Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The 1973 Count Puppet Box

This photo was found at this link:

Not long ago, back in late 2014, a photo of the original 1973 box for the plastic head Count puppet surfaced online for the first time (shown above). The origin of the plastic head Count puppet had long been a mystery for Muppet collectors, and fans had to accept the reality of living with a long list of unanswered questions. At first glance this single photo seems to have shredded that long list for good.

However, as I had always supported the theory that this puppet was made by Topper/Educational Toys, discovery of this photo was a mixed bag. Admittedly, my first reaction was to become a "doubting Thomas". It had seemed so illogical to me that Questor/Child Guidance had produced this puppet. For starters, the style is all wrong. The puppet is made with soft plastic just like the Topper puppets while Questor used hard plastic, it's larger than the Questor puppets and to scale with the Topper assortment, and Questor produced a fabric head Count puppet in 1974 so it seemed to me that it was unlikely they had also produced the plastic head version. Even as I write this I'm still feeling sceptical. The photo just seems too staged for my liking, and the box itself has many oddities about it.

Firstly, it's odd that Questor would reuse the same picture of the boy from their Oscar box. Every other box, including the 1974 fabric head Count box, shows a different child on the box. More importantly, the image on the Count box looks edited rather than natural as the puppet is much smaller than it should be compared with the boy. (The Oscar box shown above is from 1974 but the same image of the boy with Oscar was used for the 1973 Oscar box and again for the 1977 Oscar box.)
This image of the 1974 Count box with the fabric head Count puppet is from an e-bay auction that ended April 23, 2015, found at at this link: http://www.ebay.com/itm/371187571226

However, compared with the bizarre looking 1974 box for the fabric head Count puppet the newly discovered 1973 box seems to fit. The girl doesn't look like she's holding the puppet as the bottom of the puppet sleeve is to perfectly even, just like the plastic head count shown on the 1973 box image. In this case however the puppet at least looks to be in scale with the girl, and the photo of the girl is unique to this box.

Detail of the 1973 Count puppet box.
Then I noticed the title on the 1973 box. Under the Count's name it says "Hand Puppet/Marionette" which seems to have been an attempt at including French on the packaging. However "puppet" in French is spelled "marionnette", so the box is missing an "n". "Marionette" with one "n" is the English spelling which is used specifically for string puppets not hand puppets. In French however, "marionnette" with two "n"'s means any kind of puppet, not just string puppets which would specifically be called "marionnette a fils" while specifically referring to a hand puppet is "marionnette a gaine". In addition the top of the box only has the English text "Hand Puppet" without the French text, so if this is supposed to be a bilingual box what's up with that? Shouldn't the top of the box be bilingual too? I'd be very interested to see the sides of the box and the back to find out if any bilingual text was included.
Hmmm... okay, so there's a typo, I can accept that for now. The difference between "marionette" and "marionnette" is confusing. But why the sudden need for a bilingual title on the box in the first place? This seems to be catering to the belief that the plastic head Count was sold only in Canada, but none of the other boxes for Sesame puppets sold in Canada were bilingual. If Questor was starting to accommodate bilingual text on boxes in 1973, then why wouldn't they have made the 1974 fabric head Count box bilingual as well, or any of the 1977 boxes? Fact is, aside from this mysterious 1973 Count box, not a single box in this series was issued with bilingual text during the entire decade that these puppets were in production. Also, on all the other boxes the text for "Hand Puppet" is curved around the Sesame logo, but here on the 1973 Count box it's in a straight line. Perhaps this is because the bilingual text was too long to curve? Perhaps a bilingual title was used because Questor knew that the puppet was only going to be sold in Canada? Perhaps it was just being test marketed which is why this puppet is so rare?

That's a lot of assumptions! And the bilingual box isn't very bilingual... but okay, for now I'll just go along with the idea that the box was issued as bilingual with a typo despite none of the other boxes being bilingual, recycled the picture of the child from the Oscar box despite the 1974 Count box showing a new picture, and was issued only a year before Questor produced their fabric head Count puppet. Hold on though! I still have another criticism of the photo in question. It shows that the puppet was packaged with an insert, while most of the boxed Questor puppets in my collection don't have an insert. In fact out of the eight Questor boxed puppets that I own only one, a Cookie Monster from 1977, has an insert. Those that originally came with arm rods all still have their rod, so it seems odd that all of the inserts would go missing if all of the previous owners had chosen to keep the puppet in mint condition in the original box complete with the arm rod. To me, it doesn't seem likely that the Count would have been packaged with an insert.

Then I wondered, would the puppet even fit into the Questor box with an insert? So I decided to do an experiment!

