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License to Thrill: Six Decades of James Bond Agent 007 Memorabilia

by James Burrell (10/31/12).

The James Bond 007 series contains many unique and iconic features, like the opening gun barrel sequences and beautiful opening credit musical sequences.

Who’s suave, remains cool in the face of danger, uses a fantastic arsenal of weapons, vehicles and gadgets in his battles against megalomaniacal villains, and is irresistible to women? Why, British Secret Service agent James Bond, of course.

A true pop culture icon, Bond—who is also known by his code name of “007”—was first introduced in the 1953 novel, “Casino Royale,” written by English author Ian Fleming. A British naval intelligence officer during the Second World War, Fleming molded his charming, but lethal fictional MI6 agent after several real-life individuals he met during his service, and also created traits for the character (such as having a fondness for gambling and golf) that were based on his own. When it came time to decide what to call his super spy, Fleming wanted something very simple and settled on using the name of noted American ornithologist James Bond, who was well-known at the time for his best-selling guide, “Birds of the West Indies.”

Various vintage James Bond paperback novels. “Dr. No”, “From Russia with Love” and “Thunderball” are Ian Flemming novels, while “Moonraker” is based upon that film’s screenplay.

An original soundtrack LP for Goldfinger, released by United Artists Records in 1963.

A bestseller in England, “Casino Royale” initially didn’t sell well in the United States; however this was to later change, with subsequent Bond novels going on to become extremely popular in the U.S. as well. Over the next 11 years, Fleming would pen 11 more Bond books and two sets of short stories, and it wasn’t long before several of his works were adapted for other mediums. “Casino Royale” would be produced for the U.S. television series “Climax!” in 1954; an adaptation of the third Bond novel, “Moonraker,” would be broadcast on South African radio in 1956; and Fleming’s second Bond book, “Live and Let Die” would appear as a newspaper comic strip in the U.K.-published “Daily Express” from late 1958 to mid-1959.

Three years later, Fleming’s literary creation hit the big time when the series’ sixth book, “Dr. No,” was made into a major motion picture by producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (who would form the company Eon Productions to bring the novel to the screen.) Starring Scottish actor and former bodybuilder Sean Connery as Bond and beautiful Swiss-born Ursula Andress as “Bond Girl” Honey Ryder, the movie sees jet-setting Agent 007 travel to Jamaica in order to prevent the evil Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) from sabotaging the launch of a U.S. space-bound rocket. Released in the U.K. in the fall of 1962, and in North America in the spring of ’63, “Dr. No” was a box office hit, earning back more than 20 times its $1 million budget. In addition to presenting Connery as cinema’s first James Bond (a part he would go on to reprise several times), the film introduced audiences to the iconic “James Bond Theme” (written by composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry—who would on to score numerous other Bond films), film titles designer Maurice Binder’s innovative “gun barrel” introduction, and fantastic avant-garde sets by production designer Ken Adam.

A James Bond Premium Format 18-Inch Sean Connery figure, produced by Sideshow in 2006. With only 2,000 of these made, the figure can now easily fetch $500 or more.

A plastic model kit of the villainous Oddjob, produced by Polar Lights in 1999. A reissue of the rare 1960s Aurora kit, this version can easily be found for between $10 to $20.

Fleming would see the release of the next Bond film, “From Russia with Love” in 1963, but would suffer a heart attack and pass away in 1964 at age 56. But both the author’s works and his super spy character have managed to show incredible longevity—due, in no small part to the release of 23 “official” Eon-produced Bond films over the past 50 years, as well as two independently produced movies (a 1967 spoof, “Casino Royale,” and 1983’s “Never Say Never Again”).

After Connery’s departure from the role, the character would be portrayed by several other actors, including George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Daniel Craig—whose latest Bond pic, “Skyfall,” is opening in theaters Nov. 8.

Also helping to keep the interest of Agent 007 alive has been the large amount of merchandise produced throughout the decades. In addition to the actual Ian Fleming novels (of which first-edition hardcover copies from original U.K. publisher Jonathan Cape can now sell for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars apiece when found in fine condition), hundreds of other James Bond-related collectibles—everything from comic books to board games, soundtrack albums to action figures, clothing to toy guns and model kits to high-end reproduction props—have been released over the past 50 years.

A James Bond Secret Agent 007 bard game, released by Milton Bradley in 1964.Valued at $20 to $30, depending on condition.

