Trashed But Not Forgotten: “G.I. Joe Ephemera;” The Collection of Paperwork & Related Items

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GIjOE print advertising reached an undisputed zenith in the late 1990s with each inclusion in the outstanding FAO Schwartz catalogs. The photographers and designers at FAO clearly understood that GIjOE was an “ACTION Figure” and always strove to show him in motion or on a mission. This stunning, full-page masterpiece promotes the superb “Golden Knight” figure (an FAO exclusive), smartly depicting its highly detailed parachute in full deployment. An absolute STUNNER! (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Most GIjOE ephemera collections began with the first four service manuals printed in the 1960s. Included with each figure and most of the equipment sets, collectors soon had more copies than they could ever use! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection) Click to enlarge.

Most GIjOE ephemera collections began with the first four service manuals printed in the 1960s. Included with each figure and most of the equipment sets, collectors soon had multiple copies. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection) Click to enlarge.

You had it—And threw it away.

An often overlooked aspect of GIjOE collecting is the accumulation of Joe-related paper materials, also referred to as “ephemera.” Somewhat different from amassing a collection of books (see previous article HERE), this category of collecting  includes a variety of “lesser” paper goods such as product brochures, instruction sheets, club newsletters, magazines, comic book ads, catalogs, posters, print advertisements, etc.—wherever GIjOE has appeared in printed form.

Also included with most figures, the ubiquitous “Boot Removal Sheets” came in different sizes and colors, providing helpful tips for removing stubborn footwear. Do YOU have a copy of the rare blue version?
(Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Let’s begin by admitting there’s NO WAY for any one person to know everything about GIjOE ephemera. As its name implies, most of it was intended only for short-term use, before being thrown away and forgotten. The reality is there’s simply been too many products created over too many years, in too many languages (and variations) to know about them all. “Lost” items are constantly discovered by collectors. It’s AMAZING how much material is out there!

Our goal in this article will simply be to discuss the more familiar examples of GIjOE ephemera; their origins, rarity and importance. From there, we’ll open the floor up to YOU, our readers, in hopes that you will suggest your own unique ephemera findings and/or their previously unknown variations.

The Origins of GIjOE Ephemera Collections

Fans of “Golden Age” ’60s and ’70s GIjOEs all began their ephemera collections as children. Instruction sheets, service manuals and GijOE club newsletters were regularly provided by Hasbro during those heady early years, and from 1964 to 1978, it was difficult NOT to accumulate a wide variety of printed Joe materials. Fans who came of age during the “Silver Age” of the ’80s and ’90s (aka the “Classic Collection and RAH Era”) enjoyed another avalanche of new products and related ephemera.

The next piece most fans added to their "Joe ephemera" collection (or used and mailed away) was most likely the club membership brochure. Note its many sizes and subtle variations. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collectiion)

The next piece most fans added to their “Joe ephemera” collection (or used and mailed away) was most likely the club membership brochure. Note its many sizes and subtle variations. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collectiion) Click to enlarge.

During both periods, ephemera-collecting fans will remember leafing through the full-color ads of their Sunday paper and coming across new GIjOE “store exclusives” advertised in Sears, JCPenney, Target or Walmart inserts. “I’m gunna keep this!” you may have wisely decided; perhaps if only to remind yourself to make a quick “Joe Run” later in the week. Then, months later, long after the advertisement’s usefulness had expired, instead of throwing it out, you decided to KEEP that piece of flimsy newsprint. Years later, those old ad are some of the rarest examples of GIjOE ephemera. If you saved them… Smooth move, EX-LAX!

Hasbro wisely inserted attractive, full-color product brochures into many packages to encourage future sales. Always a pleasant surprise, many kids would unfold them and tack them up as posters. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection).

Hasbro wisely inserted attractive, full-color product brochures into many packages to encourage future sales. Always a pleasant surprise, many kids would unfold them and tack them up as posters. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection).

