Vintage New Zealand Action Figure Cardbacks
The cardbacks of vintage Star Wars action figures are a big part of the vintage nostalgia phenomenon, with their bold logos and famous chrome “racetrack” border. These packaging items are, in fact, often seen as collectibles in their own right. During the early years of Star Wars mini-action figures, specifically 1978-1982, when many licensed Star Wars toys were being bought into the country by Toltoys NZ Ltd (read about the Toltoys company history here) imported figures were sometimes packaged on locally printed cards in kiwi factories. The printing of the New Zealand cardbacks was presumed to be done using slightly different processes and/or equipment and using slightly different cardboard than their US equivalents, making them quite unique to our country. Read on for a summary of identification details for these vintage New Zealand Star Wars Cardbacks in each of the following categories:
- Star Wars Toltoys Logo cardbacks (12-backs, 20-backs)
- Star Wars 21-backs
- Star Wars Transitional 21-backs
- The Empire Strikes Back 32-backs
- The Empire Strikes Back 48-backs
- Cardback Gallery
Star Wars Toltoys Logo cardbacks (12-backs, 20-backs)
Toltoys 12-back and 20-back cards (i.e., those that have images on the rear of the card showing the 12 or 20 available characters in the full figure set, depending on the time of the release) can be immediately recognised due to the blue Toltoys logo on a black background on the bottom right on the front of the card, beneath the character photo. In some instances, the logo is on a wide oval (these earlier 12-back figures were imported from Taiwan), while in others the black background behind the logo fills the full width of the character photo (12-back and 20-back figures, sourced from Hong Kong) – see images in the gallery below for examples).
Unlike the US Kenner SW12A, SW12B, and SW12C cards, the rear of the Toltoys 12-back cardback does not advertise the Collector’s Action Stand. Consequently, the design on the rear of these cards has a lot more black space and the vehicle images are at the bottom of the card. There are known variants where the figure measurements are presented in millimeters (either as production printing, or as overlying stickers to the left of the character names), and even an error version where reference “Toltoys” on the rear bottom right is misspelt as “Toltotys”.
Not all of the early cards sold in New Zealand had the Toltoys logo… there were also numbers of otherwise similar cards that bore the standard Kenner logo. Toltoys, as a toy brand in general, was well known in New Zealand in its heyday, and Star Wars products bearing that company name strike a particularly nostalgic chord amongst collectors who remember them from their childhood.
Star Wars 21-backs
The New Zealand-made 21-back cardbacks are visibly shorter than their US counterparts. They are also printed on a cardstock that is noticeably less glossy on the back, resulting in muted colours and lesser-quality photos. The white of the chrome racetrack border on the rear of the card, in particular, has quite a dirty tint.
On the rear of the card, all NZ 21-backs are equivalent to the US SW21B, which features pics in the lower third of Land of the Jawas playset, Patrol Dewback, Droid Factory, Creature Cantina, and the Action Figure Collector’s Case.
In the absence of a Toltoys logo, the NZ versions of these cards may be a little harder to spot at first glance. There are other clues though, relating to the clear plastic figure bubbles, which had a squared-off pyramidal shape, and had an extension piece at the top (a “header” extension) unlike the rest-of-the-world’s bubble that had an extension piece at the bottom (a “footer”). Even if not present, the bubbles leave marks showing their shape and size. A couple of different bubble shapes were used, sometimes in sizes that were a poor match for the figure they contained – compare the image below of a US Walrusman card (left) and an NZ Walrusman card (right), where distinctly different bubble sizes are evident. The 2nd and 3rd pics below show the remnants of the squared-off, pyramidal bubble with “header extension”.
Finally, the hole-punch is slightly left-shifted (front the front; right-shifted when looking at the rear) and is a slightly different shape and size. See the images in the gallery below for more examples of this. The points in the Star Wars logo on the back of the card that the hole-punch goes through can give clues as to whether this is a New Zealand card (e.g., the word “Star” is spared from perforation in the image below), but position alone shouldn’t be relied on too heavily, as any shifted alignment of the graphics on the rear of the card will complicate this.
- Dimensions of NZ variant: 149.5mm wide x 222mm tall (compared to US cards at 153mm wide x 228.5mm).
Star Wars Transitional 21-backs
At some point in time near the end of the production of Star Wars logo 21-back cards, printing was shifted to a different, slightly larger format, using the printer and card configuration that would subsequently be used for The Empire Strikes Back logo cardbacks. This resulted in a short run of transitional 21-back cards that are the same size as ESB 32-backs.
