Micromodels - Some background/history.

A Forum on the 1940' and 50's UK Railway Micromodels
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Kevin Wilson-Smith

Micromodels - Some background/history.

Post by Kevin Wilson-Smith »

A couple of people have asked about more detailed concerning the history of Micromodels. So, here goes!!!!

Micromodels were invented in the late 1930s by a gentleman called Geoffrey Heighway. The concept he had was to produce reasonably priced models, for what was then an active hobby market, with model builders being common among schoolchildren and adults.

Given the austerity measures current due to the war, a certain amount of ingenuity was necessary to come up with a concept that would be practical. Geoffrey Heighway did this by inventing a printed card model that came in small packs. His idea was to miniaturise printed cardboard cutout models (already then very popular), so that an entire collection of small models could be placed on a small card rapper around the size of a postcard.

When launched, the concept took off in wartime Britain, and Micromodelling, became very quickly popular in the UK and colonies (I was able still to purchase Micromodels as a child in Kenya in the late 1960’s)). Good artwork, original and often topical subjects, a reasonable purchase price and of course a shortage of model kits were all reasons for the popularity of Micromodels. The limited space and tools required for construction were also appealing to many modellers who had to move around due to the war, and enthusiasts were able to carry around their work in progress, tools and materials in a small cigar box or equivalent. This meant they were unable to model on ships, in a raid shelters, and the obscure places!

The first printed card Micromodel was published by Modelcraft in 1940, and was called in The Romance Of Sail - a collection of six small miniature sailing ships. The actual card models themselves were derived from scale plans which were also sold by Modelcraft.

Further model craft plans were then used to produce some additional wartime issues, on a military theme, which included Allied Fighter Planes, Fighter-Bombers, British Fighting Ships, Weapons Of War, Tanks, Heavy Bombers and Flying Boats. These sets were promoted during the war as Training and Recognition Aids to be used on the Homefront, and because of this fact scarce supplies of rationed paper and card were provided by the Ministry of Supply, and Modelcraft where able to maintain production during the war years. Quite crafty!

In 1947, Heighway then formed his own company and named it Micromodels Ltd. To administer and sell the product he opened a small office in London, and subcontracted out the artwork and the printing. New models were produced by preparing drawings which were four to five times the size of the actual finished models. The printing collation was then subcontracted, with the proof sheets prior to printing being approved by a model shop in London. The same model shop made up the finished items once printed, and was conveniently situated near the Micomodels premises.

Five post-war Micromodels produced were published in 1947 - all had a railway theme, being followed by a further seven sets of locomotives, and two of the first architectural model kits. The latter were Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (Shakespeare’s girlfriend and then later wife), and a Windmill.

The first Micromodel made was also reissued, now called Six Little Ships And Galleons.
In 1949, 19 more sets were released covering even more topics. The sets included Locomotives (as was probably inevitable), and to go with the latter sets, a Passenger Coaches and Railway Buildings were also now issued. In addition to the Locomotives, sets Of Warships, Aircraft, Agricultural Machinery, and Novelty Moving Toys were also issued. The architectural range was boosted by almost a full set of models of the various old London Gates.

By 1956, production of the models had reached a peak, but Heighway then unfortunately died, leaving a large number of projects unfinished. Just prior to his death he sold Micromodels to an American businessman who owned a London based mail order company, and the last Micromodel was produced by this company in 1957 - the Mayflower Supermodel. No attempt was made to then print any further Micromodels, and as the existing stock was used up Micromodels slowly came to an end - Micromodels ceased to trade at the beginning of the 1960s.

In the early 1970s, further Micromodel stock was discovered in a warehouse, and purchased by the Watford Model Supply Company. The first advert announcing the reintroduction of the older kits in 1971 appeared, with large quantities of kits being sold, at very low prices. This caused a brief revival in popularity for Micromodels, and created the source of the more obtainable models that can be found today, whether on the Internet or at shops in the UK.

Sadly, this form of modelling never really made a comeback shortly after Heighway’s death. This was probably due to the fact that the end of shortages due to the war were now slowly coming to an end, as well as the fact that modellers were being lured by large quantities of innovative plastic kits, now being produced Eagle, Airfix and other manufacturers.

By the final count, Modelcraft produced initially 13 kits or packs, making up 31 individual models produced by Modelcraft. This was followed by 83 kids produced by Heighway’s Micromodels, which themselves made up a total of 273 individual models.

The range covered railway engines, railway wagons, railway passenger carriages, railway buildings, track, as well as some more specialised railway subjects such as breakdown cranes. Although primarily British, the range of locomotives is extensive and includes some South African locomotives as well as New Zealand and American subjects. Some continental locos from France and Germany are also included. The locomotives date from early efforts at steam traction right up to the modern locos of the 1950s.

Extensive architectural models have also been produced, including the already mentioned London Gates, various rural subjects, and historical buildings in the UK both small and large – ranging from the Globe Theatre and London Bridge, through the Houses Of Parliament, Hampton Court to Westminster Abbey. Architectural models from outside the UK, such as the White House and the Vatican were also made.

Ship models include an eclectic mix, ranging from Donald Campbell’s Bluebird and a Floating crane, through warships, cruise liners and sailing galleons to barges and tugs!
A full range of so-called miscellaneous models also produced – very British in their flavour. These include naturally a beam engine, a steam powered threshing unit, a mammoth excavator, a selection of trams, as well as a variety of other subjects.

Are these models easy to make?

Personally, having tried a few, and currently in the process of making a couple (due funnily enough to austerity measures which is why I chose to make them!), I would say I guess no! I certainly have been struggling, but will continue to persevere!

When I first started I decided to make the first Micromodel produced, Ann Hathaway’s cottage, and just for the record attach a picture of it below even though it is not railway related! Strangely enough it is larger than most of the models that were subsequently produced - I am currently busy with an architectural model to that is probably the half the scale of this one!
Ken Garner
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Joined: 05 Sep 2008, 00:07

Re: Micromodels - Some background/history.

Post by Ken Garner »

In the late forties, I used to make display models for the local toy shop in Grimsby. One day I went in and the owner gave me a micromodel of Hampton Court Palace and said, "See what you can do with this". I took that as a challenge and went to town! All the external doors were cut on two sides and pushed slightly open, with tiny pieces of brass wire to simulate hinges and door knobs. The windows were cut out and pieces of celluloid were criss crossed with indian ink and thinned down coloured paint was use to simulate leaded windows. I made deep plinth to mount it on and a battery inside with two torch bulbs in the model and when switched on gave a very nice glow in the windows. The shop owner showed it to the Micromodels rep and a few days later, a large envelope arrived at home. Micromodels had made a "Diploma of Excellence" for me, at 15 I was tickled pink! Owing to house moves and Army and Air Force service, it was lost, pity. It was nice while it lasted.

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John Ashworth
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Re: Micromodels - Some background/history.

Post by John Ashworth »

Jane and I were in UK last month and we visited the toy and model museum in Brighton. It has some Micromodels and several model railway layouts.

It also has toys which I remember as a child in the late 1950s and early '60s - Meccano, of course, but also a building kit called Bayko where you stick metal rods into holes in a plastic base and then slot plastic wall pieces into them. And also an Airfix version of Lego.
Kevin Wilson-Smith

Re: Micromodels - Some background/history.

Post by Kevin Wilson-Smith »

Like so? !!!!!

That was the biggest most megalomaniac monstrous model they produced I think - 3 colour strip cards and no less then 38 cards of buildings.

You are probably one of the few to have built one,. Am not surprised you got a certificate!! Do you still have it (the certificate) - these in themselves have become collectors items!
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