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.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

F is for Fontanini - Part 2 - Figures

It's funny - or Ironic - having started as a small-scale collector I have all the 35/40/50mm stuff, but in storage, so we'll look at all the commoner stuff (pirates, native warriors and nativity figures, along with cake decorations) probably as separate posts, years hence by which time there will be so much about them on the web they'll all, only be box-tickers, so may go straight on the A-Z listing?

While what I've picked up in the larger scales is bitty, and mostly Hong Kong copies, but it helps illustrate the variety of Fontanini's production which is the aim of this post.

I am less and less a fan of 'absolute' scale-gauge-ratio-size but I understand that some people do get excited by it, so throughout this article will give a double measurement thus; 65/75mm. The first number being the approximate distance between soles of feet and eye-line of an upright-posed figure (in millimetres), the second being the approximate total height of the item with integral base and/or added plinth, excluding plumes, feathers, crown-shards etc..

Tourists are funny animals, they don't like to be seen buying the cheapest option available, but few will go for the top-end either, as a result the main size of Carrara marble memento found is the mid-sized ones; five, seven, eight or ten-inch figures, which tend to turn-up in charity shops (thrift stores) regularly.

Here I shot two in the window of just such a shop - after closing time - only to purchase them a couple of weeks later when I noticed they'd been moved to a shelf at the back! They are probably not 'a pair', their bases are finished differently; one highlighted in gold the other left faux-ivory and the marble plinths are of different dimensions, but they have been brought together by someone recognising their common ancestry!

There are - as we saw the other day - much larger versions of these figures (up to nearly a meter) and smaller figures 70-100mm were also sold, these two are 150/190mm (6/7½ inches) and are finished in PVC washes from a subdued pastel palette, which gives a sun-faded, antique'y look to them.

These articles have been in preparation for a while and were going to be a quick overview about a year ago, but as items came-in the folder grew, and in recent months I have been actively seeking the stuff, and this chap came in last week!

He's another Carrara marble tourist's sample and the same 150/190mm as the previous pair, this is the commonest form of these to be found. The pose is one of four that go back to the 1960's, a second set of sculpts were issued as small scale 'toy soldiers' in the 1970's as boxed trays (one of each pose) and point-of-sale counter display boxes as individual 'pick-and-mix' figures.

Both sets bear the unmistakeable hallmarks of Elio Simonetti's work with the flowing garb, both hands occupied, facial expression bringing each figure to life and giving them not only character but 'personalities'. There were also pairs of earlier Georgian types.

Here we see Mr. Simonetti's work on the left with a set of Turkish figures from Fonplast's toy soldier range next to a set of US cavalry plainly designed by someone else, both are 65/75mm and in the same dense PVC of the bulk of Fontanini's products of the time, the raw material colour being the same as that used by the 45/50mm and 65/70mm nativity ranges of the time (1970-80's).

The Turkish set are also very similar to the Elastolin set copied/carried by Cané, it is likely Simonetti was behind both - I can't emphasise how important this sculptor was to the toy/model figure oeuvre, just as Stadden's (or Musgrave's) stuff turns up in every size, material and subject matter from sports trophies to HO footballers, so more and more stuff is becoming recognisable as Simonetti's work.

Compare the flowing bloused trousers of the Turks with the more rigid or padded look of the bloused cavalry trousers; the animation of the Turks against the more stilted, upright and uncomfortable-in-their-own-skin posing of the cavalry. Anatomically too, the cavalry are not quite as good as the Turks having rather too-long (yet somehow visually 'stumpy') legs for too short; almost childlike, torsos. While the kneeling firer has been to the Airfix school of pointless posing!

Although one can see in the Cavalry the influence of the master on the pupil, as the sculptor has learnt the both-hands-occupied rule and the sticky-out-stuff rule - Simonetti likes his sword-scabbards askew, coat tails flying, pointy hats, fishing rods, his are complicated figures to tool-up (as we will see in part 4), and the [trainee?] sculptor of the cavalry has clearly learned at Simonetti's side.

These (also 65/75mm) are harder to ascribe as they have little clothing and equipment, but their similarity to other Indians credited to Simonetti suggest these are the maestro's work, they're more naturalistic than the cavalry although it's fair to say the chap running with tomahawk and dagger is a bit of a dancing loon!

