Thursday, 9 August 2018

ERTL Collector Cards - Thomas the Tank Engine 1998

In 1998 ERTL made a series of collector cards for the Thomas the Tank Engine range. The collector cards were printed on thin cardboard but the bright colourful illustrations provided by Owen Bell more than made up for the rather low quality cards. Today we are going to be having a look at the short lived range of cards made available.

There were 60 cards in Series 1, numbered 1 to 60 with three "shiny" cards released. The cards came in random packs of eight and perhaps you could have swapped them with your friends at school at the time. Each card had a illustration of the locomotive, rolling stock, vehicle or person on the front and a brief description on the back written from Sir Topham Hatt's perspective. The cards are slightly longer than standard trading cards and are landscape on the front and portrait on the back.

Although the packets said "Series 1" there wasn't actually a series 2 released, so they only appear to have been made in 1998 and probably 1999. Despite the collector cards being discontinued in their trading card format they were still used on the back of the packaging for each item purchased until the end of production.

The ERTL Collector cards were a short lived dabble into the trading card market for Thomas the Tank Engine. To me they come across as essentially collectable advertising for the range, obviously they are very interesting to see now given how much time has passed since the were released.

In the video below you can see the front and back of the collector cards, but you may want to pause the video to read the descriptions on the back.

As always if you have any questions of comments please feel free to get in touch! 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

ERTL Unboxing Video - Thomas the Tank Engine

As an experienced collector, one of my favourite things to do is to buy job lots then sort through them and pick out the ones I need for my collection and sell the rest. This is how I have gradually built up most of my ERTL collection. Over the years I have bought job lots in charity shops, table top sales and online. I will then go through and swap out those that are in better collection and sell my duplicates. I decided to do this recently and saved the boxes for an unboxing video. 

I am very close to completing my collection of opened ERTL engines and vehicles so I decided to buy some job lots and see if I could make a small profit in the process! I hope you all enjoy the un-boxing video, admittedly it is probably a bit too long as I don't voice over the recording. 

I have been focussing most of my attention on ERTL in recent months. I enjoy looking back through the history of the range and trying to collect all the different engines, vehicles and rolling stock they released. They are all very high quality and although they are not without their faults they are far superior to the merchandise of today. 

I hope you enjoy the video and if you have any questions you know how to get in touch! 

If you are interested in ERTL you may also like: 
ERTL Personalised Money Box:

Friday, 30 March 2018

Vulli Motorised Train Set - Thomas the Tank Engine

As usual we are going to be travelling back in time to have a look at yet another Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise oddity. This is the 1984 Vulli Motorised Train Set. I tried to find out as much as I could about this set, even resorting to signing up to French toy forums, sadly my searches were almost fruitless. 

A ThomasTankCollectables mock-up of the original box! 

The set comprises of an interesting selection of track, a station, bridge, level crossing (of sorts), a signal, some bushes, The Fat Controller, a guard, Thomas and a really rather odd little carriage. Thomas is powered by a double A battery and his tiny carriage is unpowered and coupled to Thomas at all times. The battery is actually loaded by removing Thomas's face, he is turned on by moving his face into the straight position. This allows two contacts to meet and the circuit to be formed.

Vulli Thomas compared to an ERTL Thomas from the same year. 

As you will see in the video my Thomas isn't particularly sprightly and he frequently needs a nudge or two, especially to get around the bends. The face is almost identical to the one we are all familiar with on the ERTL sticker face Thomas and you will see a little comparison in the video. 

Vulli is a French toy company, perhaps most well known for their magic tree-house and giraffe teething toy. I don't think they make all that many licensed toys, so we were lucky to get a Thomas the Tank Engine set. I tried asking about the set on a couple of French toy forums and they didn't seem to know of its existence.

I contacted Vulli to try and find out more about this intriguing piece of Thomas the Tank Engine history. They very kindly went back through their archives and managed to find that the set was listed in the British Vulli catalogue for 1984. They also checked previous and subsequent catalogues, but it was not listed in these. So it appears this train set was only available in the UK for one year. The contact I was talking to said they most likely lost the licence for Thomas the Tank Engine, which is hardly surprising. Given the success of the TV series, it is likely that the price of the licence dramatically increased for 1985. 

