Table Hockey Articles
Coleco Banana Blade Players 1971-73
By Lee "bbrex337" Buchbinder
You can contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org
The 1971/72 season debut of Coleco's table hockey games, signaled the end of an era. The metal made players everyone associated with the games, were soon to become vintage history.
1972 Coleco Dealer Catalog & Game Description Closeup
Table hockey enthusiasts are well aware of the three different style of players Coleco made, metal, 3-D plastic (game room) style, and plastic players that you applied a sticker to. However, most aren't familiar with what veteran collectors refer to as "banana blade" players. Sandwiched in between the metal, and plastic sticker guys, banana blades were actually Coleco's first entry into the two dimensional flat plastic player transition. And what a switch it was! These guys had a Bobby Hull stick blade that was not only curved for slap shots, but back hands to! Under the companies' newly launched "World of Sports" banner, "Tough Molded Players" was the closest they would ever come to officially naming their premier edition plastic players.
The reason for changing from metal to plastic players has always been questioned by collectors. Cost being the obvious answer, but Coleco would never state that publicly. Rather they promoted it as a safety feature. These plastic made guys were the same thickness as the metal guys, but the dangers of sharp metal edges were eliminated. From dealer catalogs, magazine advertisements, to actual product packaging, "Safe plastic players" was their marketing pitch.
Christmas 1971 Store Catalog & Game Description Closeup
One of the first views the buying public ever had of these unique players, was in department store Christmas catalogs back in the fall of 1971. One retailers wishbook described these new kids on the ice as "plastic players with curved sticks," and stated they had "curved sticks for tricky shots". This style of player was a drastic change to say the least, as it required two separate pieces to make it fully functional.
Forward Inserts and Bases
Goalie Inserts and Bases
The first being the player itself, referred to as the insert. Using the same player artwork as their metal predecessors, they were now molded out of a light weight plastic. The choice of resin Coleco used was a dense grade of styrene. The same grade used in the manufacturing of ping pong balls! Considering the punishment a table tennis ball endures, making table hockey players out of the same material should produce a suitable replacement for their metal fore fathers. Styrene was also used on all Coleco game surfaces, as they always noted their playing area was "styrene-coated".
The second part was the base. Also molded out of styrene, this was the piece that you snapped your favorite team insert in to. Of coarse the banana hook was only used on the forwards, the goalies came with their own separate base which maintained the corner bends that the metal net minders had. The bases were actually an intricate piece of plastic mold engineering. It's obvious Coleco's R&D department spent a good amount of time and money in the development. However it didn't take long for the flaws to become evident. The bases, inserts, and games themselves just didn't get along!
Repair Instructions For The Tough Players! A Player With A Broken Tab
The forward inserts had two tabs, or "lugs", which were used to secure them into the base. Both inserted into the post housing. The insert was also held in place by fitting into a 1/4" groove molded down the center of the base. In order to place the player in the base, a procedure of bending and twisting it to a near breaking point had to be performed. Coleco was aware of the problem, and included a repair kit with the players. It consisted of rubber bands, and illustrated instructions on how to fix damaged players.
The goalie base had the same depth groove as the forward bases molded in their design. However, it was an easier snap in step with no actual tabs, but a small square hole located in between the stick and left skate. This was a perforated area that had to be punched out before placing it into the base. The base had a small protruding notch in which fit through the hole to help secure it in place. This is unique feature to this day, for if you find a goalie insert with the square perforation still intact, you can proudly claim he's never been used!
Assembly Instruction Sheet & Off Center Canadien Forwards
Special instructions were now included with games describing how to assemble the new hockey players. The first step was to "strip" them from the card. The card being the styrene sheet from which the players were molded. After each team was pad printed on to their own 3 3/4" x 10 1/2" sheet, a perforation was stamped around the players silhouette. Each team sheet consisted of 3 left wingers, 3 right wingers and a goalie. The 6th forward was intended to be used for the last minute of play with games that offered that feature. When stripping the players from the sheet, the possibility of breaking them before they even saw any action was common. In many cases, the 6th man ended up being the 5th man! Another quality dilemma was the centering of the player inside the perforated outline. As centering is a major problem with trading cards, off center banana player inserts are also abundant.
The bases weren't without faults either! The post hole for the forward base had a deep taper. Once they were pushed on to the rod post, getting them off required a strong tug, often snapping the post right off the board. It's common to find a banana player base with a broken post stuck in the hole. There is speculation Coleco intended this exaggerated taper to keep the bases affixed on the game post once they were installed. The safety factor may have played a role in the design. If that sharp rod post was always covered, an absent player game wouldn't resemble a bed of nails! With the idea of the insert being interchangeable, there wasn't a required need to remove the base. However with the players being so difficult to insert into the base, it was near impossible to make changes without removing the base. It may have been intended as a safety feature, but it's more likely an engineering or manufacturing error.
