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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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

C is for 'The Crazy Clown Circus'

This set was issued in the late 1940's/early 1950's and sold through Woolworth's stores.

The basic unit - a clown figure - seems to be based on a Morestone novelty die-cast toy of a clown on a penny-farthing. The original has a pom-pom on top of the coned hat, three large red buttons on a smooth top, the same patterned trousers as the plastic ones, and is holding a ball in each hand, the similarities are greater than the differences between the two figures, even to the pointy two-digit hands.

 Left-to-right:
Marx weighted-cord 'walker' rider, a damaged Crescent I had to hand
and the recent resin BTS  find, finally - a Crazy Clown

However, this 'design' of clown seems to follow one of the recognised patterns of clown in the real world, I'm no expert, but I know some clowns registered/protected their look and/or face make-up, while others are anchored in the old (and now 'traditional') costumes of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, and it would seem to be that this clown is a regular/specific clown 'type', is it a peirrot?

Basic Unit
1 - Clown - to which can be added . . .
2 - Small base
3 - Large Base
4 - Clown with balls in hands - to which can be added . . .
5 - Small base
6 - Large base

Variations
Both can have their hands bent forward for a possible 12 main variations of the standard clown, not all of which were used, but by the time people have glued their bits together for onward sale on feebay they mostly are!

Further variations are created by placing [gluing] clowns on horses, tall platform-poles, beach-balls or each other in various configurations. A 'Ring Master' is created by the addition of a top hat (basically a little flanged beaker) and whip (a piece of hollow or thread-cored PVC cable). And other variations are added with the addition of three different drums, an umbrella. A 'hoop' ring, or a unicycle described as 'a wheel'. Variously these accessories can be found with a clown and large, small or no base, and basically it's almost as if any variation you can think of will turn-up in a mixed lot on evilBay!

The large red spot most of them have painted on their tummy is actually hiding/camouflaging the mould release-pin mark. It could also be a reference back to the sculpted buttons on the Morestone metal figure, each of which is also painted red.

 The large set: The Crazy Clown Circus which was sold through Woolworth's stores, listed its contents as three coded subsets, each subset lettered to its 'act' title, but apparently numbered consecutively across the range. There are gaps in that numbering, and among them must lye the drummers.

As listed on the back of the larger sets:

Acrobatic Act
A1 - Clown (see 1-6 above)
A2 - Two Clowns Balancing (one on top of the other)
A3 - Two Clowns Tumbling (see Variants below)
A4 - Three Clowns in Line (see Variants below)
A5 - Three Clowns Balancing (in a Y shape)
A6 - Four Clowns Balancing (in a diamond shape)

Variants
A3 - Two Clowns Tumbling, this vignette is two clowns glued together, some are glued parallel to each other along the forearms, which makes for an unstable partnership, others are glued in an 'A' shape, with one clowns head between the shins of the other, which allows them to be set up as an A, V, or sharp C, and they can be rolled more easily, both types seem equally common and there's no clue as to whether one was earlier or later. It may be that some worker/s or outworker/s did them differently, but at the same time.

A4 - Three Clowns in Line, I have seen this set with the third figure (on the far left as they look forward) being a bent-arm figure set back from the other two as if he is either joining them or out of step. Commonly its three straight-arm clowns in a line or two supporting a third - middle one - who is upside-down.

Juggling Act
J11 - Clown on Wheel (large base)
J12 - Clown on Wheel with Ball on each Hand (large base)
J13 - Clown on Pole with Hoop*
J14 - Clown on Pole with Ball on each Hand*
J15 - Clown on Pole with Ball* (bent hands)
J16 - Clown with Ball (bent hands)
J17 - Clown on Ball with Umbrella (one bent arm, the only such figure)

*Each has a small based clown, the base pierced for receiving the pole, and a large base at the other end for the pole to stand on.

Clean balls can be found (with no signs of a figure having been glued to them), on a large base.

Cropped from larger internet images

Equestrian Act
E21 - Ringmaster with Whip and Hoop (see Variants below)
E22 - White Prancing Horse**
E23 - Black Prancing Horse**
E24 - Clown on White Horse***
E25 - Two Clowns on White Horse (one on top of the other)***
E26 - Two Clowns on Two White Horses (one on top of the other)***

** These horses are rearing on 'ski' bases and have a plume
*** This is a copy of the Bergan Toys (Beton) horse, a heavier moulding than the Airfix or Tudor Rose versions

Variants
E21 - Ringmaster, this figure is stated as having a whip and hoop, in fact he usually has a whip or a hoop, the hoop versions often having a standard black-cone hat/head, the whip version usually having a top-hat, made of the same coloured plastics as the balls, drums or poles and glued over a cone-head. Lack of glue marks suggests most of these variants are correct, but some may be down to hats, hoops or whips becoming lost or removed? Both versions tend to have their trousers painted red, occasionally a purplish-maroon colour. Sometimes the whole figure's outfit has a red wash.