1984 Vulli Catalogue, with thanks to Nht Pirate for giving me permission to use these images. You can view the whole catalogue on Flickr

Thomas the Tank Engine centre-fold, what more could you ask for? I love the artwork above the train set, I have not seen this used elsewhere so I expect it was done for this catalogue specifically. Also note the 'NEW!' and 'EXCLUSIVE' boxes on the left, very 1980s. The most important thing you will notice here is that the actual set is very different from the one featured in my video. The Thomas is completely different, the station is more old fashioned, yet the signal is more modern. The track is completely different colours and there are some extra accessories such as the fence. I suggested that this might be a prototype to the Vulli representative I was emailing and he agreed. 

The actual set is completely different to what was released! 

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that little history lesson. If you haven't already, you can watch the video below. As always you are more than welcome to contact me via any of the mediums ThomasTankCollectables is on, but I would recommend email or twitter for a fast response! 

Vulli Motorised Train Set - ThomasTankCollectables YouTube Channel

Monday, 26 February 2018

The Early Days of ERTL

I have to say I really enjoyed making this video and I can only hope some of you enjoyed watching it! ERTL was one of the first brands to start making Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise and went on to be one of the longest lasting ranges. From 1984 to 2004 (in the UK, 2002 in the US and elsewhere) ERTL made high quality die-cast models of Thomas and his many friends, primarily in the 1/64 scale although they did make several different variants over the years.  That means that there are 20 years' worth of models to collect and some of them are becoming increasingly harder to find. 

Sticker Face 

When you start collecting ERTL one of the first terms you will most likely come across is "sticker face", to anyone other than a Thomas fan this really won't mean anything! But to nearly everyone in the Thomas community this has just become a standard term. 

When ERTL first started producing Thomas The Tank Engine models or toys they were made with a paper sticker face. This method of applying a face was soon replaced in 1990 with plastic moulded faces. The paper faces were prone to falling off and getting damaged. Engines 1-7 and Bertie were the only characters released in this original format and as a result all of these characters now have both a sticker face and a 3D moulded face version. This was the basis for the video, a comparison between the original sticker face line-up and their replacements.

Thomas was the only engine released with a decal sheet. 

Interestingly Thomas was the only engine released with a decal sheet. This sheet included his buffer stickers and an alternative face, clearly based on an illustration from Thomas's Train. I have always wanted to take this decal sheet out and scan it, but there is no way I could bring myself to open a packaged ERTL Thomas from 1984! Thankfully SkarloeyFan recently got a packaged Thomas where the decal sheet was right near the edge of the package and he very carefully managed to extract and photograph the decal sheet. He has very kindly allowed me to show it here.

With thanks to @ThomasTankMerch for supplying this picture of a very rare ERTL misprint of Thomas featuring the sad face

All of the sticker faces are quite clearly based on the Railway Series illustrations and although the drawings are quite simple they really capture each character. I personally think the sticker faces have much more character than the later moulded face engines. I feel the moulded faces don't have all that much detail and the facial features are somewhat lessened in the plastic form. The later ERTL models had painted faces and although these were very prone to chipping they were much more detailed. I would be interested to hear your opinions on the sticker faces compared to the plastic faces.

White Running Boards

Another thing that quickly becomes apparent with the early ERTL models is the use of white running boards. By this I don't mean the usual splash of white on an otherwise red running board, I mean literally the whole running board is white, then the red was painted on afterwards! It seems like a bit of a backwards way to do it, but again this was soon dropped in favour of all red running boards for all engines. The only engines that were released with a white running board where Thomas, James and Henry. This makes sense as these were the first three engines released in 1984. Toby, Percy and Bertie were released in 1985, then Edward and Gordon followed in 1988. 

Unfortunately I don't have an unboxed version of James with a white running board! 


There were quite a few minor differences between the first ERTL models and the later releases beyond just the face. The most prominent to me is the differences in the detailing of Percy's whistle and dome. They are quite a lot smaller on the later release. RWS_Collection also pointed out that there are some differences with how far the running boards and side tanks stick out on Thomas. I don't personally know of any other differences, but you are more than welcome to contact me if you do.

