Pre-Videogame Era Toys
September 30, 2007 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Before there were videogames, growing up in England in the late 1960s though the 70's we had Action Transfers. The Letraset company branched off its division of hand set rub-on transfer fonts into full blown action scenes, with Cowboys & Indians, famous historical battles, Vikings, natural disasters & more. This collector has dozens of sets, scanned in high resolution & never used.
posted by jonson (49 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Despite the limitednonexistent replayability, those are pretty damn neat.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:51 PM on September 30, 2007

*trips down memory lane*

My dad used to buy these for my brother and I. They were probably a pretty cheap way to get us to shut up for a few hours so he could have a beer and watch the game.

Though, I also suspect it was secret training for the actual Letraset typesetting we'd do later in his print shop. No joke. I was hand-kerning cut-and-paste or transfer lettering at around 10. We couldn't afford a Linotype. I think I still have my burnishing tool somewhere. They're handy for making sure decals stay put.
posted by loquacious at 12:53 PM on September 30, 2007

These were fun until the Indian's tomahawk broke off while you were trying to lift off the transfer rubbed onto the table of a seaside caravan on a rainy day ...
posted by scruss at 12:55 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

Yeah, as far as "replay value," I occasionally used to get them out & look at them again. But that was about it.
posted by jonson at 12:58 PM on September 30, 2007

Alvy, the "nonexistant replayability" was what made Action Transfers so cool. You had one shot, and one shot only to get it right. As a kid I would survey the picture for quite some time before making a decision. Then, having made up my mind, I'd carefully... rub... the ima--dang!--I messed up his arm somehow!

Yeah, I they kinda sucked. Thank God for videogames!
posted by JaySunSee at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh wow. Thanks. I remembered these a few days ago, but couldn't remember what they were called. Thanks once again jonson.
posted by marxchivist at 1:01 PM on September 30, 2007

i never knew letraset made any thing like this--weird...

Give me colorforms any day--at least you could peel them up and play more.
posted by amberglow at 1:08 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I remember this shit.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:20 PM on September 30, 2007

one shot, and one shot only to get it right

I couldn't hack that sort of pressure, then or now.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:24 PM on September 30, 2007

Colorforms! Now you're speaking my language...

Yeah, thank goodness for videogames. Or books. Or a stick, for that matter, as an alternative amusement.
posted by kalimac at 1:25 PM on September 30, 2007

I'm no child of the 80's, but I think I might have had something like this as a kid. My dad had a lot of cheap old shit. I'm pretty sure mine had dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2007

Or 70's, for that matter.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:29 PM on September 30, 2007

Now, if ever there were situations calling for Coralization, might this be one ?
posted by y2karl at 1:53 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Holy wow, I'd totally forgotten about these! I wish there were modern versions...
posted by at 2:22 PM on September 30, 2007

Just for the sake of comparison, the American version of these (not to be confused with the vinyl Colorforms) was called Presto-Magix. Ultra-cool stuff, of course!
posted by washburn at 2:35 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

This brings back memories and yet in retrospect I can't believe I would have found them much fun. Perhaps on a rainy day when I wasn't allowed out to ride my BMX.
posted by electricinca at 2:48 PM on September 30, 2007

I've never seen these. Very cool.
posted by nola at 2:49 PM on September 30, 2007

y2karl is right - hopefully I didn't cause this guy's bandwidth bill to skyrocket.
posted by jonson at 2:49 PM on September 30, 2007

Hmm, whom am I kidding it wasn't a BMX it was a Raleigh Bomber.
posted by electricinca at 2:52 PM on September 30, 2007

I had the Return of the Jedi kit...
posted by KokuRyu at 3:23 PM on September 30, 2007

I seem to recall the cowbosy and indians ones. I was fascinated by the precison repro of the transfers themselves (not the way they looked after you rubbed 'em in, but the tight registration of the little guys on the plastic sheet).
posted by mwhybark at 4:01 PM on September 30, 2007

DC Comics put out a special issue of The Adventures Of Superman with an action-transfer cover shortly after the whole "Death of Superman" story, at the height of the gimmick and alternate cover debacle. The backdrop was looking down into the city from above the Daily Planet globe, and Lobo was the main character other than Superman.

/huge nerd alert
posted by autodidact at 4:09 PM on September 30, 2007

As an anxious child, I was always too afraid to commit myself to actually applying the figures. What if I didn't like the way one came out? Then that figure would be lost -- and the full value of the set diminished. So I just kind of gazed at the figures and imagined them all in place.

Then my brothers would come along and steal the figures and stick them all over every fucking thing, as I followed them about shouting and crying. Good fun.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:17 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh my God. This is Charlecote Park. I used to work there. I want that set.

Also, wow random bit of my childhood I'd forgotten all about.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:49 PM on September 30, 2007

I loved these fiercely. My dad had a friend who brought some from either Canada (where he lived) or the UK (where he worked)...I don't recall which, but I know I had sets that my friends had never seen.

My brother had the hardest time using them...much like Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese, up there...while I couldn't wait to tear them open and rub them all over the surfaces of my room, tiles in the bathroom, my folders for school, even the refrigerator.

This may speak volumes about my brother remaining in the city of our birth, living 3 minutes away from the house in which I did all the damage while my life has been one series of insane commitments to expat adventure after another.

(Uh, and why I have zero free-hand drawing skills and he is a master....)
posted by squasha at 5:02 PM on September 30, 2007

Like Kraftmatic, I could never commit to using these since they were a one-shot deal. It was the same fear of commitment that kept me from making permanent slides with my microscope kit.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:43 PM on September 30, 2007

Goddamn. I loved that shit. They were awesome. I wish I could get them for my kids these days.

