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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); [Civil] The Zoo Animals & Zoo Brix - No Scale

First advertised (as far as we know) at the same time as the Life Guard/Horse Guard set in 1947, this set and it's subsequent offspring present a few questions once you look at it in detail.

A whole card, when I bought this, the vendor had about 6 similar cards, the animals - which the original advertisement tells us numbered 12 different - were randomly assorted so that while there were never two animals the same on any card, they were not divided into two sets of 6, which would have made far more sense.

My set is of polystyrene plastic, the same as the later Zoo Brix, however it seems almost certain that like the contemporary figures, earlier production would have been cellulose-acetate, indeed...

The three brown animals above and the yellow lion in-line with them ARE cellulose-acetate and their bases are the same as the carded ones, so it's fair to assume they are slightly earlier (actual 1947) production.

The 6 animals in the row above them are polystyrene again, however there are subtle differences in the duplicate animals, and the elephant is markedly unalike the carded example. Having only got the 'Brown Bear' in the Zoo Brix Series 'A' (below) this yellow one could be the plain 'Bear' (from the Zoo Brix Series 'C') but without seeing the Airfix animal in the flesh can't know if it's as close to the Airfix moulding as the lion or camel, but given the moulding variations in the Bergen/Beton figures and the early set of 8 soldier poses, it's likely these are all Airfix production or copies of/from Airfix mouldings. Likewise the slightly less defined elephant in pink.

The dogs have the same base style, and could originate with Airfix, but even if they did - I'd put money on their having been sold as playing pieces in a 'Totopoly' style dog-race game. Going to 'The Dogs' was far more popular in the fifties than now, and a fair few dog track board-games exist. The nice thing about these is that they are all slightly different and therefore each - unique. These days you would sculpt one, pantograph it in multiples and produce the same piece/pose in a half-dozen colours!

A close up of the lions and the 'wood-wasp' in the timber-pile; A donkey or ass/mule thing...stripe-less zebra? The dodgy-origin set has slightly thinner bases, however, as the Airfix ones barely stand up, they may be a first effort, but - if that's the case - why didn't the equine subject survive? Also, donkeys and dogs are not really 'Zoo' animals, but rather 'Domestic' animals.

The Logo hiding away in the Jungle foliage, if it's not a jungle, it's a very spacious zoo for the 1950's!! I'm guessing this 'Ape' is meant to be a Gorilla, although it looks more like a Sasquatch I encountered on the Brecon Beacons once!

A Year later the animals were used for Pattern No. 430 Zoo Brix; a boxed set of 6 infant's rattles/bath toys/building-blocks I first covered back in January last here; Bargain! which might be worth a read, however the pictures here are better, I was trying too hard to be clever with the Collage feature last time!

The bases were made wider and glued onto the base of the brick, they were also used in a similar capacity in the end of a baby's rattle/soother. As they would have stood-up better with this wider base, one wonders if they weren't also sold separately, or perhaps supplied as a premium somewhere?

I took these purely to show the size in relation to something more familiar to Airfix fans, one of the dancing para's with his space rifle and pockets stuffed with tissues! What WAS going on with that set, and why did people keep buying it - they must have or they wouldn't have kept churning it out?!

The little granules used to provide the rattle are small pieces of cellulose-acetate raw-material, which was being phased out at Airfix, and what better way to get rid of it than to flog it to the general public a thimble-full at a time! In the words of someone in the industry at the time (I can't find the reference, one of the TIMPO guys?) "Like the little stones in the bottom of a fish tank".

Here's a 'to be updated' chart showing the known poses and their position within the Airfix oeuvre. Which were the other four poses on the original cards? Where does the donkey fit in? Why two Elephant moulds? When - exactly - was the change to all-styrene polymers? Are the Dogs from the same source?

Ist Update.....

Airfix state in their 1947 toy trade advertisement, reproduced in Plastic Warrior magazine's latest 'Airfix Special' issue (2012) that;

"Zoo Set - A new line, 12 different animals. Many colours."

From the same publication, a 1940's catalogue shows the following animals mounting the ramp of a mocked-up card 'export' Noah's ark and disappearing inside;
  • • Kangaroo/Wallaby
  • • Squirrel/Mongoose
  • • Mountain Goat/Deer (with curved horns)
  • • Camel (two-humped dromedary)
  • • Penguin
  • • Elephant
  • • Monkey/Gibbon (on all fours)
  • • Lion
  • • Rhinoceros
  • • Hippopotamus (? picture not clear)
  • • Pelican
  • • Bear (assume brown)
For - indeed - a count of twelve. On my card we have an additional:
  • • Dog
  • • Ape/Gorilla (on two legs)
  • • Ostrich
For a count of 15, but the 1948 zoo bricks give us some further additional animals
  • • Crocodile (series 'A')
  • • Bull (series 'B')
  • • Bear (series 'B' assume Polar?)
  • • Sea-Lion (series 'B')
  • • Tiger (series 'C')
Getting us up to 20 animals, with loose figure additions in the questionable/possible pirate set (with different elephant):
  • • Donkey
  • • Cow (if not the same sculpt as the 'Bull')
For a final count, assuming all have some origin with Airfix of 22 animals which is a nice round number if nothing else! But then there's the second Elephant sculpt!


So: the question marks in the table can be disregarded; this turned up the other day (PW's show 2017), and confirms the slightly dodgy yellow set, the white one is the 'brown bear' this one is the 'bear', clearly a polar bear so that puts the bears to bed - just got to clear-up the different elephants, the donkey and the cow question, then hope no other new ones turn up and try to find the other greyhound poses described in the Plastic Warrior Airfix special!

Further reading;

Plastic Warrior's 'Airfix - The Early Years' again.
Tony over at the Airfix Collectors Forum has the same set (from the same seller!), but has tracked down a few of the other animals; Zoo Brix. Be careful as the Kusan bricks on page two are 'similar' but completely different and there's probably no connection between the two - other than a good idea!

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