Originally, Topper/Educational Toys only offered six characters (top row, left to right): Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Grover. These were sold individually on cards and in two different boxed gift sets of five characters each. Oscar and Grover were alternated in the gift sets, with boxes changed to have the correct character's name under the puppet. The set with Oscar was clearly the original boxed version of these puppets as there is an illustration of Oscar's trash can on the box insert behind the character. This was not removed from the packages when the sets with Grover were produced. The other four characters remained the same, and in the same position, for both boxed sets.
Child Guidance offered five additional Sesame Street characters that Topper/Educational Toys did not make. These are (bottom row, left to right) Roosevelt Franklin, Lefty the Salesman (which was marketed simply as "The Salesman"), Sherlock Hemlock, The Count, and Herry Monster. That being said, I wouldn't be surprized if the Topper/Educational Toys finger puppet set had included Roosevelt Franklin as well, as they did make a hand puppet of the character. So far however, I have yet to see a Topper/Educational Toys carded Roosevelt finger puppet. Child Guidance introduce a Roosevelt finger puppet into their collection in 1974 along with Lefty the Salesman and Sherlock Hemlock. The Count and Herry Monster finger puppets were not introduced until 1978, by which time the Roosevelt, Lefty and Sherlock finger puppets had all been discontinued.
Although the Child Guidance 1974 product catalogue introduced the three characters "Roosevelt Franklin, The Salesman, Sherlock Hemlock" as being "new", they had already been offered in the 1973 Eaton's Christmas catalogue (shown above as seen on page 460). As such these toys may have been available as early as September 1973 in order for them to be included in the catalogue, which would have been distributed in October 1973. Here is a link to a website about vintage department store catalogues that explains the release dates of these catalogues in more detail: http://www.collectorville.net/index.php/ct-menu-item-3
That being said, a picture of the Sesame Street toy hand puppet "Anything Muppet" shown on the same page just below the finger puppets is clearly a prototype, as it is nothing like the actual toy that was produced. This brings into question weather or not toys pictured in this Eaton's Christmas catalogue had been available in stores prior to the catalogue being created. In any case, it's clear that the toys would have had to be available at some point in late 1973 if they were being ordered for Christmas 1973!
The Eaton's catalogue also offered the finger puppet characters in sets of three, however these would have been the individual carded figures as they were never packaged by Child Guidance in sets of three. Department stores often grouped small individually carded toys into sets, such action figures or these Sesame finger puppets, as this simplified selling such toys through a catalogue.
Here is a link to a site that has the entire Eatons 1973 Christmas catalogue available for viewing: http://184.108.40.206/~wishbook/1973_Eatons_Christmas_Catalog/index.htm
Unfortunately, the hats for Lefty the Salesman and Sherlock Hemlock brake off easily which makes them hard to find complete. Today, carded Roosevelt, Lefty and Sherlock examples are quite hard to find. However of all these Sesame finger puppets, the Count and Herry Monster are the most difficult characters to find as they were added to the collection in 1978 and discontinued in 1979. Yet, even though they are both rare, in my experience Herry seems to show up on e-bay more often than the Count. As such, I find the Count finger puppet is super rare and very hard to find in any condition.
Update Nov 2016: I'm very happy to finally add the Child Guidance Count finger puppet to my collection! Talk about being late to the party! Even though he has some issues with the paint flaking off and his purple is a tad faded, I'm very glad to have him and to at last complete the set...Yayyy!!! :)
The Count finger puppet for the 1970's Child Guidance set is holding the numbers 1, 2, 3, not to be mistaken with the 1980s Applause finger puppet of the Count, which has one arm raised up and no numbers! The Child Guidance Count finger puppet is quite rare, while the Applause Count finger puppet is not rare at all and can be found quite easily. I've seen e-bay auctions for the Applause Count finger puppet asking crazy amounts. Don't get tricked! The Applause Count, as awesome as it is, is not worth more than $5, and even that is generous!
When Questor/Child Guidance took over the Sesame Street finger puppet line, they sold the puppets on cards and, according to their product catalogues, offered two different boxed gift sets. However, I have never seen either of the Child Guidance boxed gift sets on e-bay or in photos of people's collections, which makes me wonder if they were actually produced. The first Child Guidance gift set was from 1973 and had the same characters as the Topper/Educational Toys set, with Grover as the fifth character. The characters were even packaged in the same order as the Topper gift set in the same style of box, but the box graphics were completely different. The second Child Guidance gift set is quite bizarre as it replaced Bert and Grover with two less popular characters, Sherlock Hemlock and Lefty the Salesman.