+1 Nerd Points: I one had D&D rub-on transfers, with the greatest hits from the Monster Manual.
posted by GuyZero at 5:56 PM on September 30, 2007

am I mad or did they used to give these away free with Shreddies?
posted by forallmankind at 6:26 PM on September 30, 2007

Vikings...fuck yeah!!! Way cooler than the "Welcome Back Kotter" & "Happy Days" Colorforms I had as a kid.
posted by MikeMc at 6:48 PM on September 30, 2007

I one had D&D rub-on transfers, with the greatest hits from the Monster Manual.

I am jealous to the point of just wanting the memory of having had that.
posted by dreamsign at 7:11 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

They still make shrinky dinks.
posted by BeerFilter at 7:39 PM on September 30, 2007

wow, i had completely forgotten about these things. i think i used to play with the letraset letters as well.

seems like the neurotic/OCD thing runs pretty strongly here. i always solved that problem by getting two sets of anything, so i could save one and use the other one.

even now you should see me check 50 times that any command line that will destroy a file is correct, and i really mean to overwrite that file :)
posted by joeblough at 8:48 PM on September 30, 2007

Ooh. I had a My Little Pony version as a kid. I couldn't understand the rub-on stuff, or what that little spatula was for. And when I was told how it was to be used, I just couldn't understand WHY anyone would want to go through that whole process. I somehow managed to lift them off and apply them directly. Some got on my fingers at the same time, too. Probably wasted half the sheet. But still, fun times.

Thanks for the post. All this week I've been wondering what in the world those things were called.
posted by Xere at 8:52 PM on September 30, 2007

posted by es_de_bah at 9:00 PM on September 30, 2007

Now I'm doubly sad that the only rub on transfer I ever did as a kid was pads for circuit board resist.
posted by Mitheral at 9:47 PM on September 30, 2007

Wow - had totally forgotten these, but the memory of the feeling of pencilling the transfers is completely fresh in my mnid/hand. Eerie.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 PM on September 30, 2007

Had those, but different brand. Panini I think.

There was a bit of a decal frenzy going on in Europe during my youth. In France they called it decalcomanie (decal-mania), and it inspired this song (YT-alert).

Unrelated: Someone should make a list of all eighties songs that have the sound of chimps in 'em.
posted by Crusty at 1:09 AM on October 1, 2007

Fuzzy felt or STFU!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:55 AM on October 1, 2007

I remember these. I had ballet dancer ones.

and HELL YEAH fuzzy felt! Thanks for reminding me of that :)
posted by corvine at 5:40 AM on October 1, 2007

forallmankind am I mad or did they used to give these away free with Shreddies?

I believe you could be right unless we are suffering from the same false memory syndrome. Of all the cereals I remember from my childhood Shreddies always had the best, but also cheap and shoddy, free stuff in the box.
posted by electricinca at 5:48 AM on October 1, 2007

I had forgotten all about these... the nostalgia hit was physically painful.

I can remember them being given away with breakfast cerial. They were 'backgrounds' on the back of the box. I'm sure there was a Star Wars one. Anyway I remember put putting them in my scrap book next to my Star Wars post cards and drawing 'blaster' lines and explosions with a felt-tip pen. Happy days.

Oh yeah and Fuzzy Felt, kids today don't know there're born.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:31 AM on October 1, 2007

Awesome. When I was a kid, every week my allowance money went to Cokes in glass bottles, candy bars, and Presto Magix. Really neat to see those pictures in the OP, it didn't occur to me that I could ever see that stuff again. I have strong memories of rub-on ETs, Spider-Men, and dinosaurs.

A few years ago I found these cheap, poorly drawn rub-on transfers at a gas station while I was traveling, and I bought every kind they had out of fierce nostalgia. The worst one is all huge sticker-sized food items.

But one day I'm gonna have a piece of paper and realize that I need a picture of a big color hamburger on it, and then all this will have a purpose.
posted by zebra3 at 8:09 AM on October 1, 2007

Instant nostalgia, especially scruss's comment on rainy holidays in caravans ...
posted by carter at 8:32 AM on October 1, 2007

when I were a kid we were so poor we only got the action transfers in t' cereal boxes. And we were 'appy.
posted by grubby at 9:11 AM on October 1, 2007

Wow! Presto Magix were a Friday night staple at our house. My mom would go shopping then and bring these home for my little brother and I. And we certainly weren't afraid to use them immediately. We would often use our artistry to rub only a portion down on the paper to make it look like the character was behind something or coming out of a door. Great fun.

I bought a few sets off of eBay for him a couple of Christmases ago. They were a big hit.
posted by genefinder at 10:59 AM on October 1, 2007

I remember these from the late seventies/early eighties in the Netherlands. Our version had black transfers on a colour background. I remember one of an aircraft carrier during world war II.
posted by Pendragon at 1:04 PM on October 1, 2007

Argh. I can totally picture one I had and it's driving me crazy that I didn't stash it away. I'd completely forgotten about it.
posted by dreamsign at 12:59 AM on October 3, 2007

My problem was that I always had my perspective off so the guy that was really big would be in the back while the tiny guy was up front.

Oh, and I definitely had the D&D one, oh hell yeah.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:03 AM on October 3, 2007

Oh, one more thing, we had a Pong, so I wouldn't say this was pre-videogame but rather contemporaneous.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:04 AM on October 3, 2007

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