About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

1947 - 1955 (approximately); The Bergen/Beton Mounted Figures

Disclaimer

All or none of the figures in this post could (or could not) be by Airfix, or any of the other manufacturers mentioned in the text. Most of the horses probably are Airfix, those over-which a question mark remains are pointed out in the text.

First advertised in 1947 these are probably the first 'plastic' Toy Figures produced commercially in the UK as playthings...

Group Shot

These figures (where they ARE Airfix) were probably pirated from the Bergen Toy (Beton) company rather than licensed, after Nikolai Kovespachi (Nicholas Kove) came back from his reconnaissance to America sometime in the mid-to-late 1940's. The horse is deliberately different with it's tail slightly to one side and there are subtle differences in those figures which are duplicated, while the Life Guard seems to have been an Airfix original?

Doughboy in 'Brodie' helmet

This figure may be (and the horse definitely is...) a Beton product, but he comes within the scope of this article/post and ended up first in line because I wasn't too bothered about the order in which I uploaded the photographs! The horse is a dense cellulose-acetate polymer called Tenite, and while the figure is similar, he seems more clearly a polystyrene, so late US or European production?.

Staff Officer

Beton called this chap either M416; U.S. Cavalry Officer, or with a paint change; M418 Traffic Officer. Airfix called this the Horse Guard. Beton Horse on the left with a polyethylene Airfix horse on the right, The Airfix horse is marked 'MADE IN ENGLAND' withing the hollow underside/belly.

The red figure has probably only had his paint removed, you can see the figure on the left is suffering a crystalline reaction between the paint and the plastic, sometimes this reaction results in a sticky mess which is better removed.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) 'Mountie'

The Mountie, again not sure if Airfix produced this one, Reisler did, and as they produced the Life Guard, it's possible they got their figures (or a license?) from Airfix which would suggest Airfix produced a Mountie as well. Airfix horse again on the right.

The Mountie was also produced by Tudor*Rose, but as part of their wild West range and will be covered when I look at them.

Later - Yes they did, these are both Airfix, a later polystyrene one on the left and an earlier cellular acetate one on the right, see below..

Later still (several years later!) - Tudor Rose didn't do the Mountie.

Lifeguard in ceremonial uniform

The Life Guard, clearly aiming at the Tourist market, all these figures - when originating with Airfix - were supposed to stand up when removed from the horse, they rarely do! These are probably both Airfix with the horse in polyethylene and the rider in a styrene polymer.

Hunting party with both poses

The Hunters, Beton produced a female rider and a Jockey in racing silk, both in a larger size, neither of which - as far as I know - were part of the Airfix issues and don't seem to have featured in the Reisler inventory either.

Beagles


2013 - By Airfix - the hunters were sold in a boxed set with the two dogs above, these dogs were also sold in a kennel shaped box with other breeds. Early ones are cellulose-acetate, these are the later polyethylene run.

The dogs are marked internally in the same manor as the Airfix horses. The lower two are also ethylene, but in black. It would seem they come in the same colours as the ethylene horses, with some in the reddish/oxide browns.

2014 - Somehow I forgot the Alsation? Well here it is and there's now a setter on the STS forum thread, along with a red-brown Beagle.

2016 - Now a setter (English? Not Irish...not shaggy enough!) joins the collection with a lurcher/greyhound racing type.


2017 - This has been added to the 'pack'; it's a duplicate but in nicer condition than the one I already had and it was a bargain!

Academy Cadet/Circus Performer/Ceremonial figure

This horse is from a different source altogether (the Woolworths Crazy Clown Circus) but might be an Airfix original and this figure looks good rearing up on it! These are technically only 'Cadets' but they do look like simplified ceremonials or those generic Napoleonics that feature so much in early toy production, while he also works well as a circus performer!

The following will help identify these figures in greater detail;

Kent Sprecher's Beton page.
The Reamsa figure on JC's blog.
Reisler page click-on; SGI / Riesler then either 'I Soldater og Politi' or; 'III Sportsryttere' below the thumbnails.

Further reading

Plastic Warrior magazine have produced a guide: Airfix - The Early Years, which covers all this early production in some depth.

Any of Richard O'Brien's volumes on firstly 'Collecting Toy Soldiers' and latterly 'Collecting American Made Toy Soldiers will fill you in on the Bergen/Beton production.

Indeed, one of the main questions remaining comes from his work if an American reader can help...did Beton use both sets of codes or is one O'Brien's own system?

Added 20th November 2012

And then this turns up! Raising that whorey old question of who copied who? An original Timpo boxed-set, the horse is quite a lump of lead, and seems to be early enough to be pre-war, except that Timpo aren't supposed to have made lead until after the war...was it intended for the composition range?

And/So; did Timpo copy Bergan-Beton, or did the Americans have a stab at a British piece of hollow-cast but in plastic (albeit: cellulose-acetate)

Clues point both ways - The edges of the horse are a bit rough, so it could have been the copy, taken badly and not cleaned up, while the solid belly and hollow-cast nature of the piece would make copying almost has hard - thechnically - as making a new horse pose from scratch, suggesting it IS a new pose and not the copy.

