Below is what I've figured out so far. Many of the items mentioned here are still missing from my collection. Pictures of the missing items can be found online quite easily, but I'd rather not take photos from other sources, so I've only included pictures of the items from my collection.
Long before the Muppet Show was created, a plush toy puppet of Rowlf the Dog and "Kermit" had been marketed by Ideal in the mid 1960s. The Kermit toy puppet was based on the version of Kermit before he was a frog with his collar and flippers. You can see them both on this page of the Muppet Central website: http://www.muppetcentral.com/collectibles/muppets/dolls.shtml
A decade later in 1976, both characters were marketed together again by Fisher-Price for the debut of the Muppet Show. By this time Kermit had become "Kermit the Frog". Originally I believed that the Fisher-Price series of toys offered in 1977 were the "first ever" to be produced of the Muppet Show characters. This is only true for some of the characters.
The Bendy Toys company also produced a series of Muppet Show dolls in 1977 and 1978 that were made out of moulded sponge on a wire frame (see the Gonzo doll below). The Bendy Toys Muppet Show dolls were offered in two sizes. Their smaller sized dolls had painted clothing, while the larger sized dolls had fabric clothing that was removable. These Muppet Show dolls were only available in Europe, which is why I know little about them (I'm based in Ottawa, Ontario Canada). For some reason, the Bendy Toys dolls are not included on the Muppet Central website page about "Dolls and Puppets" from the 1970s (at the same link as above).
In addition, there is limited information available on the Muppet Wiki website about the Bendy Toys series. http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Muppet_dolls_(Bendy_Toys)
Therefore it's not clear what year some of the Bendy Toys items were released. As such, in order to figure out what company was first to market a certain Muppet character, it gets a bit more confusing than what I had originally thought....here we go!
Kermit and Rowlf the Dog
The very first PVC figures of Rowlf and Kermit were made by Schleich in 1979
Fisher-Price was the first company to market toys based on Fozzie, in this case a stuffed doll of Fozzie Bear in 1976. Bendy Toys offered a sponge shaped toy puppet head of Fozzie in 1977. Bendy Toys also made a small Fozzie doll but it is still unknown if the toy was offered in 1977 or 1978. Although the Fisher-Price Fozzie Bear puppet released in 1978 was not the first toy puppet of the character to be marketed, it was the first fabric toy mouth puppet (or hand puppet) to be made. Fisher-Price also made the first Fozzie Bear action figure in 1978. Palitoy made the first finger puppet of Fozzie in 1978 (sold only in Europe), however one could argue that the Bendy Toys Fozzie head from 1977, noted above, also qualifies as a finger puppet. Schleich made the first PVC figure of Fozzie Bear in 1979.
Fisher-Price Fozzie Bear doll from 1977.
Fisher-Price Fozzie Bear puppet and action figure from 1978.
The first PVC figure of Fozzie Bear were made by Schleich in 1979
Miss Piggy and Animal
It is not yet known if Bendy Toys released their Miss Piggy and Animal dolls in 1977 or 1978, therefore it can not yet be confirmed if Bendy Toys was first company to market toys based on these characters. (If they were released in 1977 then they would have that distinction.) However, Bendy Toys clearly has the distinction of marketing the first dolls of Miss Piggy and Animal in 1977 or 1978 (though in the case of Miss Piggy it is unknown which size of doll was released first, large or small, or if they were both released at the same time). Fisher-Price clearly has the distinction of marketing the first toy puppets of Miss Piggy and Animal in 1978. Schleich made the first PVC figures of both characters in 1979.
In addition to their puppet Fisher-Price marketed the first action figure of Animal in 1978. Palitoy made the first finger puppet of Animal in 1978. The Palitoy puppets were sold only in Europe. Pelham Marionettes produced the first and only marionette (or string puppet) of Animal in the late 1970's. A prototype of a Miss Piggy marionette was made but not produced.
If we exclude small bendy "action figures" from the list as well as Muppet Babies toys and articulated plastic dolls, then the first articulated action figure of Miss Piggy is likely the one made by Palisades Toys in 2002. Otherwise Hasbro produced a Muppet Babies action figure of Baby Piggy in 1984 (however only the head turned) while Direct Connect produced both a plastic articulated doll with fabric clothing and a small bendy action figure of Miss Piggy in 1989, all of which might be considered by some to be action figures. Both Fisher-Price and Palitoy made a finger puppet of Miss Piggy in 1978.
The first PVC figures of Miss Piggy and Animal were made by Schleich in 1979
Fisher-Price was the first company to market toys based on Scooter, in this case a doll and an action figure both in 1978. Schleich made a PVC figure of Scooter in 1979. To my knowledge a toy puppet (mouth puppet, hand puppet or finger puppet) of Scooter has still never been marketed by any company, but several additional plush dolls and action figures have since been produced by various companies.
