WGSSFP

This line of Sesame Street Finger Puppets were widley available from about 12 years, from 1972-1984. Originally manufactured by Topper's Educational Toy division, it moved to Child Guidance, which was a brand for preschool toys dating back to the Fifties. CG joined forces with Children's Television Workshop, to produce a wide array of Sesame merchandise. The Child Guidance brand moved from three seperate manufacturers in the 1970s, Questor, Gabriel, and finally, Hasbro, before phasing out in the mid 1980s. This is what I'[ve been able to piece together, please let me know if I am missing anything. Thanks to Brian Heiler, of Plaidstallions and MegoMuseum fame who provided me with a lot of the catalogs and magazine materials shown here.

TOPPER TOYS 1971-72 BertErnie Topper FaceBig BirdGroverCookie

The line began in 1971, just two years after the debut of the Sesame Street TV show. The first Sesame toy license was owned by Topper Toys, which been successful in the Sixties with the Dawn doll and Johnny Lightning but would soon fade away. Topper produced the 6 initial finger puppets and other items, notably the rubber-headed hand puppets that are familiar to many growing up in the Seventies. Despite high quality and attention to detail Topper lost the Sesame contract to Child Guidance in 1973, apparently due to financial troubles (see article below). I suspect that Child Guidance made a big play and the creation of the Children's Television Workshop may have had something to do with it. CTW is not listed on any of the Topper material.

One hallmark of the Topper line is the fantastic card artwork done by the great illustrator Jack Davis of Mad Magazine fame. This was the early, funky era of Sesame Street and Davis' art truly embodies that spirit. The red, yellow, and blue logo is quite distinct from the more familiar green and yellow Sesame Street sign that is found on later packages.

With excellent quality and fantastic packaging, the Toppers are the best of the WGSSFPs.

Topper also produced a gift set with 5 puppets.

Below: I have yet to find any official Topper catalogs showing the line, but this trade advertisement announces the launch of the CG/CTW partnership. The spread is dated 1973 and marked with the Questor label, but everything in it is first run Topper merchandise. This was taken before dropped the contract with Topper. It looks like it was photographed on the set of the show!
Child Guidance 1972 spreadQuestor trade ad

This item in the January 1973 toy industry trade magazine Playthings announced Topper losing the rights to Sesame Street. It shows Topper in some financical trouble but doesn't specify a cause for CTW cancelling the contract. Child Guidance was a bigger, more famous brand, and certainly a name to inspire confidence. They may simply have seemed a more attractive partner to CTW. A shame, because the design aesthetic is not as strong.

 


QUESTOR 1973-77Questor BertGabriel Big BirdQuestor Gabriel Cookie Monster

The line went to Questor Toys in 1973 and expanded to 9 characters. An immediate loss of detail is noticeable on the six original characters, and they are 10-15% smaller. They are identical to the Toppers, but they are copies that have lost something in the process. It seems likely that Questor did not have access to the original molds from Topper and were forced to make molds from existing puppets--therefore they are copies of copies. Additionally, the vinyl rubber is stiffer--This is hard to account for because the 3 additions to the line, Roosevelt, Sherlock and the Salesman have the same supple quality that the original Toppers do. These 3 characters were presumably made with new molds, so their detail level matches the Toppers, but why would their materials feel so different?

Other changes include the use of rooted hair for Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster's plastic eyes being eliminated, and all puppets now bear a Made in Hong Kong stamp on the bottom.

The packaging changes to the plain green and white with a color accent for each character.

As you can see below, Questor also continued the hand puppet line, with similar changes (plastic eyebrows on Ernie and Bert) and added a number of cool toys. My favorites are the Muppet Miniatures that predate the hundreds of Sesame PVC figures that would come in the 80s and 90s. As with many of the Sesame toys of the era they have a great fidelity to the design of the TV puppets and are not simplified or infantilized as later toys were.

A Catalog Goodness! The 1974 Questor Catalog announces the arrval of 3 new finger puppets! I've never seen packaged examples of the 3 so this catalog find was a revelation. It confirmed that they came after the switch from Topper and shows what their accent colors were on the package cards. The second image, the 1976 catalog provides the information that they were included in a gift set and that to me is truly mind-blowing. I've never seen either Questor gift set. Note there are two different gift sets shown (these images come from different catalogs)
Questor's new puppets lineupQuestor product line


GABRIEL 1978-1979Questor BertGabriel Big BirdQuestor Gabriel Cookie MonsterCount2

Questor and the Child Guidance license is accquired by Gabriel Toys (most famous for it's Lone Ranger dolls in the 70s). Questor labeling continues up until 1979. (See the Cookie Monster page for the only example I have of a Gabriel labeled Green Card.) The original 6 remain without change, the 3 Questor additions are cancelled, but two new and very exciting characters are added: Herry Monster and The Count. Once again, the level of detail and softness of materials matches the Toppers and these 2 additions are standout in quality over their set mates.


Below: The CGSSFP lineup changes in the 1978 Gabriel Catalog with the debuts of The Count and Herry Monster which continue into the 79 catalog. Also pictured are the hand puppets, now entirely plush.


GABRIEL 1980-1985 Questor BertGabriel Big BirdQuestor Gabriel Cookie Monster

The 1980 Gabriel catalog showcased whole new graphic design scheme for the Child Guidance lines, a deep blue with red and yellow stripes. The finger puppets are scaled back to their original 6 characters and the quality takes another dive. The bodies are nearly hard plastic and have a translucent quality to them. Detail is even more minimal. They are still the same sculpts--Big Bird's feathers match the original Toppers, but they are flat and lifeless from repeated remolding. Grover and Cookie Monster are a much lighter blue now.

In two years the final set of puppets would be released, virtually the same except now with plastic molded hair on Ernie and Bert. That marks he end of the Child Guidance line. The next series of finger puppets will be new, infantilized, simplified, and overdecorated designs by companies like Tara Toys and Applause.



In 1983 the CGFPs underwent the final change--Ernie and Bert were given molded plastic hair.

OVERSEAS MANUFACTURERS

I've come across 3 different overseas manufacturers of the CGSSFPs. Lili Ledy of Mexico was the main producer of Mexican versions of popular American toys in the 1970s including Mego superheroes and Kenner Star Wars and Six Million Dollar Man. They produced at least 4 of the Sesame Street finger puppets in addition to PACO and ABALARDO, two bird Muppets from Plaza Sesamo, the Spanish language Sesame Street. I have been lucky enough to find a two-pack of Cookie Monster (called "Lucas") and Oscar and hope one day to find Paco and Abalardo!


Lili Ledy Mexico

Vicma was a Spanish manufacturer who produced some cheap and bizarre versions of these puppets including a giftset.

I have found one example of a Grover from the Netherlands. It's very well made, with a marvelous package illustration and unique removeable bubble.

Dutch