Courtesy of Lester Harrison
The history of Micromodels Ltd and Modelcraft Ltd miniature cut-out kits.
In 1940 something revolutionary arrived on the paper model market. Geoffrey Heighway invented and marketed the first printed card Micromodel. He took the established concept of the printed paper model and miniaturised it so that an entire fleet of ships , a building or a set of locomotives could be packed into a small paper wrapper the size of a postcard.
At another time or place the idea may not have worked, but in Great Britain during the 1940s the idea struck a chord and "micro modelling" became a national pastime. The popularity was mainly due to a combination of evocative well drawn artwork, choice of topical subjects, originality, low purchase price, shortage of conventional modelling materials and the limited space and tools required for construction.
The Model Railway Exhibition of april 1952 sees both companies displaying their products.
The new Micromodels Ltd set X2 is on sale but due to difficulties with the wrapper, it is presented in a plain brown paper band with the title and price typewritten across.
Heighway was claiming, in his adverts, a range of 100 models. This sounded impressive at the time, but on inspection we can see that Heighway's claim was not based on counting the sets but in adding up the contents of the sets.
Modelcraft have their plans and single sheet Micromodels on sale, and are also displaying their “Microcraft” Motor Cruiser and Queen Mary in a large tank of water. These are similar in concept and presentation to Micromodels, but are actually working toy boats propelled by the chemical reaction between methylated spirits (unlit!) and water.
Modelcraft Ltd issue a simple 2 card model of the Skylon, whose only redeeming feature is the packet artwork.
The wrapper back of Festival of Britain informs us that the following Micromodels were also selected by the authorities as official souvenirs:
- ARC I Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
- ARC II Doctor Johnson’s House
- ARC III Cripplegate
- ARC IV Moorgate
- ARC V Aldgate
- ARC XII Tower of London
- ARC XIII Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
In addition, the following made-up Micromodels were selected for official display:
- S II Vanguard
- HM Stirling Single & LNER Pacific
- M IV Turbine Locomotive & “Schools” Class
- X Passenger Coaches
Heighway brings out another large model: Old London Bridge.
Micromodels Ltd move from 6 to 3 Raquet court. Presumably this was a move into larger premises.
Collectors will note a change of address on the back of the packets on the models printed during and after 1951.
The last advert for Micromodels appeared in the Meccano magazine for February 1959
Micromodels Ltd finally ceased to trade some time in the early 1960's. The final Micromodels Ltd. count was 82 packet kits making up into 173 models whilst Modelcraft Ltd. had achieved 13 packet kits and at least 31 single card kits making up into some 80 models.
Modelcraft Ltd have been trading throughout the 1950s, mainly with their scale plans and conventional kits. They occasionally placed ads in the modelling press and in Meccano Magazine in order to push sales of their single card models.
Large stocks of which survived from the 1940s.
Some time around 1960 they sold out to E. Rankine Grey, better known as the model company ERG, of Bournemouth. ERG were one of the many specialist suppliers of model railway accessories and parts that existed in England in the 1940s and 50s.
A Midlands Micromodel enthusiast and professional model manufacturer D. Gilbert gets in possession of all the production artwork, plates and sketches, including most of the never issued material from Micromodels Ltd. His company is known as Autocraft.
In 1956 Geoffrey Heighway sold Micromodels Ltd. – including artwork, printing plates and all unfinished prototypes – to an American businessman, Mr. S. Friedlander who owned a London based, mail order, postage stamp approval company.
A large number of new projects were catalogued as in hand at this time.
The new company address for Micromodels became Broadway Approvals, 50 Denmark Hill, London SE5.
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The last packet Micromodel was published in 1957. This was the Mayflower Supermodel".
Peter Moore and Martin Lowe set up an ERG model shop at 199 London Road, Dover. In buying the effects of ERG and Modelcraft, Moore and Lowe had acquired large stocks of the single sheet lorries and some of the single sheet locomotives. The Dover shop closed in 1986. Throughout this period of buying and selling the effects of Modelcraft Ltd, there has been no mention of any sign of the original artwork or printing plates.
Modelcraft Ltd issue the first 3 cards of an austerity series of single card railway and road vehicle models. These are priced at 4d and 9d each respectively.
Modelcraft Ltd is formed by a Mr.H.S. Coleman. The Company initially involves itself with providing plans for the model making enthusiast. The company address is 77 Grosvenor Road, London SW1.
Geoffrey Heighway becomes Modelcraft’s chief designer of card models. The product name “Micromodel” is coined, and a range of miniature card kits are introduced. Most have a military theme. The concept and product name are almost certainly Heighway’s invention.
