Minifigure 40: Classic Castle [Advertising Archive]

In recent weeks we have celebrated the 40th Birthday of the LEGO® Minifigure by looking at the ways in which print advertisements evolved over the years for City, trains and Space.  City had us building what we knew, Space let us look towards an optimistic future, and today, I would like to look at Castle. The knights of the LEGO Castle theme took us back in time. These were stories we already knew: King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Crusades, and now LEGO brought us a way in which to explore and reenact these stories our selves, in the comfort of our own home.

Once again, we visit advertising material from a number of different sources, predominantly European comics. I have had a bit more help with the translations here, as some of the concepts were too much for a simple machine translation engine… Read on and enjoy…

In the beginning:

Ad 1978_64
Build your own Knight’s Castle. Populate the Legoland castle with small funny colorful figures Just like at King Arthur’s time when Prince Valiant passed the Camelot drawbridge on his adventures.

Ad 1978_50
LEGO’s collection for a weekly/pocketmoney Price Emergency in LEGOLAND! The police are coming! LEGO is a new toy every day. For both boys and girls!

In the beginning, there was the 375 Yellow Castle, and it was good. Compared to the town, the original photograph used featured a mysterious night sky, just after sunset.
To enhance the value of the drawbridge in this illustration, the castle has been placed on a plinth, to model raised landscape, and the ‘natural ‘ defences around the castle. This is the only theme to feature a three dimensional landscape to show off the sets used at this time, but something that would become more important towards the end of the 1980’s in Town/City and Space. Also of interest is that the term minifigure has yet to appear: I now find myself asking ‘When did the term Minifigure first appear?’ – reference has been seen to ‘Mini-Figure™’ in the 1979 USA catalog, but this is not quite the same thing.

I find the variation in the general phrasing interesting here: “Build a castle – relive the adventures of Prince Valiant (or King Arthur) ” Prince Valiant was a weekly syndicated comic strip syndicated in newspapers around the world.  “Valiant Knights fight in the LEGOLAND Castle” “The world of brave knights””LEGO Knights conquer the world” Certainly the tone is a little variable, but the feeling is there: these are brave heroes – ready to face the world.

There where only four sets released in this original release of castle, in 1978-79. It was not until 1984 that we were to see another wave released.

1984: Lion Knights versus Black Falcons:

There are a number of interesting features introduced in the castle range this year: we see the arrival of  two factions: the Lion Knights, and the Black Falcons. Both have their own castle, now fashioned in a more realistic light grey.  This is the first time an ‘enemy’ or competitive faction is featured: it is another few years before the Blacktron faction arrives in Space sets, and ‘Robbers’ appear in City. However, the majority of print adverts feature the Lion Knight’s Castle (6080), with the Black falcon’s castle in the distant background.

This year, we see the introduction of the ‘sunrise’ artwork – with the yellow-orange sky and landscape, which will continue to distinguish the Castle adverts and boxes from the other core themes for the next few years.

What we do see is a fairly consistent versions of the text, between markets, giving the same message. ( although the top left picture below this paragraph has the knights awaiting a tournament, while others feature the text “Friend or Foe)” The copy for the right hand images is fairly consistent: Will the Blacksmith be able to get the horses ready for tomorrow’s tournament?

I find it interesting that the ‘Tag line” varies between adverts.  The predominant theme is  “A new toy everyday” but we also see variations on “For building, playing and collecting” As we saw in the town advertisements, at this time, there was no clearly defined marketing slogan.  This is unlikely to be something that we would see in a global advertising campaign today.

1987-1988: Enter the Dragon knights. And the Forestmen.

After years with just the Black Falcons and the Lion knights, we see a shift in themes: the Lion knights now have boats.  Internet translation engines are extremely literal creatures, and we see the text translated as ‘water resistant,’  ‘water proof’ and ‘knights with sea legs.’ I’d like to thank my international contacts, who have helped me to better understand the message being conveyed here.

Compared to previous years, trees are less of a feature in the landscapes here, and an orange sky evokes the feeling of desert base – perhaps on the way to the crusades.  This colour scheme was reflected on the box art.  Unlike earlier sets, the layout is relatively flat.

Ad 1987_70
Ahoy there! Do you come as friends? For truly water-resistant knights: the new Knights Ship and four other new LEGOLAND Castle sets.

The context makes a difference: similar images are used, with different messages: Are you friend or foe OR The knights get excited about the tournament about to take place. While still featuring a red or yellow sky: still sunset or sunrise, we now have hills featuring LEGO trees on the horizon.

Ad 1988_99

We see a trace of green creep into the landscape for the forestmen related advertisements.  Interestingly, the English language version seems to have taken an almost literal approach to the translation: We would rarely refer to ‘new sets’ as ‘novelties’ at the time that these were released, although I cannot speak for the UK or USA.

Also of interest is that there is no qualm with referring to the forestmen as Robin Hood and his outlaws.

Ad 1989_98
Out of the spears, unsheathe the big swords, ready with the archers: it is necessary to resist the attack of the armigers of the enemy king who want to kidnap the princess. What do you think? Is it not awesome this scenery of LEGO medieval castle surrounded by vintage boats and weapons, even (made of) LEGO? You just have to create your story, the adventure that you will undertake to your men, to your brave knights. Forward, therefore… Beware the armed tower ready to the siege that is approaching to the stands. Fortunately, the drawbridge is closed… Have fun!

1990: The storytelling continues

As we enter the 1990’s, the construction of dioramas, featuring non LEGO elements, increases across all themes – we have previously seen it with Town and Space, and we also see it with Castle sets.We retain the yellow sky, but there is now more red and orange to be seen in it.  We also return to more fertile countryside, with LEGO Trees reappearing.

