A Plastic Revolution
Airfix was founded in 1939 by a Hungarian businessman Nicholas Kove, initially to manufacture inflatable rubber toys. The brand name was selected to be the first alphabetically in trade directories. In 1947 Airfix introduced injection moulding, initially producing pocket combs.
Products: Model kits
Airfix is a UK manufacturer of injection-moulded plastic scale model kits of aircraft and other objects. In the United Kingdom the name Airfix is synonymous with plastic models of this type, often simply referred to as "an airfix kit" even if made by another manufacturer.
Founded in 1939, Airfix was owned by Humbrol from 1986 until the latter's financial collapse on 31 August 2006. Since 2007, both Humbrol and Airfix have been owned by Hornby.
Airfix was founded in 1939 by a Hungarian businessman Nicholas Kove, initially to manufacture inflatable rubber toys. The brand name was selected to be the first alphabetically in trade directories. In 1947 Airfix introduced injection moulding, initially producing pocket combs. In 1949 the company was commissioned to create a promotional model of a Ferguson TE20 tractor, moulded in cellulose acetate plastic and hand-assembled for distribution to Ferguson sales representatives. To increase sales and lower production costs the model was sold in kit form by F. W. Woolworth's retail stores.
In 1954 Woolworth's buyer Jim Russon suggested that Airfix produce a model kit of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind, then being sold in North America as a 'ship-in-a-bottle', made in the more stable polystyrene. To meet Woolworth's retail price of two shillings, Airfix packaged the product in a plastic bag with a paper header that had the assembly instructions on the reverse. Its huge success led the company to produce new kit designs. The first aircraft kit was released in 1955, a model of the Supermarine Spitfire Mk I, followed by the Spitfire Mk IX in 1955, in 1⁄72 scale, developed by James Hay Stevens. This was a scaled-down copy of the Aurora 1⁄48 Supermarine Spitfire kit. Kove initially refused to believe the product would sell and threatened to charge the cost of tooling-up to the designers.
Airfix models from 1957
During the 1960s and 1970s, the company expanded as the hobby grew. The range expanded to include vintage and modern cars, motorcycles, figures in both 1⁄76 and 1⁄32 scale, trains, model railway accessories, military vehicles, famous ships, rockets and spaceships, as well as an ever-increasing range of aircraft, most created at the scales of 1⁄72 for small and military aircraft and 1⁄144 scale for airliners. The growth of the hobby launched a number of competitors such as Matchbox and introduced new manufacturers from Japan and the US to the UK. During this period the Humbrol company also grew, supplying paints, brushes, glue and other accessories as an alternative to Airfix's own range. Airfix also launched a monthly modelling magazine, Airfix Magazine, produced by a variety of publishers from June 1960 to October 1993. During the 1970s an Airfix Magazine Annual was also produced; and Airfix books on classic aircraft, classic ships and modelling techniques were published by Patrick Stephens Ltd.
In 1963 the Airfix slot car racing system was introduced. Airfix produced cars with front-wheel Ackermann steering and, later, conversion kits so that normal Airfix 1⁄32 kit cars such as the Ford Zodiac and the Sunbeam Rapier could be raced. The first set had Ferrari and Cooper cars and an 11-foot figure-of-eight track: it cost £4/19/11d. Always in the shadow of the Scalextric range, the Airfix version attempted to progress with the higher-end Model Road Racing Company (MRRC) range but eventually the venture was abandoned.
Most of Airfix's older range of military vehicles, though sold as 1⁄72, are generally accepted as OO or 1⁄76 scale - the subsequent introduction of a small number of true 1⁄72 vehicle kits to the Airfix range created controversy regarding the exact scale. Hornby's new packaging shows 1⁄72 or 1⁄76 as appropriate.
In late 1962 the acquisition of the intellectual property and 35 moulds of Rosebud Kitmaster gave Airfix its first models of railway locomotives in OO and HO scales and its first motorcycle kit; the Ariel Arrow in 1⁄16 scale. The '60's also saw the introduction of an extremely popular line of boxed 1⁄72 scale military figures.