With the release of “Dr. No,” came a handful of collectibles, including a soundtrack LP (featuring a photo of Connery and Andress on the front jacket) from United Artists Records, as well as a comic book adaptation. First printed as an issue of the British edition of the “Classics Illustrated” comic line, the same book would be re-published in the U.S. with a different cover in Showcase #43 (March 1963) by National Periodical Publications (the forerunner to DC Comics). The next entry, “From Russia With Love,” also spawned a soundtrack record and a paperback tie-in book featuring photos from the film on its cover, but it wasn’t until the release of the third Bond film, “Goldfinger,” in 1964 that 007-themed toys and games began to be produced.

One of the first Bond toys to be marketed was the James Bond Secret Agent 007 Game, from Milton Bradley. Available in two versions (one featuring a beautifully-rendered illustration of Sean Connery punching a pistol-toting villain; the other replacing Connery’s face with a more nondescript-looking 007), the game is still reasonably easy to find nowadays. The following year, Milton Bradley put out two products: the James Bond 007 Card Game (featuring a black box lid with a blue line drawing of Bond) and a nicely-designed board game for that year’s new Bond flick, “Thunderball,” which showcased both the film’s poster artwork and numerous stills on the box.

In addition to the Milton Bradley games, a flood of Bond-themed toys would be released in 1965, courtesy of the A.C. Gilbert Company. Among the company’s nicest items were highly detailed 12-inch figures of Bond and Goldfinger’s lethal manservant—the villainous, derby-wearing Oddjob. Featuring cloth outfits and various weapons and accessories, the figures also came with action features including “pistol firing” mechanism for Bond and “derby-throwing” and “karate chopping” action for Oddjob. Additional “Action Apparel” costume and accessory sets for the figures were also sold separately. Gilbert also marketed hand puppets of Bond and Oddjob, as well as a highly popular assortment of 3½-inch-tall hard plastic figurines on bases. In addition to Bond (who was made available in tuxedo, scuba outfit and casual outfit versions), other characters in the series included Bond’s boss, M; M’s secretary, Miss Moneypenny; Bond Girl Domino; and numerous villains, such as Goldfinger, Oddjob, the one-eyed Largo and Dr. No.

Dr. No Comic Book adaptation featured in Showcase #43 (March 1963), DC Comics.

A James Bond 007 “The Spy Who Loved Me” Jaws action figure, produced by Exclusive Premiere in 1997. Value is $10, approximately.

“James Bond – Permission to Die” (#2) Graphic Novel, published by Eclipse Comics in 1989.

Two of Gilbert’s most revered offerings, however, were a battery-operated tin model of Bond’s vehicle of choice—the sleek, silver Aston-Martin DB5—and the James Bond 007 Road Race slot car racing set. Measuring 11½-inches long, the Aston-Martin came with such features as automatic starting and stopping action, a “bulletproof” shield, a push-button “ejection seat,” extendable “tire cutters” and “crash bumpers,” revolving license plates, a hidden, light-up machine gun with sound, and more. The slot car set (featuring a fantastic painted image of a pistol-toting Connery on the box) came complete with cars (including a miniature Aston-Martin), track, flags and various landscape pieces like mountains and foliage. Now extremely sought-after, the Aston-Martin can sell for hundreds of dollars when found in mint condition with its original box, while the slot car set (which originally sold in stores for $34.95) has been known to fetch a thousand dollars or more in complete, working order with box.

One of the world’s most popular manufacturers of die-cast toy vehicles, Mettoy Playcraft Ltd. (makers of “Corgi” toys) would also market a 6-inch die-cast scale model of the Aston-Martin in 1965. The company incorporated numerous features into the toy, including “retractable machine guns,” “bullet proof shields” and a roof that opened to expose an ejector seat. Mettoy would also release the toy as part of its “Crimebusters” gift set, which also featured die-cast models of the 1960s “Batman” TV series Batmobile and Batboat and the “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Thrush-Buster car. The Aston-Martin would also be issued as a plastic model kit from Aurora in 1965, and the company would also later put out figural kits of Bond and Oddjob in 1966.

Among some of the rarest James Bond collectibles from the ’60s are the various weapons-oriented toys manufactured by Multiple Toymakers. In 1965, the company released a fantastic looking James Bond 007 Shooting Attaché Case that featured a faux leather grain with metal hinges and came with a pistol (and attachment that converted it to a riffle), plastic bullets and knife, a wallet, passport, ID card, code book and more. Other Multiple releases included a Special Assignment Set, Secret Mission Kit, rifle and pistol set, automatic cap firing pistol and “Bond-O-Matic” water pistol. Very difficult to find nowadays, values for these can range from a hundred dollars for a packaged water pistol, to nearly $1,000 for a complete, mint condition Attaché Case.

A James Bond Greatest Hits Soundtrack LP, released by EMI Records Ltd. (U.K.) in 1982.

