The 'Plastiquarian' - December, 2014
Journal of the Plastics Historical Society

The 'Plastiquarian', a name culled, I assume, from the words 'Plastic' and 'Antiquarian', is the "Journal of the Plastics Historical Society". The society "does what it says on the tin", and, as such needs no explanation other than to comment that, judging by the standard of the 'Plastiquarian' issued in December 2014, it is a lively group, with wide ranging interests right across the plastics spectrum.
The 'Plastiquarian' BAYKO article was deliberately different to the more usual 'nostalgia fest', in recognition of the obvious interests of the Plastics Historical Society audience.
Front cover of the December, 2014 issue of the Plastiquarian, journal of the Plastics Historical Society
The article [below] was written by an extremely intelligent, handsome, modest author! It occupied pages 11 through 14 as well as the front cover [left].
The article reads as follows : -
Charles Bird Plimpton, inventor of the world’s first and finest plastic construction toy, was born in Peckham, [birthplace of Del Boy], in 1893 – perhaps there’s entrepreneurial spirit in Peckham’s water! His father, John Charles Plimpton, was an American import – and importer – so that’s perhaps a more likely explanation for C.B.’s commercial acumen. Either way, dad provided floor-space for the embryonic Plimpton Engineering, when BAYKO production began.
C.B. was unwell for much of his life, and it was during a long, presumably tedious, convalescence in a North Wales sanatorium, that he turned his agile brain to the invention of BAYKO. There’d been a Dutch toy, MOBACO, working on vaguely similar principals, but C.B.’s stroke of genius was to move away from wooden posts supporting large, pre-printed card panels, replacing them with 75 thou steel rods, supporting smaller plastic panels representing brickwork, windows, doors, etc.
This innovation was sufficient to merit not one, but two BAYKO patents – and these weren’t his first. He’d earlier received one for “Improvements in Clocks and Clock Movements” – no mean achievement in a 200 year old industry!
His ‘brain child’, BAYKO, required an innovative mind in addition to entrepreneurial drive. If you look back, BAYKO’s reign in the toy market exactly fills the middle third of last century, coinciding with the major years of the plastic revolution.
Before BAYKO, plastic was a familiar material, but was essentially sold primarily as items comprising just a few, fairly big components. Take a Bakelite telephone for example, they comprise the base unit, hand piece, plus the ear and mouth pieces which were detachable to get the electrical bits in. That’s four pieces, rocketing up to five when plastic dials were developed. In contrast, the standard BAYKO brick is just ¾ x ¾ x ³⁄16 inch [19.5 x 19.5 x 4.9 mm], with no less than 561 comparable pieces in the largest set. This means C.B. had to be at the forefront of development of rapid production of small plastic pieces.
Ironically, the only specific problems we know about were problems with the bases. These were quite large - 7½ x 6 x ½ inches [191 x 152 x 12.7 mm] – and, of course, included a matrix of holes, ⅜ inch apart, into which young modellers inserted rods for their latest project. Add the need to fasten bases together for larger models, and dimensional accuracy was a key issue, as was flatness. Starting from scratch as they were, C.B. and his team had difficulty with warping as the Bakelite bases were ejected hot from their moulds and left to cool, subject to the climatic vagaries of Liverpool, BAYKO’s only home.
Page 11 of the December, 2014 issue of the Plastiquarian, journal of the Plastics Historical Society
Frustratingly slowly, C.B. overcame the problems and BAYKO was launched on a grateful British public in 1934, hence the BAYKO Collectors Club has been energetically celebrating BAYKO’s 80th anniversary this year, not least with a 2,000 square foot exhibition at a prestigious venue - the Museum of Liverpool in the World Heritage site on Liverpool’s waterfront. Happily C.B.’s two daughters are still very much alive, and, in addition to supporting BAYKO80, they’ve proved to be a mine of useful information. They recall packing BAYKO Light Constructional sets, as the earliest sets were titled, literally around the kitchen table, fulfilling local orders ready for Christmas 1933.
Plimpton displayed two substantial models in the ‘Toys and Games’ section of the 1934 British Industries Fair, one being over 6 feet tall [1.8 metres] – aiming high in more ways than one! The thousands of BAYKO parts involved represented a substantial investment, which the embryonic company could ill afford. C.B.’s daughters said they reclaimed the parts, mixing them in sawdust and baking them [remember Bakelite is heatproof] removing any grease and stains from exposure to touching, dirt, grease and tobacco smoke, so they could be sold – good as new. Would you risk that as a reclamation technique for your Bakelite pride and joy?
