August 20, 2015

Trench Runners: Tom Stark's Plastic Passions #2 = Timpo “overmolded” figures

Hello again. I came across a photo of some Timpo “overmolded” figures I took quite some time ago and thought a few words about them might make a good second installment  for this here blog thingy. I have written elsewhere about the different traditions of plastic toy soldiers in British/European circles compared to the US and the prevalence of painted figures in the former despite notoriously bad adherence of the paints to the plastics in the good old days of the 50’s through 70s. The Timpo Cossack pictured was one of the very first painted figures I ever got and this is what the paint looked like a few battles in the side yard later. Our partners over the pond had long traditions of painted soldiers when cheaper, lighter and more durable plastics arrived on the scene but their monotone appearance just didn’t have the shelf appeal. Painted they had to be. In the US, other than a few slush-cast pod-foots, we had no expectations of paint and a bag of raw plastic looked just fine to us.

British firms created two wonderful answers to the paint dilemma;  Swoppett-style figures and Timpo’s overmolded.   Swoppets relied on individual pieces and were not really a technical innovation. They were simply delicately sculpted figure components molded in different base plastic colors and then assembled. Not to downplay them, they were masterful figures and the approach was copied by many a maker, usually with less spectacular results.
But the star of this blog are Timpo overmolds in which layers of different plastics were applied to a figure core and built up to the final, colorful figures. Like Swoppetts, these figures also had some components to be assembled; typically a head, torso, legs and a weapon for ring hands but these components were more rugged than Swoppetts whose component parts were  intended more for expanding poses and adding play value rather than to enhancements to mimic paint. I can just begin to appreciate the mold making precision and costs. With up to four colors in a single component (look at the close up of the western bandit), each requiring a mold to fit nicely over the parts previously molded, and temperatures controlled at each step to fuse the parts without having them “bleed” into one another. This was a precise bit of engineering and industrial manufacturing. Essentially no other maker ever succeeded and few even tried. Alas, the cost was a bit too much to last but production did go on for the better part of 10 years with improvements made along the way turning out a host of wonderful figures in six themes; western, WWII, Crusaders and knights, French Foreign Legion in khaki dress, Arabs to oppose either the Crusaders or the FFL, Romans and Gauls/Vikings and arctic.

The western series was by far the largest and most complex with all manner of hard plastic accessories including buildings, some of the best wagons ever made, and even a train complete with its own specially engineer and fireman. Foot figures, mounted, horses with overmolded bridles, and small vignettes such as a cowpoke branding a calf,  an Apache smoke signaler, mortar and machine gun crews or this trapper riding a log down a mighty river! Many of these are still easy to find, especially from vintage toy dealers in Germany where they seem to have been exceptionally popular and are not out of reach financially. There are exceptions. The Roman signifier in his bearskin head covering has escaped my collection because he is does appear to be “rare” and I have routinely see him fetch over $500 when he does become available.  If you decide to add a few to your collection, use some caution. There are some that suffer from brittleness so it is always a good idea to ask about the condition of the plastic.


No comments:

Post a Comment