There was once a toy that was available in every hobby store, in supermarkets, department stores and the occasional hardware store, yes even in souvenir shops and gas stations. It was every boy’s dream to own at least one of them and was a favourite gift to receive on birthdays and at Christmas. Its popularity eventually led to a globally-spread hobby, shared by the majority of boys aged six to sixteen, and by older boys too. Its heyday lasted from the 1950s to the 1970s and its enthusiasts, despite a decline in their numbers, have ensured that their hobby endures to the present day.
The hobby in question is plastic kit modelling. Although its fame was spread world-wide by manufacturers such as Airfix and Revell, its origins and the fact that these reach back as far as the 1920s are relatively unknown.
Plastic kits are the 20th century representations of manmade miniature objects and as such continue a tradition which has persisted throughout human history, with archaeological evidence going back to prehistoric times. Plastic has been around under various names and in several forms and compounds for little over a century. By now we have become so accustomed to it to that life without it would be unimaginable and the list of applications is endless. Toys are just one of these applications and plastic model kits one of those toys, as well as a hobby.
The date of publication of this book is no coincidence: it has been written to celebrate the 80th anniversary of plastic modelling, still a favourite pastime for many people all over the world. The fact that this hobby has survived the decades since the 1980s and the increasing popularity of digital hobbies such as computer gaming, proves that many individuals still prefer to use their hands and skills to produce tangible representations of their imagination instead of virtual ones. And that is surely a cause for celebration.
Be that as it may, the hobby is changing unmistakably and I think it is worthwhile to remember and document where and how it started. This book tells the tale of three grown-up men who in their hearts always remained boys. They combined their shared passion for flying with their individual knowledge and skills, learning from others and applying new methods and state-of-the-art techniques to develop the first-ever range of plastic model kits.
Although the first plastic model kits were all aeroplanes, it did not take long before modelling enthusiasts were able to choose from a wide variety of subjects including cars, ships, motorcycles, figures and buildings in an equally wide range of scales to suit everyone’s needs or preferences.
Readers of this book will probably know and have read the history of FROG in “FROG Model Aircraft 1932-76” by Richard Lines and Leif Hellström (L/H from now on), published in 1989. The intention of this book is to provide an in-depth study of the chapters that they have devoted to the FROG Penguin range, occasionally repeating or correcting facts or figures. I sometimes had to re-use the photos used by L/H, but rest assured, you will notice many new ones as well. In a sense this book is complementary to the work of L/H.
What you are about to read (and I would be delighted if you enjoyed it…) is the result of patiently gathering anything I could find relating to the Penguin range between 2000 and 2016. It expresses my personal experiences and is certainly not the final word and I am sure I have overlooked something, so I encourage others to complement and correct my findings where needed.
My first aim was to combine all available information on the Penguin range that is useful for anyone interested. By so doing I hope to give a better insight to the historical context in which the Penguins appeared and try to describe the relationship with some of the other model kit manufacturers that appeared during and after the Penguin era.
The next aim was to provide an overview of all the documentation that I could find relating to the range from 1936 onwards until the date of publication of this book.
I also wanted to give a broader outline of the creativity in the field of (model) aeronautics by Charles and John Wilmot, and Joe Mansour not only as designers of the Penguin range, but also as the instigators of plastic kit modelling. This led me to add a separate section about their wartime activities and I.M.A. production.
My last goal was to fill in a gap: I was happy to see that an increasing amount of literature about other kit manufacturers from the post 1950 period has been published in the past decade or so. But the Penguin range started it all and deserves to be honoured with a (separate) book. By ensuring that the early years of plastic modelling are well documented I hope to show and explain how it all began:
the story of:
FROG Penguin plastic scale model kits 1936-1950
Peter van Lune
Zwolle, The Netherlands