A hardcover tie-in novelisation of “The World Is Not Enough”, published by Hodder & Stoughton (U.K.) in 1999.

With the 1970s, came the films of Roger Moore, and the actor’s visage would be featured on numerous products like soundtrack albums and re-printings of the Fleming novels. Toy-wise, Mettoy put out boxed and carded Corgi die-cast models of vehicles seen in several of the Moore films; while Lone Star Products Ltd. manufactured a number of toy pistols. HG Toys marketed a set of jigsaw puzzles for the 1977 flick, “The Spy Who Loved Me”; and Vanity Fair released both a Secret Wrist Watch Radio and a white plastic table top radio molded in the shape of a “007.”

In 1979, a flood of Bond collectibles would hit stores to coincide with the release of “Moonraker” to theaters. Greatly altered from the original book, the film’s screenplay took its cue more from “Star Wars,” than from Fleming, and was seemingly written as to take advantage of the then-growing interest in NASA’s Space Shuttle program. Featuring space crafts, laser guns and colorful costumes, the resultant film was a natural to be marketed to children and a plethora of “Moonraker” products were released, including a plastic model kit of the one of the film’s Space Shuttles (from Revell); a ViewMaster Reel set (from GAFF); a set of trading cards (released by Topps); a Space Gun (from Lone Star); and a set of four 12-inch figures (comprised of Bond in a space suit, the huge, steel-toothed Jaws; Bond Girl Holly Goodhead, and villain Hugo Drax) from Mego Corporation.

Come the 1980s, Marvel Comics published comic book adaptations of “For Your Eyes Only” in 1981 and “Octopussy” in 1983; Imperial Toys (known for their rubber Godzilla and King Kong toys) released a James Bond Secret Service Walkie Talkie set and I.D. Tags in 1984; Lone Star put out a Shoulder Holster & Gun set in 1985 to coincide with the release of the last Moore-Bond outing, “A View To a Kill”; and in 1989, publisher Eclipse put out a comic book adaptation of the second Timothy Dalton film, “License to Kill.”

Dr. No, James Bond and Goldfinger 3 ½ inch tall figures released by A.C. Gilbert in 1965. Loose figures like these sell for about $5 each, while carded ones go for $10-$15 each.

In the late 1990s, companies like Corgi Classics, Exclusive Premiere, Playing Mantis and Hasbro would market numerous Bond-themed toys. Corgi put out a number of die-cast metal vehicle and mini figure sets, as well as a series of highly detailed 3-inch tall hand painted metal figures, which in addition to Bond (Connery, Moore and Pierce Brosnan versions), also included villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld (as portrayed by Donald Pleasence in “You Only Live Twice”) and Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee in “The Man With the Golden Gun”). Exclusive Premiere produced 7½-inch tall figures based on several Bond films including “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Dr. No,” “Goldfinger” and “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and would also release a line of Bond Girl figures. Playing Mantis would put out a series of die-cast vehicles (packed with collectible trading cards) in 1998 under its Johnny Lightning brand name. And Hasbro released three 12-inch figures (as part of its “Action Man” line) featuring costumes and weapons from “Thunderball,” “Golden Eye” and “The World Is Not Enough.”

During the past decade, Bond items have continued to be produced. Sideshow Collectibles (well-known for their beautifully made Universal Monsters figures) released a line of incredibly detailed 12-inch dolls (complete with cloth costumes, accessories and stands), as well as larger-sized 18-inch “Premium Format” non-posable figures; while Factory Entertainment gave Bond collectors several high-end replica props, including Jaws’ steel dentures, Blofeld’s SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) ring and Scaramanga’s Golden Gun. And most recently, a James Bond 50th Anniversary edition of Monopoly has been made available for fans.

Soundtrack CDs for “Thunderball” and “The Man with the Golden Gun”, released by EMI Manhattan Records in 1988. Value is about $7-$10 each.

For nearly 60 years, readers and audiences worldwide have been enthralled by James Bond’s fantastic exploits. The success of the Bond films have spawned such spy-oriented TV series as “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and films like the spoof “Austin Powers” series. This past summer, Bond fans were delighted to see the character (in the guise of Daniel Craig) featured alongside Queen Elizabeth II in a segment broadcast during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. And this fall, they’ll have the opportunity to take in the latest Bond entry, “Skyfall.”

I, for one, can hardly wait.

James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.

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2 Responses to “License to Thrill: Six Decades of James Bond Agent 007 Memorabilia”

  1. drew says:

    I have a agent 007 mini license plate in mint condition that I can not find any info on anywhere.

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