In 1973, Miniature Figurines, perhaps better known as Minifigs, a British-based manufacturer of metal miniatures for wargames, began production on one of the first lines of fantasy miniatures. (Another very early line by Jack Scruby Miniatures is discussed in this recent article at Playing at the World.)
The line of 25 mm minis was called 'Mythical Earth' --- obviously inspired by Tolkien. The preview photo is from Airfix Magazine, August 1973, and shows some of the first figures in the line, including (from left to right) painted versions of ME4 Wizard, ME1 Man-Orc with Sword, ME2 Wood Elf with Bow, ME3 Dwarves (one of two figures) and ME6 Hobbits (one of thee). Chainmail was in existence at this time, but the publication of D&D in January 1974 was still a number of months away.
In the Playing at the World article linked above, Jon mentions that the "Mythical Earth" was not the original name for this line, but was a rebranding to avoid suit by the Tolkien Estate. This appears to be reflected in this preview as it only uses the name "Middle Earth" and not "Mythical Earth".
It's stunning to realize that when this article was first published, in August 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive, though not for long as he passed away the following month on September 2nd, 1973.
The preview was part of the "New kits and models" column in Airfix, author unlisted but probably Editor Bruce Quarrie or Editorial Director Darryl Reach:
"In their 25 mm range. Miniature Figurines have sent us the first samples in a new series of ‘Middle Earth' figures. Wargamers who are also addicted to Professor J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings will be delighted with these figures, which currently include a wizard, man-orc, dwarf, elf and hobbit, illustrated here. Future releases will include Riders of Rohan. Dunedain, and Nazgul mounted on pterodactyl-like winged beasts. Orcs and further examples both of the Free Peoples and Sauron's minions. Readers of Wargamers Newsletter will realise that there is considerable demand for fantasy figures of this type, and Miniature Figurines are to be congratulated on such an imaginative venture. The figures will undoubtedly be especially popular in America, where Tolkien is a great cult figure, and in this context it is worth noting that the firm are soon to be opening a factory in the States."Thanks to Shining Knight pointing out this article in this thread on the Dragonsfoot.
A pdf of the magazine can be found over on the Internet Archive.
A gallery of the entire Mythical Earth line can be seen on the Lost Minis wiki.
The line eventually grew to 101 figures. Despite the focus on Middle Earth, it had a few oddities, such as ME51 Frog Man (perhaps Gollum? But why avoid using his name when you already using Hobbit, Huorn, Rohan, Dunland and Harad?), ME100 Centaur, and the final figure ME101 Pan.
J. Eric Holmes owned minis from this line. I previously wrote about his Green-Painted ME58 Dragon and also about a ME4 Wizard in the photo from the Tales of Peril dust jacket.
(Article originally drafted in April 2018 but just revised & posted today)