Friday, June 25, 2021

The one that almost got away: Nintendo Time Bomb (タイムボーン, 1965)

Earlier this week, an online sale on Yahoo Auctions Japan made some heads turn in Nintendo collector circles.

Firstly, because the final bid was for a whopping ¥256,555 (around US$2300 or €2000). Secondly, because the sale involved a Nintendo toy that was virtually unknown until a week ago.

It's name is Time Bomb (タイムボーン) and it dates from 1965.

Yahoo Auctions Japan bidding war - July 24 2021

This particular toy was so unknown that it did not appear in any overview of Nintendo vintage toys, nor in any of the books covering this period of Nintendo's history. Not a single image of it could be found online.

No Nintendo Time Bomb in these books

There was one exception though, although I did not learn about that one until this week as well.

In 2019, an interesting book was published by Kohei Takano (高野 光平), called 「発掘! 歴史に埋もれたテレビCM 見たことのない昭和30年代」, or "Excavation! Never before seen TV commercials buried in showa 30s history". It covers a wide selection of examples from 1955-1965, which are the early days of television commercials in japan. [Amazon Japan link here.]

The 2019 booklet that includes a reference to Nintendo Time Bomb

One of the commercials included in Takano's book is... Nintendo Time Bomb. This ad aired in 1965 in Japan, and shows that the toy retailed for ¥600.

Images of the Nintendo Time Bomb TV commercial (from Kohei Takano's book)

However, for the origins of this toy we have to travel to the United States.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Nintendo Napoleon playing cards

In Nintendo's early playing card manufacturing days, they carried a number of different brand names and trade marks. It's a familiar marketing tactic used to gain market share.

A key brand was Napoleon, named after the French 19th century emperor Napoléon Bonaparte.

Other brand names used at the time by Nintendo were Standard and Victor.

In the first decades of the company, Nintendo took inspiration from more established playing card manufacturers abroad, in particular from the United States. This included copying card designs, absorbing expertise, as well as re-using existing brand names.

It is not known if this happened with the full consent of the other companies, as part of business deals or partnerships, or if this was an act of creative 'borrowing' or straight-up plagiarism. Fact is that a manufacturer named The Standard Playing Cards company existed in the United Stats already before Nintendo was established, and it appears that American companies also used the Napoleon name, possibly referring to the card game with the same name.

An interesting article, in Japanese, on this somewhat hazy part in Nintendo's history can be found here.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Nintendo company guide 2019

In 2019 Nintendo released another instalment in their (almost) yearly series of booklets created for prospective employees of Nintendo of Japan, sent out to people who applied for a job during the yearly hiring cycle in Spring.

After the unusual shape of the 2018 company guide, Nintendo returned to a more standard format for the 2019 guide, with some small surprises.

The booklet measures 25 by 17 centimeters. It has 64 pages. The front and back appear to be a very bland monochromatic white.

On closer inspection, and at the right angle, a Nintendo logo can be seen, printed in clear varnish. A little red bit is peeking out in the bottom corner.

This little corner is inviting you to peel off the white cover, and this reveals the actual front (and back) that shows a splurge of (some very familiar) faces. For a peek at the back, see the bottom of this post.

With some imagination, the design of this 'peel-off' cover can be seen to represent the Nintendo company and the Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto: calm, solid, but also distant and somewhat non-descriptive on the outside, and brimming with energy and excitement on the inside.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Nintendo company guides overview 1999-2020

Over the last twenty years, Nintendo has released a new company guide (almost) every year. These are well designed booklets about what goes on inside the Nintendo headquarters in Japan, with a lot of information and many pictures, most of which are exclusively shared in these guides. They provide an unique insight into what it is like to work at Nintendo.

In the past, I have covered a few of these company guides on this blog, and I intent to share the others as well. This overview page functions as an easy place to access these posts.

