Thursday, 9 February 2012

Q. When is an Airfix not an Airfix?

  A. When it's a Hong Kong copy.  I've been having an off-on tidy up of my toy soldier room for several months now, it's not that it's a big area but that the concept of "go tidy your room" does not become any less tedious or disheartening just because you've left adolescence far behind!

Anyway, in the darkest corner of a long forgotten cupboard I discovered an old shoe box which I'd quite forgotten about.  Way, way back in the days before ebay, and toy soldier shows plastic figures could be quite hard to find, you could get plenty of hollow-cast Britains or "connoseur models", if you had the money, but plastics were considered to have no intrinsic value and consequently there was no market for them.  It was in this period of plastic austerity that I started collecting pirated copies (or knock offs if you prefer) of mainstream products, mainly out of desperation to collect something, and that long forgotten period came back to me when I opened the shoe box.

Of course the copies weren't all made in Hong Kong, that bastion of enterprise which we Brits rented off the Chinese for the better part of the last century, but they were by far the most prolific.  The most commonly copied figures were Britains, particularly the Herald Khaki infantry but in fairness the British companies making copies of these were legion: UNA, VP, Johilco, Benbross, Tudor Rose etc.  From the shoe box I've pulled a few of the figures that I found amusing in the hope that someone else might feel the same.  First above is a copy of an Airfix footballer, nothing special about that just that the originals are not that common.  The Japanese rifleman standing firing has been made in two parts, he swivels at the waist to make him a sort of swoppet.  The manufacturers really went out of their way with the grey figure in the middle, he's a copy of the Airfix WW2 German infantry running with rifle at the waist but he has been made as a swoppet with six parts.  Like the Jap he swivels at the waist but he also has a plug in base and head (the head is copied from the first version Timpo German with a press on helmet, helmet missing here) but the great thing is that they've made a belt for him in brown plastic with bayonet.entrenching tool and gas mask canister.  Rarely can anyone have gone to so much effort to make something infinitely inferior to the original.

The next bunch I pulled out were two of the Airfix HO (1/72nd) scale WW1 French which have been pantographed up to about 40mm scale.  Pantographing figures down in size and is quite common and in fact most modern 54mm figures are sculpted three times larger than the final finished product and then pantoed down in order to creat a mould with sharp detail.  How great would it have been if they'd worked this magic on all the Airfix WW1 ranges, 40mm is just ideal for table top wargaming.  The two Napoleonic British infantrymen are nice crisp 54mm copies made in Poland and I've included them mainly to give an idea of scale.

My favorites have to be these Airfix American Revolutionary figures, again they've been pantographed up from HO scale to about 40mm, in typical Hong Kong fashion they have taken the American infantry and painted them up as British but retained the stars and stripes on the flag!  These were being sold as cake decorations when I got them, I'd love to get more.


  1. Hey Brian thanks for posting this. I never knew about figures being pantographed. Interesting concept.

  2. I too enjoy the joy of finding the long forgotten about in a box when tidying up- makes it all worth while!

  3. Chasseur

    Hi, I guess it's natural to focus on the design, scale or sculpting of a figure and forget that it's also about engineering (with plastics at any rate)

  4. Tradgardmastare

    Indeed the joy of finding the long forgotten, sadly it all too soon disolves into "how on earth did I ever aquire all this junk!"

  5. I knew something was wrong with that Jap rifleman! There was a time, before I got deeper into homecasting, when I dreamt about wandering into a dollar store and finding 40mm plastic figures in other than rather blobbish scaled down wwii/vietnam era.

    Great stuff, always fun to have a peek at the back of the cupboard.

  6. My "clean up" projects usually bog on the second or third "hey, wots this?" box...

  7. Thank you for showing a picture of the Airfix American Revolutionary figures. I have them in blue and have looked for hours trying to figure out what they were.

  8. The ARW figures were made in for "SSCO"? company sold by CAFI from NY USA as well other distributor such Wilton as cake decoration as you well mentioned
    Again i have plenty photos mint packing and else if wish see more
    best regards