Monday, April 13, 2015

ARCO: Dragons n' Monsters

Arco released two sets of carded Dragons n' Monsters in 1982, Skull Turret and Headsgone Tower.  They are one of the most classic rack toys of all time.  There are eight 45mm figures all based on old D&D lead figures.   Two are dragons and the rest are an ogre, a cyclops, a birdman, a lizardman, a jinn and a brawn hulk. The figures store in the little towers.  They are all marked "Made in Hong Kong" on the bottom of the base. They did not come with full sets of all eight figures in each tower.  I believe you only got six figures per tower.  

Original Arco figures came in green, blue, yellow (some shaded more orange) and neon red.  They are all made of bright translucent plastic that does not photograph well.  Arco released them again in 1986 and 1987 on cards without the towers as Mutants n' Monsters.  The long dragon in these sets were only released in green and blue and had bobbed spikes for some reason. 

They were released again in 1990 by a company called Toys n' Things and production was moved to main land China.  Toys n' Things changed the towers to purple and blood red and swapped neon red for just red and yellow/orange for just orange. The long dragon is the bobbed spikes version.  Some have no markings on the bottom and some are marked "1990 Toys n' Things, Made in China."  They are much less translucent than original Arco figures and photograph very well.  So, that is one way to tell them apart.  

1/1/20




1982 - 1987 Original Arco figures and towers.










Bobbed and full spiked long dragons. 






Yellow or orange? You decide. 

I have always thought of these guys as yellow.  A friend of mine says they are orange.  I can see his point because some are shaded more to orange and some more to yellow.  The difference does not photograph as well as it shows to the naked eye.  Here I attempt to show the difference with three different filter versions of the same figures.  




























1991Toy n' Things. 










These are the only color variations I have found among the Toys n' Things figures.
















Variations. (No master set yet, still need two neon red guys.)

































Bases.












































Towers. 













































Photo from an ebay auction.






















38 comments:

  1. So great. I still would love to find pics of all of the lead figures these were based off. I think I have only been able to find a few of them.

    I love seeing the "Mutants and Monsters" packaging. I wonder if certain sculpt-color combinations were only released in those packages vs. with the towers, or vice versa.

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  2. I wonder about that as well. I have not seen any uncommon colors in the two packages I have pictured, but you never with small companies like Arco.

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    1. Would you consider the guy with the rope in red to be uncommon? I spot one in the first Mutants and Monsters pack shown above, and I don't think I've seen that one around as often as the others.

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    2. Also, it looks like the spikes on the back of the one dragon were shortened for the versions in the Mutants and Monsters packs. I've owned Arco figures with both the longer and shorter spikes and I always wondered about that difference.

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  3. Great insights. I think you are right about the red jump rope guy. I only have the one in that color. Maybe it did only come in the Mutants & Monsters packages. I did not realize that he is rare in red. You are likely right about short spike versions of the dragons as well. I have only seen the short spikes in the Mutants package and they seem to be at least a little rarer than the longer spike versions.

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  4. Another thing that probably plays into it is that the Mutants & Monsters packages came out in 1986 and 1987 which is 4-5 years after the original Dragons & Monsters. The molds may have been changed. I wonder if the later production by Toys n' Things also came with short spikes? I have mixed my figures together to the point that I can't be sure if any of my short spike dragons were from Toy n' Things.

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    1. Yeah, it really seems like long spikes = 1982 release and short spikes = 1986/1987/1990. I am almost sure I have only seen the Toys n Things version of that dragon as having short spikes. With the Toys n Things versions, each character seems to have come in only one color (genie and lizard man are always red, bird man and griffin-dragon are always green, etc). That Toys n Things spiked dragon is always blue. The Toys n Things plastic colors are also different shades and more opaque. When you put them side by side with the Arco figures, the Arco figures look glossier and more translucent.

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  5. Does anybody know if these molds were ever reused fairly recently? As in 200X? I would love to see these as knock offs. I do have the originals from 1980's. Only in recent times did I complete the sets with a Red Lizardman. He was missing from the first set. (only three out of four toys? Boy, was I heartbroken)

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  6. I don't think so. The last production run I am aware of was by Toys n' Things around 1989/90.

