Monday, 21 October 2013

From Redbeard to Brickbeard: LEGO Pirates Minifigures

Pirates is one of the most beloved LEGO themes of all time. Collectors still hunt down classic sets and talented builders create more intricate ships and buildings then LEGO has ever released. Pickings have been sparse since the brief return Pirates sets made in 2010, which makes the lone release of an exclusive Pirates mini-figure pack a fun treat.

The Pirates mini-figures have evolved significantly over the years. When the line was introduced in 1989, the mini-figures broke new ground thanks to their facial hair and eye patches. The soldiers retained the traditional vanilla smiley face, presumably the Admiral felt his men should be clean shaven and looking sharp.

Captan Redbeard (known as Captain Roger in certain territories) was the most ornate of the mini-figures, with lapels, a hook for a hand and a peg leg. He led his band of Pirates who either had a mustached face or one with an eye patch, save for the female Pirate who had a unique face and torso.

The soldiers had four varieties. The regular soldiers were the most numerous, there were also officers and governors. Each wore a different style of hat, the combination of the Sailor mini-figure was unique to the Caribbean Clipper (6274). 

Things were shaken up in 1992, when the soldiers changed from blue uniforms to red. The designs were identical, only the colour had changed. A new face was introduced for the Pirates, and there was more mixing and matching to create a broader variety of sea-dogs. Captain Ironhook looked like Captain Redbeard after he’d been chewed up by a shark, although it might have been easier to distinguish him if the designers had given him a different face to the previous Captain.

Between 1989 and 1995, although new parts were introduced for the mini-figures there was a degree of continuity, with gradual change rather than a drastic overhaul. In 1996, a majority of the mini-figures were new and different. New faces, torsos and coloured hats added a lot of diversity to the Pirate population. Some Pirates even sported tattoos! The Imperial Armada was a new faction with completely new hats, heads and torsos.

Despite the big overhaul, after a limited release of sets in 1997 Pirates would be on hiatus until 2010, when fans rejoiced to see LEGO return to this fondly remembered theme. Modern mini-figure deign aesthetics were used – front and back printing on torsos, defined stylised expressions and ‘cartoony’ torsos, but they had a clear influence from the original Pirates line. The Soldiers were much like the red Soldiers from the past, but with more detail on their torsos and a variety of expressions. The Pirates were also more detailed, and had a different colour palette for their headwear. The most obvious influence from the original mini-figures was on Captain Brickbeard, who was clearly a modern version of the iconic Captain Redbeard.

Bringing this to the present day, the LEGO Store exclusive Pirates Minifigures set includes four Pirates, accessories and a few bricks. These Pirates use the torsos and headgear from the 2010 Pirates range, but using faces and selected accessories from other LEGO themes. It may not be the most exciting LEGO release of the year, but any Pirate related booty is appreciated in these dark times!

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