Five and Dime Cowboys and Indians are what I define as those little HO Cowboys and Indians that came in carded sets or header bags that you used to buy at Woolworth’s, Duckwalls, the local supermarket, the corner drugstore, giftshops in local 'tourist trap' attractions and museums, or any of the 'Five and Dime' stores in most towns and cities of the 1950s through 1970s, and sometimes beyond.
Most of them were made in Hong Kong, usually made in bright primary colored plastic, often paired with a snap together fort and some wagons or teepees. They were also almost always a scaled down copy of other manufacturers 54mm figures. That is what sets them apart from firms like Baravelli or BUM's early sets, which were usually direct copies of same sized Airfix figures. The Five and Dime makers had to at least pantograph the figures down to HO or 1/72 scale. The larger figure merely took the place of some sculptor’s master figure. Most of the figures owe their existence to Britain’s Swoppet Cowboys and Indians. Swoppets had interchangeable pieces, such as separate heads, torsos, legs etc., so the 'designers' of the Five and Dime figures merely assembled different combinations of figures to make their 'masters'. Over the twenty-odd years these were mostly available, nearly every combination of Swoppet was copied. Obviously, they are a product of their times. Today, such piracy would not be so easily tolerated. But their existence expands the available poses for the 'Wild West' and mix well with their contemporary 1/72 Cowboys and Indians available from Airfix, Atlantic and Revell.
There are far too many sources of these figures to break down into each set made. But there is a pattern that emerged. Usually, there was the first set of figures containing a specific pose selection. Then there are usually a myriad of piracies of those piracies. Some are direct copies of the 'original' figures, some loosely 'inspired'. The detail and quality of these copies run the gamut from good to horrible. So for ease of identification, I will examine the 'first' example of a certain set of poses and refer to them as 'Pose Selection ...whatever...'. That is the set. I won't look at the various copies of this same set of poses other than to mention if there are such things as later copies.
The first figures of this type were made by GIANT Plastics Corp., the grand-daddy of HO figure piracies. GIANT Plastics Corp was started by a Herb Rosenberg and his brother back in 1960, in New York, NY. They were only around until about 1970, when they sold the company and started ARCO Industries. They are 'Pose Selection 1' (or PS1).
PS1 Cowboys are copies of, L-R: Crescent, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Crescent, Britains Herald, and a Britains Swoppet.
PS1 Indians are copies of, L-R: Crescent, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, and a Britains Swoppet. This last Indian pose gives us the best clue as to when these first figures were made. The Crescent and Herald figures date from the mid-50s, but the launch of the 54mm Britains Swoppet series took place in March 1958, with the first set of Cowboys. The following year (1959), Britains produced the Swoppet 'Indian' series, before July ’59 presumably, which is when the knights were released. So 1960 seems to have been the earliest GIANT Cowboys and Indians appeared.
The first three mounted Cowboys and the first three mounted Indians are the most common poses found in GIANT sets. But enough evidence suggests the fourth pose of Cowboy and Indian appeared at some point. The fourth Cowboy is a Crescent pose and the first two Indians are Britains Herald poses. The other five poses seem to be Britains Swoppet combinations.
The last pictures show the stamp under the foot poses. This stamp also commonly appears on every accessory, fort, and vehicle too. It is interesting to note, the GIANT wagons have a seat on the wagon where you can place seated figures. Later manufacturer wagons don't usually have this feature. The teepee from GIANT is also unique in that it is round. There are two types of GIANT horses, but the most common, and in fact, the most common for all these Five and Dime sets, is the ubiquitous Crescent copy horse. He is hollow, and has holes on either side to fit pegs into from the legs of the riders.
Some examples of Helen of Toy comic book toy soldiers and some early Toy House figure sets have examples of actual GIANT figures in them. But most examples of PS1 are copies. There are scores of PS1 copies, from 'no-name' manufactured sets, to cake decorations, to generic bagged sets, to cracker or cereal premiums, arcades, to gumball machine trinkets. The first sets from Multiple Plastics Corp. (MPC), their Western Frontier sets and fold-up Fort Toter and Fort Frontier Assault No. 865 (with the Fort Cheyenne) sets from 1969 and 1970 are filled with straight copies of PS1, usually with only the words "Hong Kong" under the base.