Track Systems

I started this video with pictures of the first ERTL Playset. This was a cardboard set that popped out and could be constructed into a little layout. Surprisingly for a company producing trains ERTL didn't actually settle on a track system until as late in 1993. So ERTL had been producing trains without a proper train set for almost 10 years. That shows you just how successful the toys were, they could be sold without even having a track! I can't think of any other Thomas The Tank Engine ranges that have been released without a proper track system.
So the first attempt at a track system came in the form of a illustrated couple of pieces of cardboard. ERTL planned to release a wooden track system, as seen in the 1990 Catalogue, but this was cancelled. In 1994, a moulded plastic track playset was released, before settling on the grey track we know and don't really love today. This was also given a face lift in 2002 to make it more colourful. It had decal track and the plastic was green. I have never been a fan of the ERTL track system, I think it is too wide and makes the engines look very narrow. It is quite clunky to put together as well. I do like the later green track, especially some of the viaducts and bridges. Sometimes you will see job lots on eBay where ERTL models are included with track from other sets, often Hornby Playtrains red track.

I hope you enjoyed seeing all of the original 1/64 ERTL models in all their glory. I also tried to include the ERTL sets and merchandise I have from the 1980s. I really loved looking through all the original models and sets, they are all so good looking. I may have got a little carried away with all the pictures! 

A big thank you to @RWS_Collection for the use of his decal sheet photograph and discussing the ERTL models in preparation of this blog. I would also like to say a big thank you to @ThomasTankMerch for proof reading this and adding some extra details! 

As always you can contact me via Twitter or email:

You may also like: 
ERTL Personalised Money Box:

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

ERTL Personalised Thomas Money Box - Signed by Ringo Starr

This was a bit of a birthday present for myself and what a present it was! Today we are going to be having a look at an ERTL Thomas money box signed by the then narrator of the TV series Ringo Starr.

Image Credit: Thomas Wikia (Why is his flag black though?) 
Ringo Starr is better known as the drummer of The Beatles, but to us Thomas fans he is known as the first narrator of the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends TV series. Despite only narrating two seasons he has had a lasting impact on Thomas the Tank Engine. For example in the UK the series has always had a Liverpudlian narrator since the debut of Ringo Starr. Beyond that many Thomas fans grew up with his voice as the first two season's episodes were featured on so many of the compilation video tapes we all had and probably still have! I know I do. He also provided the narration for the Ladybird audio cassettes. You can read more about Ringo Starr in an article from the Radio Times.

I have been collecting Thomas the Tank Engine and Railway Series merchandise for a long time now and I can't say I have ever come across any merchandise signed by Ringo Starr. I am sure it does exist, but it is certainly a rarity, especially now that he has stopped autographing merchandise for fans. So I was incredibly excited when I came across this fantastic piece of Thomas history. Ringo has signed the actual toy itself on the side and, perhaps because it was rather faint, he has also signed the top of the box.

The Model

No, this isn't a reference to a Kraftwerk song! I have never actually owned the ERTL Thomas money box before, I have seen it in old advertisements though. I don't think it comes up all that often. It was released in 1985 and as you can imagine it is a basic retooling of the Remote Control Thomas from the time or vice versa. The only differences being the lack of traction tyre, guide wheel and obviously wired control. It comes with a simple piece of brown track that you can 'personalise' by writing your name on the front.

On the back of the box it mentions two toys, the remote control Thomas and a "Radio Controlled" Thomas. Was the Radio controlled one ever released? I can't say I recall ever seeing one. I imagine it would be a noisy back and forth affair, much like the RC one, just without the cable to trip over! 

The Comparison

In the video I have provided a brief comparison of the model/toy (no need to get triggered) to the other Thomas's in the ERTL range at that time. These are the Remote Control, Motorised and standing 'free-rolling- die-cast. To clarify there are three RC Thomas's included in the video, two un-boxed (one with remote control, one without) and one boxed. I deliberately selected the versions with the white running boards, despite those not necessarily being the best condition. I have also provided some picture of an old RC Thomas I found still in box. The boxed one was so shiny! You can literally see the signed one reflected on the side. It has a British address, but the packaging is more like Shining Time? Did the British range use the 'Shining Time' packaging at the time (1992)?

