But no one else seems to remember them! Which means this may have been a very working class thing to do?
Google images to the rescue.
An antiques store has no animals in stock, but is _selling the paper tea boxes_ for $7.50 each, for ID purposes. The UPC code has been cut off, which means it was sent in as proof of purchase to get a premium item -- such as the cabinets I recall.
This is a current auction on ebay, of a cabinet (like I remember! Complete with the type-box-style dividers that I didn't necessarily want myself) with a collection of the figures. $125 Buy It Now.
Cases like these are also used for thimble collections, and with different internals for souvenir spoon collections.
Red Rose's website (they still exist, and still do the figurines) describes the history:
And you can read more on the wikipedia page:
Which adds that:
"During the 1970s, United States test markets for the figurines were opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Pacific Northwest states."
I suspect that my mother and all her JW friends were collecting during the test market phase, because this isn't something I remember her getting into when I was a teenager in the '80s.
In the back of my head, I've always felt like there was a strong familial connection between the desire to collection action figures and the affection that some people feel small ceramic figurines -- and it's just the same as dollhouse collectors and anyone else fascinated by miniature worlds, which is ultimately almost everyone, if the correct form is found.
I hadn't realized Red Rose was a Canadian brand. Perhaps that was another reason for my mother to drink it.