There are a number of variations for most of these finger puppets, including the colour of plastic used, paint colour, and even a moulding variations that makes differences in sculpting details and size. They can also be found with no markings on the bottom, or "Made in Hong Kong" marked in small letters or in larger letters, or "Made in Taiwan" in large letters. Here are a just few examples of the variations from my collection:
Ernie and Bert are both available with rooted hair (as shown above and below), with fake fur hair or with sculpted hair. The last two variations are less common. Ernie was originally sold with his nose painted burgundy (above left), which was later changed to red (center and right). His shirt was also later changed to light blue (right) instead of dark blue. Even the orange plastic of his face can be lighter or darker.
Here is an example of the size difference for the Bert finger puppet.
All of these Cookie Monster finger puppets are different! The first one on the left has separate eyes that were attached with just the iris painted, while all others have the eyes sculpted as part of the mould and are completely painted (both the white and black). The "attached eyes" Cookie Monster is the Topper/Educational Toys version from 1971. The next three each have different sized pupils and use different thicknesses of plastic making some softer than others. The last one is light blue instead of dark blue plastic, and is quite solid.
Here is the Topper/Educational Toys Big Bird finger puppet on the left, next to a Child Guidance Big Bird finger puppet. Notice the detail in the feathers for the Topper/Educational Toys version is more pronounced than the Child Guidance copy. It is also made out of softer plastic.
I only have two examples of Grover, very dark blue and a lighter dark blue. I've seen an even lighter blue version as well.
Variations for the Child Guidance Roosevelt Franklin finger puppet: The one on the left has an unpainted yellow shirt (it is yellow plastic), while the one on the right has an orange painted shirt over top of the yellow plastic, while the yellow collar is left unpainted.
I have two different Lefty the Salesman examples, though this may just be the plastic greying over time. The puppet on the left is made with a darker, greyer tinted plastic than the one on the right. The green paint for the puppet on the left is also slightly darker, more of a mossy green, while the one on the right is bright green. Unfortunately Lefty's hat breaks off easily so it is often missing from loose copies, as is the case with the puppet on the right.
Sherlock Hemlock variations include very dark green paint for his outfit, on the left, and a brighter dark green (if that makes sense!) on the right. The face paint is also slightly darker for the puppet on the left. As with Lefty the Salesman, Sherlock Hemlock's hat breaks off easily so it is often missing from loose copies, as is the case with the puppet on the right.
I'm not aware of any variations for the Count or Herry Monster, though I doubt there would be any as they weren't made for very long.
The Sesame Street finger puppets also have a wide variety of packaging which is fun for collectors! I have yet to start down that road however! The packaging and puppet variations get even more diverse if the internationally produced toys are taken into consideration. As with the larger hand puppets, Vicma produced variations of these finger puppets in Spain and other markets, however Herry and the Count seem to only have been available in North America.
In Mexico, the toy company Lily Ledy produced Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster and Oscar, as well as Abelardo (an orange crocodile) and Paco (a green parrot) from "Plaza Sesemo" as finger puppets, adding two more characters to the collection! They're on my wish list to own someday!!!
More Sesame Street Toys
Here is the Fisher-Price Little People Playset that was made in 1974. Eight figures were included with the playset. Above are Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Oscar. I'm missing the three human characters: Mr. Hooper, Susan and Gordon. Other than the street sign I'm missing all the assessories too. That being said, I'm glad to have this set as I put it together very slowly over the years, piece by piece! I also have Herry Monster so I'll have to add a photo of him here eventually. Fisher-price also made a boxed set of the original eight figures that were to be used with this playhouse, as well as a clubhouse playset that included figures of Roosevelt Franklin, the Count, and Grover. The final boxed set of figures included Snuffleupagus, Prairie Dawn and Herry Monster, and is very rare to find.
Here is the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer which was very popular in its day. Kids would insert a cassette and then look through the end of the toy while turning the red crank shown above. You could make the movie go very fast or very slow, backward or forwards. It sounds simple by todays standards, but this toy was honestly hours of fun!