Page 12 of the December, 2014 issue of the Plastiquarian, journal of the Plastics Historical Society
Those who had, or played with, a BAYKO set will probably remember red and white bricks with green, [or possibly yellow], windows and doors. The earliest sets were sold with literature which claimed that this was their colour scheme as well [without the yellow] – the operative word being ‘claimed’.
The earliest BAYKO parts were Bakelite, naturally, in this case predominantly phenol formaldehyde. The so-called red bricks were actually brown, not far removed from the natural resin colour. For the so-called white and green parts, urea formaldehyde and melamine were added, together with colourant, but only achieving cream and a dark, almost brown, shade of green, respectively. Plimpton produced five sets at this time [sets 1 to 5] with four conversion sets so that young enthusiasts could progress to bigger and better sets.
This use of Bakelite Limited’s SCARAB POWDERS, their resin’s brand name, was thought so innovative that they used market leading BAYKO in their trade advertising, in October and November, 1936, in ‘Games & Toys’, a major publication for the U.K. toy trade. SCARAB was the species of dung beetle held sacred by the ancient Egyptians. As BAYKO forged ahead, so did the plastic industry behind it. The supporting chemistry caught up and material prices dropped allowing Plimpton to switch to urea formaldehyde in 1937. This allowed BAYKO to be made in ‘true colours’ - red and white bricks and green windows and doors – though I’m not sure how they justified the orange ornamental parts introduced in 1938! By then, Plimpton also bought the totally-coincidentally named BEETLE POWDERS from British Industrial Plastics.
However, let’s step back a moment, to late 1935. Plimpton began to manufacture in a colour known as ‘Oak’. This was achieved by mixing sawdust, [the trade glorified it as ‘Wood Flour’], with the resin powders. In the mould these two materials didn’t mix completely, being clearly visible as two distinct colours, brown and almost black, which some bright marketeer had previously christened ‘Oak’. Plimpton used the ‘Oak’ parts in their “De-Luxe” number 6 set, the largest ever BAYKO set, an intentionally prestige product. It was sold for 42/- [£2.10], a craftsman’s weekly wage at the time. To me, this displays C.B. Plimpton’s entrepreneurial skills at their best - add a cheaper ingredient, make a premium product – not bad eh!
Concurrently, Plimpton introduced their ‘Ornamental Additions’ Sets. These were, as the name suggests, designed to add colour and flair to models, which were made from the original 16 plastic parts, and which were in a fairly dull colour scheme. These sets were just part of Plimpton’s recognition that buying extra bits provides a key profit stream, as it still does for HORNBY, LEGO, and MY LITTLE PONY today. Toy shops eagerly sold spare parts from ‘Free on Loan’ cabinets, initially cardboard and later wooden, throughout BAYKO’s life. I remember my regular trips to ‘The Pram Shop’ in Blackburn, with my accumulated pocket money or cash presents burning a hole in my pocket!
In 1938, Plimpton launched another range of ornamental sets [sets 20 to 23] which, as well as the orange parts previously mentioned, included a range of new parts. These included curved windows and bricks; the short-lived 1-brick pillars, unique to these sets; fancy, attractive and much sought after, mottled green bases; and the, to me, strangely popular orange turrets, domes, pinnacles and bay window covers. According to contemporary literature, conversion sets were also available, though I don’t know anybody who has seen one!
In 1939, the ‘New Series’ set launch introduced several more new parts, including large windows and long bricks; new, smaller bases, in a size more familiar to most fans, though here mirroring the mottled-green colour of the 20s series sets; a new small roof, requiring the original small roof to be renamed(!); and a much more useful set of steps. There were again six sets [sets 1 to 6] with appropriate conversion sets, however, a gentleman by the name of Adolf Hitler rather interfered with the young collectors’ progression through the sets!  The ‘New Series’ parts were fully compatible with their predecessors, but the sets and conversion sets were not. To resolve this, older-style conversion sets were produced until wartime austerity dictated otherwise.