On the rear of the card, all NZ transitional 21-backs are equivalent to the US SW21B, which features pics in the lower third of Land of the Jawas playset, Patrol Dewback, Droid Factory, Creature Cantina, and the Action Figure Collector’s Case.
The bubbles on these cards are the same oversized, squared-off shape as the ESB 32-backs (i.e., they don’t have the “header extension” that the 21-backs had), which are, again, different from the US versions.
- Dimensions of NZ transitional cards: 154mm x wide 230mm tall.
The Empire Strikes Back 32-backs
The New Zealand-made 32-back cardbacks, which represent the shift to the Empire Strikes Back logo on the front, are visibly wider than their US counterparts. This size difference is less than the height difference of the 21-backs though (first image below, NZ card at front). The other production differences (in cardstock, print quality, hole-punch shape and position) that were seen with the 21-backs are present here too. The variances in glossiness, colour saturation, and hole-punch position (relative to the logo on the back of the card) can be seen in the second image below (NZ on left, US card on right). Related to the hole-punch shape, there is also a slight difference in the radius of the rounded corners between the US and NZ manufactured cards.
As with the 21-back figures, bubble size and placement was a bit random and differs from the US equivalents. The bubbles themselves were different too, in that they were often oversized, and had a squared-off shape but without the “header extension” that the 21-backs had. Below is a comparison pic of two Bespin Security Guard cards of NZ origin, showing the remnants of two dramatically different bubble positions.
The rear of the NZ 32-backs come in two versions: the first is equivalent to the US ESB32A, which advertises the Snowspeeder, Millennium Falcon, and Imperial Attack Base, and the second is the ESB32B, which has photographs showing off the Hoth Ice Planet Playset, Star Destroyer Action Playset, and Darth Vader Action Figure Case.
The unique NZ-made ESB 32-backs seemed to be a lot more prolific locally than some of the earlier NZ variants such as the Toltoys logo cards. All of my 32-backs from my childhood are kiwi versions, and they stand out against the imported 32-backs that I have since purchased from overseas as an adult.
- Dimensions of NZ variant: 154mm x wide 230mm tall (compared to US cards at 151.5mm wide x 228.5mm tall).
The Empire Strikes Back 48-backs
The New Zealand variant of the Empire Strikes Back 48-back is a truly unique design that gained visibility when it was described in John Kellerman’s “Star Wars Vintage Action Figures” guidebook in 2003. The feature that makes it unmistakably kiwi is the white box on the rear where the barcode would normally reside, which bears the text “Marketed in New Zealand by Toltoys NZ Ltd under license from General Mills Creative Products Pty Ltd Australia”. It also has a distinct white circular space for retailers to write in the price, where the proof of purchase is found on US cards. Other distinguishing aspects include the matt finish of the printing on the rear of the cardback, small radius corners, and an unmistakable, flat-based peg hanger hole. The cardback is otherwise similar to the US ESB48A, promoting the Scout Walker, Rebel Transport, Tauntaun, Wampa, and Mini-Rigs.
The presence of direct reference to New Zealand on these very rare cards is a cool feature. Most 48-backs available in New Zealand at the time of their original release did not have this text. Only a small number are known to have survived through to today, making them quite sought after.
- Dimensions of NZ variant: approximately 151.5mm wide x 228.5mm tall.
All of these slightly peculiar New Zealand vintage Star Wars cardbacks came about just because of quirks in the way toys were historically bought into the country, up to about the early/mid ’80s. Most young collectors at the time probably had no knowledge that some of their toy packaging had idiosyncrasies not present in that of the Star Wars mini-action figures kids in the US were playing with. Because of this, in combination with the low volume of Star Wars toys distributed in our small, remote country, only modest numbers are still around… but the subtlety of the 21-backs and 32-backs in particular mean that many more may in fact remain unidentified, yet to be discovered and celebrated as significant New Zealand-specific collectibles.
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If you have cardbacks or carded figures from your childhood in New Zealand that you would like assistance in verifying, use our contact form to get in touch and discuss.
New Zealand Star Wars Cardbacks Gallery
Many thanks to fellow kiwi fans who contributed images or loaned cards for photographing: Nick TePaa, Paul Ireland, and Corey McMurtrie.