While the figure stares at us inanely, giving no clue as to his parentage, being easier to copy either way, and being as clean a moulding here as he is in plastic?

Also, there were other poses than the Mountie produced by Reamsa, and other stuff has come to light on this much copied/licenced set, so I will update this post properly one day!

------------------------------------------------------------

November 2014

It seems that the Cowboy was an Airfix pose, so I will have to update the table above, and it means we'll probably end-up with the Tudor*Rose and other figures here as well...

So, a quick correction of the blurb for the Mountie post above and we can look at this little group, late - polystyrene - production with a quick splash of blue on the chaps/boots and brown hats. No Indian? But a cowboy, cowgirl and the Mountie (Royal Canadian mounted Policeman - RCMP). These is also a Hong Kong copy of the cowboy for comparison.

These are the standard Tudor*Rose horse, not always marked, but their saddles give them away with the arrangement of stars round the edge. All the producers of this horse varied the saddles, and when I get the rest out of storage we'll look at them all in more detail, but for now these are Tudor*Rose and have two open stars forward of the girth (?) strap and five squashed stars behind.

The Tudor*Rose mounted cowboys, next to an Airfix 'original'. At some point these was a re-design on the figure with a more complicated lasso/lariat (can any American reader explain any difference between the two, or is it just preference/local dialect?), possibly designed to damage less easily than the earlier one which was happy to brake if you as much as looked at it wrong and is often missing, especially from the earlier hard plastic figures - from all the makers of the pose.

Below them is a close-up of the full Tudor*Rose marking in the under-belly of the horses, you can see why I always write the asterisk in Tudor*Rose, they always put the little graphic Tudor rose symbol between the Tudor and the Rose!

Mounted on the Tudor*Rose horses they make a nice group, but is there an Indian or two? We will look at other peoples Indians in due course.

Added May 2017



The above shot is trying to make sense of the more common (or what I have to hand!) figures found in the UK, and is pretty straightforward - apart from all the questions it raises! So don't take the labelling as anything more than a guide.

For instance, why are the cadets not listed in the Airfix catalogues referenced in the 'Aifix Special Publication' from Plastic Warrior magazine? As far as I can tell (from Kent Sprecher's site and Ponylope) Began/Beton didn't paint the trousers on theirs, while these - matching the Airfix Lifeguard would seem to be Airfix? It could be that they were in a later catalogue? Or that they bought them in from Bergan and painted them here?

Maybe they were for a specific contract with someone like Woolworth's and never offered by Airfix to the wider trade? They are - dare I say - even the commonest of the full-painted figures to find over here, with the unpainted versions (bottom right) equally easy to find - at the right show!

Likewise the two westerners seem more akin to the Tudor Rose figures and share the alpha-numerical, single-character codes (white text) on one foot, missing from the 'clearly' Airfix, indeed missing an all the other examples. I'm assuming there is not significance to the codes beyond mould/cavity markers, but it helps distinguish them. While they share the foot-marks, the painted pair has no locating studs - which further ID Tudor Rose in hard and soft plastic, so they both remain a second mystery.

The pink guy is also unmarked, but not Airfix, I suspect 'early Hong Kong pirate' to be his title and epitaph!

A similar treatment of the horse types, and again only take the labelling as a guide, also; the hard plastic version of Tudor Rose are absent, but they are to all intents and purposes the same as the polyethylene ones, with the dimples for the locating-studs on the riders calves setting them apart from Bergan/Beton and Airfix.

And we have a reciprocal question mark to the cadet above, in the two tenite type horses top left; which have the sword hanging from the left of the saddle and the [whatever?] bayonet, truncheon, cavalry musket hanging from the right. While it's hard to see in one of the Airfix press releases in the above mention PW publication, all the other horses illustrated are either hollow 'bent tails' or the later whole-bellied (with paint) we know are definitely Airfix mounts.

It may not look like it in the above two images, but a lot of the horses and riders are not compatible, the fit being either too tight to go together or two loose for the riders to stay-on. However, one of the best fits is the question mark cadets, with the Bergan/Beton horse. If it wasn't for the painted trousers you'd say they were US imports from old lists or since the advent of feeBay, but they are two common, they must have had a reason beyond recent purchase for being over here (in the UK) in numbers.

The four main horse types, from the top of both images; 'Bergan/Beton' with a part-hollow cavity, this is in a heavy, dense polymer which may be a phenolic or cellulose-based thermosetting material; Airfix late with full body sculpt in a lightweight polystyrene - made of two halves glued/heat-welded together; Airfix early with hollow body, flat, slab-sides to the cavity and MADE IN ENGLAND (with a single number), most are a dense'ish polythene but some are a heavier marbled 'scrap' plastic, finally; Tudor Rose late soft ethylene with the cavity scooped-out, and a letter 'c' in this case, others as we've seen above can have the whole logo, some having a number, others no mark.

It should be pointed out that both the painted and unpainted cadets (two shots above) along with the painted lifeguard and the two questionable Wild West figures are all in the same material as the pair of 'Bergan/Beton' horses, while the Horse Guard in service/working dress uniform is a lightweight polystyrene like the later red figures with blue legs.

