Glenn enjoys collecting amazing vintage items as a fun and educational way to relive the joys of the past.
Unusual Toy Soldiers From the 1960s
This set is one of the more unusual sets of toy soldiers I remember buying as a child. It was advertised in many comic books back in the 1960s. I got a set after making my father send away to purchase it from the cutout in the back of my comic book. I had to pester him for weeks with my dream of owning these 100 soldiers in their footlocker. The ad did not let you know they were flat, 2-dimensional figurines.
These amazing soldiers came in a cardboard footlocker, which added to the appeal. The sets sold from the late 1950s to the 1970s. They were made by the Lucky Products Inc. which had its headquarters in Long Island, New York. The set was made in Hong Kong. These toys were called "comic book combat flats" in the advertisements of the time. They were sold by mail order forms and were often found in the back of popular comic books, just like mine were. These ads are now collectible and sell on eBay and other online sites.
100-Piece Toy Soldier Set With Footlocker Storage Box by Lucky Products
Ordering From Comic Books
This is how it worked: children like me would dutifully cut along the little dotted outline of the order form box at the back of our comic books. We would then carefully print our names and addresses, count our allowance penny by penny, and plead with our parents for a check or money order.
A Remarkable Mix of Army, Navy, and Air Force Figures
This set included a strange mix of Army, Navy, and Air Force figures. It came with officers, waves, wacs, sailors, tanks, battle ships, destroyers, machine gunners, infantrymen, foot soldiers, sharpshooters, bazooka-men, jeeps, jets, and bombers. You name it, it was in the footlocker cardboard box. I remember having a headquarters for the waves, wacs, and officers, and a battlefront for the fighting men.
Plus, it came with Air Force planes and a huge flotilla of battleships and destroyers. You could build your own diorama and add props to the battlefield to create a total war on all three fronts— land, sea, and air. I have many fond memories of setting up battles with this set under the bay windows of my parents' rec room in the 1960s.
The Soldiers Were 2D and Stood About 1.5 Inches Tall
This set was made of hard plastic, and the average soldier in this set stands about 1.5 inches tall. There were about nineteen different types of pieces and hardware in the collection. These sets always looked bigger than life in their advertisements and were always sold very inexpensively.
The "flats" are two-dimensional hard plastic pieces made of thin, dark green plastic. Surprisingly, the hard plastic flats tend to hold up very well over the years. They take on a glassy look and still stand up proudly and keep their shape.
1960s Lucky Products 100 Piece Soldier Set
The Storage Footlocker
The footlocker looked just like the one in the advertisements. The only difference was that it came in tan instead of army green. It's made of pasteboard, just as advertised, and measures 61/2 inches by 3 inches by 23/8 inches. The storage box was shipped in the mail as the shipping box.
Many Types of Vehicles Were Included
These Soldiers Were Best for Displaying in Dioramas
This set was a little more fragile than most, and the plastic is harder and more brittle than the typical green army men of that era that were meant for playing with out in the back yard. You could not play with them in a rough way and wouldn't want to take them outside. They were more for displaying in dioramas.
The set also has more figures from World War II who look like the troops General Eisenhower led into battle. Most plastic soldiers for sale in the 1960s were from the Korean or Vietnam Wars, so this set was unique in that way too.
The Set Came in Many Themes
While I've only discussed the WW II set in this article, the comic book combat flats came in many themes, including the American West with cowboys and indians, the American Civil War with Yankees and Southerners, and the American Revolutionary War with British and colonists (minutemen and frontiersmen). There were also more historical sets that included Roman warriors fighting barbarians, medieval warriors and knights, Vikings, Pirates, Circus sets, and even space age warrior astronauts battling aliens.
Roman Soldier Advertisement Artwork
In addition to the main flat sets featured in the comic book advertisements, some ads also had special offers like free chess sets or extra figurines. Some times they had deluxe editions available for an extra dollar or two. Kids like me longed to check the extra boxes on the colorful order forms that required more than the initial one dollar and twenty-five cents.
Lucky Products Inc. and Others
Similar toy soldier sets were sold by various small companies of which Lucky Products Inc. was the largest. They all seemed suspiciously related to each other in a secret and mysterious way. Despite their different locations, names, and lack of phone numbers all items were shipped from Hong Kong and included the same manufacture stamps on the plastic pieces. With their obscure “department whatever" and "box number wherever" and cryptic P.O. Box addresses, it was never clear whether or not the companies were all one and the same.
Advertising With Epic Art
Names aside, these comic companies all shared the same basic methods of advertisement. The toy soldier ads always featured a larger-than-life, brightly colored illustrations. They had beautifully drawn images of exciting fantasy war scenes or raging epic battles.
The battle scenes were always detailed and action-packed. The ads were always located in the comic book advertisement section on or near the back cover. Many of the ads were actually drawn by famous comic book illustrators and artists.
Russ Heath, the Artist for the 100-Piece Toy Soldier Set Ads
Renowned comic book artist, Mr. Russ Heath of DC Comics, is the reason these now-famous ads are highly sought-after collectibles. Russ Heath created the two most well known illustrations, the 100 Piece Toy Soldier Set ad, and the 132 Piece Roman Soldiers Set ad. They are probably among the most widely remembered and most reprinted advertisements for Lucky Products. They deserve a place among the advertisement masterpieces of the 1950s and 60s.
Retouching of the Ads
Not all Russ Heath ads are created equal. Russ was aware that his original artwork was sometimes badly recolored by other artists over the years. The toy soldier ads were used by several different companies that marketed the Hong Kong soldiers. Russ suspects the recoloring was done to bring new life to the ads and brighten them up visually to attract more readers.
Russ Heath's Most Famous Comic Book Toy Soldier Ad
These Soldiers Are Still Going Strong
It is great fun to reflect back on the fun I had in the 1960s. Almost a lifetime later, I still remember the many hours of imagination, the joy of building dioramas with these toys. I spent many happy playtimes full of adventure and epic battles with those beloved plastic soldiers. They were really good soldiers, and bravely stood the test of time. With a young general to lead them, these brave army men marched to battle over and over again.
Ken on July 02, 2020:
GREAT RESEARCH, article , & effort on your part. THANKS for pulling back the veil of obscurity and mystery of these ads!
Mike T on May 13, 2019:
A school friend Keith H ordered one of these toy soldier sets sometime before 1969. I remember it was in the 7th grade he told me this. He called it "shoddy merchandise". He really said that!
It was a kind of Hawaiian ghetto school we went to. About 75% of the students were local "mokes" with single-digit IQs. In further describing the quality of the toy soldier set, Keith would say things like "I think you would be rather well-advised not to make that purchase".
Keith was years ahead of the rest of us (except maybe me) and he had the bruises to prove it!
Glenn Waters (author) on October 19, 2016:
Thank you for your comment, yes they are a rather thin army, navy and air-force, that is why many now refer to them as "flats" I remember when my box came in the mail ... but I played with them for hours, but I hate to guess how many other children were disappointed and used theirs for firecracker practices ... I can still remember waiting for what seemed like weeks for that small little footlocker to arrive in the mail. For some reason I felt like they were amazing since they all fitted into that small box.
cplmarr on October 19, 2016:
I used to read American comic books in the UK in the 1970s. They always had ads for these toy soldiers on the back page (and Bazooka gum if I remember rightly). I always wanted to be able to send away for them but what the heck was a ZIP code???? (I know now of course). Looks like I dodged a bullet of disappointment, though. I had no idea they were flat!