Jaws Collectibles – Rack Toys
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking a look back at Jaws merchandise from the 1970s, both official and unofficial. As one of the first movies to really capitalize on licensing, Jaws has become the prototype for blockbuster movies ever since. Of course, licensed toys don’t necessarily equate to quality as we’ll see in this week’s focus on Jaws-themed rack toys.
What are rack toys, you ask? Let’s defer to the man who, in my opinion, is the definitive subject matter expert, Brian Heiler. He is the author of Rack Toys: Cheap, Crazed Plaything and the mastermind behind the website Plaid Stallions where all things 1970s are celebrated.
A rack toy is a fun toy that broke really easily. They’re impulse items, toys that usually weren’t TV-advertised or sold at toy stores. If they were sold at a place like Toys “R” Us, they were in the front aisle, that kind of gifty aisle. But rack toys were primarily sold through five-and-dimes, pharmacies, or variety stores, all similar to dollar stores today.
Anyone who was a kid in the 1970s throughout he 1980s remembers these well — they were often the easiest things to talk parents into buying simply because they were cheap. Ironically, the fact that they weren’t made to last is exactly what makes them so collectible today — they had scarcity built right in.
Jaws, and for that matter, sharks, was perfect fodder for rack toy manufacturers. Simple designs without any real character elements made it easy to churn out generic sharks and label them as official Jaws toys. These throw-away toys are now some of the most highly sought after Jaws collectibles.
One of the cool things they do over at previously-referenced Plaid Stallions is provide scans from 1970s consumer and business catalogs. Here’s a page from the 1976 Imperial Toy catalog showing the different licensed Jaws products they offered:
See the rest of the 1976 Imperial Toy catalog at PlaidStallions.com
Another toy company that was capitalized on the Jaws craze was Chemtoy. They were already making rubber sharks when the movie hit and were smart enough to become a licensee and simply slap a Jaws sticker on their current loose shark toys.
Here’s mine. He’s in pretty rough shape and I can’t tell you if he was pre-license or post. I don’t recall him ever having the Jaws sticker, but even if he did his time on the bath tub, pool and ocean would have taken care of that.
I’m not sure if the dog got ahold of him or if one of my younger siblings used him for a chew toy, but he’s clearly seen better days. Hardly in the ‘collectible’ category at this point, but fun to have anyway.
With license in hand, Chemtoy released a carded version of this same hard rubber shark and also introduced a carded soft rubber shark, which has become quite collectible and rather rare. The picture below is from a listing on eBay for $399.
Click this link to see all current eBay listings for these toys.
My recollection of the mid-70s is of shark toys being everywhere. I spent my summers at my grandmother’s place in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Jaws-mania was alive and well in this beach resort. As a kid, I didn’t care if the shark toy was official or not and I had Jaws beach towel as well as multiple shark/Jaws t-shirts. Since I didn’t see the movie, I wasn’t afraid of the water the way so many others were. I just remember loving all the shark stuff and consuming as much of it as I could talk my parents into letting me get.
What was your favorite Jaws / shark toy?