The first of Heighway's printed card Micromodel sets was set A1 The Romance of Sail. A collection of six miniature sailing ships derived from large scale plans marketed by Modelcraft Ltd. This set was followed by further Wartime issued sets derived from Modelcraft Ltd. plans. These were:
From the early 1960s to the early 1970s the Micromodel stock languished in a warehouse until discovered by Michael Abrahams the owner of the Watford Model Supply Company. He bought the entire old stock from Broadway Approvals.
The first advert announcing the re-introduction of these old model kits was placed in the November 1971 issue of Scale Models magazine.
For the next few years, Micromodelling enjoyed a brief and nostalgic revival as Watford MSC sold off large quantities of kits at knockdown prices.
It is this disposal in the 1970s that is the source of most of the more obtainable Micromodels that are in circulation today. It is obviously the absence of certain out of print Micromodels in this disposal that is the critical factor concerning the considerable rarity of some Micromodels compared to others.
A Micromodel collector and enthusiast, Mr. P. Gray purchases all the Micromodel production artwork and plates from Broadway Approvals. This collection is basically a time capsule of the company at the moment Heighway sold the company in 1956.
Included in the collection are all the prototypes, sketches, artwork etc for the models that were never issued.
Here are a couple of advertisements from 1954/55 published in the magazine "Newnes Practical Mechanics"
The largest publication in the history of Micromodels is the giant Hampton Court Palace model.
The first five post-war Micromodels Ltd. Micromodels were priced at 1/3d per packet (one shilling and three pence). These all had a railway locomotive theme and were:
Many modellers carried their partly completed models, glue and small tools around with them in a cigar box. Having a hobby project to hand helped to pass the time if you were sat in an air raid shelter or were travelling overseas on a Troop ship. Heighway noticed this trend and quickly coined the sales slogan, "Your Workshop in a Cigar box" - a phrase that became synonymous with the product name "Micromodels".
Although Micromodels Ltd and Modelcraft Ltd were two separate companies, their products are collected as one by the majority of collectors. The reason for this, no doubt, is because the format of their card kits is so similar, and because the word “Micromodel” is used on the wrappers of both ranges of card kits. This history is, therefore, a composite of Modelcraft and Micromodels card models.
Heighway formed his own Company called Micromodels Ltd. and opened a small office at 6 Racquet Court, Fleet Street, London EC4. As Modelcraft Ltd have never registered "Micromodel" as a trademark, Heighway is able to take the term with him and use it as the name of his new Company and his own trade mark. Company officers are, G. Heighway, E. M. Heighway (his wife) and B. M. Welch, company secretary.
The office was really only used for administering and marketing the product. Preparation of artwork and printing was sub-contracted. Mr. F. C. Banks of Rayleigh, Essex, prepared large drawings of 4-5 times finished size with overlays for colour, whilst the printing and collation was sub-contracted to Galbraith, King & Co. Ltd., of Leman Street, London E1.
Proof sheets were printed prior to a full print run, which were then made up and approved by John B. Thorp, owner of Thorp's Model Shop of Grays Inn Road, London. Thorp was situated a few minutes walk from the Fleet Street premises of Micromodels Ltd.
Heighway relieves Modelcraft Ltd of one of its early sets, A1 The Romance of Sail, and re-issues it as a Micromodels Ltd product, under the new title Six Little Ships & Galleons. One must presume that Modelcraft Ltd had never copyrighted the model, and that either they were bad businessmen or they had some sort of agreement with Heighway, that the artwork and concept were his to take.
Heighway issued a further 9 new sets. These were again mostly locomotives but 2 were the first architectural Micromodels - The Watermill and Anne Hathaway's Cottage.
Modelcraft continues with the single card theme and brings out more railway engines and lorries.
Heighway publishes 19 new models covering such diverse subjects as Novelty Moving Toys, Warships, Aircraft, Railway Buildings, Locomotives, London Gates, Passenger Coaches, Agricultural Machinery, etc.
Modelcraft continue to expand their single card model range.
Modelcraft Ltd have done little to return to their wartime theme of packet micromodels, and instead have continued with their range of single card models. Their main product line is the supply of scale plans for model making enthusiasts.
Heighway starts marketing the first of the seriously large models: Tower of London.
History was made at the 1951 Festival of Britain. Both companies issue a lot of new souvenir sets. Micromodels Ltd issue Festival of Britain, an extensive 10 card model of the complete festival site.
Broadway issued some Micromodel catalogues. A large number of older models had been deleted, whilst all the much-heralded new projects have been shelved. No attempt was ever made to re-print any of the models so the catalogue merely listed what was available from warehouse stock. Micromodels Ltd. at this point began its slide into oblivion, as by now, modellers had a vast range of plastic kits to attract them, and the austerity years that had created Micromodelling had drawn to a close.
E. Ranking Gray retires and sells the effects of ERG and Modelcraft to one Jock Stewart, who died in 1979.