Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hans Beck, founder of Playmobil, dies.

The man who invented one of the core toys of specialty toy stores in the United States, has died at the age of 79.
According to the Playmobil website, in 1971 Beck was asked to create a system toy for his employer, geobra Brandst├Ątter. Beck created the signature Playmobil figure - the 'clicky.' At just under 3 inches tall, it was the perfect size for little hands. The figure was also articulated, allowing for both the arms and legs to move. The hands were shaped in a kinda U shape, allowing for the clicky to hold things like tools, swords and more.
Apart from a Dutch customer, buyers at the 1974 Nuremberg Toy Fair reacted hesitantly, but soon the demand exploded for the classic toys. Beck always worked under his motto "no horror, no superficial violence, no short-lived trends," which is why you've never seen 'Star Wars' Playmobil figures.

The clicky figures remain remarkably similar to the ones he initially designed. More than 2.2 billion of the clicky figures have been produced and popularity for the toy has only grown in the last year. Still made in Europe, Playmobil has bucked the trend to move manufacturing to China.

Playmobil has established a somewhat fanatical following, with websites like Collectobil, Playmofriends and Just For Klicks. There is even a Facebook fan page with over 150,000 fans. There is also a category dedicated to Playmobil on ebay, where people pay hundreds of dollars for old and rare sets, like this 1990's era Western Train Set (at Mitchell's, we sold piles of these - we still put one around our Christmas tree).

My favorite Playmobil set? I remember when we first were getting Playmobil at Mitchell's in the 1990's and they sent over some displays. One of the displays was a Playmobil bulldozer set - which included the bulldozer, a construction clicky and, of course, a six pack of beer. Ah, those Europeans. Drinkin' beer and drivin' bulldozers. Yee-ha!

Playmobil is much larger in Europe, where it enjoys a reputation much like the huge toy companies in America - comparable to Hasbro and Mattel.

No comments: