IN THE BEGINNING… (1936)


The year is 2008:
Nowadays modelling enthusiasts are able to choose from a wide variety of plastic modelkits. Planes, cars, military, motors and so on, in various scale-ranges. Quality of detailing has improved much over the years, thanks to new techniques.

We might forget how this all started…

So let's go back more than 70 years, to 1932 in London, England, and meet Charles Wilmot and Joe Mansour (photo right).


Under the registered company name of FROG they released the INTERCEPTOR Mk.4, a scale 1:32 flying model with a duralumin fuselage and wings of strengthened paper (photo left).

The propeller was driven by elastic, which could be wound up with an ingenious winding mechanism, built in the box. The plane was a sales success, but the carved wooden propeller proved to be the most vulnerable part of the model, since it could break on a less fortunate landing, which of course happened a lot.
For Wilmot and Mansour solving this problem was so important that they started to search for a material to replace it.


Around 1935 experiments with a brand new material called cellulose acetate proved successful and from that moment on it was used or most of the small parts on Frog's flying models. It is not to be confused with celluloid or bakelite.

The photo left show the Interceptor Mk.4 with the original wooden propeller.

The qualities of cellulose acetate opened their eyes to a whole range of new possibilities. The success of another British company, Skybirds, was noted by Frog. Skybirds was known for its range of wooden models in the 1930's and the first to produce a constant range of models in 1:72 scale.

Inspired by the question whether such models could be made of cellulose acetate Wilmot and Mansour set to work.

At the end of 1936 this resulted in the production of the first models: Blackburn Shark II (wheels & floats), Gloster Gladiator prototype and Hawker Fury Mk.1.

The oldest all plastic modelkits in the world...


Most modellers will know that FROG stands for Flies Right Off the Ground. The new plastic range was called PENGUIN, a non-flying bird. This distinction from other Frog models was neccessary, since at that time Frog was more known for their flying models.

The first advertisement for the Penguins appeared in February 1937 in the magazine Popular Flying (photo left).




The Hawker Fury shown left has a remarkable history. It is described and photographed on page 27 in Lines / Hellström's history of FROG, being one of the earliest Penguin modelkits known.

They write that some Penguin kits were brought to the office of director Mr. Arthur Lines, probably to show production had begun. Some of these models were later rescued from his office.

The earliest date was of a Gloster Gladiator, dated 30th November 1936.




The other 2 kits, both Hawker Fury's, probably from the same source, were dated 11th and 14th december 1936. The first of these is the kit shown above, as confirmed by the "packed by"-slip, shown right.


The Penguins were not given catalogue numbers until 1938, so up until this date there is no relationship between number and date of issue. The Blackburn Shark (1936), for instance, has No. 13P, while the Percival Gull (1937) has No. 1P.

The Hawker Fury (as shown above) has no catalogue number on the label on the box. Any prewar box without a catalogue number can therefore be easily dated either 1936 or 1937.
 


Somehow the name Penguin is spelled with a reversed "U" on many boxes and instruction sheets. I have found no consistency, only that all post-war Penguins I have seen have it written correctly. On one Hawker Fury box that I have the spelling is right, but on the other one it's wrong...

Sources: photo Wilmot/Mansour - Lines/Hellstrom page 10