In the mid-1970s larger scales were introduced, including detailed 1⁄24-scale models of the Spitfire, Messerschmitt Bf 109, Hawker Hurricane and Harrier "jump-jet". The mid-1970s were a peak time for Airfix. Releasing as many as 17 new kits a year, Airfix commanded 75% of the UK market with 20 million kits per annum. Series 20 was limited for several years to the 1972 1⁄12 scale kit of the 1930 Supercharged Bentley 4.5 Litre car, with 272 parts and the option of a 3-volt motor. In 1979 four motorcycles in 1⁄8 scale were added to this series. The company also introduced an addition to the very popular plastic soldier boxed set line with a 1⁄32 scale version.
First came the Romans
The crucial thing was the price! You could buy a box of Airfix figures for half a crown (2 Shillings and 6 old pence = 2/6d) 12.05 new pence. In 1965 when I was 11 that represented half your pocket money my Dad would give me on Saturdays’.
Two packets of Airfix figures represented good play value for Sundays’ and beyond.
I was already to Airfix kits mainly aircraft and tanks so I decided to attempt to painted of figures. This I did and the Romans came first.
The result were pleasing but my heart and mind was in the American Civil War at that time.
Airfix were ideal for war gaming with lots of soldiers.
So I began collecting. At 20mm high Airfix remained undersize but still good value. The war-gamers preferred 25mm and 30mm scale white metal figures by Miniature Figurines or Hinton and Hunt. They were too expensive at 1/6d (1 Shilling and 6 old pence per figure!).
Minifigs™ was founded by Neville Dickinson back in 1964. Neville, one of the founder fathers of the Wessex Wargames Club, (Telephone: Ian Gould 02380 730912) started from the basement of No. 5 Northam Road, Southampton. With a casting machine and vulcanizer he set about making his own figures. Not long afterwards, Richard Higgs, fresh from Art College in Portsmouth, started to design the figure that he required for his army and asked Neville if he would cast them for him with the statement "As long as I get what I want you can do what you like with the rest". Well it didn't take long for the word to get about that Richard’s designs were worth having and the pair of them were in business.
Minifigs™ moved to 100A St. Mary Street in 1967 and I remember Richard sat in the shop window designing and dealing with customers and Neville looked after the production side of things. The business was finally incorporated in 1968 and is generally regarded as the oldest established war games manufacturer still in existence. The company grew and moved to larger premises in 1972. This was 28/32 Northam Road, Still in Southampton, and it's fair to say this is where Minifigs™ really took off. In 1973 Minifigs™ America was set up in Pine Plains, New York 12567. The company led the world in design, quality and sheer quantity of figures available in any range.
Dave Higgs, current owner and principal designer, joined the design team in 1974. At this stage the company was just thinking about 15mm figures but Dave's job was to redesign 25mm English civil war, Seven years war, Hundred years war and finish off the additions to the Napoleonics. It was during this period that Richard created the "Valley of the Four Winds" and various other fantasy ranges such as "Mythical Earth". In 1986 Minifigs™ secured the licence to manufacture and distribute the Ral Partha range of Fantasy which took the world by storm. So here you had the firm that did everything that was worth having. Minifigs™ ruled the world, it was a nice feeling.
The Eighties and Nineties however were decades of mixed fortunes for the hobby. Many of our competitors did not survive but despite computer games and magic cards we are proud to still be serving the war gamer. Neville Dickinson retired in October 97 and Dave Higgs took over.
On the home front, (i.e. Historical figures), Minifigs™ launched it's 12mm (N gauge model railway scale) World War Two range in 1998. As of 2007, this consists of American, British, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Italian forces sufficient to cater for Europe, North Africa and the Far East. These are accompanied by a very user friendly set of rules.
The 12mm Moderns range was launched at the beginning of 2004 and currently covers the armed forces of America, Australia, Britain, Israel, Russia, Vietnam and West Germany. This allows the gamer to play conflicts such as the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli Wars and the Gulf Wars. Again, these are accompanied by a very user friendly set of rules.
In September 2009, Miniature Figurines was sold to Caliver Books.
Parallel to Airfix collection I began to make moulds and cast my own figures of my Primus stove in my shed.
Below you can see cast white metal Zouaves. Note the larger scale than the Airfix figures.
Taken in 1971 the finished product.