Brian..

Poplar Plastics Spacemen

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Poplar Plastics was a Welsh company producing a variety of plastic items including toys. The boxes and header cards carry their PP logo. They appear to have borrowed molds from other companies. Their spaceman series, called "Space Commandos" is a straight copy of the American Thomas Toys originals. The figures usually appear appear in silver and bronze and are made of a distinctive rubbery plastic. The ones shown here include ones with painted details, probably home grown. The figures were sold attached to a simple backing card with an attractive space scene. I have one somewhere and will add a scan as soon as I find it!


The set comprises:
1 Alien holding a club-like weapon over his left shoulder
2 Spaceman holding pistol in his right hand, left hand on box at waist
3 Spaceman with axe in right hand, pistol in left hand
4 Spaceman with spiked helmet holding pistol in right hand, left hand empty
5 Alien with breathing apparatus, frilled legs, hand on gun in holster


Thomas Toys have a sixth figure holding a rifle in their set; this figure was not included in the Poplar set.

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Have three of the poplar Plastic figures. They smell in a similar way like the Matt Mason Mason figures. So I think they were also made in soft PVC, which is similar to rubber. As far as I understood, the Thomas space men were made in a soft plastic, similar to the Airfix soldiers of the seventies & eighties. Bill it´s your turn ;) .

Also I own colourful orange or blue space men, made in an Airfix like soft plastic, which are copies of the Thomas figures.

Copy means new forms with some small differences to the originals. And last I have two another copies in "Airfix plastic" which do have a base.

Therefore in the moment I think there a four different producers of these figures:

1. Thomas Toys(the original)

2. Poplar Plastics

3. Colourful soft plastic figures. Perhaps both your green figures belong to that, Brian.

4. Figures with a base in soft plastic, I know of colours in white or silver.

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Space Hawk spacemen. Another outing of the set on a neat backing card. The plastic used for these figures looks appreciably different from the usual rubberized plastic of the first batch.

CORRECTION: this is an incorrect combination of card and spacemen. See below.

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Brian, the card is for the "Space Hawk|" space ship pictured on the card,(I've had two carded versions, both with silver "Space Hawks") to the best of my knowledge it wasn't issued with Spacemen attached...

Noel

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US $256.99 :o

...oh dear!

This seller usually has some good items for sale, but if you look closely ( well actually, not THAT closely) you'll see the tabs that the elastic band goes around to hold the craft in place, Brian, if you remember Dave Jones, it was him that I bought them off...part of the famous/infamous Tenerife haul from years back!

Noel

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The Space Hawk card was made by Poplar Playthings. It was distributed

with 1 Space Hawk ship and 2 bronze-coloured space man. However all the

colourful space men in yellow, red, blue and green were made by Alden Toys.

See also "Blast Off!" page 116 below.

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Ah, the Tenerife haul. I remember it well. A toyshop untouched for years. The stuff of dreams. Our mutual friend Phil made a fortune out of it.

Thanks Blech for the added details.

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Brian, good that you remember, I managed to get to see Mr Vasi's warehouse around 1995,his daughter drove me there. There was an incredible mix of stuff, 70's furniture, gifts for the tourists etc, but the toys had been whittled down to late model Corgi toys, what was left was expensive although I bought as many tin toys as I could carry, they were all about 50 pounds...BUT, all the robots and space toys were also 50 pounds...which would explain why they had all gone! :(

At least we bought well off Phil when he turned up at the fairs, I remember buying (nearly) all of the Merit "Saint" target games, plus all of the Space Patrol walkie talkies...good times!

Noel

post-648-0-31354500-1311065974.jpg

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Have three of the poplar Plastic figures. They smell in a similar way like the Matt Mason Mason figures. So I think they were also made in soft PVC, which is similar to rubber. As far as I understood, the Thomas space men were made in a soft plastic, similar to the Airfix soldiers of the seventies & eighties. Bill it´s your turn ;) .

 

Also I own colourful orange or blue space men, made in an Airfix like soft plastic, which are copies of the Thomas figures.

Copy means new forms with some small differences to the originals. And last I have two another copies in "Airfix plastic" which do have a base.

 

Therefore in the moment I think there a four different producers of these figures:

1. Thomas Toys(the original)

2. Poplar Plastics

3. Colourful soft plastic figures. Perhaps both your green figures belong to that, Brian.

4. Figures with a base in soft plastic, I know of colours in white or silver.

Can you tell me what colors the original Thomas Toy (Hard plastic) space figures came in, specifically the spaceman with spiked helmet.I did not know there were any copies aside from Poplar.

