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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

B is for Blackrock Castle . . . again!

In 1960 there were over 550 plastics factories in Hong Kong employing over 18,000 workers, with the subsequent changes in business practice, mergers and take-overs, the odd triad murder (Lucky Toys) and including the move of production to Mainland China in the last 20 years, then bearing in mind that the number only includes those legally registered.

Now that total is likely to be at least three or four-times its 1960 figure (and that was up from 30 factories in 1954). Add-in the former British colony of Singapore, the former Portuguese colony of Macau and the independent, non-communist, Democratic (as in: real elections) Chinese state of Taiwan and I'd hate to think what the final number is! Thousands.

In my archives I have - named - maybe 250, 300 of them? 380/400+ if I go through all the 'unsorted, bagged & carded' folders, books and old magazine-ads and again. Bear in mind that most of them didn't mark their products.

A drop in the ocean of the research still to be done, even if a lot of them didn't make toys (Hong Kong was the world's centre of the plastic flower industry long before it got a reputation for cheap toys) yet the job gets harder every day, as this set (another from Brian Berke) shows; we've looked at it once already and when we visited it that time I think I mentioned I had previously encountered it in another form?

So; this time marketed/imported/packaged/Fobbed by and/or for JPW/Hunson. But what has their role been? Are they straight importers, FoB facilitators, a re-carding operation like the old Giant warehouse, a factory, a front, shell company, parent, subsidiary or a co-op?

These days you can get a single carded figure with two, three, sometimes up to five 'brands' on it, especially with licensed products, you have the image holder (DC say, or Warner), the licence handler (usually 'Somebody' International Inc.!) the FoB company; maybe Ja-Ru, the importer; say Greenbrier and maybe another Canadian, UK or European end-user.

Where do you place that in your archive? All five? The two, or three you already have entries for? Does it matter? In the age of the internet it will be blogged, eBay'd, Amazon'd, press-released and critiqued in a dozen places, traces of it will remain on the Waybackmachine or Internet Archive, probably forever and collectors will lay a few down like fine wine - never to reach the heady values of a good musty grape-juice.

Yet try finding a single 'brand' for any of a hundred generic carded or bagged rack toys from the 'sixties, 'seventies and even into the 1980's and you're on a hiding to nothing! Even now a lot of rack toys are generic. Until the guys in Hong Kong start asking their parents and grandparents "what did you do in the toy industry", we'll only ever uncover the odd clue from time to time - if we're lucky!

And the collectors in that part of the world (and there are many), don't collect in the same way as people like me, they like clean, complete, preferably 'mint' objects in illuminated cabinets, old - but polished - tin-plate robots next to brand-new vinyl 'collector' dolls; they don't collect the history, and they don't seem minded to.

Meanwhile the 600-odd companies who invented and 'owned' Rack Toys for the longest time, were pirates, they pirated the Western companies they eventually helped destroy, they pirated each other, they shared moulds, they shared sub-contractors, they shared salesmen, artists and printers, they shared-out work and 'out-work'! They shared Western contacts and they were all family firms, with clan-loyalty and . . . they just don't talk.

90% of them never marked a thing with more than the origin (Hong Kong, HK, Made In... &etc), Blue Box, Imperial and Lucky being the obvious exceptions and when there is a mark or a brand on the packaging, it's usually either invented or the importer's moniker (Giant). So if someone says to you "Chinese factories when selling under their real name ,mark the toy with it stamped or engraved 90% or generally", tell them they're making it up as they go along.

At the same time - on 'our' side the importers and FoB firms shared buyers, customers and clients, shared contacts in HK and shared salesmen or even offices in the Toy Building!

But there's the fun in the collecting; finding out by digging, comparing and searching. These Blackrock Castle sets will get three entries in the A-Z, they've earned them, still don't know who really made them though! As I said last time (I think) these figure poses were available in pretty-much every size, plastic type and paint variation from the late 1980's to almost the present!

50mm, mostly ethylene, the silver chap is PVC, two different base types, some bearing a resemblance to Western-produced small scale figures and they came in blister-cards, header-carded bags, tubs and 'toobed', in black and grey, grey and gunmetal, silver and black, with skeletons at one point, they came larger, smaller, painted, part-painted and unpainted . . . Generics! But somebody made them first - Supreme, Applause? I've asterisked the poses closest to the Blackrock guys.


Jan Ferris said...

Now that rack package with the castle and knights is awesome.

soxpicks said...

Found this small rack toy playset in Florida while on vacation.

Back is marked:
JPW International
Commerce, CA. 90022 USA
OKK Trading
Zhongshan City
Guangdong China

Hugh Walter said...

Cheers Soxpicks, I think some Hunson stuff is associated with OKK so JPW is probably the contracting distributor with the other two part of a 'group of companies' involving manufacturing and shipping?

Jan - Sorry I missed your comment, but you know I find 99% of them at the time - thanks anyway!