September 30, 2016

Toys in the Attic: Aurora Monster Models of the 1960s Part 1- History

Aurora Monster Models Part 1
Almost any boy in the 1960s and 70s would have at one time owned an Aurora brand model kit. It was a special time in history. Universal Pictures had just licensed their most famous films for Television broadcast. Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine was bringing the excitement of these films into the hearts of boys not so interested in sports and waning on the ideas of the war hero.1960 saw a small plastics company secure a deal with Universal to manufacture monster model figure kits. The Aurora classic monster models are probably the most important and influential monster products ever made. Aurora's first monster model was Frankenstein which appeared in 1961. Aurora followed with twelve more monster kits over the next five years. These 13 kits are affectionally referred to by collectors as "The Aurora 13.' Whether you've been looking to reclaim the plastic from your past or you're on the prowl for a unique new pastime, collecting Aurora monsters is frightfully good fun. When I was a kid, my bedroom resembled a miniature horror museum. Getting these kits was like owning a piece of the Horror films I loved so much. Building and painting the kits to match the boxes and film made me a monster creator myself, much like Dr. Frankenstein. So don't be afraid, but take heed, once you've gotten your claws on one of Aurora's monsters, it's likely that you won't rest until you've acquired the entire chamber of horror. 

Established in 1950, Aurora Plastics Corporation was designing plastic figurines long before it unveiled its first monster. By 1955, it was a well-established manufacturer of toys and crafts, marketing several successful lines of plastic figure kits, such as "Guys and Gals of All Nations" and "Famous Fighters." But in 1956, monster mania swept the nation, thanks to Universal Pictures releasing its classic monster movies to local television stations. By the time of Aurora's first customer survey (disguised as a contest) in 1960, kit builders were howling for monsters.

Bill Silverstein of Aurora was convinced that plastic monster kits would be a goldmine for the company but the idea was dismissed by management. Undeterred, Silverstein had a Frankenstein box mocked-up ready to pitch the idea whenever the chance arose. Eventually  approval was given for development and and the announcement of one monster kit- "Frankenstein" In February 1962 Aurora placed a painted prototype of the Frankenstein monster in their display at the Hobby Industry Association of America trade show. Legend has it that not a single dealer or distributor showed interest in ordering the new kit until two young boys attending the show with their father spied the model in Aurora's display and were visibly excited as they studied the gruesome creature. Seeing the young boys' response to the figure, distributors' quickly placed orders and the monster crash was on! 

1962 Aurora monster brochure with a Dracula
pattern that is actually and actor in a costume
Aurora's first monster model "Frankenstein" rolled off the production slab in 1962 and became an immediate success. Retailers sold the kits almost as fast as they could stock them, and the demand prompted Aurora to keep production running 24 hours a day. The company even tooled a second set of molds, turning out three kits per minute--more than 8,000 kits each day!

The success of Frankenstein led Aurora to develop and deliver a total of 13 monster kits within six years. Dracula and The Wolf Man came in 1962, while 1963 gave rise to The Mummy, The Creature, and The Phantom of the Opera. In 1964, Aurora debuted The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, King Kong, and Godzilla. And in a nod to femme fatales, the Salem Witch and The Bride of Frankenstein were also unveiled. In 1966, Aurora released its final classic monster kit, The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel-Maré. This unique release wasn't a movie creature but rather a collaborative effort between Aurora and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

From the start, Aurora carefully devised how it would package and promote its monsters. They commissioned a young talented artist by the name of James Bama to paint box covers for their kits. He brought the b&w film monsters into stunning vivid colors for the first time. James Bama would go on to be regarded as a fine artist in western subject matter. But his early art lived on in the hearts of monster fans for many years. Even to this day his original Universal Monster Kits box art paintings are sold at high prices at auctions. For many collectors today, the kit boxes are often more desirable than the monster inside. Aurora also chose to package its monsters in "long boxes" made of rigid cardboard. These measured 13-by-5-by-2 inches and allowed Bama's full-body renditions of the creatures to be faithfully and fully reproduced.

Aurora's shrewdest move, attributed to the company's marketing director, Bill Silverstein, was to advertise exhaustively within the pages and on back covers of DC monsters and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Die-hard Aurora collectors often haunt comic shops' DC and monster magazine bins for issues featuring Aurora monster ads.

When the hot-rod craze of the '60s hit, Aurora stepped forward to mesh monster with machine. Monster Rods raced into hobby stores, featuring oddball creatures in wacky roadsters, such as Dracula's Dragster, Wolfman's Wagon, and the Mummy's Chariot. Alas, in 1969, Aurora executives determined it was time to spend more energy on nonfigure kits. Rather than produce new monsters, the company decided to reissue its existing line in a new light--monsters that glow in the dark. 

