I've been adding to my huge collection of historic LEGO images while working on a Unofficial LEGO Set/Parts Chapter on the predecessors to the modern Minifigs of 1978.
The very first LEGO figures were produced in 1956 as part of the new Town Plan system of 1956. They consisted of 2 spare parts packs....
The first one was the 1270/270 Cyclists/Motorcyclists sets of 1956-65. Besides the spare parts packs, they were only ever found in one LEGO set... the 1961-67 810 Town Plan set.
Here is an example of a cyclist box set #270
in a 1960-65 box type....
There were 5 items, although only 4 different models (1 duplicate) to this set. These were hand painted, and then with a dab of glue, glued to a card and inserted into the box so that they don't bang into each other. So when people who find these in an old LEGO lot, they are always puzzled why there is glue or paper stuck to the bottom... and more often than not, even new examples get sold as used because they think they've been used or damaged.
There were 4 major models... a bicyclist (in the 1960s this was turned into a racer), a motorcyclist, and scooter, and a bicyclist. There were 1950s models, and updated 1960s models for each of these.
I've got images of over 50 different paint jobs and model designs for these early LEGO cyclists.... here's a few...
These old LEGO cyclists used to be pretty cheap... only about $5 each.... but now I'm starting to see them selling for $15-$25 (or more) each.
These were all hand painted designs.... and therefore labor intensive. When these came out in 1956 TLG used to hire "home workers" (Heimarbeiter in German)... stay at home mom's who wanted pocket money.... who in their spare time painted these figures with TLG supplied plastic figures and paints. Once a week or so a TLG employee would go around to all the home workers, and pick up completed inventory, and distribute unpainted new models and paints. However, quality was always an issue... and there are an endless supply of color combinations (some women decided to try their hand at their own color combinations)... so by 1960 TLG decided to end this process, and bring the painting in-house to TLG.
One way to quicken the painting process when it was in-house, was to produced the unpainted models in specific plastic colors, which then required minimal painting of only some areas of the individual cycles. Here are some very rare unpainted in-house models.....
As can be seen with the blue and red examples... only some parts of these figures were painted, cutting down on the time to finish these.
These cyclists ended their production in 1965, with the end of the Town Plan system. These models were NEVER available in USA/Canada... only Europe and Australia. For those of you who might find these items of little use in your LEGO towns of today... you could always use them as window displays for a toy or bicycle shop in your LEGO town.... after all the are REAL LEGO.
Here's a continental European 810 Town Plan box that shows the cyclists as an accessory alongside the 1:87 LEGO cars and trucks. Back in the Town Plan days... TLG had a lot of parts that mimic'ed those of model railroads... especially the HO scale....
These are but one of several LEGO figures that predate the 1978 introduction of LEGO Minifigs, and my colletors guide has a new chapter that shows the evolution from microfig to minifig. :)
Built to almost Miniland scale... this set is so rare (only sold in Denmark in small quantities in 1965, with the remaining inventory sent off to be sold in Japan in 1967)... that it has the greatest ratio of box/instructions vs. parts value of any set.
Only 1% of the value of this set are the parts.... which most anyone could build out of their own spare parts inventory.... the 321 Clowns Set... which could easily top $2000 in MISB....
This set came in a tall box set. Tall box sets were sort of unique to Samsonite, and usually had a 10x10 thick baseplate without crossribs on the underside. So they fit right over the box top. These 10x10 baseplates were pretty much unique to Samsonite LEGO, and the 905 Doll Set was the only source of these in black (they are common in red, scarce in gray, and rare in black or yellow).
Although all of these figure sets produced in the mid 1960s were not popular, the 905 set was however much more common than the 321 Clown Set, and are not that expensive on the secondary market today.
This set also was sold as 1905 in a canister with tin top as a Sears exclusive set, which was much rarer.
One interesting piece of trivia about these 905/1905 sets was that they were the first LEGO model set that came with small green plates. Green plates in sizes 1x1, 1x2, 2x2, 2x3 and 2x4 were introduced in 1963, but only in USA/Canada Samsonite LEGO parts packs. They were not produced in Europe or elsewhere for another 15 years. Even the Samsonite green plates were discontinued by 1967.