COMPARING CHRISTMAS: Masters of the Universe Debuts in 1982

This is the first feature in a new Christmas themed series I'm calling "Comparing Christmas." Each holiday season, I find myself diving into old Christmas catalogs for nostalgia's sake. They really capture a moment in time from a consumer standpoint and I love seeing pages being posted to social media. One way I like to rediscover the catalogs is through imaginary shopping sprees, which eventually turned into podcasts on both Rediscover the 80s and The Retro Network over the last several years. 

In recent years, we've gone shopping in the 1984 Montgomery Ward catalog, the 1988 Sears Wishbook, and even thumbed through a Toys R' Us flyer from 1988. While I've really enjoyed dissecting every part of a particular catalog, one thing I've never done is compare a particular product that was offered by the "Big 3" catalog stores (Sears, Montgomery Ward, and JC Penney) during a particular year. "Comparing Christmas" will do exactly that, showcasing what each catalog had to offer and then, make a final decision on which catalog did it best! And did it best not just from quantity standpoint, but also the presentation and price.

The first "Comparing Christmas" will feature the debut of Masters of the Universe toys in 1982 catalogs! I am thankfully old enough to remember when He-man and Skeletor became household names four decades ago. By 1984, I had collected several of the toys and merchandise. By collected, I mean most were acquired through Christmas and birthdays which included Castle Grayskull at Christmas in 1983. But for those who might not remember or gone back to research, let's take a look at what the initial wave of Masters of the Universe toys looked like through the lens of Christmas catalogs. I'll first post the full page(s) for context and then another zoomed-in image to get a closer look.

1982 Sears Wishbook

The first appearance of Masters of the Universe in the Sears Wishbook got about 1/3 of a page. It was largely overshadowed by a Haunted House playset and figures featuring Universal Monsters characters along with Old West and Mysterious Castle figures and playsets. Sears did maximize the space offering: 
  • He-Man and Battlecat combo ($9.99)
  • 2-figure packs ($8.99)
    • Skeletor/Beast Man
    • He-Man/Man At Arms 
  • Castle Grayskull ($26.99)
  • Battle Ram vehicle ($13.99)
One interesting thing of note is the Masters of the Universe logo. I don't ever recall seeing this lightning font so I'm guessing that was just the catalog designer trying to be creative.

1982 JC Penney Catalog

In contrast to Sears, the JC Penney catalog gave MOTU about 2/3 of a page and a larger selection. Included in the page:
  • Castle Grayskull ($26.99)
  • 2-figure packs ($8.49)
    • He-man/Teela
    • Man-At-Arms/Zodac
    • Stratos/Beast-man
    • Skeletor/Mer-Man
  • Battlecat ($5.99)
  • Battle Ram ($14.99)
  • Wind Raider ($8.99)
A couple things I noticed - why is Mer-Man riding Battlecat? I must have missed that episode. However, it is nice to see more figures being offered. I didn't do the research on when these catalogs were published but I wonder if the JC Penney catalog was printed later than Sears and took the opportunity to sell more product. I also noticed that both catalogs so far are offering a $1.50 manufacturer rebate on Castle Grayskull. The posing of the castle was also different. Sears showed off the inside and gave a small inset picture of the castle front while JC Penney used the opened castle from the outside and the inset picture for the inside.

1982 Montgomery Ward Catalog

Montgomery Ward allotted just one picture, about a 1/4 page, for Masters of the Universe yet somehow managed to offer the same amount of product as Sears. Plastic army men are defintiely the dominant force on this page. The MOTU toys featured in Montgomery Ward were:
  • Castle Grayskull ($27.88)
  • He-Man and Battlecat combo ($10.97)
  • 2-figure packs ($9.89)
    • Stratos/Man-At-Arms
    • Beastman/Mer-Man
  • Battle Ram ($14.94)
Montgomery Ward was the most expensive of the three stores with no mention of a rebate on Castle Grayskull. I think one major thing missing is Skeletor. How can you offer Masters of the Universe toys without the main villain?! One thing I did like about the image is they have Castle Gayskull to scale in both forms and they show the Battle Ram's missile in action.


After comparing all three catalogs, I believe the kid who was circling items in the JC Penney catalog was the luckiest. JC Penney had competitive prices (along with the rebate) as well as the largest selection of figures and vehicles. Sure, Mer-man wasn't known to mount Battlecat but if you were locked into the cartoon when it first arrived on TV sets, any kid would've known that setup was a mistake.

What are your thoughts on comparing Masters of the Universe toys in the 1982 Christmas catalogs? Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my assessment. Or let me know if you have knowledge about why JC Penney had the largest selection. Also, huge thanks to the Battle Ram blog for posting the images.

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