Fisher-Price produced a wide rage of licenced cassette tapes for this toy including several Sesame Street films. The toy was introduced in 1973 and the first Sesame Street cassettes were sold in 1974. I have the Sesame Street cassette "Cookie Monster in the Kitchen" which has a copyright date 1977, but was apparently not included in this series until 1986. Below is a view of the other side of the toy.
Here are the three film cassettes that I have: Sesame Street, Disney's "Lonesome Ghosts" and Charlie Brown. Here is a remarkable web site that documents all of these Fisher-Price cassettes: http://www.thisoldtoy.com/fisher-price/dept-1-audio-vis-mus/f-movie-viewer/a-index.html#4
Here are four different sizes of the large-sized Knickerbocker Cookie Monster plush toys from the 1970s, along with the smaller 8 inch plush toy for size comparison. This series also included Grover, Oscar and Snuffleupagus (all shown below). A plush toy of Herry Monster was also offered in this series for a very short time and therefore is harder to find. This was a very popular series of plush toys in its time and was made through to the early 1980s. The toys are quite crude looking and shaggy, however taking a moment to gently comb the fur will improve the look of them. (I have a plastic brush set aside that I use only for puppets and plush toys.) Shown here, left to right, are 20 inch, 17 inch, 15.5 inch, 12.5 inch plush toys of Cookie Monster, with the 8 inch toy in front. The 20 inch Cookie plush toy is a bit creepy to have around, so I keep it packed away in a bag! :)
Here is the hang tag from the 20 inch Cookie Monster. It has a price tag sticker that says "RED'S $14.99". I bought this one with the 17 inch Cookie plush toy on e-bay around 2005. The back view of the hang tag is shown below. The copyright date is 1975. Click on the photo to see a larger view.
Here is the tag from the 17" Cookie Monster. The back view is shown below and is slightly different from the 20 inch tag. Once again, the copyright date is 1975.
I've noticed a variation for the 12.5 inch Cookie Monster's eyes. The toy shown here on the left has smaller sized irises painted more to the front of the eye, while the toy shown on the right has larger irises painted more towards the top of the eyes. This second version has a manufacturers tag that says "GANZ BROS TOYS LTD. Toronto, Canada". This was the Canadian distributer for Knickerbocker.
Talking versions (with pull string) of these toys were also made. I have a talking 16 inch Oscar in my collection (shown below). After posting this Muppet Memorabilia Museum page, I've received comments and e-mails from folks who had the talking Cookie Monster and Grover. No word yet if there was a talking Snuffleupagus.
Here are four different Knickerbocker large sized Grover plush toys. Shown here , left to right, are 28 inch (top of head to toes, 17 inch sitting), 19 inch (with legs), 17 inch (with legs), 20 inch (with legs.
Grover was made in two styles, with an open mouth or a closed mouth. It is my understanding that the open mouth version was the original style available in the early or mid 1970s, and the toy was later modified to be the closed mouth version offered in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s. My reasoning has to do with Grover's eyes....
The earlier version of these Grover plush toys had eyes that were made out of two oval pieces of thin plastic (or vinyl), one black and one white, that were attached with a black button fastener as the iris. This is shown above on the light blue Grover, which has an open mouth. The eyes are rather cheep looking and break easily. This style of eye was very common on toys that were given out as prizes at carnivals or fairs in the 1970s.
Later versions of Grover plush toys have eyes that are each one plastic piece and painted with the white and black parts of the eye, as shown above on the dark blue Grover toys, which have a closed mouth. This is likely an improvement that was added to the toys at some point to phase out the cheaper two piece eyes. Note however that the black iris for each of these was painted differently, with the one on the left more rounded that the one on the right. The Grover on the right is the shortest one that I have. For some reason, it's filled with Styrofoam pellets (again, like the plush toy prizes from carnivals) rather than soft polyester stuffing.
In the mid 1970s Grover's eyes were modified again to have a full circle iris painted, which is what Grover's eyes should have had all along.