Sometime around 1970, pose Selection 2 appeared on the scene. There are two sources of these figures, MPC Fort Toter sets and a large carded set from ELVIN had the PS2 figures in them. It is impossible to know who did it first, though MPC showed they had no qualms copying someone else’s figures (this was also true with 54mm figures, but that’s another story).
You’ll notice right away that there were still 3 poses each of Cowboys and four Indians from PS1, but there are now several new poses for a total of eight poses each side. Many of the ELVIN sets initially had the tiny Lone Star one-piece mounted figures. Later sets all have the same plug-in mounted guys as MPC. These first sets have the standard mounted poses as PS1. Many of the PS2 figures, especially the ELVIN ones, have no "Hong Kong" marking under the base. Most of the ones I’ve seen mint on card have no markings at all on the figures. Many of these figures tend to me made in metallic colored or flat colored plastic. These are the first Hong Kong figures where I found instances of brittle plastic, especially amongst the green colored ones.
PS2 Cowboys are copies of, L-R: Britains Swoppet, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Swoppet, Britains Herald, Britains Swoppet, Britains Swoppet.
PS2 Indians are copies of, L-R: Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Swoppet, Crescent, Crescent, Crescent.
Right on the heels of PS2 came Pose Selection 3. PS3 is almost identical to PS2. The only real difference between the pose sets is the plastic is different and more colorful, there are additional mounted poses, the figures tend to all be stamped under the base, and there is an additional foot pose.
PS3 Cowboys are copies of, L-R: Britains Swoppet, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Swoppet, Britains Herald, Britains Swoppet, Britains Swoppet, and new Britains Swoppet pose.
PS3 Indians are copies of, L-R: Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Herald, Britains Swoppet, Crescent, Crescent, Crescent, and new Crescent pose.
Cowboy pose 2 and 3 and Indian pose 2 and 3 start showing up in these PS3 sets, and they appear to be Britains Swoppet poses.
The last picture shows the type of flatter teepee that appeared in MPC sets. By the early to mid-70s these poses stop showing up in sets by MPC or ELVIN (maybe they stopped making them?) and start appearing in Fort Cheyenne or Fort Frontier sets made by Laramie. The Laramie figures tend to be a more opaque or powder color than the bright MPC colors.
Pose Selection 4 are all those various mounted figures that often were not in sets with forts or foot figures, but rather in sets of their own. Sometimes bags of just mounted figures appeared in the late 1960s or early 1970s. All I can say for sure is that several of these poses are unique to these sets and aren’t in the earlier verifiable carded and bagged sets.
PS4: The first four Cowboys are new poses, the first one is a Britains Herald pose, the second is unknown, but the other two are Britains Swoppet poses.
PS4: The first three Indians are new poses, and are Britians Swoppet poses.
Sometime in the early to mid-1970s Pose Selection 5 appeared on the scene in several 'no-name' sets with Fort Cheyennes and/or wagons. PS5 contained all new poses. All twelve foot figures are based on Britains Swoppet poses. You may notice a similarity to the PS2 and PS3 poses, such as the standing firing rifle, the bank robber carrying a bank bag, or the crouching cowboy with two pistols. But look carefully. These are brand new molds. Unlike the 'designer' of PS2 and 3, when this guy made 'masters' putting together Swoppets, he also put bandanas around their necks and gun holster on their hips. Those items aren’t on the earlier poses!
When one considers that most previous manufacturers filled their sets with available mounted poses, and considering how many mounted poses there were at this time, it is puzzling that this manufacturer would make all new mounted poses as well, and 18 new poses at that. But these aren’t your standard Britains Swoppet poses. There are a couple more sources as well. Lone Star Metallions were 54mm die cast Cowboys and Indians from the late 60s early 70s and made in Hong Kong. Their molds ended up being used for Sears and Roebucks and they called them 'True Life Men of the West.' The set features twelve figures, each supposed to represent a real life person from the Old West. The brochure identifies each figure, and gives a short biography of them. Five of those Cowboys and one of the Indians made it into this set. So technically, this set comes with historical personalities! The difference from the Lone Star set is that they were all foot figures. In this Five and Dime set, the figures were converted into mounted poses.