Just as 12 forward inserts came with games, 12 forward bases were also included. Again, the 6th base was intended for the "last minute of play" with games that had that option. Using the same 6th man post extension from the Eagle days, once it was pushed into the base, removing it was difficult.
Early 70's Order Form For Parts and Players
An interesting fact about order forms included with games that packed banana players, was the mention of metal players. They were still available! The metal to plastic transition was not going to take place over night. There was still the option of choosing which style player you wanted when ordering extra players directly from Coleco. The price was the same for either, but there was an added expense of having to buy the base if you needed one. All 14 teams that were in the NHL at the time were sold in both metal and plastic. Some later 1972 Coleco catalogs listed the NY Islanders and Atlanta Flames teams as being available in plastic. But they must have been referring to the next mode of plastic players. Banana blade inserts of these two teams have yet to surface.
1971 Eagle/Coleco Model 5135. Box pictures metal players, but banana blades were packaged with this game
1971 Coleco Model 5135. "Safe Plastic Player" text added to box. Banana blades are pictured, but this game came with the sticker style plastic players
The changing of the guards caused some confusion in Coleco's PR division. The art department never did catch up with the transition. With the plastic player switch in full swing, the box packaging still depicted metal players, but the majority of them had banana blade players packed inside! These boxes made no mention of what type of players were enclosed. By the time they did change the picture to banana blade players, and the "safe plastic players" text was added, the next phase of plastic players were being produced. That being the sticker type players with white plastic backings. To add insult to injury, Coleco's day late, dollar short PR department used banana pictured games on the some boxes right up until 1977. Even though production ended approxitmently 5 years prior! As a rule of collecting boxed Coleco games, you can't judge a game by it's cover!
Most game boxes that pictured metal players, and copyrighted 1971 Eagle Toys, contained banana blade players. Games that pictured banana players, and dated 1971 Coleco, more often came with the sticker style players.
It should be noted Coleco wasn't the only company retiring metal players from production, their competitors were doing the same. Munro and Tudor changed to plastic players during the same time period. And both these manufacturers had interchangeable player/base type systems!
Tudor Never Had NHL Team Licensing like Coleco. But They Did Have Banana Blades!
Tudor's version had a remarkable resemblance to Coleco's! So close in fact, their style is also referred to as banana blades by collectors. The forwards even fit on Coleco games! Their inserts were formed out a vinyl material, the bases a soft polyethylene, and came in two different lengths. As a bonus feature, Tudor added the option of choosing what type of stick you wanted. The banana hook was detachable which according to the instructions, was intended for the experienced player. Separate right and left hook attachments were also included to give the players either right or left hand shots. Tudor's banana blades didn't fair much better than Coleco's. By 1973, both companies' banana blade players were retired from production.
Not only did Coleco's table hockey players get a facelift for 1971, the games themselves were taking on a whole new look. Coleco took over Eagle Toys in 1968, and they stuck with the metal style games Eagle made for the next two years. But change was unavoidable. The traditional looking Eagle games would have to be updated for the mod 70's. While parents recited the old "they don't make 'em like they use to" cliche, a new generation would now have their own era of table hockey games and players.
COLECO BANANA BLADE FACTS & TRIVIA
Inserts Showing Their Age!
*The styrene made inserts and bases yellowed and became brittle with age if not stored in ideal conditions.
*Banana style players were the first version of teams to include 6 forwards instead of 5. A pattern they kept for the sticker players.
*Some of the deluxe games that were sold in the United States often included all the teams, banana style, which were in the NHL in 1971 at no additional cost. But only two teams worth of bases were packed in the box. Most Canadian retailers games came with two teams, with extra teams being offered for sale separately.
The Buffalo Vancouver connection:
Buffalo Sabres Banana Blades: Logo Error, #1 On The Goalie
*As the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks entered the NHL for the 1970-71 season, the metal to plastic switch was in progress. It's thought that the transition attributed to the poor paint jobs on the Sabres and Canucks metal players. With the Coleco's metal stamping department prematurely shut down, they had an outside company litho the newest NHL teams. Resembling a cheaply printed comic book, the quality was far from equal to the other Eagle/Coleco metal players.
*The Sabres logo on the banana players (the first one visible to the human eye!) was printed with an error. The "which way did he go" logo, left wingers have misdirected charging Buffalos! Coleco never corrected it until the 80's when yet another plastic alteration was made, the helmeted forwards, masked goalies, black plastic sticker players.
*Buffalo and Vancouver goalies were gifted with a number 1 on their backs. Other than the game room players, these were the only Coleco players ever granted a digit on their jerseys.
*The artwork for the Buffalo and Vancouver goalies was scaled slightly larger than any other team goalies. This artwork remained the same for the first version sticker players.
Table Hockey On!!
You can contact Lee at email@example.com
No banana blade players were harmed during the making of this article.
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