As always, if you spot any inaccuracies please feel free to comment or attack me on twitter (@TTCollectables).

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Thomas the Tank Engine ERTL Haul

I was delighted to find a large job lot of ERTL models in a charity shop recently. It is so rare these days to find collections such as this, especially given that the range was discontinued back in 2004. I actually saw them in the morning and came back later in the day to buy them as I didn't have my money with me the first time! I knew they wouldn't sell and I was right. The whole lot cost me £24.50 ($31.66USD, $39.82AUSD). As many of you will already know I put together a video showing what came in the job lot. 

I bought these to swap out the better condition ones with my own collection and add a bit more rolling stock and track to my collection. Out of all the engines and vehicles the only one I didn't personally own was Bulgy. So I was very pleased to finally add him to my collection. I was also surprised to see that the models were in remarkably good condition for their age, especially the gems of the lot - Emily and Spencer. As many of you will know, the models released in the latter years of the series are particularly difficult to find and frequently fetch quite hefty sums of money on online auctions. 

Above are the three main treasures from the 'haul', Spencer, Emily and Bulgy. All in wonderful condition, they really are splendid models or toys?! For those of you wondering, I sold off all the doubles, so hopefully they will bring as much joy to someone else as they did to me. If you bought any ERTLs recently they may well have been featured in my video!

I really enjoyed doing the simplistic remake shots, the ERTL models look so good that you don't even need scenery. The quality of the models speaks for themselves really. I think they sacrificed playability (wheels, track, couplings; see below) for quality and accuracy, which is not really a problem to me. 

Snapshot Review

I am not going to do a full review of the ERTL range, but here are some of my thoughts. I personally think they are some of the closest models to the TV series and I think they have a nostalgic connection to a great number of people in the community. But, they are certainly not without their faults. 

The Good
  • Appearance - they look very much like the TV series models and they are very photogenic. 
  • Nostalgia - they are the go-to classic range for all collectors! 
  • Quality - they are made of good quality die-cast metal with very little plastic. 
The Bad
  • Couplings - the couplings frequently snap, the more modern couplings are not always compatible with older rolling stock and often snap as well. Sometimes the engines will have very small female couplers, which can prove troublesome, furthermore the male couplers are often missing. 
  • Track - maybe it is just me, but I think the track is too wide and the engines just don't look very good on it. 
  • Wheels - the wheels are frequently wonky and are too small in my opinion. 
  • Faces - I think some of the faces lack detail, especially the earlier models. 
Believe it or not, I really do love ERTL! 

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little post and the video. Please feel to post your comments below or on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube

Watch the video above! 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Edgar Hodges Jigsaws

First of all apologies for the lack of videos in recent months, I have had all of my final year exams for University. With those out of the way I now have some time to rediscover my Thomas the Tank Engine Collection. This time we are going to be having a look at some lovely Railway Series merchandise dating back to 1980. 

Edgar Hodges was an illustrator used by Kaye & Ward for a brief period between around 1979 and 1980. He provided illustrations primarily for the two annuals released in 1979 and 1980. Surprisingly there were no further annuals released until the dawn of the TV series, so between 1981 and 1984 there were no Railway Series/Thomas the Tank Engine annuals. Both the 1979 and 1980 annuals feature Thomas in the cover giving some indication to the central role he would take in the later TV series. In addition to the two annuals Edgar also provided illustrations for the Famous Engines colouring books and the three jigsaws shown in my most recent video. 

Two of the jigsaws featured in the video are essentially recreations of existing Railway Series illustrations by John T. Kenny, with both being from the 17th book of the Railway Series - Gallant Old Engine (1962). Edgar is faithful to the original illustrations but expands the scenes a bit and adds some more passengers. It is quite interesting to compare how the two artists differ, a comparison is provided in the video. The final jigsaw depicts the Skarloey Railway engines along with Nancy the Guard's daughter. Nancy first appeared in Gallant old Engine, but the illustration by Edgar Hodges may also be based on an earlier illustration provided by John T. Kenney for The Little Old Engine. 

But have a look for yourself and see what you think! Please feel free to leave comments below or on the video. 

With thanks to the Thomas Wikia for information.