Helping to prove some of the thoughts above; here they are on the horses they best fitted, with the question mark cadets fitting the question mark hoses, the other painted Airfix fitting the bent-tailed horse, those figures were too narrow to go comfortably on the solid hose, but the blue-legs fitted them snuggly (conforming to the trade sets uncovered by Plastic Warrior magazine's contributors), while the hard styrene Tudor Rose (identical to the same companies soft ethylene versions) fitted the soft plastic horse, it being also identical to TR's missing [from these pictures] polystyrene variant.

Another way of tying these together is matching-up the paint used by the factory/out-painters! The off-white of the cowgirl's hat is a perfect match for the socks of the cross-over horse (?)*, while the 'Mountie's ochre matches the saddles of the solid styrene horses.

* I think the soft ethylene horses pre-date the solid-bodied polystyrene ones, the producing and gluing in two halve coming after Airfix had gained experience in tooling-up for their kit range and infant toys, using the material they had settled on for that core production.

And while I've got my 'thinking' hat on; the very early 'cigarette-box' ships (miniature models rather than kits) by Airfix were in the same dense creamy-white polymer as the 'Bergan/Beton' horse above, but with Airfix advertising the hoses and motorcycles (which are all polyethylene) as 'unbreakable', I think it looks most likely the cadets and matching horses are Bergan/Beton imports painted to match our ceremonial cavalry's trousers, but still: imported by Airfix, or someone like Woolworth's?

These guys all fit the bent tail with the least common variations of both hose and rider to the right, I only have the one soft polyethylene figure, and the horse is as stated above a strange brew akin to a nylon/rayon or early polypropylene, having the rigidity of styrene but the soapy feel of an ethylene, and clearly being made from scraps, I guess an experimental mould shot/mould run, considered OK for retail release?

More of the same; if yer got'em, yer gotta' play wi'um! On the right are the big question marks; both 'as per' Bergan/Beton, neither found [yet] in Airfix paperwork, yet painted to the Airfix pattern, not Bergan/Beton's?

Combining with the few already here (mostly Tudor Rose), I'm still looking for the Airfix Archer and Indian holding a rifle (which he holds higher than the common Tudor Rose version), while I have a shortage of Tudor Rose hard polystyrene horses, but I think there are a few in storage. Also the spear-chap is (as always) broken and he seems to be an Airfix-unique post, not carried-through to the later Tudor Rose range.

Hong Kong generally seems to have gone off and re-done them with a new horse (taken from another US donor?) and upper-torso's from Britains and co. as seen along the bottom row and in the bag, the painted horse is cruder and a copy-of-a-copy. The Horse top left is probably from a French rack-toy (called bazaars - as they were sold in markets), several French brands had similar horses, usually as wagon-teams on simple polyethylene models. The blue one is a body-copy and we've seen it before (above a'ways), with the obvious locating studs on the feet of narrower legs and the pink one is at the start of this additional section.

In the preparation of this new section, the very early Airfix Horse Guard started to crumble like a biscuit, he'd already dried out like old bread and shrunk like a prune, so - sticking with the food-based metaphors - I coated him in plumber's sealant and done 'im up like a kipper! Note how handling over the years had protected the feet and lower legs from the worst of the damage, oils in the human skin serving to seal or lubricate/moisturise those areas.

This figure was definitely an unstable phenol- or cellulose-acetate or other 'phenolic' type, some react with their paint and go sticky, some grow a forest of evil-looking crystals; but in the end they all start to crack and brake-up. This coating them in plumber's sealant I've been trying seems to be a good way of getting a few more years out of them, but only time will tell?

The other point worth raising here - as I've run out of pictures and it remains unsaid - is that in the Airfix ephemera tracked down by Plastic Warrior, there is mention of a 'British Policeman' (listed with the RCMP 'Mountie'), while Lifeguard and Horse Guard are listed together. Now, assuming the khaki version of this figure with the service cap is the Horse Guard (Airfix describe "...the Horse Guards in their more sober Khaki..." and I've never seen 'Blues' in the same uniform/pose as the 'Royals'), and assuming that the Mountie is a Mountie is a Mountie; Who's the British policeman - where's the British Policeman? Did they sell the same khaki figure as a Military Policeman and barrack-dress Horse Guard, or is there a blue version of this figure to pass as a civilian mounted policeman?

Also; the Horse Guard is a different moulding from the US figure (Cavalry officer/Traffic Officer), was the airfix policeman a copy of this other sculp, and if so why is it apparently so uncommon compared to the others? And following on from that; there are gaps in the numbering of these early figures which could be occupied by the two cadets (painted and unpainted) . . .

2 comments:

Timspfd said...

Interesting, especially the lead possible antecedent. The Beton horse was copied by other US companies. I did a page comparing them at the ToyAnimal Wiki wiki link

Hugh Walter said...

Thanks Tim, yeah I know about the four main US ones, but it's more complicated than that, there's Airfix, Kleeware, Tudor*Rose, Reamsa, Reisler and a French company, soft plastic versions of the cellulose ones and more saddle variations than you can shake a big stick at...then there's Hong Kong!!!

H