Missing numbers are:
7, 8, 9, 10 and 18, 19, 20

Not listed on the main play set's circus-ring card-back and given my own 'act' title:

Musical Act (arms always bent forwards)
Playing Large Floor Drum (large or no base)
Playing Large Floor Drum - Balls on Hands (large or no base)
Playing Side Drum (small or no base)
Playing Side Drum - Balls on Hands (small or no base)
Playing Tom-Tom or Bongo-Drum (small or no base)

Other Variants
Some variations are almost certainly caused by damage (one ball-hand), or repairs (hoop or umbrella on wrong figure), while others are more deliberate looking. I suspect the Ringmaster variations may well be connected to the musicians and missing numbers, maybe as a band-master/band-leader?

Likewise the clowns tumbling would take the missing numbers to zero (if that makes sense?) with floor and side drums being 7-10 and the tom-tom, Ringmaster and tumblers being the other three? This is pure conjecture ion my part and takes no account of the lone balls.

It also takes no account of the fact that most of the drummers in my most recent purchase have '6' written on their bases in pencil. Prior to decimalization, the many-sided (seven, nine?) sixpence was a pretty standard rate of pocket-money (we went down 'up' to 5 'new' p after 1971!), and it looks as if they were sold/'also sold' from a 'shop stock' box, as extras.

Material
Early examples are made of a volatile plastic subject to shrinkage and distortion, especially the poles and the two-part balls, it has a lot of the properties of the phenolic plastics popular in France at the same time, but I think it's an early, unstable styrene plastic. Later versions were standard - perfectly stable - polystyrene.

Everything major except the black horse is in white plastic, but it sometimes verges on grey, partly due to dirt and age, partly due to poor material, there are also translucent washy-white examples.

 Cropped from larger Internet images

Accessories (poles, balls, drums, umbrellas and top hats) come in various colours, with earlier sets having pastel colours, or chalky darker colours, often with bi-coloured balls, while later sets have more primary coloured accessories and some sets have all-yellow as a pallet.

The tom-tom/bongo-drum is a clear piece of ribbed-tube with blue or - more commonly - red-painted rims, and painting is also used to colour the balls on the hands of those clowns who have them. There are at least two versions of the hand-balls; egg-shaped and more-fully round, and they seem to be used as maracas on the drummers, or is it the comedy element of trying to play drums with balloons? The single clown with balls may be supposed to be a juggler (as can all the similarly equipped figures), while two of them facing each-other would make a juggling act?

Cropped from larger Internet images

Maker
It is usually assumed that these are Airfix, I have always remained more open-minded and suggested the 'usual suspects' as also in the frame: Kleeware, Tudor Rose et al.

I think I have to accept that the plastic/s used is not really to the specification or style of Kleeware, nor the whole Thomas/Taffy/Tudor Rose 'family', while the lesser makes such as Cheerio or Bell were using or copying US moulds and this is a very British 'thing', which rather lets the usual suspects of the hook!

So back to Airfix . . . their early stuff was a right old mix of polymers, with stable and unstable styrene and various ethylene's used for the animal flats, aircraft and 8-figure set, as well as for the Beton copies, however, the horse supplied with the Beton copies is a different beast from this one; a lighter, cleaner sculpt.

Cropped from larger Internet images

Also: Airfix were terrible pirates in those early days, so they could well have copied the Morestone clown, especially as they have changed the sculpt by carrying the trouser pattern to the top half of the figure.

However, the link with Morestone is a strong one, and they did experiment with plastics for their Hawkeye and Chingachgook figures (in chalky ethylene with a nylon/rayon or different PE musket), among other items, so there's a strong case for them too - having used their own clown.

Who could have fulfilled such a large order to Woolworth's (these figures are not rare; whole, but damaged sets appear on feeBay all the time)? If it had been Airfix you would expect more of their other early production in these plastics and that doesn't seem to be the case, their 'cigarette box' ships being closest. Morestone's die-casts are not that common, but they are not rare, so maybe they could have managed this?

I think the Jury's still out on this one! Which is why I'm not putting them on the Airfix page . . . yet, although the horse is there - as a mount - on the Beton copies entry. Toymart.com credit Charbens as set 9999? having been linked to Toymart in the past, I can't possibly comment!

And...

Did I say they're not rare! Some of many Internet/eBay images (reduced resolution) I've found from the last few years, there's a decent lot of these on sale, somewhere, most weeks.

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