PS5 based on Lone Star personalities: Wyatt Earp; Pat Garrett; Kit Carson; Billy the Kid; Jesse James
First 3 PS5 poses are copies of Jean Hoefler figures, the last is a Britains Swoppet pose
PS5 Indians: first pose is Lone Star Chief Red Cloud; the next three are based on Britains Swoppet poses (notice the last two have their heads turned opposite ways); The last five are based on Timpo Swoppet poses.
Most of the various types of PS5 wagons are green wagons with red tops.
There is one more mystery about these figures. These sets were from the 1970s. They were made in Hong Kong. They have Hong Kong stamped underneath the base and most have these distinctive little round indentations under the base. Recently I have run across no-name (as in no manufacturer name on the packaging) Fort Cheyenne carded sets with these figures in them, They are made in China. The base has the word China underneath without the little holes. The plastic is stiffer and feels cheaper. It seems that these sets are very recent. They must have been made post-1997 when Hong Kong became part of China again. It means that maybe there is hope that these molds still exist.
Pose Selection 6 contained four old PS1 poses but also four new poses. One pose, a flat cowboy looking back pointing a pistol, is missing from the photograph. The detail of PS6 is not very good. Every example of this pose selection seems to originate from little tin litho mini buckets called "Old Fashioned Metal Box with Cowboys, Indians and Horses, Shackman, NY 10003 No. 1537, Made in Hong Kong". Aside from the previously identified sources of figures, there are a couple of poses that are unknown in origin. But like all the previous sets, these also have the standard Crescent copy horse. These show up in 1975 Shackman catalogs with a picture of PS5 figs. But all I have ever seen in person are these figs, and the container says made in 1976.
Pose Selection 7 is a set made in Greece by Solpa in the 1970s, called Cowboys and Indians. Though PS7 isn’t from Hong Kong like the previous sets, it has the same horse, follows the same primary color scheme, the look and feel are also reminiscent of the Five and Dime Cowboys and Indians. Aside from a few similarities to PS1 and PS2 poses, there are a few that are unique and of unknown origin. The first two mounted cowboys are very well detailed, much better than the detail of most of the other figures. There are only five of the six known foot Cowboys pictured. There is a Cowboy pose similar to the crouching Cowboy Swoppet-esque pose that first appeared in PS2 that I have seen, but don’t have one.
I am not sure when Pose Selection 8 first appeared, but I first saw them and bought several sets in the early 90s. PS8 is unique in that the all-new foot poses are Airfix 1/32 scale copies made in 1/72. Now this was while Hong Kong was still part of the British Commonwealth, pre-1997. They were made in Hong Kong, no manufacturer name, but the header had a "WW" and says made in Hong Kong (though the figures aren't marked as such) and the sets were called "Cowboys, Indians, Horses and Wagons”.
These are the only poses in PS8. When searching out these figures, be forewarned there are two scales of these figures out there. If you see a picture of these on Ebay, and it says they are 1/72, and it has the Airfix Indian pose standing firing a bow and arrow, or the Indian pose standing firing a rifle, these are not 1/72. They are at least 30mm tall. I have another set of these I bought a few years later than the Hong Kong ones, still in the bag, the card reads "Made in China". The card looks similar, still no manufacturer name, but still the same "WW" in the corner, and the title is now "Western Warrior". The figs are the same, but now they have "China" stamped underneath and are made in a flatter colored, stiffer, cheaper plastic. It is possible these could be made post-1997.
PS8 mounted poses: The first two Cowboys are new poses, the first is a Swoppet pose, the second is a Britains Herald pose. At this point, all the Britains Herald, and most of the Crescent Cowboys and Indians poses are available in 1/72 scale.
These photographs show a selection of the Five and Dime Cowboys and Indians alongside their more modern and better-known cousins.
The three 'modern' Cowboys shown are, L-R: Airfix, Atlantic and Revell.
The three 'modern' Indians shown are, L-R: Airfix, Atlantic and Revell.
The story isn’t over yet. There are still things to be discovered. This above Cowboy is not from any above mentioned sets, though he is similar to one figure in PS4. He is obviously modeled on a Britains Swoppet, but this one is a slightly different pose and the detail rivals any Revell Cowboy. His horse is slightly different too. I also have seen pictures of sets I was unable to buy that had plug-in wagon riders. So keep checking those little junk piles of Hong Kong Cowboys and Indians. You may turn up something we never knew existed and now can’t possibly live without!