When first issued as Frightening Lightening kits (with the slogan "Frightening Lightening Strikes!"), Aurora's glow monsters were packaged with slightly modified box art but the same old long box. Kids had trouble telling the glow kits from the nonglow offerings. Within six months, Aurora pulled the Frightening Lightening boxes and replaced them with new square boxes (measuring 8-by-8-by-4 inches), heavily retouched artwork, new company logo, and new box splash--"Glows in the Dark." (These are affectionately known as the square box kits or glow kits.) Regardless of the initial box bungle, Aurora's refashioned glow kits injected new life into the monster line and carried sales well on into 1975.

Unfortunately, the box snafu was a harbinger of things to come. In 1971, Aurora introduced a new series of plastic malevolence: Monster Scenes. Consisting of four new figures (Dr. Deadly, Frankenstein, Vampirella, and the Victim) and four ominous settings (The Pain Parlor, The Hanging Cage, The Pendulum, and Gruesome Goodies), the scenes were pitched with the box slogan, "Mix 'em and Match 'em," encouraging kids to make up their own monstrous situations. Unfortunately, the other half of the box slogan read "Rated X...for Excitement." Angered parents and religious groups across the country picketed Aurora's factory. New Aurora owner Nabisco Foods promptly axed Monster Scenes and practically all the company's executive staff--just 2 weeks before Christmas 1971.

By 1975, most kids who were once wooed by Aurora's plastic terrors were now being distracted by muscle cars and the opposite sex. Still, Aurora made a final attempt to revive its monsters, producing beautiful new sculptures of its mainstays in the Monsters of the Movies series. Collectors were treated to imaginative new poses of Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and the Creature. Also released were Tokyo titans Rodan and Ghidrah. Sadly, sales were dismal, and plans for future kits were scrapped. Finally, in 1977, amid declining profits and rising costs of raw plastic, Nabisco closed the Aurora Productions operation, closing a truly imaginative chapter of toy history.

From the article "Collecting Aurora Monsters" by Dennis L. Prince 

Aurora ad from Boy's Life 1963
Aurora ad from the back of DC comics
Window streamer for hobby shops.
1964 Aurora ad
Ad from Famous Monsters #45 1967
1969 Aurora ad
Original 13 Aurora Monster kits with Hunchback box variation

Toys in the Attic: Aurora Monster Models of the 1960s

Web: "Collecting Aurora Monsters" Dennis L. Prince
Web: Professor Plastiks "Aurora Monster Kit History"
Print: Aurora Model Kits by Thomas Graham

Fridays with Farley...a Dose of Useless Tidbits

Just back from the Chicago Toy Soldier Show...
This year both the 3-day room trading and attendance at the show itself seemed down. This is a sign of the times as the internet is taking it's toll on collectors shows of all types. The Chicago show is still the biggest and best toy soldier show in the world and with the new promotors taking over I don't see that changing in the near future.

Show time!
This show can be divided into there basic food groups.
1. Plastic Collectors- Large scale plastics 54mm-60mm are always a big at this show. Lot's of rooms selling & displaying plastic & playsets whether it's vintage such as Marx, Timpo, Britains and US & European plastics, modern generation but out-of-production and now on the secondary market such as Barzso or Conte and lately new production manufactures such as TSSD, LOD, Paragon and Replicants who have used this show to launch their latest sets. This year was no exception with all of the aforementioned companies offering new figures and sets. The "plastic" guys are still passionate about their hobby and support it with a mind boggling amount of available products in the "hall of plastic" on the 5th floor of the hotel.

Happy Marx Room Collector!
New plastic abounds!
2. Vintage Collectors- Long a staple of this show is the vast array of vintage toy soldiers available. Dimestores, Hollowcast, Composition and lead can be found in ever growing numbers at this show. With the hobby "graying" many collections have come on the market recently and there was an abundance of it at this show. The prices for dimestores and composition figures are dropping drastically as the older collectors that these appealed to die off with no new ones there to take their place. Another sub-category of this group is the 2nd generation of toy soldiers that start appearing in the 1980s. These "traditional gloss style" toy soldiers surprisingly, are becoming popular with younger collectors. Early King & Country, Trophy, Tradition, Imperial and many others are staging a come back.
New Production Gloss Figures
2nd generation gloss figures at the show
3. Current Metal Collectors- Over the past few years this show has grown into a showcase for manufactures of the new historical style, matt finish figures to display their latest products. W Britain, Collectort's Showcase, Morgan Miniatures. King & Country, Jenkins and 1st legion being among the most predominate. This year it was almost overwhelming the amount of new products available. With ever rising prices and numbers of releases one has to wonder how the hobby can absorb all this before it implodes on it'sself. Is the average collector getting priced out of the market? One can only wonder...
Morgan Miniatures Room
W Britains Display 
Collectors Showcase room
Michigan Toy Soldier tables at the show
Found on Facebook
Toys from the 50s 60s and 70s
A place to find and share images and memories of our youth. 
Have a LOOK

Toy Soldier & Model Figure magazine gets a new look...
TSM&F magazine showed in Chicago up with a sweet new look with a slightly larger, expanded page count and a beautiful matt finish paper. They are also going from 12 issues a year to 8 issues. 

