This is the first totally original The Avengers Gift Set 40 that I have had, I probably won't see another for a long time so I shall make the most of this while it's here. It is also a good opportunity to revisit the bits and pieces to watch out for.
The outer box is not particularly bright but it is complete and has no significant signs of wear. the flaps and edges are sound. As a reminder to anyone thinking about posting this set to anyone, the box does have two sharp dents on one side where the Bentley seems to have taken a run at the inside of the box somewhere between an auctioneers in Bury St Edmunds and Astcote. Such careless packing may also account for the small tear in the front offside wheel cut-out on the inner tray, which looks quite fresh.
Otherwise, the inner plinth is nice an clean and the colours are fresh and bright. The inner card to support the base from bowing towards the centre is missing. It nearly always is but it is a good idea to put something in there to prevent any further wear. Ideally, make some indents for the wheels too. You can do that by simply inserting the card and drawing round the inside of the holes and using a sharp knife for the cut-outs. They don't need to be too tidy as no-one will see them.
This set has the green Bentley with red wheels. That seems to be the one that gets the highest prices in the main and I think it is quite a lot less common than the red one. Whilst Steed did always have the green Bentley, his didn't have red wheels but it is as close to being accurate as you'll get in the originals.
Some commentators refer to this as the 'first edition' of the set but I am not sure about this. Yes, the box has a green Bentley illustrated but all the publicity material I have seen featured the red one in 1966. So I tend to think there were probably several variations used from the start - certainly in the first year or two. From what I can tell, the variations that were issued in sets would be the green with red wheels, red with red or silver wheels and an unusual red with gold wheels. Interestingly, the green Bentley only seems to appear with red wheels in original sets.
Mrs Peel's Lotus, of course, is always white which makes life a bit simpler. You will find late sets with cast wheels on the Lotus but I think that is the only variation.
I believe the umbrellas are original. It is not so easy to tell now, though, as some reproductions are excellent. In my view, if they're that good then it doesn't matter - we can never know without carbon dating or something! The things to look for are the lines where the brolly has been rolled up (furled) which should be clear all the way round, the handle should be evenly blobby without any furry bits and the point sharp and not with surplus plastic attached. Another simple check is to lay them next to each other and they need to look identical in size and design. Obviously that last check doesn't distinguish the reproductions but you'll get the idea.
This Lotus is very good. I have spotted small chips at the back and two very small nicks on the driver's side; one on the door and another on the rear wing. I wonder whether these, and the rear chips, had in fact been caused by the movement inside the box when in transit. Those auctioneer packers have a lot to answer for - especially as I had made it very clear to the owner and them how important it was to wrap the cars carefully (and ideally separately to the box as there was no packing card with this set).
The suspension is sound. Phew! The screen and windows are good too and the interior cleaned up well as it had been a bit dusty. The paintwork had also been quite grubby. It has cleaned up very nicely and it is possible that another go will bring it up a little more white as it has a definite creamy shade. I am assuming this is mere age and not tobacco! I am also suspicious of the very pure white examples as I am pretty sure the car should be slightly cream.
Keeping this set original, I haven't added the HNK 999C number plates but I have offered to do so if a new owner would like them.
There was a problem with the Lotus, however. The steering wheel had become detached. Again, that may have been as a result of crashing around in transit but I can't be sure. I have re-affixed it and it would be extremely hard for anyone to spot this but, nevertheless, I have to own up to this. There are too many false 'originals' being advertised and that annoys me a bit. I am looking for another Lotus Elan to provide in this set but they are not easy to find in as good condition. So until something better comes along that's how it has to be.
The Bentley is super. There are usually some chips on the side of the rails but this one has none. The hood is original, as is the screen and the vulnerable horn on the driver's side. Although it is possible to replace wheels, there are no signs that these are not as originally fitted.
Steed always needs to be looked at carefully. He is less likely to go missing than Mrs Peel and is not that easy to take out so the chances are that he will be genuine if everything else is good. His suit and hat should be grey and not a brown shade of grey and definitely not glossy as some reproduction figures can be. This has some wear on top of the hat, leaving a pink patch beneath, which I have seen before on several sets. Some people have been known to drop Jeeves in the seat and say it's John Steed but they're just stupid and you'll spot that easily!
Mrs Peel, however, can be a problem. This set arrived with the character on the right. I have my suspicions that she was a reproduction. The base is quite a bright green and the trousers have a single black decoration. All the replacements I have used have had similar features to that one. The one or two characters that I have had that I have had good reason to believe were originals, and by far the majority of sets auctioned by professionals like QDT, have a darker, more drab, green base and three fine black lines on Mrs Peel's trousers.
The one I prefer as original is also slightly taller. They each have very similar finish, though, with identical buttons, jacket folds, hands, hats etc. So I don't know. I would be surprised if they are both original but I suppose it is possible. I am going to settle for the one with one band being a very good reproduction, though, and have donated my original to this set in its place.
I also removed the CRI 479 number plate!
So this set has been quite a challenge to document and prepare in many aspects. I will continue to seek a good Lotus Elan but do feel that I can sell this as one of the very genuinely original sets out there. It isn't cheap though.
I should soon be able to put together some non-original sets which will be rather more affordable! One thing I have realised is just how good the reproduction boxes can be! If this one had been any cleaner it really would have been difficult to tell the difference.