They also proved impossible to photograph so I've collaged the best of the flash images and the best of the heightened-contrast no-flash images. We will look at these again in a later post as I managed to purchase them a few months later and have shot them again.

A collection of copies, Fontanini were pirated to the n'th degree in the former British colony of Hong Kong, as well as closer to home, and these are a reasonable sample of those copies.

On the left we have a blow-moulded copy (68/85mm) of one of the Fontanini knights (75/95mm and probably not by Simonetti) usually sold as tourist trinkets at Italian historical sites, castles, museums, that sort of thing, and sometimes styrene in the original.

Next are the very common Chinoiserie premiums, these are copies (and came in several sizes) and while one tends to assume HK as the origin, the smaller ones (55/65mm and unmarked) were mostly issued in France or by French products, so there is a suspicion they may originate in France, although whether with permission is another matter and we'll look at them closer in a future post (part 5).

The larger one is clearly marked HONG KONG and comes in at 95/110mm but is missing his base which would adjust that second numeral, he has also been given a wash of 'antiquing' grey-brown.

The next figure is the most copied/licensed of all the output of Fontanini; the clowns (55/65mm). Again I have loads of the smaller ones in storage as their commonest form is as HK-sourced cake decorations, this one however is A) damaged (broken walking stick) and B) marked CHINA and not very old at all!


The last two are both those older Hong Kong copy cake decorations from the 1970/80's, a dancer (55/65mm) from the ballet set and a rococo/regency lady (45/50mm) of the same set as seen at the top of the page; a forth pose - a gentleman - is found, holding a candle/night-light.

The Men! We have compared the knights before, but putting a few together gives a better guide to the vast range available to anyone choosing to specialise in Fontanini (and their thieves), although were someone to seriously collect the Carrara marble sample figures that someone would need to reinforce the foundations of their property first as their plinths are not light, and there must have been hundreds produced in a dozen sizes and several decorative finishes over the years - a good set of the figures would result in tons of marble!

I'm seriously considering removing the marble samples as the figures come in and saving them up to make some sort of fancy door-step or something . . . but they've all got a hole in? Thinks . . . put round studs in the holes and voila! A heavy-metal 'cut-off', shoe-scrape, door-step . . . genius

The Ladies - with a close-up of the little HK cake decoration, I have  a lot more of these in storage; so we may well return to them one day.

It would appear that Hong Kong only copied the one pose in this size Certainly as a hard polystyrene plastic cake decoration you only ever seem to find the one (I have several more in storage), however they were also copied in soft ethylene at the larger size for French premiums . . .

(New rule -If you've stolen images from me
I'll have ten from you)

. . . as we can see here. Actually the girl second from the top of the staircase is also common as an HK copy, but smaller and often without a base, being attached to springs on jewellery boxes, or to a turntable on musical boxes as well as appearing as a 40/45mm cake decoration in gold or silver polyethylene.

Again believed to be the work of Simonetti, they are harder to ascribe as like the Indians above; they are a bit bereft of clothing, but the girl smelling the flowers is the give-away I think!

This is one of the sets where in the larger sizes there are variations in the sculpting, the fully overlapping crossed-hands of the Hong Kong cake decoration being absent from the 70mm premiums, but found with the larger Carrara marble figurines.

The variations in base style in the above image is due to them being cobbled together from more than one set by the same plagiarist who Photoshop'ed my Kellogg's divers into a cocked-hat!

I went to the Plastic Warrior show last month hoping to get a few Fontanini items to add to the growing folder these articles are the result of, and came away with 24 additions, of which this was one! Approximately 45/50mm and in a softer PVC, I think it's from the late 1980's or 1990's and has the new fountain mark we looked at yesterday. This seems to have been part of a reorganisation around 1983, as Simonetti started to take a more part-time/contract role in the firm he'd been with for 40+ years.

The nativity figures (from which this cow comes) were the bread & butter of Fontanini's output, and were issued in various sizes and vast numbers, with individual sculpts being retired and replaced with similar sculpts on a regular basis. There are a dozen or more Three Kings/Wise Men both mounted on camels and on foot, along with a kneeling trio, by the time you add the size variations, you could indulge in a cameo collection of just wise men!

Part 3 - Napoleonics next.

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