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. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

V is for Vitacup

Those animals I was asking for help with the other week...Vitacup! Someone else asked the same question on an animal forum the other day, and they already knew something about them and had a name for them, so after a quick Google enough of the bare-bones fell into place to stick them up here and drop them in a 'finished' file!

Vitacup was the second attempt by Rowntree's of York (later Rowntree-Macintosh to grab a slice of the fortified cocoa-drinks (beverage) market between the wars. The previous attempt - called Fortak - had failed against Bornville's Bornvita and Fry's Malted Milk around 1933 and was withdrawn. Rowntree came back with Vita-Cup (quickly losing the hyphen) to fight a new battle with Ovaltine and Horlicks in the mid-to-late 30's.

This must have had some success as it seems to have hung around until fairly recently as the Australian arm; Robinson's (of the Barley Water), applied for a new trademark in 1985 (application no. 423440 R & C Products - Ricket & Coleman?) although it was never taken-up and has now lapsed.

In the UK it was marketed under the Coleman's (mustard)/Wincarnis label as Rowntree were advised they should retain their affiliation to gums and jellies, and not hot beverages by their advertising/marketing advisor; J. Walter Thompson. There is one more name involved...Bryden & Evelyn were the agents, who organised the day to day adverts in newspapers and magazines and handled distribution.

Thomson are now JWT, one of the biggest branding firms in the business, Bryden & Evelyn have disappeared (along with the Wincarnis works) and Unilever seem to own everything else!

They seem to have been issued in two sets, woodland and domestic animals, in blue and white matchbox type boxes titled 'Vitacup Ivorene Animals' - presumably found in the jar or tin of Vitacup - of which the above are all samples.

They are not Ivorene, they are a polystyrene in an ivory shade of white which can look pink, cream or grey depending on the light as can be seen above. Ivorene was actually trademarked to someone else and was a thermo-set plastic along the lines of Bakelite, although like Hoover, it became a generic noun which is still in use by the costume jewellery trade to this day for various polymers.

A second series was issued; the new 'Wildlife' series, again examples are above, the pelican below was from this series as well as an Impala with vicious looking horns which I have yet to track down.

Several of these animals bear a striking resemblance to Siku animal premiums, but others are completely different, I used to think they were Siku supplied but know I'm wondering if they weren't a UK produced product?

The rest of my sample, there is a 3rd much larger horse still to find, a prone sheep and another lamb. Whether the dogs were part of a third series I don't know, and I think I've seen a hen/chicken type. And while I've photographed all the birds together the Pelican was from the Wildlife series and I suspect the stork is too.

Google also seemed to suggest that a second issue of both series came at some point with airbrushed brown as a sort of 'antiqued' effect/staining. The bulldog always seems to have a collar painted in that pale cream yellow, being the only one to get paint otherwise.

When you Google vitacup animals as an image search , something funny happens; as you scroll down the page you keep seeing...

...the three wise monkeys, now I couldn't find out any more than I've covered above, which was - admittedly - less than an hours work! But I wonder if the myriad algorithms of Google know something I don't. namely; that the monkeys were some sort of brand logo at some point, and maybe after these 'Ivorene' sets, they issued more 3-monkey items as premiums? The three moneys above were definitely part of the blue and white boxed series, yet don't really fir in with the domestic and woodland animals that made-up that series, so...? It may - of course - just be that Google's algorithms are confusing threewise for vitacup?

Finally a scaler, some of them must have rattled around in the box a bit! There are two distinct sculpting styles; a realistic look, which is most of them, and a stylised 'carved' effect, most noticeable on the two fawns/deer, the two elephants and the missing lamb, also - to a lesser extent - on the lioness, cat and rhino. It's also showing on the flanks of the bison which was described as a wisent or European bison.

Then there is the flat in legs as oposed to fully-round legs, it would seem that at least two or possibly three sculptors were employed on this small range (33 known items, one too big for the boxes; missing horse). Does anyone know who they were?

We also need to know when Vitacup was available, or at least when these promotions ran? What other animals were there in these series'? What other premiums were there? Were they available in Europe? Did they ever get to Australia? Are they Siku's? How have we lost so much in the 'information' age?!...Doh!


Sam Wise said...

Interesting !
a lot of lovely animals, some of them are nicely sculpted.

I don't know exactly, but I've a lot of plastic animals and I I don't remember to have seen such ones ...

I will check the boxes !

Maverick Collecting said...

Hi Sam

Everything has a value, and even if the intrinsic value is only half a cent, they may still have 'Blogability'!!!


Sam Wise said...

I will try to send you some pictures: it's too difficult to find them in all my "bazar" !

Maverick Collecting said...

Hi Sam

saw them on your blog and did what I could to identify them!


Bernard Taylor said...

Pretty sure these would have been either late '60s or early '70s. I gave the small collection (5) to a neighbour shortly before I moved last year. I'd almost forgotten the name Vitacup, but that does sound right.

Maverick Collecting said...

Cheers Bernard

Prior to the discussion on the animal forum they were believed to Kellogg's, and I always thought they were supplied by Siku, but it seems they might have been either domestic or....long shot; Australian production?


junglejim said...

Hi - I've read the information you've provided with considerable interest as a collector and I thought I would share some personal experience and observations regarding the Coleman's Vitacup animal figures. The brown color finished figures I have found of exact sculpting of several of these figures are often marked Germany. I can't say which came first, but I have found a giraffe, African elephant calf, the fawns, fox, squirrel, and wisent (European bison) all in the brown antiqued wood color finish with Germany stamped on the figures. There is in addition to the German series a charging African elephant that is spectacular but never produced in the Vitacup series.

Hugh Walter said...

Cheers for that Jungle'!

I always used to think they were German (before the Vitacup reveal), so that's not a great surprise, but just as interesting - I'd say what I said back then - Siku?

I found an image the other day of another lot with the larger horse, new lamb and deer sculpts/varients and a couple of other dogs including a pointer/lurcher/greyhound'y thing and what may have been an Afghan hound?

It's funny how some seem dead common on evilBay others turn-up once in a blue moon!

I suspect a second less common source?


Sean Ruiz said...

Nice figurines. Glad that they're not ivory. Found this while doing a Google Image search for VitaCup, the vitamin infused coffee and tea. Interesting that the name already has some history to go with it.

Hugh Walter said...

Glad you found it Sean, thanks for the comment and thanks for dropping by!