DescriptionA GI Joe Original Prototype, Hasbro, 1964.
For the second time ever at public auction, Heritage Auctions proudly offers Don Levine's first handcrafted mock-up of the original 12" GI Joe figure -- simply the most prized collectible for fans of the hallowed GI Joe line, a franchise soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary. This prototype is constructed of hand-shaped and shaved plastic, hand-crafted metal, and hand-sewn fabric.
Here is an incredibly influential artifact, a relic which helped inaugurate a brand new niche within the product lines of every major toy company: the action figure franchise. Without the support of Merrill Hassenfeld (Hasbro's President) and the vision of Don Levine (Hasbro's Creative Director, who developed an idea first proffered by licensing guru Stan Weston) in the mid-1960's, the modern action figure might not exist today.
According to G.I. Joe expert Mark Bellomo, in 1964, Hasbro's proposed 12" GI Joe toy line flew in the face of conventional wisdom: The company defied a nation of traditionally-minded consumers who considered poseable dolls a strictly feminine domain. Dolls were a product expressly made for girls. In response to this vacuum, Hasbro invented their GI Joe line and marketed him as a "Moveable Fighting Man."
Adopting the roles of Action Marine, Action Pilot, Action Sailor, and Action Soldier, GI Joe became the first fully-poseable male action figure (NEVER called a "doll") -- able to hold any dynamic pose just as a modern American solider could, whether hunkering down in a foxhole, leading a beachhead assault, signaling an aircraft to land on a flight deck, or engaging in the latest military training while on bivouac. No longer did children have to buy a bag of cheap, non-poseable "little green Army men" to feature in their backyard adventures: thanks to Hasbro, boys could now commandeer a strike force of realistic, 12" tall, fully-articulated GI Joe action figures.
This auction features the one-and-only original prototype GI Joe figure which was constructed by Don Levine and his stalwart team of designers, sculptors, and artists in 1964 for Hasbro's famous in-house presentation to a half-dozen of the company's most important and prestigious clients -- representative buyers from F.W. Woolworth Company, Sears, Roebuck, Co., and Associated Merchandising Corporation, among others.
This unique GI Joe prototype is hand-crafted, and consists of a plastic body with wire-spring joints, and a hand-painted plastic head that was created by pulling a temporary mold from a carved wooden original. The figure's uniform is completely hand-sewn and consists of a set of olive-drab fatigues and requisite four-pocketed field jacket with a set of hand-stitched, superbly-detailed three-tiered chevrons worn on each shoulder (reflecting the rank of E-5 [sergeant]), as well as a deluxe backpack (with obligatory straps) which was cleverly crafted from a rolled-up belt. Also included is a pair of the prototype's incomparable, hand-sewn black boots -- distinctive footwear assembled from several different pieces; final production figures would include only molded plastic boots, not fabric. The prototype's uniform is flourished with an über-rare plastic combat helmet, designed in a distinctly different style from those that were mass-produced for retail consumption. Unfortunately, over time, this helmet has sustained a bit of wear, and a piece of this plastic accessory is missing from its back end.
The gorgeous, hand-crafted original canteen included with this prototype was created based on Mr. Levine's directive to the steadfast Sam Speers, Hasbro's Assistant Director of Product Development. To design this accessory, Speers hired master jeweler Walter Hansen (from Providence, R.I.'s jewelry district), since the artist was intimately familiar with creating small, sophisticated pieces of jewelry from many different types of metals; Hansen's technique was deft and supple enough to eyeball life-sized samples of military 'materiel' and then expertly craft accessories in the tiny scale needed for the prototype action solider.
Of final note is the prototype GI Joe's head. Aficionados will recognize that this early version of the head, which is wonderfully hand-carved and deftly hand-painted, is wider than, and possesses noticeably different features from Hasbro's final production model. Although this prototype figure is in excellent condition overall, the paint applications on the head are a bit worn (specifically on the back side and on the tip of the nose -- in these spots, the plastic has shown through).
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that despite a few noteworthy (yet relatively minor) discrepancies between this initial prototype and Hasbro's mass-produced final product, this prototype stands as a testament to the single-minded vision that Don Levine and his crew evidenced when concocting the original GI Joe product line. The clarity of vision and dynamic manner with which Hasbro pursued and ultimately delivered this toy franchise is a remarkable and noteworthy achievement.
The GI Joe brand has rightly been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame (ca. 2004), and this irreplaceable iconic artifact exists as one of the most important cultural touchstones on the planet. With the recent popularity of licensed toy properties functioning as the driving force of modern television programs and films, now is the time to bid on such a noteworthy artifact and it may indeed be the final opportunity.
This piece was originally sold in the Heritage Auctions auction titled "San Diego Comic Auction Sale," Sale 807, July 15-20, 2003, lot 6484, final price realized was $200,001; it was from the personal collection of Don Levine, creator of GI Joe; subsequently resold to its current owner.
Heritage Auctions would like to thank Mark Bellomo of Kingston, NY who researched this lot. One of the world's foremost experts on toys, Bellomo has written hundreds of articles and several definitive books on the most popular action figure lines of all time, including Toys & Prices: The World's Best Toys Price Guide, Warman's Action Figures Field Guide: Values and Identification, and The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994. Bellomo works exclusively with IDW Comics on many of their licensed properties and is finishing construction of what is expected to be the largest action figure resource site on the web. He also works as a consultant for television and film.
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