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  7. I have been grabbing these up wherever I can find them (mostly ebay), and I was curious about the possibility of a bootleg line after toys n things as well. My reason for this is the fact that all my original arco figures say made in hong kong, and pretty much all my toys n things figures have their name and made in china in the bottom circle in place of that. However I have 3 cyclops figures, all in the same darker orange as the toys n' things stamped version, that have no stamp at all. They still have the circle, just nothing in it. At a glance they could be slightly darker orange as well, when compared side by side with the toys n' things stamped figure I have. Anyone else here that collect these have any that are un-stamped at the bottom?

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    1. I have a few different Toys N Things versions that don't have the "Made in China" stamp--only the circle. I have my bag out now and I have a Toys N Things Brawn Hulk, Djinn and Cyclops like this. I am pretty sure they are actual Toys N Things figures as they are ones I would have got new as a kid. Also, the Toys N Things dragons keep the same "Hong Kong" markings from the Arco versions.

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  8. I have noticed that as well. My theory is that the ones with no stamp are Arco's later production under the name Mutants & Monsters. I don't know if that is accurate, but it is my best guess. I don't think there is a bootleg line, but anything is possible.

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    1. I have the Arco mutants and monsters carded 20 figure set (the one with the blue spine spike dragons) just like the one in your first picture above of the carded ones. I checked the bottom of the figures in that and they have the standard made in hong kong stamp. Maybe in time something else will pop up to explain the un-stamped figures, like a toys n' things mutants and monsters, or a tower/figure set with un-stamped bottoms, but for now I am stumped! Time will tell!

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  9. Well, that shoots my theory in the butt. I'll check the figures in my cards as well when I can find the time. Is yours the 86 or the 87 card?

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    1. Mine is the 86, so maybe it was the 87 card or something. If you find anything on your end when you check yours let me know! Like I mentioned, I have 3 of the unmarked ones, two of which I just got in the mail today, and the other came in a random lot. The people I bought them from don't know anything about them at all, so no help there either unfortunately!

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  10. Has anyone managed to ID which gaming miniatures these guys were based on?

    I have a few ID'd but not all of them.

    Troll with whip: "Troll Discipline Master" by Citadel:
    https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3815/12811109463_73e42b250c.jpg

    Genie: Heritage Djinni from their "Dungeon Dwellers" line:
    http://s.ecrater.com/stores/88954/55885be63c263_88954b.jpg

    Pustulous beast: Brawn Hulk, also from Heritage's Dungeon Dwellers line:
    http://www.dndlead.com/dungeon-dwellers/1200s/1257.jpg

    Reptile-man: Lizardman from Grenadier:
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-GdrU6zJmHls/UokXlCp8sxI/AAAAAAAAFCk/bzyKH-tMcTk/s1600/Rereleased+Lizardmen.jpg

    Still haven't found out where the rest are from. These old pewter miniatures were kind of before my time.

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    1. I found the Cyclops! From a company called Martian Metals, in their Dragonslayers range.
      http://www.miniatures-workshop.com/lostminiswiki/index.php?title=DragonSlayers_25%27s#1705

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    2. You found him! Very nice find. Thanks for the link.

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    3. Can't believe I missed it because it was just above he Cyclops but the bird-monster is also Martian Metals' Dragonslayers.
      http://www.miniatures-workshop.com/lostminiswiki/index.php?title=DragonSlayers_25%27s#1704

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    4. Thanks again. The sources seem almost random, like they just grabbed a hand full out of one of their kid's figure collections.