The first PVC figure of Scooter was made by Schleich in 1979
Gonzo and Swedish Chef
Bendy Toys was the first company to market toys based on Gonzo, and Swedish Chef. In this case large size dolls were made but it is not known if they were released in 1977 or 1978. The more popular Fisher-Price Great Gonzo doll was not marketed until 1981, so it was not the first doll of Gonzo, though it was the first plush doll. Both the Muppet Wiki and Muppet Central websites mistakenly state that the "Croonchy Stars" cereal Swedish Chef doll from 1988 was the first doll to be marketed for that character, however the first doll was made ten years earlier by Bendy Toys in 1977 or 1978. Schleich made the first PVC figures of these characters in 1979.
The Dakin company produced the first Gonzo toy puppet in the late 1980s to be sold at Muppet Stuff stores. To my knowledge the first finger puppet of Gonzo was offered by Carl Jr's restaurants in 1992 and came with a small plastic car for the puppet to sit in. Fisher-Price made the first Gonzo action figure in 1978.
The first toy puppet of the Chef that I know of is the Starbucks finger puppet sold in 2003. The first toy hand puppet of the Chef was made in 2012 by Albert Heijn and sold only in Germany. The first action figuresof the Swedish Chef was made by Palisades Toys in the mid 2000s.
The first PVC figures of the Swedish Chef, Gonzo, Waldorf and Statler were made by Schleich in 1979.
Statler and Waldorf
Bendy Toys was the first company to market toys based on Statler and Waldorf, offering toy puppet heads in 1977 (these are the same style of puppets as the Fozzie Bear toy puppet head noted above, and therefore could also be considered as finger puppets). The first dolls of Statler and Waldorf were not made until 1999 by Igel. The first plush dolls of these characters was made my Sababa Toys in 2003. The company made 12 inch toys as well as "life sized" or jumbo sized toys of the characters. The first toy hand puppets of Statler and Waldorf were made in 2012 by Albert Heijn and sold only in Germany. As far as I can tell aside from the Bendy Toys puppet heads, finger puppets of Statler and Waldorf have never been made. The first action figures of Statler and Waldorf were made by Palisades Toys in the mid 2000s, however the Igel dolls could be considered as action figures as well. Schleich made the first PVC figures of these characters in 1979.
Dr. Teeth and Zoot
Palitoy made the first finger puppets of Dr. Teeth and Zoot in 1978 but they were sold only in Europe. The first plush dolls of these characters were made by Sababa Toys in 2003. The first action figure of Dr. Teeth was made in 2002 by Palisades Toys, who later made the first Zoot action figure in the mid 2000s. Schleich made a PVC figure of Zoot in 1979. To my knowledge a PVC figure of Dr. Teeth has never been made, and larger sized toy puppets (hand puppets or mouth puppets) have never been made of either character. In 2013 Dr. Teeth was included in the series of Muppet bobble heads produced by Funko.
The very first action figure of Dr. Teeth was made by Palisades Toys in 2002.
The first PVC figure of Zoot was made by Schleich in 1979
Janice and Floyd Pepper
Action figures of Janice and Floyd were first made in the mid 2000s by Palisades Toys. The first plush dolls of these characters were made by Sababa Toys in 2003. Janice was made as a large size plush doll and she was also included in a smaller plush doll set with Floyd and the rest of the band (excluding Animal). To my knowledge PVC figures, finger puppets or toy puppets (hand puppets or mouth puppets) of these two characters have never been made.
The very first dolls of Floyd and Janice were made by Sababa Toys in the mid 2000s.
Sam the Eagle
Schleich made the first PVC figure of Sam the Eagle in 1979, with blue feet. The first action figure of Sam was made by Palisades Toys in the mid 2000s, and it has yellow feet. A rather poorly made plush doll of Sam was made around 2010. It was sold at McDonald's resaurants in Australia. A slightly better, but still quite pathetic looking, plush doll was also made for sale at the Muppet Vision 3D gift shops but a date for this doll is unknown, so I can't confirm which of the two dolls were made first. To my knowledge a toy puppet (hand puppet, mouth puppet or finger puppet) of Sam has never been made.
The first PVC figure of Sam was made by Schleich in 1979.
These characters were never marketed in any form until the early1990s or early 2000s (this is still to be clarified). The Igel toy company produced plush dolls of both Bunsen and Beaker in 2001, as part of a series of Muppet dolls that were only available in Germany. Similar dolls were also sold at the Muppet Vision 3D gift shops but a date for these doll is unknown, so I can't confirm which of the above were made first. (The Muppet 3D gift shop first opened it's doors in the early 1990s at Universal Studios, so it's possible those Bunsen and Beaker dolls were also available around the same time). In 2003 Sababa Toys reproduced the Igel dolls for sale in North America which was the first time the characters were available at retail stores in Canada and the US. Sababa produced two series of dolls at the same time. One was a series of larger dolls, the other was a set of smaller bean bag style dolls. Palisades Toys made the first action figures of both characters in 2002, followed by the first PVC figures of both characters in 2003. The first toy puppet of Beaker to be made was the Starbucks finger puppet sold in 2003. To my knowledge a finger puppet of Bunsen has never been made, while hand puppets, or mouth puppets of either character have never been made.
Here is the very first action figure of Bunsen ever made. It was produced by Palisades in 2002.