The Catch-22 of Ephemera Collecting

Once a collector realizes all those little pieces of paper are a bona fide part of GIjOE’s “history,” it becomes a simple matter to get caught up searching for them. In no time at all, you find yourself scrapbooking every GIjOE ad, catalog, and brochure you can lay your hands on.

Foreign-based Joes such as Action Man, Geyperman and Action Joe are suddenly fair game. Some ephemera collectors even compile notebooks full of ’80s RAH trading cards and backing data sheets. It’s amazing what people will collect, store and archive.

To take a closer look at this burgeoning segment of GIjOE collecting, I enlisted the aid of fellow Joehead and vintage-fanatic, Robert Findlay. Together, we went through piles of various GijOE ephemera to search for a general representation of this category of collectibles. Here’s just a FEW of the examples we found:

Don't throw those envelopes! Today, one of the RAREST Joe "paper" is the original envelope the ORIGINAL GIjOE club used to send out membership packets. Their unique feature was the little window that showd the big plastic dogtag. The vast majority of these envelopes went right in the trash, leaving very few examples remaining for today's collectors. (Courtesy Robert Findlay Collection)

Don’t throw away those envelopes! Today, one of the RAREST of all GIjOE “papers” is the original envelope that the 1960s Hasbro GIjOE club used to send out their membership packets. Their most unique feature was the little window that showed a sneak preview of the big plastic dogtag inside. Of course, the vast majority of these envelopes went right in the trash, leaving very few remaining examples for today’s collectors. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

You can't call yourself an "offical" fan of GIjOE without one of the original GIjOE club member certificates. Mine was on my wall until I became a teenager and finally took it down. D'oh! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

You can’t call yourself an “offical” fan of GIjOE without one of the original GIjOE club membership certificates. Mine was tacked up on the wall in my room for 10 years until I became a teenager and finally took it down…and threw it away. D’oh! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Talk about RARE. The membership packet also included this super-cool iron-on transfer. I remember my Mom putting it on a white T-shirt which I wore out...and threw away. D'oh! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Talk about RARE. The membership packet also included one of these super-cool iron-on transfers. I remember my Mom putting it on a white T-shirt which I quickly wore out…and then threw away. D’oh! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Another "boring" paper item routinely tossed by most kids in the 1960s-70s, this ORIGINAL "welcome" letter from the Hasbro club is indeed a rare piece of ephemera today. Good luck trying to find one! (Courtesy Robert Findlay Collection)

Another “boring” paper item routinely tossed by most kids in the 1960s-70s, this ORIGINAL “welcome” letter from the Hasbro club is indeed a rare piece of ephemera today. Good luck trying to find one! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Early (original) examples of membership cards too, are now hard to come by. Sure, you can copy this easily, but it's not the same. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Early (original) examples of membership cards too, are now hard to come by. Sure, you can copy this easily, but it’s not the same. Psst! Hey, James Wuerfkin… We know where your card is, dude! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Of course, if you were born 10 years later, the Adventure Team Club was for you! Instead of a dogtag, you received one of these nifty AT pendants, plus the AT-version membership card. WOW! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Of course, if you were born 10 years later, the Adventure Team Club was more your speed. Instead of a dogtag, you received one of these nifty AT pendants, plus the AT-version membership card. Psst! Hey, Kevin Strattor, does this look familiar? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

The Adventure Team era also saw an increase in the production of GIjOE mini-comics. Kids read these so many times, they wore them out! Reprints are available, but original copies in good condition are scarce. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