Sample pages

September 29, 2016

"I'M SAYIN' WHAT?" Contest #26 Winner + This week's teaser for "I'M SAYIN' WHAT?" #27

"I'm Sayin' What?" #26 WINNER
It's Thursday so...we have a winner for last weeks “I’m Saying What” contest. Rivet Head Ralph has snagged one of the most coveted prizes on earth...which is of course is a $25.00 Gift Card from Michigan Toy Soldier.

"I'm Sayin' What?" #27 Teaser
Here's our image for this weeks contest. All you have to do is come up with the wittiest quote for the word bubble and you will win a $25.00 gift card from Michigan Toy Soldier Company. Just think... you get free stuff and you get show off your comedic charms that will fly around the world via  ‘Over The Top’ ‘News From The Front’ Google+ & Facebook pages. We will post the winning entry right here next Thursday.

Email your entries to:
FYI- Have a cool image you'd like to get captioned? Send it to us at and we will give you $25.00 gift card for any images used.

September 28, 2016

Trench Runner Pat Hillard Attacks the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) Late War British Armoured Division, Army Box in a Multi-part Review & Build.

Part 1: A look at the set

This is a review and build of the Plastic Soldier Company's 15mm plastic Late War British Armoured Division, Army Box. Product code PSC-AB15002 with 18 vehicles and 34 figures. Using this box set you can field 11x Sherman M4A4's, 3x Sherman Fireflies, 4x M5 Halftracks, 34x Infantry figures, including 3x Bren teams, Command, 1x Piat team, 1x 2 inch light mortar team and 1x mixed base sprue.

For those of you that play Flames of War (FoW) this box set give you 1535 points of Confident Veterans from the Market Garden Book or 1455 points of Confident Veterans using the Taurus Pursuant, 11th Armored PDF. I will provide the playing list from Market Garden.
The Basics...
The finished box set
I am going to try something different for this review. Instead of have paragraphs of text I will put a brief intro and summary here and put a detailed description with each picture. This will eliminate long lists of paint colors and make for an easier step by step procedure for assembly and painting of this box. This is my first try painting Allied vehicles and British infantry. I have previously only painted late war German forces and an HQ platoon of the US 82nd Airborne.

For Flames of War 
British Armored Squadron, Confident Veteran - 1535 points
HQ Section - 180 points
2 Sherman V - 170 pts
2 .50 cal AA - 5 pts each (10 pts)
Armored Platoon 1 - 390 points
3 Sherman V, 1 Firefly - 385 points
1 .50 cal AA - 5 pts - 5 points
Armored Platoon 2 - 390 points
3 Sherman V, 1 Firefly - 385 points
1 .50 cal AA - 5 pts - 5 points
Armored Platoon 3 - 390 points
3 Sherman V, 1 Firefly - 385 points
1 .50 cal AA - 5 pts - 5 points
Motor Platoon 4 - 185 points
3 mg squads with command including 2" mortar and Piat team - 150 points
1.50 AA - 10 points
additional mg squad - 25 points

An additional unit of Allied airborne, some 6 pound anti tank guns, a recon unit or some self propelled artillery would easy take this to a 1750 list. It is a very nice and affordable way to build an allied army.

Overall I am very happy with the quality of the kit components and the finished product. Hopefully these troops will see some action in the near future. I plan to use them to help introduce my son to the rules of FoW. 

The Set...
The kit comes in a heavy duty box with nice graphics and a good description of the product inside. The only problem I have with PSC packages is that the boxes are not sealed in any way and the sprues are not in bags. I am always worried about missing parts in kits that are not sealed. I am please to say that there was no issues with this product.

The side of the box provides a list of the pack contents and a basic painting guide for the armored vehicles and the infantry. There is a basic Vallejo color chart listed also.

When opening the box the contents are neatly stacked and there are two sheets of instructions included for assembly of the vehicles. There are no recommendations for basing the infantry models.

There are 14 tank sprues to make either the M4-A4 (dry stowage) Sherman or a Firefly. These models are very similar to the Sherman V, I don't see any problem using them for the above list.

