04 August 2008
We take a look at the German products of Elastolin. ...
If you’re interested in the earliest production of any toy figure manufacturer, it can be tricky to pin down dates and production runs. Not so with the German products of Elastolin: with typical German thoroughness, the company changed the colour of the bases over the years, allowing the collector to identify with ease the age of a particular figure in 7cm and where it comes in terms of the overall factory output.
The very earliest production revolved around that popular period of the Wild West. It was in its heyday in the 1950s, with cinemas and comics recounting the exploits of redskin and paleface. Later on the television would take up the challenge of bringing buttes and braves into the front room.
The years 1952-56 saw the German company produce a number of cowboys and Indians in the so-called J series to fuel the market desire for such things. These were the halcyon days, when figures were painstakingly hand-painted in Germany, and when quality control was high. Such figures are easily identified because their bases are essentially dark green in colour. This wasn’t a uniform green, however, but rather a mixture of greens and dark hues, according to which pigments were mixed up in the mould. Thus you won’t find two identical; but you will find a tiny embossed J set in a recessed circle on the underside of the base. (The next series of bases, which spanned 1955-61, were of a pale green and gold hue and lacked the little J.)
According to my German friends who know more about such things than I, the actual letter J is a misnomer and it should read ‘I’. The reason? Well, the ‘I’ stood for Izerguss, the method utilised in the pouring of the material into the moulds. However, collectors are in the habit of referring to them as J figures.
Part of the interest in this early production lies in the painting. Here we have figures painted in solid colours, as opposed to the paint-and-wipe techniques that were used a little later on. Thus we have bold, colourful finishes, with great attention to detail. This was the era that saw painters take the trouble to paint in the whites of the eyes, as well as the eyeballs, for example. Later figures would lose the white. Moreover, the palette utilised was broad: Indians may boast up to eight different colours, according to the model in question.
It would appear that the painting of the cowboys and Indians, whilst at first sight arbitrary, actually followed a logical sequence. Shoe colour would appear elsewhere on the model, for instance. The fun lies in tracking down variations in the colour schemes adopted. Given that these figures are just about a half century old, they’re not too hard to find, although a variety of fragile appendages often means that something is broken on a figure. In terms of price, you can get most figures for under £20; one or two of the rarer items will cost double that. The range, though, is finite and comprises a dozen figures. The paint varieties, though, number considerably more… happy hunting!
* Enjoyed this feature? Then why not buy a copy of the 2008 Toy Collectors Price Guide. Click here to order your copy.