The P.I. Toy Chest

Treasures from the Past (and Present)

Of course, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so here's a short list of diversions for those of you who like to play. Or to collect. For games on the Web, and live, interactive Mystery Games, check out the Other Diversions in our Mystery Links section.

  • Asta Plush Toy
    (1940s, manufacturer unknown)

I'd pass off the existence of this plushie as simply wishful thinking from collector geeks, but my mom often told us how much she treasured hers. It would have been made in the late thirties or early forties, when my mom would have been a star struck young tween, and William Powell and Myrna Loy starred as Nick and Nora Charles in the lucrative Thin Man franchise. This stuffed toy of their beloved wire-haired terrier Asta stood about 15" high, and 15" long, and sported a red collar and a leach with "ASTA" in white letters on the collar.
In 1960, the Smile Novelty Toy Company of Brooklyn apparently also manufactured an Asta stuffed dog, no doubt as a tie-in to the Peter Lawford-Phyllis Kirk TV show. This one supposedly measured 15" high and 20" long.

  • Circle K Private Eye Toy Cap Gun
    (1950s-60s, Kilgore)

I'm not sure what year this came out (I'm guessing the late fifties/early sixties), but back when every boy was expected to have his own arsenal of toy weapons, Kilgore was a pretty well repsected American toy manufacturer that made all sorts of toy guns, mostly tied in with TV westerns. But they made room on their roster for this snazzy, gold coloured "private eye" model. Heck, I know it's a private eye gun because it says private eye right on it!

  • Have Gun Will Travel
    (circa 1959)
  • The popularity of this provate eye/western hybrid among both parents and kids pretty much guaranteed that there would be several tie-in toys made available. Besides the obligatory Gun-and-Holster set, there was a Derringer set (both from Halco of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, whose toys guns were known for their quality). There was also an action figure, complete with horse from Hartland, and even a Paladin Checkers Set, from Ideal.
  • The Shotgun Slade Shotgun Set
    (1960, Actoy/Esquire)

Hey, kids! Just in case the Circle K Private Eye Gun above wasn't enough, this hybrid weapon from the hybrid private eye/western TV show Shotgun Slade might do the trick. Be the first on your block to get this "authentic" two-in-one rifle/shotgun that Shotgun himself carried! The set included plastic shotgun shells and a special "shotgun" holster. And it even came with a badge! But don't laugh! Recently a set in great condition sold at auction for over 2000 simoles!

  • The Honey West Doll
    (1965, Gilbert)

Was this the first TV private eye tie-in? This 11.5" tall poseable figure of the "TV Private Eye-full" was licensed from Four Star Television by the Gilbert toy company, who had also released James Bond Secret Agent 007 and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., dolls. The Honey West doll was hollow plastic, jointed at the shoulder and hips, with vinyl swivel head and arms, and sported "life-like" honey blonde rooted hair with original style and a pin point black beauty mark on her right cheek. She didn't really look much like Anne Francis, but she did come suited in her two-piece black judo leotard and gold belt with holster, a cap firing pistol, binoculars, high heel shoes and "horn-rim" glasses, presumably for undercover work. "Exciting outfits" and "action accesotries" were also available.

  • Inch High, Private Eye Book Blaster
    (1973, Gilbert)

This "Spring-Powered Notebook-Sized Gun" came with 50 yellow plastic "bullets" and the stern warning that it was "Not recommended for Children." Yeah, that makes sense...

  • Charlie's Angels Dolls
    Too many to sort out.

Just what every little girl wanted: her very own girl detective -- with matching accesories. Over the years there have been countless versions. The obvious ones, of course, were the original Jill, Sabrina and Kelly, but also there were even tie-in Barbies to the two films. Plus the usual games, dresser sets, watches and jewelry.

  • J.J. Armes: The Detective with Interchangeable Hands
    (1976, Ideal)

Real-life one-armed private investigator J.J. Armes' 1976 biography, co-penned by Frederick Nolan, inspired a series of toys from Ideal, no doubt hoping to capitalize on the "Bionic Man" craze. The figure came with various interchangeable "action" hands, including suction cups for climbing walls, a magnet for hanging onto steel structures, a machete, a pair of false hands for undercover roles, a hook that converts to a pistol and a pair of spring loaded hooks. There were, of course, numerous accessories available, including a Mobile Investigation Unit with a "Super Hook."

  • Corgi Vega$ Ford Thunderbird
    (1978, Corgi)

The classic red T-Bird was a model kit, and a couple of Corgi minatures. They released a smaller, Hot Wheels-sized version, but the larger one, which included a tiny Dan Tanna figure, complete with drawn gun, is the one to get.

  • The Shaft Action Figure
    (2000, McFarlane Toys)

Who's the nine-inch tall black dude thatt digs like a plastic sex machine to all the chicks? For fans of the 2000 remake of the original blaxploitation flick, this collectible from Todd MacFarlane productions, part of the Movie Maniac III series, hit the spot. As with all McFarlane Toys, this one benefited from some pretty sharp attention to detail and came in a classy (and of course very collectible) box.

  • Hot Wheels Retro Series
    (2012-13, Mattel)

Man, if they'd had these when I was a kid... Mattel sure took its time, but this die cast blast of pure nostalgia is better late than never. Their 2012 Retro Series was aimed specifically at collectors who were fans of cars and other vehicles from popular films and television series. Among those of interest to P.I. fans? Jim Rockford's Pontiac Firebird, Simon & Simon's 1985 Camaro IROC-Z, 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air Convertible and Rick's 1980 Dodge Macho Power Wagon and Magnum P.I.'s Ferrari 308 GTS (of course), but also the Volkswagen Sunagon and even cooler: the Island Hopper Helicopter.

  • The LEGO Detective's Office...Buy it!
    (2015, The LEGO Group)

If you build it, they will come. Part of their Creator Expert series, this detective-themed kit may be the ultimate in (brick) worldbuilding for the young or young-at-heart mystery buff. It's essentially a two-building cityscape (complete with sidewalk, streetlight and newspaper vending machine), featuring a pool hall, a barbershop, a bathroom, a kitchen, a rooftop water tower and of course, gumshoe Ace Brickman's private office. Ace's inner sanctum comes complete with desk, lamp, filing cabinet, fan, painting, newspaper, menu, wanted poster, a safe full of clues and valuable evidence, and a hidden wall compartment for, you know, secret detective stuff. Richly detailed, with an easy-to-remove roof and ceilings so you can really get into it. Figures include Ace (of course), plus Al the barber, dart player, pool player, a police woman, a mysterious femme fatale in red and -- for the cozy lover -- a cat. Measures over 10" high, 9" wide and 9" deep. Assembly required, but that's the whole point, bub.

And finally...

I'm not even sure what the hell this is,
but it's definitely a private eye of some sort.
It says so right on the box.


Some Cool P.I. Model Car Kits

Some Classic Private Eye & Detective Board Games

Some Early P.I. Videogames

Puzzles and Other P.I. Games

Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Further suggestion welcome.

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