The Adventure Team era also saw an increase in the production of GIjOE mini-comics. Kids read these so many times, they wore them out! Reprints are now available, but original copies in good condition are scarce.
(Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Vintage GIjOE brochures were so popular (and BIG) that many kids showed them off as posters. Check out this great Marine action! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Remember when toys featured ARTWORK that wasn’t created with Photoshop? Check out the superb paintings of Action Marines in this vintage brochure. Ooh-rah! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Newsletters, flyers and promotional handouts are all historically significant pieces of GIjOE ephemera. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Newsletters, flyers and promotional handouts are all historically significant pieces of GIjOE ephemera. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Instruction pamphlets were included with most Adventure Team equipment sets in the 1970s. Do you have them all? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Instruction pamphlets were included with most Adventure Team equipment sets in the 1970s. Do you have them all? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Helpful, colorful, and now...COLLECTIBLE. Oftentimes, the most commonly discarded items become the rarest. Look at this great AT instruction pamphlet. WOW! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Helpful, colorful, and now…COLLECTIBLE. Oftentimes, the most commonly discarded items become the rarest. Look at this great AT instruction pamphlet. WOW! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Original GIjOE product catalogs provide a wealth of information with their full-color closeup photographs showing all accessories and options for a given year. Reprints are available, but nothing beats an original copy. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Original GIjOE product catalogs provide a wealth of information with their full-color closeup photographs showing all accessories and options for a given year. Reprints are available, but nothing beats an original copy. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Instruction sheets were helpful for the first 10 minutes, then largely discarded. Did YOU keep them all? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Instruction sheets were helpful for the first 10 minutes, then largely discarded. Did YOU keep them all? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

As we poured through the piles of Joe ephemera, we came across some most collectors have never seen before, including this obscure '70s ad for Super Joe's "Laser Communicator." Talk to Joe's dino-buddy with a beam of light. How cool is that? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

As we poured through the piles of Joe ephemera, we came across a few that most collectors have never seen before, including an obscure ’70s ad for Super Joe’s “Laser Communicator.” Talk to Joe’s dino-buddy, Terron, with a beam of light. How cool is that? (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Only collectors of "Super Joe" even know what this is; a

Yes, even fans of “Super Joe” were given a chance to belong to their OWN club. This is one side of the incredibly rare membership form you mailed in to join. (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Don't forget all that foreign ephemera. It's just as much a part of GIjOE history as anything else. Some foreign catalogs of relatively obscure figures such as "Group Action Joe" in France, are the best evidence of sets and equipment most fans have long forgotten—or NEVER knew existed!

Don’t forget all the foreign Joe ephemera out there. It’s just as much a part of GIjOE’s history as anything else. Foreign catalogs such as this one featuring “Group Action Joe” in France, are often the best remaining evidence of these obscure figures, uniform sets, and equipment. (Screenshot: delcamp)

And don't forget GIjOE "knockoffs!" For ephemera collectors, the more obscure, the better. This rare advertisement for the (in)famous GIjOE-knockoff, "Fighting Yank," reveals just how ambitious their plan to copy GIjOE actually was. Very informative old ad!

Don’t forget all of the GIjOE “knockoffs.” And for ephemera collectors, the more obscure, the better. This rare vintage advertisement for the now infamous GIjOE-knockoff, “Fighting Yank,” reveals just how ambitious the Yank’s plans to copy Joe actually were. Fortunately(?), the Yank was taken to court by Hasbro, declared a real dud—and was yanked from the stores! (PGD Inc.)

Major department store catalogs are also a good source of old GIjOE ephemera. This spread in a 1966 JCPenny catalog reveals a new line of "Combat Man" uniform sets the store had produced in an attampt to "piggyback" on GIjOE's burgeoning popularity. (File source unknown)

Major department store catalogs are also a good source of ephemera. This spread in a 1966 JCPenny catalog reveals a new line of “Combat Man” uniform sets the store had produced in an attempt to “piggyback” on GIjOE’s burgeoning popularity. Old catalog pages like this are a great information source when trying to identify pieces of suspected “knockoff” gear or uniforms. (JCP Inc.)