I love the use of plaster to build towering mountains around the castles – it gives a great feeling of a valley kingdom.

We also see obvious reference to the forestmen as Robin Hood, and Little John at this time.  Just in time to prime the LEGO Buying public for a cinematic onslaught.

Ad 1990_79
“Stop, Little John, we’ll get you out.”
Can Robin Hood free his friend from the prisoner’s carriage?
LEGO castle adventures from the past for building, playing and collecting. For children from 5-12

Ad 1989_106

Ad 1990_85
“Help, this place is haunted!” Better take to your heels.  The ghost of the haunted castle has awoken.  LEGO Castle: adventures from past days for building, playing and collecting. Suitable for children aged 5-12. [Thanks to Stefan M from Stuck in Plastic for assistance with translation]

1991: Interlude: How shall we sell to the sellers?

This advertisement featuring a LEGO Chess set looks like it is from a Toy trade Magazine. The copy talks of how it is good to have a brand such as LEGO on your shop’s shelves.

Ad 1990_89
French:  LEGO. A thoughtful shot.
You are besieged on all sides and you must defend yourself to the full. To resist these attacks, you must trust products that have proven to be rock-solid for years, do not clutter you with unnecessary stocks, and renew themselves every year. Like LEGO for example. Whoever bet on LEGO can be confident and sure of his business. Day after day, LEGO boxes are on your counter. For years. Despite the strong competition. With LEGO, no one is failing you.
Dutch: LEGO. A wise move.
You are besieged from all sides and need to defend yourself tenaciously. To withstand these attacks, you need to choose the side of products that have proven to be rock steady (literally “a rock in the surf”). That sell regularly and well. That don’t leave you with excess stock. That renew every year. LEGO for example.
Those who have targeted LEGO feel safe and secure. LEGO Toys go day in, day out smoothly over the counter. Yes, long. Despite the sharp competition.
With LEGO, nobody puts you to checkmate.

1991:The market expands:

When we last saw this image, it was 1997.  Flash forward to Greece, and this set is now available- re-using the old art we do not see the  “Friend or Foe” message, so much as the journey to the tournament.

Ad 1991_45
Crawling(?) to the Black Dragon Castle. Challenge the noble knights.  The Black Dragon Castle and four other new toys with knights.

For the first time, we see a trace of blue in the sky around the LEGO Castle.  I am intrigued at the use of the grey 1×1 plates around the castle in the foreground to give the feeling of broken ground for the drawbridge to reach over.

Forestmen sets feature heavily in this artwork BUT had not been in a new set since 1990. We see the release of two major films based on Robin Hood in 1991 (Robin Hood, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), but there are no more forest man sets seen.  We do have a teaser for the Black Knight, becoming available in the next wave of sets.

Ad 1991_44
There, the Black Knight!
For years nobody had seen him. But suddenly he is back. What is he up to?

1992: Wolf Pack Versus the Black Knights

In 1992, we welcome another faction: the Wolf Pack.  Unarmoured, they are described as highway men. They fight the Black Knights, attacking from their haunted tower. We also see the same art used to advertise sets being used to publicise a competition. The Dioramas used to demonstrate the sets take things to the next level.  I suspect a degree of compositing begins to be used in this time, if only because models are displayed at different scales.  This is also the first time that we see non-LEGO trees used as part of these displays.  We keep the sun close to the horizon, with a more reddish hue.

Ad 1992_49
“There, the sign of the wolf!”
Outrageous highwaymen strike from their robber’s cave right in front of the castle. Your Black Knight saddles the horses. LEGO System Castle: Exciting adventures from the past.

1993 You have to believe it is Magic!

In 1993 we meet our first wizard and dragon: the first sign of magic entering the Classic Castle theme.  The diorama here is quite complicated, showing off many of the year’s sets over several different levels.

Ad 1983_91
The Dragon Attacks! All Black Knights, return.  The Wizard is wielding his wand and the dragon blows red fire.  What happens as the knights are closing in on the dragon gate?  See all the news where you buy toys.

This is by no means the last that we see of the Castle Theme. In 1997 we see the arrival of the Fright Knights, and follow up in the future with Knights’ Kingdom and the Fantasy Era – with trolls, orcs and more magic.  When we have not had access to a ‘pure’ castle line, we have had access to castle building materials through the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit movie tie-in sets.

In recent years, the Space-Castle hybrid Theme NEXO Knights has been our ‘Castle Theme’, and while the vehicles may be nifty, the colour scheme for the castles is not readily consistent with other classic Castle sets. Although, dark blue and orange are perhaps as realistic as the yellow was back in 1978.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip through the Advertisement Archive for LEGO Castle: 1978-1992.  I know Castle is a theme dear to many people’s hearts.  Why not share the joy around the world.  In the meantime, follow the blog, and share your thoughts below.

Until next time

Play Well!

P.S. Over the  last few years, years, I have made many friends around the world, through LEGO Fan Media, and other contacts. I would like to thank those who have helped me with translating some of the languages in the advertisements we have looked at today: They have helped me to retain some of the nuance of the written language, rather than the brutal word for word substitution that various online translation engines might produce. In particular, Boris and Stefan from Stuck in Plastic; Jetro from Hispabrick Magazine; Tom from True North Bricks; Daniele from Italy;  and @fubiken. All of the good translations I owe to them!

One thought on “Minifigure 40: Classic Castle [Advertising Archive]

  1. […] While originating from a LEGO Ideas submission, there is no doubt that the original submission also draws inspiration from 3739, released in 2002. Imagine the new set, in a box that evoked nostalgia with an olde schoole backdrop- other painted or modelled, in the style of the classic catalogues. You can see a selection of those catalog/advertising images here […]

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