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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

F is for Fontanini - Part 4 - Fonplast

I'm calling these Fonplast rather than Fontanini because Fontanini had their own range of toy figures, the African natives, pirates and Cowboys & Indians sat next to the smaller versions of the nativity figures in peoples toy boxes - with a full range of Fontanini marks on them - indeed; they tend to have a full set with cavity/stock number, 'spider' mark, 'Depose' and 'Italy', while these only have a paltry 'Italy'.

However, there are various clues as to the fact that they came from Fonplast, not least is that no one else in Italy was producing Elio Simonetti designed figures, in dense, flesh-pink, PVC-vinyl, while Fonplast was producing all the PVC-vinyl, flesh-pink, dense, figures designed by Elio Simonetti . . . for Fontanini - who owned Fonplast!

A set of Turkic warriors of the early Ottoman Empire era, similar to but not the same as those carried by Cané, copied from Elastolin, as Simonetti was working for Cané at the time, and Fontanini were letting them copy their Vikings while they (Cané) were borrowing their number-one sculptor, it's possible that the figures were designed by Simonetti for Elastolin, they are very different to other Elastolin stuff, and follow Simonetti's styling; and that he gave permission for Cané to reproduce them, as 'rack toys' in another (Italian) market.

Whatever the truth, it seems Fontanini didn't have a set of Turks otherwise? Now; when the grand children of Emanuele Fontanini set-up Fonplast in 1963, they would have needed to practice on something and practising with the composition figures still being made by Fontanini a few miles up the valley would have been daft, impractical and technically impossible. I think these figures, which are quite uncommon, indeed - were hardly known until a number of undecorated castings appeared recently - are those 'practice' pieces.

Described by some as ACW and others as Garibaldini, the presence of a lasso/lariat suggests these are meant to be US cavalry, to fight the set of Indians below. I'd like to say Custer's 7th, but what looks like a 7 in the image above is actually a star on the guidon.

It would appear that before (or as) they were tooling-up to produce for Fontanini, the Fonplast factory experimented with a cash-earner; a small range of 'Toy Soldiers', which are the figures seen here. I don't know how successful they were, but the fact that they seem so hard to find (excepting the recent find) would suggest they didn't take of - or even happen; commercially - see below.

There's a pose missing if they were all in sixes? Also apart from the above three sets, I am aware of no others, but the Turks would have needed an 'enemy'?

They don't have the more domed bases of Fontanini either, even the little 40mm 'Zulus' had the grass-etched dome of the rustics/nativity figures. These have a very commercial looking 'toy' figure's flat base.

But the older-looking packaging of both the African warriors and the pirates contain soft-plastic polyethylene figures, with the painted, vinyl figures apparently coming later (from the same moulds). If we assume the early experiments with other plastics (styrene and ethylene) were carried out up the road by Fontanini, that makes sense, with Fonplast not handling them (the moulds) until they were up and running with the PVC production, they were actually set-up to engage in.

The factory-painted figures - Africans, the pirates, Cowboys & Indians and rural/pastoral types - were still being sold in the UK as cake-decorations from point-of-sale stock-boxes in the late 1980's, while the 'antiqued' white or cream polyethylene ones were much earlier.

Another clue as to the origin and fate of these figures is seen here; there is in this recent find - which I'm lead to understand was part of a bigger find in Italy - of otherwise near-mint, finely manufactured figures, clear signs of problems with the moulding.

These are three of the Indians, but problems are also evident on the cavalry and I wasn't checking as I chose the figures from a larger sample, so I don't know how many of the figures in total had problems, but it seems to be about a quarter of the total?

Having worked with an plastic-moulding machine (lower pressure extrusions not high-pressure injection-moulds) my first thought was that it was problems with foreign-bodies on the injector-head, the blackening is usually a sign that something has got stuck to the inside of the nozzle, over-cooked and is contaminating the new resin as it flows over the contaminant . . .

. . . however, all the gate marks are at the tops of the figures, so that explanation doesn't fit.

The holes (on the left above is a similar blemish on one of the Turks) are simply where the plastic has got too cool to finish filling the cavity, something which is easier to understand when you realise the figure concerned was to be filled from the sword blade at the other end - I'm not sure which is the gate mark and which is a jigget, or if they are both gate-marks but I have highlighted them both anyway.

Of course trying to fill a large (65/75mm figure) cavity from a small opening at the opposite end was going to be problematical and while the blackening remains a mystery, the evidence is that all did not go well in the manufacture of these figures and with most of the obvious problems on the bases - as far away from the injector head as it was possible to get - I think these were an over-ambitious, sprue-gate too small, first try?

Finally; while this recent find is in a condition anyone who's seen them will tell you is 'near mint', there are signs that prior to being released to the market in the last year or so, they have been cleaned, and cleaned of a thick layer of dust, the sort of dust which has aged to a layer of fine, greasy, soil on the figures.

These figures appear to have been in storage, as an unpainted, slightly damaged, stock of 'seconds', for a long time - probably since they were made. As - to my knowledge (and I don't know everything!) - the 'firsts' haven't been seen either, I propose as a theory that they never got a full commercial release at the time, although some may have dripped into the world from out-painters, or via the children of Fontanini/Fonplast factory workers?

And that these 'seconds' are it; the 'firsts', the survivors of a trail run, failed experiments with a new technology, pulled-line, whatever - there's a story there still to be discovered. One thing I'm sure about, they are Fonplast and/or Fontanini, not some spurious company called Italy!

How many companies in the UK marked their figures 'England' or 'Made in England'; how many French companies marked 'France'; German companies 'Germany' or 'W. Germany' and err . . . Italian companies 'Italy'.

The idea that 'he who makes things up as he goes along' should think to invent another company; 'Italy-Dus'(it's his second this year - DGN post coming soon!) on such flimsy evidence as a base mark is extraordinary, that people are swallowing his guff is more so, especially when he's taking what he's publishing from other people's books - and happily admitting it as he regurgitates it, with errors, yet without proper credit!

PS - Don't forget it's the London Toy Soldier show tomorrow.

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