Another outstanding example of GIjOE advertising, this half of a 2-page spread in an FAO Schwartz catalog depicts an exciting scene with exclusive F-15 pilots. WOW. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Another outstanding example of GIjOE advertising, this half of a 2-page spread in an FAO Schwartz catalog depicts an exciting scene with exclusive F-15 pilots. WOW. How could you EVER have thrown this in the recycle bin? (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Die-hard collectors consider any appearance of GIjOE in print is an occasion worth remembering. Here, the MP Joe is looking sharp in another JCPenny catalog. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Die-hard collectors consider any appearance of GIjOE in print, TV or film to be an occasion worth remembering. Here, the MP Joe is looking sharp in another JCPenny catalog. Heck, that helicopter looks good too. Did YOU buy one? (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Here’s one of the best “general audience” ads EVER created for GIjOE. It’s unusual because Hasbro rarely advertises their toys in adult-oriented publications. But because of Joe’s wide-ranging appeal, they made an exception and placed this superb full-page ad in the April 24, 2000 issue of TIME magazine. If you can find an original copy today…GRAB IT! It’s another important piece of GIjOE history. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Another example of the rare full-color ads used to promote GIjOE in the late '90s. At that time, Hasbro's "Classic Collection" line was a brisk seller in stores. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Another great example of the rare full-color ads used to promote GIjOE in the late ’90s through early 2000. At that time, Hasbro’s “Classic Collection” line was a brisk seller in stores, and many adults were setting up their new figures in much the way they are shown in this ad. Look out for that white tiger, Joe! (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Even ads and catalog pages showing vehicles made for 1:6 scale figures are considered as a type of GIjOE ephemera. This nice page from a JCPenny catalog shows a Jeep, Helicopter and the elusive YF-22 from Fairlandtoys. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collectioin)

Even ads and catalog pages showing vehicles made for 1:6 scale figures are considered to be a type of GIjOE ephemera. This nice page from a JCPenny catalog shows a Jeep, Helicopter and the elusive YF-22 from Fairlandtoys. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Convention exclusives also come with their own unique GIjOE ephemera, such as this superb mini-comic featuring artwork by Scott McCullar. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Convention exclusives also come with their own unique GIjOE ephemera, such as this superb mini-comic featuring artwork by Scott McCullar.
(Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Small instruction sheets are regular casualties of the recycling bin, yet many were even educational. This one contained history of confederate flag! (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Small instruction sheets have always been regular casualties of the recycling bin, but many are even educational. This one contained history of the confederate flag included with the Robert E. Lee figure.
(Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Yes, even tiny items such as this ticket stub to a GIjOE movie, can be considered as collectible Joe ephemera. Do YOU have one? (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Yes, even tiny items such as this ticket stub to a GIjOE movie, can be considered as collectible Joe ephemera. Do YOU have one?
(Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

Ah, the "power of print." Some ephemera is just too cool-looking to toss out. The vintage "Counter-Intelligence Manual" is one of those items. Superb! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

Ah, the “power of print.” Some ephemera is just too cool-looking to toss out. The vintage “Counter-Intelligence Manual” is one of those items. Superb! (Courtesy: Robert Findlay Collection)

We can hear you now…”What about all those Andy and George comic book ads from the 1960s? And how about those ‘Your Mom Threw Them Away’ types of posters?” Yes we know there are MANY more pieces of Joe ephemera out there. Much more than we could ever hope to list here.

If you’re interested in joining the search, you can find photos of a multitude of other pieces in various price guides and GIjOE books, but none of them are ever going to be 100% complete. It’s simply impossible for any one source to show them all!

Well then, you may ask, where does GIjOE ephemera collecting end? It doesn’t! But if the producers of TV’s “Hoarders” ever ring your doorbell, peer in your windows, and see a 10-foot high pile of precariously balanced Joe papers in your livingroom…it may be time for you to slow down a bit.