First, I attempted to recreate the positioning of the original photo with little success. I used my Ernie box as it's from 1973, the same as the Count box in the photo. It's also the most beat up box I have in my collection so I didn't mind donating it to this little test. The box insert is from the 1977 Cookie Monster puppet, as it's the only insert that I have, and I used Ernie's arm control rod. I left the Count's cape collar on as I didn't want to disturb the way it is tied. His tongue had already fallen off some time ago (I have it safely tucked away) as the glue had dried out, so it makes sense to me that the puppet in the photo is missing the tongue. The photo of the Count puppet on the 1973 box doesn't have a monocle, so that apparently solves a long and great debate - the puppet did not originally come with a monocle! The Count's foam arms are quite thick and don't bend easily on their own, so this photo was the best I could do (shown above). Fair enough, looks like the puppet in the original photo is the same size as mine, so I gave this first test a pass.

Next I tried to fit the puppet in the box with the insert. I was highly sceptical this would work. My first attempt was to put the puppet in as it is seen in the photo, with the puppet sleeve through the hole in the centre of the insert. The result is shown above. Epic failure!

So I tried a new approach and inserted both of the Count's arms through the hole in the insert so that only the Count's head was on the top half. This was closer, but still no luck. The head was too big and the ear stuck out. This position even ripped the box a little at the corner, as you can see above.

All the plastic head puppets that I have in a box don't have the insert, so I tried that too. It seems the most logical solution to me and it did work. The Count's long arms fit inside the box without any trouble and the head fit in too. But the fact remains. I need to do this with the insert, so I tried again....

This time I put the puppet in head first, which is how I found the Grover puppet in his box when it arrived from e-bay. This allowed me to bend the Count's arms, and voila! It worked! It's a tight fit, but there was just enough room for the arm rod and if I had the loose vinyl cape to add it could have fit in as well. I could have also turned the box upside down before putting the puppet inside, as then the puppet would be packaged right-side up. None the less, it still seems rather unnecessary to have the insert at all, and it takes extra effort to fit the puppet in the box with the insert. The arms are quite scrunched up, and I wonder if the foam tube inside the arms wouldn't eventually stay in that position if left like that for several years, not to mention decades? In any case, I did fit the puppet into the box with the insert, therefore regardless of how impractical it may be to package the puppet this way, it does actually fit!
Okay, so my "doubting Thomas" test to prove this box could not have held the puppet has instead made me stop being such a sceptic. The box in the photo seems more like the real deal, which is quite remarkable! But there is still one critical and very logical question that the photo of this 1973 plastic head Count puppet doesn't answer:
If Questor went through the expense to produce a mold for a plastic head Count puppet, had designed a box for it and was manufacturing the toy, then why would they only produce it for less than one year? Why replace it with the fabric head version in 1974? For me, that question will need to be answered with some reasonable evidence before I accept that this box is legit. (Ernie and Bert were not switched to a fabric head version until the 1977 boxes, two years latter, so it seems unlikely that would have anything to do with the mystery surrounding the Count puppet.) To date the only scrap of information I have that might answer this question came from a High School friend who told me that he had one of the plastic head Count puppets when he was a kid. He recalled only having the head which had a hole at the end of the nose. When playing with the Count puppet in the bathtub, he remembers filling the head up and pouring the water out through the nose.
That there was a hole at the end of the puppet's nose might suggest that the mold was difficult to produce. There are several pointed areas on this puppet (tip if the nose, the teeth, the goatee, the ears) and when the head is turned upside down it would be difficult to get the liquid rubber to flow up into them, especially without bubbles forming. This is yet another assumption, but perhaps Questor had trouble manufacturing the plastic head Count mold in 1973 which is why they switched to a fabric head version in 1974?
I'm not done being sceptical yet though! Muppet fans David and Jeff have done an excellent job documenting their research about the plastic head Count puppet in their ongoing discussion from 2011 to 2015 on the Muppet Central forum, at this link:
During their discussion in 2014 they discover that the 1973 Count puppet box seen in the e-bay photo was the same one used in a second e-bay auction paired up with a fabric head Count. If the box is so rare please explain how it is possible to have sold the same one twice on e-bay? Thank you David and Jeff for your excellent research! Got-cha e-bay scumbag! Of course, as the box is being misrepresented by the owner on e-bay as having been paired up with two completely different puppets in two separate auctions, it goes without saying that the authenticity of the box is also questionable.
So it seems that my previous long list of questions about this puppet has simply been replaced with a new one about the 1973 box. And although I'd really like to accept this 1973 box as being genuine, I just have too many questions and concerns about too many pieces of the puzzle that don't fit together. I do find it exceptionally strange that if the owner of the 1973 box was trying to sell it on e-bay, knowing that it was so rare and wanting a good price for it, why wouldn't they have included more than one picture? Why not show the box from different angles so that sceptics like myself would be able to have a better look? Perhaps the owner of that box doesn't want sceptics to have a better look? If I could examine the 1973 box for myself it would certainly go a long way to help resolve my concerns. 
So for now I'll hold on to my "doubting Thomas" scepticism and conclude that if in fact this is the real box for the plastic head Count puppet.....
That's one! One extremely rare Count puppet box! Ha Ha Ha! ...Ka-Boom!

Text and original photos © Mike Artelle