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The Thomas Toy Spacemen were introduced in September of 1952, and the Poplar figures soon after.  The Poplar figures were not copies of Thomas Toys' figures.  They were made from the same molds, and Poplar is actually the origin point for the sculptures that went into the making of the mold in America by the Ferriot Brothers company.  Since Poplar Plastics (founded and owned by native Welshmen Dr. Islyn Thomas and Major Eric W. Jones) was the sister company for Thomas Toys (wholly owned by Dr. Thomas), Poplar simply borrowed the original molds for their own runs when Thomas was no longer using them.  However, because PVC was readily available at the time in the British Isles, it was decided to run the Poplar figures using that material.  Thomas made their earliest runs of the spaceman figures out of hard polystyrene plastic (HP).  Those HP figures are the firsts, but only by a matter of a month or so before Poplar had their shot at using the mold.  Poplar marketed their figures on cards, selling a few or all of their poses with either one or both of their two HP spaceships that they had copied from Gilmark examples.  Interestingly enough, Poplar chose to produce only 5 of the 6 Thomas poses, eliminating the rifleman from their runs.  It's only speculation, but the general consensus for the figure's removal from the line is that its wide legged stance made its balance too unstable when produced in vinyl.  I once had a prototype of the rifleman in a dark blue vinyl that was so soft and rubbery that there was no chance for it to ever stand properly.  I'm sure they experimented with different mixes before settling on a more stable vinyl mix to use for their actual production runs.

 

The standard Poplar Plastics vinyl colors that are most often seen are:  Gold, Bronze, Silver, and Grey.  The standard Thomas Toy polystyrene colors most often seen are:  Metallic Blue, Metallic Green, Silver, and Grey.  The grey coloration for both types of plastic seems to show off the sculpting details on the figures to their best advantage.  Keep in mind that we know that other colors were also used, as rare examples turn up from time to time, possibly as surviving test shots.  But the colors that I have listed are those that are most often seen.

 

So who made the third version of these figures?  Well, late in the existence of Thomas Toys, probably sometime in 1959, Dr. Islyn Thomas finally made the change to the polyethylene plastic that American collectors refer to as "soft plastic" or "SP" (even though rubbery vinyl is actually softer).  There are carded examples still in existence with the Thomas Toys imprint that display four of the Spacemen figures in SP, accompanied by a very small dart gun.  In early 1960, Thomas still had polybags of hundreds of SP figures when the company's molds and assets were sold off.  Everything Thomas Toys owned, both physically and intellectually, was bought by a firm named Alden Industries, Inc. of nearby Patterson, NJ.  (Thomas Toys had always been located in Newark, NJ.)  One of the first things that the new owner did was to package and market the already produced excess figures and toys that they had just purchased.  The spacemen figures were packaged up in small polybags with new "Alden Toys" header cards as full sets of all six figures.  There is no evidence to indicate that Alden ever used the mold to make more spacemen beyond these.  (It is believed that Alden Industries, Inc. was primarily a re-packager of other makers' toys, but this still requires more research.)  We do know that they sold off all of the production pieces for every Thomas toy that they had bought to toy jobbers and smaller retailers of the time, using catalogs with their own header that featured photos of toys in Thomas Toys packaging.  After that they started selling off all of the molds too.  The spaceman mold, and a number of others, were all later sold to an Italian firm, but the Spaceman mold has not been heard of since.  (Figures that appear to be SP copies of the Thomas Toy Spacemen have turned up in northern Europe with bases.  These are rumored to be a Linde product, and they probably have no relationship to the original mold.)

 

The more common SP colors that Thomas made (and that Alden Toys sold) are:  Red, Silver, Yellow, and Blue.  There may be others, but these are all that I have seen to date, and they all appear in pretty even distribution.

 

If you want to read more about Dr. Thomas's personal history in the evolution of early plastic production, and his involvement with numerous early plastic toy making firms, then we highly recommend Bill Hanlon's great "American Dimestore" website.  Hanlon, himself a producer of a quality line of retro-design plastic toys from 2000 to 2003, was a personal friend of Dr. Thomas in the doctor's later years.  After the plastics giant passed away, Hanlon inherited the files for Dr. Thomas's years with Acme, Banner, Ideal, Thomas Toys and Poplar Plastics.  Much of the more pertinent documents from this collection of materials now appears on Hanlon's website, including reproductions of many of the firms' sales catalogs.  You can find it all at:  http://www.prestostore.com/cgi-bin/storefront.pl?ref=americandimestore&pg=22201

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Great read EJP, thanks!  I have an odd color (marbleized) Thomas figure in HP...see lower-right of pic.  Also, since this pic was taken I found a different source for the acrylic discs; they're thinner, look a lot better, and best of all cheaper...see the link:

 

http://www.delviesplastics.com/p/Laser_Cut_Clear_Acrylic_Discs.html

 

IMG_7643_-_Copy_thumb_JPG_198d240d37d541a6a9ae8fee6fdaca60.jpg

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That marbleized guy is one sharp piece, and the thing that I love most about marbleized figures is that every one ever made is unchallengeably unique!  You may find a similar one, but he'll never be a perfect match.  The pale green rifleman is also a tough find.  You see the color from time to time, but not too often!

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