Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Meet the collectors | Fabrice Heilig update part 1

In today's post we are revisiting the collection of French Nintendo collector Fabrice Heilig. Fabrice was one of the first collectors featured on this blog, back in 2012.

At the time, Fabrice already owned an extensive collection, with a broad selection of vintage Nintendo toys and games, including many playing cards sets.


Fabrice in front of the second Nintendo office in Kyoto (2019)

At the start of this catch-up, we are of course curious to hear what happened over the last nine years.


Fabrice's Nintendo playing cards display in 2012

Fabrice: "Since the previous interview, I had a change in my professional life, as the company where I worked for 20 years closed down. So I had to make a readjustment in a new work environment. In my collection, over the years I focussed increasingly on Nintendo's playing cards."

"As must be recognisable to other collectors, when the collection expanded I ran out of space to keep and showcase it. When looking for a solution, I thought about adding an extra room dedicated to the playing cards, as they have my special interest as the foundation of Nintendo."


Fabrice's Nintendo playing cards display in 2020

"By end of 2018, an idea formed in my mind to create a reproduction of the first Nintendo building to house that part of the collection."


Nintendo's first building in Kyoto, where the company started in 1889

"As this Nintendo building was destroyed in 2004, unfortunately, I had to rely on the few existing pictures to base my design on."

Saturday, February 13, 2021

San-o Popeye Table Flicker (サンオー パイ テーブル フリッカー)

Nintendo's third president Hiroshi Yamauchi, the great-grandson of company founder Fusajiro Yamauchi, built the company from modestly successful playing card manufacturer to a global entertainment powerhouse, becoming one of the wealthiest people in Japan in the process.

During his fifty year long reign over Nintendo, he was always willing to stick out his neck, try new things and take risks. Many of his bets did pay off, though not all. No success without failure.

One of his unsuccessful, but not less fascinating, business endeavours from the early 1960s was a range of convenience food products, created under the name San-O ("サンオー" or "three Os"). 

Very few of these products have survived to this day. Finding one is a big thing for a collector of vintage Nintendo items.

Two versions of Popeye Flicker by San-O (early 1960s)

Last year I posted about a San-o seasoning product called Popeye Gold Flicker (ポパイ ゴールド フリッカー). Just recently I acquired another version of this Flicker.


This one is called Popeye Table Flicker (ポパイ テーブル フリッカー). The container is the same size as that of Popeye Gold Flicker, but it is made from carton and paper, rather than from tin.

The contents are identical: a seasoning that was used as topping for rice. This container was intended to be used at the diner table, hence the name.

Unfortunately... empty

Unlike the Popeye Gold Flicker tin, Popeye Table Flicker has a top that can be re-closed after use.


Like a number of other San-o products, the American cartoon sailor is used for branding and advertising the product. Popeye wasn't the only character used by San-o; some of their products used Disney figures to attract extra sales. These products clearly were targeted to families with children.


Popeye is a well chosen endorser for this product, given his healthy and strong image. According to the text on the container, Popeye Table Flicker contains vitamins and calcium, as well as spinach!


I am very happy to have found another piece of San-O history. The item that now tops my wish list is a packet of San-O rice. Given that these disappeared from the marketplace about sixty years ago, that will not be an easy task.

San-O Rice advertisement

The search continues!

Previous posts about San-O can be found here and here.

Thank you to tabikougaku for kindly sharing a scan of the leaflet.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Green Stamp's gift catalogue from 1966 reveals Nintendo toy range from before Ultra Hand

In today's post we will cover a gift catalogue from 1966. It contains interesting information about Nintendo at the time of publication.

In overviews of the history of Nintendo, the Ultra Hand released in the same year, is sometimes presented as the first Nintendo toy, that shifted the company from mere manufacturer of playing cards to a broader toy company.

And although the Ultra Hand was the first toy that was wildly successful for the company, and helped solidify their position in the market, this catalogue shows the much broader range of products they produced in the mid 1960s.

Green Stamp's catalogue and stamp booklet

The 24-page full colour catalogue is for a loyalty program called Green Stamp's (or グリーンスタンプ in Japanese).
 
Green Stamps was one of the first retail loyalty program in the United States, founded as Sperry & Hutchinson (S&H) Green Stamps in the first part of the 20th century, and brought over to Japan in the early 1960s.

As an aside, as part of the Japanse localisation, an oddly placed apostrophe was introduced in "stamp's", possibly because the last 's' was dropped in the Japanese katakana spelling 'スタンプ' which reads as 'sutampu'.


Retailers participating in the program bought stamps from the Green Stamps organisation, and handed these to customers as a bonus for shopping at their stores, thus strengthening loyalty. The number of stamps received depended on the sales amount.

Customers would stick the stamps in booklets - which involved a lot of licking of backs of stamps to moisturise the glue - while dreaming of the wonderful gifts to collect one day.

This catalogue, called "exchange list" (引換品リスト), shows all the items available to get for free, in exchange for certain amounts of completed booklets full of stamps.


These gifts could be viewed and picked up at Green Stamp's showrooms, located throughout the country, as well as at smaller collection points.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Nintendo cards sets from the 1970s

The previous post featured a sales promotion leaflet for the Nintendo Paper Model series from the mid 1970s. Today we will take a look at an other leaflet from that same period, which I also acquired recently.

This one advertises various educational card series that Nintendo offered at the time. These cards focus on Japanese language, vocabulary and poetry, and they were used to play various games.

1970s Nintendo cards leaflet (front)

One side of the leaflet shows the range of so-called Iroha Karuta (いろはかるた), that are aimed at children and feature colourful drawings related to the topic (animals, vehicles, school etc).

A more extensive description of these cards and how they are used was given in this older post.

Two of the Iroha Karuta sets feature historic scenes from the former capital Kyoto (京 いろはかるた) as well as from ancient Tokyo, called Edo at the time (江戸 いろはかるた).

Edo and Kyoto Iroha Karuta sets

Moving to the back of the leaflet (or is this the front?), where a whole range of Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) card sets is shown.

1970s Nintendo cards leaflet (back)

We haven't covered these cards on this blog yet, which is actually surprising, as they are an important early product of Nintendo, next to Hanafuda. Nintendo has been producing these (almost) from the start of the company, and still sells these to this day in Japan.

Hyakunin Isshu means '100 people, 1 poem [each]'. The game that is played with these cards, called Uta-garuta, is a one of the most well known traditional family games in Japan, that is also played at a more serious competitive level.

Similarly to the Iroha Karuta sets, the set contains matching pairs of cards. In this case, each pair contains a card with a strophe of a well known poem and a card with the first syllables of that strophe. 

During the game, the players have to recognise and grab the card with the full poem when the those first syllables are read out. It's a game that requires memorising skills, as well as fast reflexes.


A total of 100 card pairs is included in a Hyakunin Isshu set, by 100 different poets. Hence the name. An age-old standard set of 100 poems is used, called the Ogura set, named after the district in Kyoto where the scholar who compiled this set lived in the 12th century. The full name of these set is Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (小倉百人一首).

The table at the bottom of the leaflet shows the wide variety of sets offered. In the basis these are all the same, featuring the same set of poems. The difference lies in the quality of the material of the cards and the storage boxes. The prices go from ¥1.000 for the simplest sets up to ¥5.000 for sets that are more beautifully decorated and have cloth covered or hard plastic boxes.

For more on the Iroha Karuta cards, check out this earlier post.