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    5. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-GdrU6zJmHls/UokXlCp8sxI/AAAAAAAAFCk/bzyKH-tMcTk/s1600/Rereleased+Lizardmen.jpg
      While one is clearly the ARCO plastic lizard man original, the other lizard man metal figure from Grenadier in the link above is one of many metal figures or plastic toys which were based off of illustrations in the AD&D Monster Manual. On page 62 of the AD&D MM (1st Edition) under the Lizard Man entry it is the same as the drawing right down to the pattern on his shield and the skull necklace although the illustration is taking a knee on one leg. In 1977 Grenadier actually made a custom lizardman to match an early TSR (Dungeons&Dragons) logo used on all their products at the time and was given to TSR staff to help procure the lucrative D&D miniatures license. It worked. They continued to make D&D minis for many years. The metal Genie or Djinni in this link http://s.ecrater.com/stores/88954/55885be63c263_88954b.jpg that is clearly the ARCO plastic toy original is also based off a Monster Manual entry illustration on page 28 for Djinni, with identical armband, hoop earring, facial expression with the eyebrows and goattee and bald pate. The figures'position and smoke is different, I suppose they had to improvise to make a 3d model. The dragon on the far right in the arco line up bears striking similarities to a dragon drawing on the first edition boxed set of the World of Greyhawk campaign setting right down to the hand positioning. I would bet that the other ACROs or at least the metal minis they are based on are also based on D&D illustrations even though I haven't located them yet. Nearly the entire DFC small plastic fantasy figures from the Dragonriders of the STYX line are taken straight from D&D illustrations in the monster manual and are very faithful to the drawings such as the naja, shambling mound (lava men), and orc; although the DFC plastic toy wizard with the wand is identical to the TSR logo they used after the lizardman. Ironically some of the first D&D monsters such as bullette, rust monsters, disenchanter and owlbears were chinese fake dinosaurs later called pachisaurs in cheap dinosaur sets that Gary Gygax inventor of D&D bought at a dime store in the early 70's to use for D&D monsters. Cheap plastic toys into official D&D monsters into metal figures used for D&D back into cheap plastic toys. Full circle.

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    6. Thanks again for sharing your research. You are the man.

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    7. I found one of the dragons, it's a downsized Royal Dragon from Ral Partha.
      http://www.miniatures-workshop.com/lostminiswiki/index.php?title=Children_of_the_Night#13-025

      That just leaves the "heraldry" looking dragon unidentified in these sets.

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  11. With regard to color variations, here's how they shook out in the sets my brother and I had in the early 80's:

    Skull Turret: amber dragon, green lizardman, red djinn, blue birdman.
    Headsgone Tower: green spiny dragon, amber cyclops, red whip ogre, blue warty buttock monster.

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  12. I had the purple skull turret as a kid. I'm pretty sure it had all the monsters except the spiny dragon.

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  13. You should stop by MikesToyBox.net if you dig weird knockoff mini-figures. I have a whole series there about the Mighty Max knockoff, Sammy Steel, and pretty much the only photos/info about the toy line on the 'net.

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  14. A local shop has two of these, mint on decent cards, for $70 each. I think it's the purple skull turret and I believe the other is different but I don't recall which one it is. Is this a reasonable price? Ebay doesn't have much to go on right now.

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  15. If it is the purple version then it was made by Toys n' Things around 1990. I think those may actually be more rare then the originals. Smaller production run. $70 for a carded set in good shape sounds like a good deal. Might bring $100+ on ebay.

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  16. I just have one of the castles and none of the figures. I can't find them anywhere. Do you have any suggestions?

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  17. Are the castle containers worth anything by themselves?

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    1. Yes, but its hard to say how much. They rarely show up on ebay by themselves. I would say around $10.

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  18. I would like to find a carded set of the 1980s version from Arco toys.

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  19. As a fellow toy collector and nostalgia buff, kudos on your awesome blog. I have bookmarked it as an important research tool. Many thanks for helping identify toy lines and companies i have been searching for for some time. My twin brother and I had or still have many of the fantasy toy soldiers on your blog, grandma was a big believer in the grocery store bottom shelf cheap plastic toys. We had two of the three ARCO Dragons n Monsters tower sets (I still have mine), the ARCO Stingers and Wings Battle set with the orange spider and scorpion (I painted the scorpion I still have so am unsure of the original color) [btw what wings?] and most of the Arco Swords & Sorcerers figures,as well as several DFC Dragonriders of the Styx sets, C.H. muscle warriors, Chinasaurs, etc. all from the 70s/80s. Kudos on your blog, "ahhh it hits the spot", as they say, I am very pleased.

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  20. I had these as a kid, and prior to reading this blog, never met anyone else who had even HEARD of them. So I would like to find some, but eBay and etsy are poor sources. Can anyone point me in a direction?

    And now a super crazy question: has anyone tried to to track down these molds?

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