Bottom Line: GIjOE ephemera may be trashed, but it will NEVER be forgotten, thanks to the borderline-hoarding nature of many GIjOE collectors. If you think of any more categories or unique examples of “Joe papers,” please leave a comment here on The Joe Report for other collectors to read. Who knows? Your tip may lead to the next great GIjOE ephemera discovery!

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3 thoughts on “Trashed But Not Forgotten: “G.I. Joe Ephemera;” The Collection of Paperwork & Related Items

  1. kneonknight says:

    Great article, Mark. Some of those items really brought back some memories, especially the Official Letter containing the dogtag. It also made me think about the whole collecting hobby, and I realized that these things are valued by collectors today precisely because during his heyday in the 60s and 70s, no one ever considered G.I. Joe as a collectible, much less the ubiquitous paperwork. The figures were considered toys to be played with, and many were discarded if they broke, although some few were repaired by those with sufficient know-how. But really, just how many Field Manuals or checklists did you need as a kid? Most of those ended up in the trash bin or incinerator, and weren’t given a second thought.

    And that gave me my second deep thought of the morning-that paperwork and those vintage toys are scarce now precisely because they were popular and successful. They were originally viewed as collectibles because they were no longer in production, and very few had survived intact. Thus, many of the original figures and equipment commanded very steep prices, and if a Mint Condition item in Mint Packaging surfaced, prices could climb to four figures or more.

    Unfortunately, several manufacturers (including Hasbro) saw only the dollar signs and did not recognize that “Limited Edition” did not equal rarity (especially when that edition was limited to 100,000 pieces) nor did such items deserve to be labeled “collector’s Items” simply because they existed. Worse, many of these items were priced well out of reach of the average collector, and attracted the parasitic scalpers and such insidious entities as the AFA that artificially boosted the prices to even higher levels of stupidity. It’s no wonder the hobby fell into a slump. Very few of us seem to buy Joes and rip them out of the package now; many collectors have them stored in climate controlled vaults, forever trapped in their cardboard and cellophane prisons where they will never be touched by human hands.

    That’s a damned shame. The real collector’s items are those Joes and Accessories you had as a kid, or the ones you always wanted and never got. And they have a history, whether it be countless battles in the sandbox, endless dangerous adventures to capture rare animals or thwart the enemies of freedom, or simply as cherished childhood companions who never were too busy for you and were always ready to play.

    I wax maudlin. I guess what it really boils down to is that even though I have several dozen of the CC, Timeless, and 40th Joes and AM figures, the ones I treasure most are my ancient Sailor and Soldier, with their dings and dents, their stains and frayed clothing, and the battered footlocker where they wait for their next grand enterprise, their faces set in an expression of calm determination and acceptance. As for the modern stuff? My collection is strictly hands on, with the exception of a handful of impossible to find at any price items. My daughter loves this, as she thinks Ken is unfit to associate with her Barbies.

    And yes, I did set aside a set of Field Manuals from the anniversary line. I actually find the term “Anniversary ADDition” somewhat charming, and fitting in an odd way.

    Good Hunting, my fellow collectors.

    • I’m sure I’ve got a set of those repro anniversay field manuals too, buried within one of my many Joe piles (wish I was more organized). I really think they’re great. Nice, bright clean pages full of vintage GIjOE reprinted intel!

  2. Rich says:

    Can’t agree more! I started collecting the line for nostalgia’s sake, but more importantly, to give my own kids a 12″ GI Joe action figure to make their OWN memories! I figure the only way that GI Joe will continue on past this decade will be if a new generation grows up with their own great recollections of Joes out in the backyard, in the mud, out in the snow or tossed from the top of the stairs. Sure, many of my vintage or 90s Joes sustained some combat losses in that time, but I’m hoping those casualties were worth it. Kids have to have these Joes out of the box to make their own memories to keep the line from fading away (to quote a great military general and yes, great action figure). Awesome writeup! And I still have my old GI Joe Adventure Team certificate proudly on my wall – thanks mom, for saving it!

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