Fuzzy and Blue: I've also noticed that light blue Knickerbocker Grover plush toys are not as common as the dark blue version. The light blue Grover shown above is the only one I've ever seen. Usually the open mouth Grover toys have dark blue fur. As this is an earlier version it is possible that the company was still trying out the colours for each character to see if dark blue or light blue fur looked better, or if one sold more than the other. Note that the large Cookie Monster toys shown above are all light blue, but the character is actually supposed to be dark blue. Yet, Knickerbocker only made the smaller 8 inch sized plush toy of Cookie Monster dark blue (shown above). The Child Guidance Cookie Monster puppet is also dark blue. As these were the first ever plush toys of these characters, Knickerbocker had to figure out how to sell them and the colour choice seems to have been an important piece of the puzzle. Cookie Monster plush toys have been light blue, or bright blue, ever since with only a few exceptions while Grover has always been dark blue.
Here is the hang tag from the 28 inch Grover. It has a price sticker that says "RED'S $15.78". I bought this from the same e-bay seller that sold me the two Cookie Monster toys with hang tags. The back of the tag is shown below. The copyright date is 1976 (instead of 1975, as noted on the Cookie Monster tags).
Here are the large Knickerbocker plush toys of Oscar, in two different sizes along with the two 8 inch toys for size comparison. Shown here, left to right, are 19 inch (with legs), 16 inch (with legs), and the 16 inch talking version. For some odd reason, Knickerbocker made Oscar with a red felt tongue even though Oscar doesn't have a tongue. The 19 inch version shown here has a tag on the back that has the GANZ BROS TOYS info. Notice the different colours and thicknesses of brown fur used for the eyebrows for each of these. The third Oscar (the non-talking 16 inch toy) is missing the plastic eyes as they would break easily, so I have Styrofoam ball halves in place to hold the shape. This plush toy is also a lighter green than the others. I got this one for my ninth birthday in the early 1980s from my Aunt, who took me to Toy City at Westgate mall to pick out a toy. I was allowed to spend nine dollars, and even though Oscar was $9.99 my aunt bought him for me anyways! :)
Here is a closer look at the 16 inch talking Oscar. The front and back view are shown. He has a metal ring attached to his pull string. I'm quite lucky that this talking Oscar toy still works, as these talking toys are often broken. Oscar has six different sayings:
"Have a yucky day!"
"I live in a trash can"
"Be a Grouch like me!"
"Don't pull my string!"
"I love trash"
"Want a Sardine Sundae?"
Here is a side view to show the shape of the toys (though it looks like this could be "The Great Migration of the Snuffleupagus"). Snuffy is made in a sitting position. The USA 15 inch version of the toy (with hang tag) is much slimmer than the Canadian/Ganz 15 inch version. Below is a top view to show the different sizes of the tails.
The Canadian/Ganz Bro Snuffy (right) has much smaller irises that the USA version (left).
This photo seems kind-a rude! :) Snuffy has a mouth/lip attached under his trunk. The mouth for the 15 inch Canadian/Ganz version (center) is larger than the USA version (left).
The USA version of Snuffy also has a different tail, which is made and stuffed as part of the body of the toy, while the tail on both sizes of the Canadian/Ganz version is much smaller and is sewn in at the seam (which allows it to wag side to side).
Here is the hang tag for Snuffy. The back view is shown below. It has a copyright date of 1976. Click the photo to see a larger version.
Here are the many different sizes of Ernie and Bert rag dolls made by Knickerbocker in the 1970s. I'm missing the 15 inch Ernie doll. The clothes (shirt and pants) are removable from all of these dolls except for the smallest size. I once saw a giant sized version of the Bert rag doll that was about five feet tall sitting down! Likely there would have also been a matching Ernie. Needless to say, those giant sized dolls are quite rare. Toy vechicles such as a truck or bicycle were made for the smallest size rag dolls. The smallest size also had other characters in the set, including Oscar, Cookie Monster, Big Bird and the Count. A plush car was made for either the 6 inch or 9 inch dolls (I'm not sure which). Talking versions were also made, likely for the 15 inch dolls. The Count (shown below) and Betty Lou were also made as rag dolls in this series. Here are the sizes: Bert came in 27", 15", 10", 7" and 4.5". Ernie came in 25", likely 14" (to match with 15" Bert), 9", 6", and 4".