Page 13 of the December, 2014 issue of the Plastiquarian, journal of the Plastics Historical Society
Wartime imperatives accelerated plastic development, then the pressure of material shortages meant that, immediately post-war, parts sometimes appeared in unusual colours or types of plastic. Sadly, post-war paper shortages mean there’s no published material to explain the details, however, this is still my favourite BAYKO period. I particularly like the apple-green window colour and the translucent or opalescent qualities of some bricks and bases respectively. A new, four-piece garage-style roof was introduced in the new, smaller, entry level, set 0. The remaining new range [sets 1 to 3] emerged over the next couple of years and parts standardised to small green bases, red and white bricks and mid-green windows, though often in a re-tooled form using less plastic. During this period ‘export or bust’ was a national maxim, and BAYKO played its part, peaking, during the 1950s, at 35% of production.
Between 1949 and 1951, a new range of ‘extra parts’ was introduced, greatly enhancing the range of models collectors could build. Sadly, C.B. died in late December, 1949 and, with that, his innovation stream also died. Set 4 was introduced in 1952, including many of the ‘extra parts’, though, C.B.’s plans for set 5 never materialised. The 1950s were definitely BAYKO’s peak period. Sales topped 150,000 sets a year, that’s 3,000 weekly. Around 1956, Plimpton began introducing polystyrene parts, specifically bricks, windows and, finally, doors. British Resin Products were so pleased with this STYRON usage, that they too included BAYKO in their trade advertising – in ‘British Toys’, June, 1959. Otherwise, in their lack of innovation, [they only introduced three new parts in nine years(!)], Plimpton sowed the seeds of their own destruction, with the pre-war styling looking increasingly dated. The inevitable happened, and MECCANO beat BRITTAINS to takeover BAYKO in September, 1959.
MECCANO themselves were in trouble, so the rationale for the buyout is hazy. Plimpton supplied plastic components to MECCANO - perhaps MECCANO finally realised plastic was the future and wanted to secure their supply chain and Plimpton’s 25 years plastic moulding experience.
Page 14 of the December, 2014 issue of the Plastiquarian, journal of the Plastics Historical Society
At a snail’s pace MECCANO retooled BAYKO, eventually, to polystyrene, in sets 11 to 14 though the latter only appeared well into 1961! They dropped the dated ornamental parts, including Plimpton’s signature one-piece red roofs, replacing them with [then] modern four-part roofs with pale green tops and cream gables. This cream matched the cream bricks which were also made in orange-red.  Windows were remodelled and were now yellow.
In 1962 MECCANO introduced a small [though excellent] new parts range, supporting the introduction of set 15. These significantly enhanced the range of models collectors could make, indeed, although the standard bricks and windows aren’t all that popular with today’s modellers, the new parts are.
After TRI-ANG’s MECCANO takeover, advertising ceased, and no new parts were introduced, so evidently a ‘milk-it’ regime prevailed. However, incredibly, during BAYKO’s death throws, many parts were retooled to a ‘flanged’ or ‘minimalist’ style in a new, bright polystyrene, but using much smaller quantities. These are, undoubtedly, the most accurate BAYKO parts ever made and make excellent, robust models. BAYKO died in 1967.
I mentioned BAYKO80 earlier, but undersold it somewhat. It was simply the largest collection of BAYKO sets and models ever assembled under one roof, proving that C.B.’s baby has survived well into late middle age, taking a loyal, enthusiastic band of talented fans with it. It included several spectacular models by the BAYKO Collectors Club - a model of the Museum of Liverpool itself; the Leaning Tower of Piza; St Marks [Venice] Campanile; a spectacular London Underground layout with suburbia above, courtesy of BAYKO and supporting cast of other plastic building kits; a 32 foot Pier; a massive Cathedral; a huge range of excellent, original BAYKO models; some superb computer graphics; loads of BAYKO sets and supporting retail material; and even short talks on BAYKO-related subjects given by members. Four days of BAYKO heaven!!!
Finally, can I kill one urban myth. It’s often said that BAYKO would’ve been killed off by ‘health and safety’ concerns thanks to the metal rods. However, I’ve a solution – replace metal rods with extruded ‘plastic rods’, crimped [round, not straight] every ⅜ inch. That way, if little Jack or Jill tripped up and decided to head-but part built models on the carpet, the crimping would act as a ‘mechanical fuse’ and break first, leaving eyes intact – ‘health and safety gone sane’!
Well, that's your lot. Can I just take this opportunity to recommend the Plastics Historical Society to you. I've found 'The Plastiquarian' to be an attractive, interesting and lively publication, and my direct contact with the society's officials to be friendly and professional...
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