983 Mattel Department Store Division catalog, courtesy of John Oswald

More common early Taiwan Teela figures generally have the same characteristics as the above example, minus the green snake eyes and the deformed shield.

Zodac

The earliest Taiwan release of of Zodac has a rather unique looking latch in the back of the armor, in addition to short straps. Subsequent reissues lengthened the straps and gave him a more conventional-looking latch.

First release (top) vs second release

Castle Grayskull

The very first release of Castle Grayskull has a much neater paint pattern on the face, with black applied only within the eyes, nose, and down the center of the helmet. You can see this version in Mattel’s 1982 Wish List catalog. The teeth, helmet, and towers have some green spray applied to them. It’s not clear if this very first version (below) ever made it to consumers, or if it was only made for in product photography.

Image courtesy of John Oswald

It’s also possible this early version came with black string for the elevator, rather than the usual white (first brought to my attention by John Oswald). That’s what’s shown in early catalogs, anyway. The early release castle was manufactured in the USA, and has the following codes stamped on it.

  • Under the entrance: 1162C2
  • Near the handle: © Mattel Inc 1981 USA 3991-2139
  • On the back side of the helmet: 3991-2129 © Mattel Inc 1981 USA
Notice the black string on the elevator.

The next (but still very early) release of the castle, as near as I can tell, is similar to the first release, except the black paint around the eyes and nose is not so carefully applied, and it has a less structured paint pattern on the helmet. Overall there is more overspray across the face and towers.

Both early versions were manufactured in the USA, and have similar codes. The second release castle has the same codes as the first, with the exception of the marking under the entrance. The one in the image above is coded 1812C2.

Both early versions also have a flat turret floor in the shorter of the two towers. On later versions, the floor piece had slots added to hold the laser cannon in place:

As we learned in the MOTU documentary, The Power of Grayskull, factories initially were looking to use some kind of paint mask for Castle Grayskull, but they were instructed by Mattel to do the painting free-hand (presumably to save time and therefore money). As a result, the paint applications seem to be rather haphazard, especially in later editions of the castle.

Early versions of the castle came in a box that featured only the 1982 figures on the back. The artwork here was traced directly from a photo used in Mattel’s 1982 Dealer Catalog:

Starting in 1983, the back of the box was altered to feature cross sell art from both the 1982 and 1983 figures:

Image source: Hake’s Americana

Battle Ram

The first release Battle Ram was manufactured in the US. I haven’t noticed much if any variation in the US-release Battle Rams other than country code. The first release vehicles are stamped “© Mattel Inc, 1981 U.S.A.”, as shown below:

The first release Battle Ram box shows only the 1982 figures on the back of the packaging:

Starting in 1983, Battle Rams were manufactured in Mexico as well as the US. The Mexico versions omit the country of origin on the copyright stamp, as shown below:

The back of the 1983 packaging features contemporary figures like Trap Jaw and Man-E-Faces. Starting in 1983, the box also features the Rudy Obrero artwork on the bottom as well as the front of the box:

Wind Raider

Like the Battle Ram, the first release Wind Raiders were produced in the US. The back of the packaging shows cross sell art from only 1982 figures. This holds true for both the single release Wind Raider and the He-Man/Wind Raider gift set.

Wind Raider giftset box

The wings on first release Wind Raiders have the following markings (the tail and underside of the vehicle are also stamped USA, and orange plastic is darker than made in Mexico versions of the vehicle):

Starting in 1983, Wind Raiders were manufactured in Mexico as well as the US. The Mexico versions are stamped “Mexico” on the wing tips and the underside of the vehicle. 1983 boxes also feature the Rudy Obrero art on the bottom of the box, and include 1983 figures in the cross sell artwork on the back.

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Playsets

Mark Taylor’s Castle Grayskull – Introduction (Guest Post)

Upper left: earliest concept art by Mark Taylor (before Mattel employment); lower left: black and white, and color version of the revised concept art by Mark Taylor (during Mattel employment in 1979); upper and lower right: the sculpted prototype by Mark Taylor)

Written by Dejan Dimitrovski

Envisioned and created by Mark Taylor Castle Grayskull is, both literally and metaphorically, the foundation stone of the world of the Masters of the Universe. Like an archetypal image, it has grown from a child’s toy to become an iconic symbol in both pop culture and in superhero mythology of our modern time.

Beginning, creation and original story idea

The concept of Castle Grayskull began with a fantasy drawing by Mark Taylor made even before he was employed in Mattel (sometime about 1975 – the picture on the upper left). Later, working as a toy designer in 1979., he did a revised castle illustration (the lower left picture). It went through many changes and revisions, again and again, until finally Mark sculpted the prototype castle (with a little help of Ted Mayer) based on the latest revised design (two images on the right show the prototype design). All through the design process, Mark insisted on the ancient, eldritch outlook of the Castle, invoking an atmosphere and image of a place that withholds secrets from beyond time and space, and setting it apart from yet another mythical magical castle.