Company profiles 1993 and 1998

These two company profiles are sort of precursors of the company guides. Aimed at investors rather than employees, the are somewhat simliar in content to the company guides below, although they showcase mostly released products rather than behind the scenes stuff.

A detailed post about the 1993 company profile can be found here, and 1998 will follow later.

Company guide 1999

The first of the (known) company guides created for prospective employees was released in 1999.

More details coming (hopefully) later. If you have one of these for sale, I would love to hear from you.

Company guide 2000

More details coming (hopefully) later. If you have one of these for sale, I would love to hear from you.

Company guide 2003

After a hiatus of two years, in which no comopny guides were released, a new one appeared in 2003.

More details coming (hopefully) later. If you have one of these for sale, I would love to hear from you.

Company guide 2004

More details coming.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

First mention of Nintendo in USA newspaper (1931)

The image below is the first known appearance of the Nintendo company name in a USA newspaper, maybe even the first mention of it outside of Japan.

We see a set of Hanafuda (花札), a type of Japanese playing cards, produced by Nintendo. The company name is written in Japanese kanji characters (任天堂), in right-to-left reading direction, as was common at the time.

At the time of this publication, Hanafuda were Nintendo's bread and butter, and Nintendo was one of the most well-known playing cards manufacturers in Japan.

The newspaper in question is The Daily Notes of Friday December 4 1931, published in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Nintendo playing cards from the 1960s

Some time ago, I posted about a Nintendo playing cards sample book, which showcased the range of playing cards sold by Nintendo in the late 1960s.

The book contains a single card for each of the sets on offer.

Today I thought it would be fun to share some of the actual sets alongside with the sample book.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Meet the collectors | Fabrice Heilig update part 2

In part 1 of this special Meet the Collectors update, we introduced you to Fabrice's wonderfully executed dream idea: building a dedicated place for his Nintendo cards collection in his back garden, modelled after Nintendo's birth home in Kyoto Japan.

Now it's time to take a look inside!

Fabrice: "As you can see, my card collection has really grown since the previous Meet the Collectors post back in 2012. I still find items, but less often than before. I have also become a bit more selective, although I still buy on impulse every now and then"

"Nowadays the prices of some items are increasing a lot, and I'm glad that I could start this collection a long time ago."

"As some of my favourite items, I still love the two Nintendo sample book [shown in the image below], but also my two 24K gold Nintendo cards. I really like these."

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. The search continues!

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

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.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Nintendo paper model leaflet from mid 1970s

Welcome to 2021 and best wishes to you all. We will start the new year with a couple of short posts featuring some recent finds.

Shown in the picture below are two one-page leaflets for Nintendo products from the mid 1970s that I acquired recently; one of the Paper Model (ペーパーモデル) series and the other for cards games.

These leaflets were part of Nintendo's sales material and used to promote new products to potential (wholesale) buyers from toy and hobby shops. They are about A4 size and printed double-sided in color.

In this post we will take a look at the Paper Model one, and the other one is shown in more detail in a next post.

The front side shows a description of the Paper Model series and an overview of fourteen models in the Vehicle Series (のりものシリーズ). These were fun card board hobby sets, retailing for a modest ¥100.

Paper Model leaflet - front (1974)

At a later date this series was extended with two extra ones, bringing the total different vehicle models to sixteen. [As an aside, although most of the Paper Model series still is not that difficult to find in Japan these days through Yahoo Auctions, these last two models are much rarer.]

Paper Model leaflet - back (1974)

The back of the leaflet shows two other series available at the time: the Building Series (たてものシリーズ)...

... and the Zoo Series (どうぶつシリーズ).

Not shown on the leaflet is the fourth series with more elaborate Paper Model sets, the so called Panorama Series (パノラマシリーズ), which was released later in 1974.

The leaflet also shows two display options available to shops: a counter stand (86 centimeters high) and a floor stand (148 centimeters).

To find out more about the Nintendo Paper Model series, check out this previous post.