The combined M4/Firefly sprue. All of the components to build either vehicle are on the one sprue. I saved the extra parts in my bits bag for future projects.

The tank assembly instructions are very basic and it uses color codes to show you what hull to use for the M4 or the Firefly as well as what turret and gun mantel. There is an option to add dust shields if you desire. I did this on a few models just to have a variety of vehicles. I looked at a lot of late war pictures and very few of the Sherman's had these shields on them.

There are four sprues for the M5-A1 half track. It includes some nice stowage, two mg options and five sitting crew per vehicle not including a driver and  navigator, gunners are also included.

The M5A1 instructions give you a choice of assembly with the 50 caliber mg ring or with a pedestal mount. Many of the pictures I saw did not have either of these options on the vehicles. I added them for visual aesthetics on the table.

PSC includes on sprue of infantry bases. For a FoW list you will need 3 small bases and four medium bases. The large base is not needed.

The kit includes 3 infantry sprues with 12 figures per sprue. The mortar team and  Bren gun team are in two pieces and must be glued together.

Next Week in Part 2 I will build the Shermans and the M5s

MTSC NEWS & GOSSIP: Forces of Valor Returns

Waltersons Industry has officially acquired the famous military die-cast company, Forces of Valor (Unimax). Off the market for several years now it came as no surprise that someone would purchase tooling  at some point. Look for new FOV to begin appearing on shelves in 2017.

Waltersons Press release-

"Forces of Valor" has been bought out by a Hong Kong hobby company, Waltersons Industry. We are now in the process of moving all the moulds from OEM vendors to the Waltersons manufacturing facility, the 1st round of production should begin in September. As you are aware, there are approximately 190 models in the FOV range, and we can only make the 20 most in demand  models in the 1st production run. All packaging and user manuals will be completely brand new. We will try our best to enhance the painting if there were things that were not done right in the past. For certain models we will make new tooling, for example with the 1:32 scale Tiger I tank, the road wheels were slightly off scale. In 2017, we will announce new 1:32 scale tanks and 1:700 scale aircraft carriers.

As the new owners of the Forces of Valor brand we have decided to make some changes to the way in which we present the brand to the public. Because we will likely reintroduce some of the older items in updated packaging or with different accessories and features, we will be distinguishing old inventory from new with some minor SKU modifications to lessen confusion yet extend the brand. Any of the products remaining in inventory that were offered by Unimax, the original makers of the line, will have a product code that begins with UNI. Any new items being offered by the new manufacturer, Waltersons (Walter & Sons), will sport a FOV product identifier. So, a Unimax-built 1:32 scale Tiger I tank will carry the code UNI80003, while a similar Waltersons release will be identified as FOV80003."

 FOV display at the 56th All Japan Models & Hobby Show 2016 held in Tokyo, Japan. Shown is one of their relaunched warships, complete with its new display plinth and etched metallic name plate. Also highlighted were some of the past 1:32 scale favorites, which may come with updated paint schemes and revised packaging to differentiate them from the Unimax releases.

September 27, 2016

FIGURE OF THE WEEK #126: DAZ Washing Powder Cowboys & Indians by Crescent

In the 1960s children around the world delighted in getting premiums/prizes as a bonus in their cereal boxes and in many other types of food and non food items. Marketing "Mad Men" knew that including toys that appealed to kids would send them begging mom to purchase the products with the free giveaways. To this end, in 1964 the UK company DAZ Washing Powder offered a series of twelve different plastic cowboys & indians as a premium when buying their boxes of soap. The figures were packaged in special full color boxes and depending on the size of the soap box with either two or three random figures and attached to the boxes of soap. The twelve 54mm plastic figures were comprised of six cowboys and six indians and were actually made by the English company Crescent. This two figure set in its original rare box was picked up at the recent Chicago Toy Soldier show. 

DAZ Washing Powder Cowboys & Indians 3 pack 

DAZ Washing Powder Cowboys & Indians 3 pack #2
In the 1960’s Crescent beat off stiff competition to secure a contract to produce figures for Kellogg’s cereals. known as cereal premiums these figures were given away free in a box of cereal such as Cornflakes or Frosted Flakes. Usually a set of 4/5 figures were included with one per box covering a  real mix of characters, Knights, Robin Hood, Circus and others. They were issued unpainted and marked Kellogg’s on the base

Crescent also issued the figures themselves commercially but these were  hand painted and marked Crescent. Today collectors still want to have both the Crescent set and Kellogg’s set in a collection. Cereal premium such as these and “soldiers of the world” remain collectable and still relatively very easy to find due to the enormous quantities made for the cereal makers.
Kellogg’s Robin Hood figures by Crescent