Here is a 7" Bert with removable shirt and pants next to a 6" Ernie with removable shirt only. The pants are sewn on as part of the doll. The last 6" Ernie (on the far right) has the clothes printed. A plush car with plastic wheels and a working horn was made for these 6 inch dolls, though I have never seen it in the original box. Knickerbocker was also making Disney rag dolls at the time and made a similar plush car for their Mickey Mouse Club series. It came with 6 inch dolls of Mickey and Pluto. I found a picture of the Disney car in the original box and assume the Sesame car came in similar packaging.
These miniature rag dolls were sold with playsets and vehicles in 1976 as part of a series called "People in the Neighborhood". Here is a list of items:
Ernie cowboy set with plastic horse, saddle, and cowboy hat
Cookie monster airplane set with plastic red plane, suitcase and back pack
Big Bird and playset with tire swing and slide
Small boxed sets:
Ernie with an ice cream truck
Bert with a fire truck
Bert with a police car
Oscar with a garbage truck
Cookie Monster with a yellow truck (not sure what type of truck)
Big Bird with a mail truck
The Count with a taxi
Large boxed set:
Ernie and Oscar Motorbike: a motorcycle that has a trash can sidecar, a gas station with gas pump, and a traffic light
Camping set: with Ernie, Oscar and Big Bird, a plastic red truck, canoe, and tent. The Big Bird that comes with this camping set has plastic legs and printed, illustrated feathers, which is quite different from the carded Bid Bird.
Sesame Express train set: comes with at least four train cars, tracks, Big Bird and Cookie Monster
Knickerbocker also made tote bags with a pocket on the side that held a miniature rag doll, though I'm not certain if it was the 4 inch or 6 inch doll. I recall seeing one with either a Cookie Monster or Oscar doll in the pocket. Today the tote bag is not as common as the playsets, but they were quite popular back in the 70s.
This is the 14" Talking Count rag doll by Knickerbocker. I've shown it below next to the 15" Bert for size comparison. This doll is broken and no longer "talks", but originally it had a pull string on the back. The 15 inch Ernie and Bert rag dolls were available in the 1975 Wards Christmas catalogue. I'm not certain specifically when the Count doll was made, likely the mid to late 1970s.
That's one! One missing pair of pants! Ah! Ah! Ah!
The many eyes of Bert.
Here are some variations that I've found for Bert's eyes. On the left is the original version with felt eyes (with a ripped off unibrow, ouch!), then the thinner fabric eyes, then the last two have progressively larger irises.
Knickerbocker/Ganz Bros. made variations of these Bert and Ernie dolls that are wearing pyjamas. I only have the Bert doll though. These pyjama version dolls are far less common than the original dolls. Unfortunately this doll has a seam on his left arm that has come undone.
This is the portable Big Bird Radio made in the mid to late 1970s. I found this one at a thrift store with the radio section missing, so now it's just a hollow figure. The nest section is where the radio was installed. The Big Bird figure is made from soft rubber similar to the Child Guidance finger puppets that were popular at the time. The same company that made this radio also made one with Ernie and Bert attached to the top. Below is the back view.
The other card shown above (Slide D) has pictures of Grover, Roosevelt Franklin, Magic Mumford, Oscar the Grouch and an Anything Muppet boy on a TV set.
(Photo coming soon!)
The very first Sesame Street PVC figures that were sold in North America were made 1974 by Questor/Child Guidance and sold in boxed sets of three. Here are two variations of the Betty Lou figure which can be found with light pink or dark pink skin tone.
In the late 1970s Milton Bradley (Hasbro) produced at least 20 puzzles featuring Sesame Street characters. These puzzles had rather oddly shaped pieces. This puzzle shows Magic Mumford with Grover and was made in 1976.
Here is the Fisher-Price Oscar the Grouch pull toy from 1977. This toy originally had a yellow plastic cord on the front with a squeeze pump at the end that made Oscar pop out of his can. I stuck a pencil in the back to keep the lid open for the photo, to show what Oscar looks like.
This Big Bird puzzle is from 1978.
(Photo coming soon!)
Here is a Cookie Monster shaped place mat from 1978.
Here is a picture of a picture! This is a large (18.5" X 24") framed poster of Ernie and Bert from 1978, produced by American Publishing Corp.
This is a Birthday cake candle made by Wilson in 1979. It's 3 3/8 inches tall. The Wilson company also made Star Wars candles in this same style that were sold at the same time. I used to have Chewbacca and R2-D2 from that set.
Photos and Text © Mike Artelle