Vault tales 156 Run the Set Play Visions Prehistoric Reptiles

Okay, so here’s a Run the Set for one of those sets that lots of collectors know about, and everybody wants…but can prove difficult to actually get anymore. It’s the Play Visions Prehistoric Marine Reptiles (aka Marine Dinosaurs…ugh) set, from 1998 and discontinued soon after. Play Visions was noteworthy at the time…and notorious now…for their wide range of bulk animal sets that featured a range of animals and themes unlike anything we’ve still ever seen. This included modern and prehistoric animals, and those models are overall considered excellent. So of course the company discontinued almost every interesting set in the earliest 2000s…giving us incredibly collectable series. And the set I’m going to talk about now is one of those (second only to the prehistoric amphibians…!)

The sets all had numbers, and this one was listed as 1638. The figures were available as individual figures in bulk plastic containers…and usually retailed for $1 each or so! (side note…there are some that I really wish I’d stocked up on when I had the chance). As it was, though, I didn’t even know about the set until I found an ebay lot of this AND the amphibians…for $30! That sounds crazy but in 2008 a full set of the prehistoric amphibians sold for $800…I don’t think it would anymore, but it gives a sense of how hard to find and irreplaceable these are now. Funniest of all, many of the models made in these bulk lots are still the only readily available versions of their represented animals.

So enough preamble, here are the figures!

Figures by scale

Placodus, Henodus and Mixosaurus

First up, a trio of figures that would be in the roughly 1:20~ish scale. In away, these three represent some of the most interesting-to collectors because they are animals that do not tend to get made. Henodus was made by Safari recently for a toob set, but it is also discontinued. The other 2 animals, the placodont Placodus and the early ichthyosaur Mixosaurus have not been made by anyone else (although Starlux made the realted Placochelys that looks more like a Placodus). And just maybe, it’s because they are really excellent models that would be hard to improve on–these figures could easily be displayed next to Kaiyodo or Colorata and would fit right in. And the Henodus is great as well. Plus, their scale makes them useful for scenes and displays, as the sizes fit along with many common figures.


Next up the scale, we have a Metriorhynchus. At this size, close to 1:40, this is pretty much in line with what is the most popular scale for prehistoric reptiles like dinosaurs and elasmosaurs and such. When first produced, this would have been not only the only Metriorhynchus figure but the only figure representing the Thalattosuchia, a Mesozioc group of marine-adapted crocodile relatives. Since then, there have been a few others by the likes of Safari and Kaiyodo…but once again, they are all out of production! Once again, a very sought after figure–and the design gives a hint to some other information about these Play Visions sets (more soon)


Next along the sizes, the Nothosaurus, about 1:42, so again once that would really suit a collection that is scale dependent. And once again, a figure of an animal that doesn’t show up as a figure very often although they have before (a few times actually…all discontinued). I’m not sure why, all of these figures of less common figures seem to only last for short periods of time–and don’t seem to get made very often anyway.


Next up we have a more familiar animal, a mosasaur. It is specifically labelled as Mosasaurus, which isn’t always the first species that comes to mind. Tylosaurus seems to be just as common as a figure, and in some way more popular in media. Either way, this is an example of a figure that hasn’t held up in every way based on more modern interpretations–for example, the lake of a tail fluke. But it is appropriately reptilian looking, and was great for the time (complete with requisite dorsal frill).

Elasmosaurus and Shonisaurus

Finally, we have two figures that represent the largest animals, so the smallest scale. Elasmosaurus is probably one of the most familiar prehistoric reptiles as figures or in media–something about the look of plesiosaurs is very popular. Shonisaurus was an inspired choice for the time, one of the largest ichthyosaurs known. Although, I seem to recall that recent research doesn’t indicate that a dorsal fin should be there–the only two figures made of Shonisaurus both include it though. It’s interesting that of the 8 figures, two are ichthyosaurs, but at least they are very different looking species.

Pictures with a book!

So, one thing notable about the prehistoric animals made by Play Visions (their marine reptiles, amphibians, and a mammals set) is that the designs were all inspired by existing artwork from a book that had been around since the mid-90s or so…and an awesome CD-ROM that I had called Grolier Prehistoria. It was a Simon & Schuster atlas I believe. I tried taking a few photos of the figures with their inspirations-=but what I learned is that my copy of the book clearly features some updates to the marine reptiles (the amphibians and mammals were not–hopefully I get to them soon!). All book images are from Cox et al., 1999The Simon & Schuster Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures (Revised)”, Simon & Schuster, New York NY. Artist is apparently one Steve Kirk, whose work I am not familiar with otherwise.

“Semi-Aquatic Marine Reptiles”–nothosaurs and placodonts
“Marine Reptiles”–ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs
“Lizards” and “Crocodiles”

So there we have it–a set of 8 prehistoric marine reptiles unlike anything we would see for a very long time…Safari came close with their Prehistoric Marine toob (some figures discussed here, here and here) although they diverged a bit, including a modern shark and a Cenozoic mammal…and CollectA recently came up with their prehistoric marine mini box (one which I surprisingly haven’t featured anything from…yet). But I have to say, there is a charm in everything about the Play Visions set, everything from the slightly archaic designs of the figures to the way they were sold, as loose bulk figures; this kind of thing just isn’t done much anymore. Admittedly, packaged sets and toobs are easier to merchandise, but I remember how much fun it was to dig for figures.

So there we have a very cool, still-sought after set. They represent a fun time in dinosaur toys–and it is really disappointing that they are no longer produced. I would obviously recommend everybody to try and get the set…but I know the chance is probably very limited (and expensive). Which is too bad, I personally think we need more of these kinds of sets, and hope to see this kind of thing more often in the future. If nothing else, how can we not have at least one other Placodus figure?

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