As per last TOTS Newsletter
I am deliberately putting this at the end of the newsletter . (Just the subtitle merits that! ) This is kind of a rambling think-piece. Initially I wrote down these ideas to help sort out my own thinking. Maybe you will find them useful too. If not, here is a dotted line that you can snip across.
When you spend 30 or more years on a project that turns out around 850 different models, there is a human tendency to get your own critical faculties caught up in the action. It feels much more like raising some extra offspring, all of whom by definition are "above average". We need something to grab our attention once in a while to restore perspective and a sense of the Big Picture. In my case it was hitting some Real Life transitions. That happens at 68. There are inevitably some bumpy paths between Advanced Youth and Early Middle Age.
In the Beginning...............wait a minute................what WAS the Beginning. Whatever it was I was just what I hope was a twinkle in my parents' eyes but important things were happening before me. And maybe even you.
Some amazing things happened in the 1920-30's. The workaday world was in the middle of a terrible economic and social crisis (does this sound too familiar?) and the were growing threats from factions who were bent upon impressing their own half-baked ideas on the rest of humanity (more repeated déjà vu......remarkable!). On the hobby front the mainstays of child motivators and adult collectors, like tin soldiers were winding down in popularity as people thought more of trains, planes, cars, and ships. And sure enough new players jumped in to start a new generation. We recall more about men like Fritz Peltzer and Henning Cortsen because they pioneered 1/200 ranges, but the same phenomenon was widespread. Someone made it possible for young people and new collectors to come aboard. And then the demand for ID and training models for WWII really opened the gates.
Segue back to us and 1/200 scale. When I started making and collecting 1/200 scale models in the late 1960s, there was still a lot out there. The Plan was collecting as many as possible of the Wiking ID models, and then supplementing those with whatever we could find or make. We discovered that there were tiny numbers of other 1/200 ID models like the British and Commonwealth gunnery training kits, the Eskader models of Swedish aircraft, the Pilot models from Denmark, and the Jem Handy photo ID models from the USA. We found abortive attempts to start 1/200 commercial ranges, such as Corgi's Vapour Trails jets and the Hawk Jet Power models, and the silver Wikings of the revival effort. We noted toy ranges like Dinky, Mercury, and Politoys. We found that kit makers sometimes strayed onto or near 1/200 when scaling down larger models to fit a standard size of box - hence the expression "box scale". And finally we encountered the airliner model industry which was cranking out huge numbers of display models of the same few Boeings, Douglasses, and Lockheeds in ever changing liveries.
For collectors it was actually a fun time, There were relatively few serious collectors specializing in 1/200. WWII 1/72 scale ID models were still readily available and 1/72 kits were absolutely exploding in availability. Troves of Wiking models were still turning up in Eastern Europe, and the supply of anything that did not fit the 1/72 norm grossly exceeded the demand. We were young, still recovering from graduate school, starting careers, families, and mortgages, so 1/200 was a perfect fit. Perhaps the best part was that the collectors of the day were generally good friends. We needed a lot of friends just to spread the inevitable surplus models around.
By the mid 1970's supplies of most 1/200 ranges were running down, and they were not being replaced. Collecting was becoming both difficult and expensive, as well as not very accessible for newcomers. There were also some issues about the style or fidelity of first generation models. A new generation of producers and 1/200 models emerged very rapidly, primariky due to the efforts of Czech and Polish model makers. The model enthusiasts of Eastern Europe had evolved techniques of low volume, low cost resin model production that enabled anyone with a rich imagination to engage in wish fulfillment. (My favorite example from that period was a realistically painted solid epoxy cheeseburger and fries on display in the original Squadron Shop in suburban Detroit.) Over a period of no more than 3-4 years an unbelievable number of cottage industry ranges appeared. Firms like Mercator and Skytrex concentrated their 1/200 efforts on figures and AFV's. Our own HBM, Peter Krtina's Hai, Romy Hauk's HFM, Fritz Villi's Trident, Günter Wirth's Club 200, the X-Models, and several more enterprises developed very large aircraft oriented offerings. Those were soon supplemented by two ID model series from Hansa-Schowanek and then metal model ranges from Konishi in Japan, Dennis Knight's Helmet, Tommy Atkins, and Aero Crafts and the Norfolk Group in England, and then by waves of reissued Wiking ID models by Dr. Grope and a 400+ model range from Fredy Martin Schultz.
From the perspective of a long term collector, the period from the 1980's into the veryearly1990's was like being a child in a candy store. Literally thousands of models became available , mostly at very modest prices. Keeping up building and painting what the postman delivered became a genuine challenge. Detailing and quality improved to quite attractive standards. The small volumes, however, meant that collectors and producers remained a small and generally cordial fraternity.
By the early 1990s most aircraft types of even limited interest had been offered, and there was some discussion of what future might develop. We were very earnest, corresponding among ourselves and chatting for hours at IMACS and model meets. We noted that there were very few new collectors and almost none much younger than us, and we were surprised to find that prospective collectors saw entry as a sort of Mission Impossible. How would someone even find, let alone pay for or assemble and paint a complete collection from one of the producers? Maybe more than that. I think that we worked ourselves into enough of a conceptual corner that we did not have an accurate picture of where we and our collections fitted in the grand scheme of things. In my most candid moments, I suspect we are run a grass roots network of private if not downright secret museums. What makes me think that? Is your collection on display? Does anyone at the office or your social club know about your collection? Do you invite people to look at your models? Do you like to show it to kids?
We may be a bit smarter than dinosaurs or mastodons. At least we think about the future and those who will follow us. What we have inadvertently done or perhaps could not avoid doing is making ourselves almost impossible to follow. Couple that with the tendency of the younger people to look for something different and better (just like we did!) and you have the seeds for generational change.
One more thing completes the mix. Suppose that someone looks at our models. He'll have to admit that our models are nice. Otherwise we will whimper. But he will also see a lot of room for improvement. He will make all of the master components using solid 3D digital models to drive 3D,4D, or 5D machine tools. He will make tooling exactly the same elegant, efficient way. Then he will tampon-print the finish and details onto the models, fit them with strong, precise landing gear, drop tanks, rockets, bombs, and pods, and top them off with clear canopies. First he will a produce a limited series for use as executive gifts and for sale in corporate stores. Then he will sell them in public places, through a web site, and through a network of distributors. They will be easy to find, easy to buy and display out of the box, and so attractive that we will place standing orders ourselves. Most important, they will be different and totally defensible. Lower in cost than one of our models well painted by a professional. Could such a thing happen? Call it Herpa. Call it Hogan or Gulliver. Call it any of the imitators who are lining up to play in their league. Then picture the toy and war game makers who will pile on, offering simplified models at even lower prices.
So where does that leave us? I think the magic words are niches, specialization, and opportunism. The day of huge ranges like HBM is probably over. The Herpas and their competitors are going to dominate the market for popularly recognized combat planes in much the same way that they "own" modern airliners. Beyond those it could be decades before they get to experimentals, historic, second line and unusual types, trainers, support aircraft, or prototypes. The current ranges also enable us to recombine existing types in different ways. One selection could be built around the aviation of a country, a corporate history, an air arm or airline, or a technology such as VTOL. I think we are going to be fine, perhaps even better if we can forge partnerships among ourselves and with strategic allies. I will continue on that point next time.