Schleich made the first PVC figure of Sweetums in 1979, although it did not look very much like the character. In 1991 a second PVC figure of Sweetums was made for sale a Disney theme parks. Palisades Toys produced the first action figure of Sweetums in 2004. I do not know of any other toys based on this character, which is odd as Sweetums is very suitable for a plush toy. In 1982 Sweetums was featured in the Random House children's book titled "Two for the Show".
The first PVC figure of Sweetums was made by Schleich in 1979.
A book publish by Random House in 1982 with Sweetums on the cover.
Rizzo the Rat
Burger King restaurants produced one of the first toys of Rizzo in 1999 as part of a promotion for Muppets from Space. It is a mouse trap shaped vehicle with an attached figure of Rizzo sitting on top. Rizzo is jointed to allow rowing action as the vehicle moves, but this toy is not actually an action figure. Therefore Palisades Toys produced the first action figure of Rizzo during the mid 2000s. A PVC figure of Rizzo was produced in 1999 for Hungry Jacks restaurants in Australia. It was made the same year as the Burger King toy, so it's difficult to say which one was first. Also in 1999 Rizzo was featured as a PVC figure in the Muppets Chess set, in the role of the pawn. The set was produced by A La Cart with eight Rizzo figures for each player, for a total of 16 PVC Rizzo figures in each chess set. As with Bunsen and Beaker, dolls of Rizzo the Rat were made by Igel in 2000 and also sold at the Muppet Vision 3D gift shops, but a date for the Muppet Vision 3D doll is unknown so I can't confirm which of the above were made first. To my knowledge toy puppets of Rizzo have never been made (finger puppet, mouth puppet or hand puppet).
One of the very first Rizzo toys ever made was sold at Burger King restaurants in 1999.
Some of the Rizzo PVC chess pieces made in 1999.
The first Bean Bunny toy was a plush hand puppet produced by Applause in 1986 based on "The Tale of the Bunny Picnic" TV special. Shortly after this, Bean Bunny joined the Muppet Show gang as part of the cast for The Jim Henson Hour. In 1991 the first PVC figure of Bean Bunny was sold at the Muppet Vision 3D gift shop, and the character is featured in the Muppet Vision 3D film. The first plush doll of Bean Bunny was also made for sale at the Muppet Vision 3D gift shop during the 1990s or early 2000s. I don't recall ever seeing a finger puppet or an action figure of Bean Bunny. (I also don't have any Bean Bunny items in my collection yet!)
Pepe the King Prawn
Pepe was first introduced in 1996 on The Muppets Tonight TV show and was the only new character from that program to become part of the Muppets regular cast going forward. In the late 1990s or early 2000s, Nanco produced the first plush doll of Pepe. In 2003 the Jack in the Box resurant chain produced a series of action figures of the Muppets, including Pepe with articulated arms. Also in 2003 Palisades Toys produced an action figure of Pepe, so it is difficult to say which of these two action figures was the first. Additionally around 2003 Fun 4 All produced the first toy puppet of Pepe. This is a push puppet type of figure on a base that looked very similar to the Palisades Toys figure. I have not yet seen any other toy puppets (hand / mouth puppet or finger puppet) based on this character. (I don't have any Pepe collectables yet!)
In 2011 the character of Walter was introduced in the new Muppets film. In the months leading up to the theatrical release of the movie Disney offered a series of Muppet plush toys on it's website including the first plush doll of Walter. I'm not aware of any other merchandise for this character.
Camilla the Chicken
Palisades Toys produced the first action figure of Camilla the Chicken during the mid 2000s. She is included with the smaller sized Gonzo action figure as an additional pack-in item, and was also produced by Palisades as a Mega Muppet large size figure. (Gonzo was also made as a large size figure, so the large size Camilla was made to go with it.) A small plush toy of Camilla was included with Sababa Toys plush "Veterinarian's Hospital" set from 2003. I'm not aware of any other toys based on Camilla the Chicken. Camilla was featured on the cover of the 1982 children's book "Gonzo and the Giant Chicken", published by Random House. The story is about what happens when one of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's experiments accidentally turns Camilla into a giant chicken.
This book featured Camilla the Chicken as "the Giant Chicken" from the title.
In 2002 Palisades Toys began producing an extensive series of Muppet action figures and PVC figures which included many secondary characters that had never been merchandised before. I am not aware of any other toys (toy puppets, plush toys, etc.) or merchandise to be based on these Muppet characters.
These characters are from the TV programs The Muppet Show, and Muppets Tonight, as well as the movies A Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Treasure Island.
The Muppet Show
Robin the Frog
Marvin Suggs (with Muppaphone)
Uncle Deadly (with ghosts)
Lew Zealand (with fish)
Dr. Julius Strangepork
Jim Henson Muppet
Koozebane Aliens (included with the figure of Kermit in his reporter trench coat)
Muppet Vegetables (included with various figures)
Robot Rabbit (included with Bunsen figure shown above)
Lobster Banditos (included with Chef figure)
Mahna Mahna (PVC)
Dr. Phil Van Neuter
Muppets Christmas Carol
Ghost of Christmas Present (PVC)
Muppets Treasure Island
Polly Lobster (included with the figure of Kermit as Captain Smollet)
Text © Mike Artelle, 2011, 2017