“I wanted it to be organic, it has to look like it weights, like it’s heavy, has a lot of weight to it… like it’s starting to melt”, describes Mark Taylor during a panel on Grayskull Con in 2013.

The Castle was made before any of the toy figures and all through the eighties (and in some world countries the nineties), it undoubtedly became one of the most iconic, most popular and well known play-sets for children across the world. Starting from the original story concept, Castle Grayskull was the connection/conflict point of the hero He-Man and the villain Skeletor; and this concept was stretched to all the later incarnations of MOTU – the castle is always the ultimate fortress that Skeletor wants to conquer and claim its mystic powers. Another concept, started by Mark, that will remain a constant element common to all MOTU canons and story versions, is the concept that the ultimate Power is within Grayskull.

Inspiration sources and symbolism

Besides the idea of a traditional scary medieval castle, Mark mentions several other sources of inspiration for Castle Grayskull, among which are the works of Mark Twain, the 1933 “King Kong” movie (specifically the Skull Island), as well as other places that are skull-associated or shaped. Evidently, most of these inspiration sources seem to rely on the symbol of the skull. This symbol is as ancient and old as humanity itself, and it is a very complex one. Though the most common symbolic use of the skull is as a representation of death and mortality, to some ancient societies it is believed to have had the opposite association – objects like crystal skulls represent “life”, the honoring of humanity in the flesh and the embodiment of consciousness. Thus, it can be viewed as a symbol of extreme polarities of life and death.

Conclusion

Mark Taylor’s Castle Grayskull is a masterpiece that has outgrown the concept of a child’s toy; it served and still serves many purposes on many different levels.
At the time of the genesis of MOTU line, it was a big turning point for the brand. The Castle, together with wave one toys, not only set the specific mysterious feel of the MOTU setting, but was also crucial in the successful launching of the brand, as it became one of the most famous, most recognized play-sets for children across the globe.

From the perspective of Mark Taylor’s world of MOTU, it is one of the main elements that started the whole story. The Castle was where all the power lay for He-Man and Skeletor. Whoever controlled Castle Grayskull, had access to the Well of Souls and basically controlled all of the power.

Finally, in the terms of our modern mythology analysis, I believe it is a complex symbol that represents the battle for dominance of the forces of life (as well as hope and courage, represented by He-Man) and the forces of death (including fear and dread – incarnated as Skeletor) in an ever-present, ongoing struggle. This battle of life and death, survival and demise, creation and destruction, is set in our collective subconscious – a universal experience known to all of us; and it is always shrouded in mystery because it is always challenging and ever-changing, demanding our constant adaptation and creativity. This is how the myth of Castle Grayskull speaks to both the grown up and the child in us, allowing us to relate to the existential battle of the hero and the villain, a battle we have fought and will fight till the end of days.

* * *

I wish to express my gratitude to Rebecca Salari Taylor and Mark Taylor for being willing to help and to reveal and share the information on the original Castle Grayskull with us.
Also, I would like to express my thanks to my friends Jukka Issakainen and Adam McCombs in providing help and information in writing this post.

Sources:

1. Grayskull Con. (Aug 6, 2013). “Grayskull Con 2013 – Panel Rebecca and Mark Taylor”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kERzI45uluk

2. Mark Taylor audio interview (including transcripts) conducted by conducted by Matt Jozwiak (around 2006.)

3. McCombs, A. (2015). Battle Ram: A He-Man blog. [Blog] Castle Grayskull – Fortress of mystery and power (1982); Available at: https://battleram.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/castle-grayskull-fortress-of-mystery-and-power-1982/

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Artwork

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art – Brazilian Variants

The Brazilian Estrela toy company was one of several foreign manufacturers to purchased a license to produce Masters of the Universe Figures. However, the artwork they used on their packaging was slightly different from the artwork that appeared on US packaging (front and back).

My theory is that Estrela purchased the rights to make the toys, but not the rights for the artwork. Maybe it was cheaper to contract the art out locally. Most of the Estrela cross sell art is closely based on the US version, with some slight variations, almost always on the face. They also seem to modify artwork to make it look closer to the actual toy, whenever possible. This is especially evident for their cross sell art for Castle Grayskull, Wind Raider, Teela, Stratos and Ram Man. Note they also remove the orange stripes on Battle Cat’s tail – a feature included on the prototype but not on the vast majority of factory versions.

Estrela cross sell artwork comes courtesy of Jukka Issakainen, originally scanned by Polygonus. US artwork comes from Axel Giménez, Tokyonever, Jukka, StarCrusader, and my own photos and scans.

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Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art:

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