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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Eaglewall’s Table Top Navy : A Review

Eaglewall’s Table Top Navy : A Review
by Jeremy Briggs

The plastic kits released under the Eagle name and logo by manufacturer Eaglewall Plastics Ltd, are a side-line when it comes to fans of Eagle comic. However, for modellers of plastic ship kits, they represent something of a step change in their hobby and in 2011 the American small press publisher Chris Daley Publishing released Eaglewall's Table Top Navy about the company and its main products which was researched and written by Donald D Hood. For this review I will refer to the kits as Eaglewall to differentiate them from the comic, otherwise this could get terribly confusing.

You would not expect a book about a small, short lived, kit manufacturer in Dorking to be written in Florida and published in California but it goes to show just how much interest, and affection, there is amongst the modelling community for this relatively short lived range of kits. Hood’s book tells as much of the background story to the company as he has been able to track down.

Eaglewall started life in Dorking and released 5 WWII aircraft kits in 1/96 scale under the company's then name of Vulcan around 1957. They then became Eaglewall using the licensed Eagle comic logo and re-releasing the 5 Vulcan aircraft kits in Eagle boxes, plus a further 4 new WWII aircraft kits for a total of 9, around 1958/1959. Still with a Dorking address, they started releasing their naval kits in Eagle boxes on 1 September 1959 and continued for a total of 34 boxes until some point in 1961. It is easiest to refer to numbers of boxes as some kits were released under different names using the same moulds, while other boxes deliberately included kits of 2 different ships or, in the U-Boat box’s case, 5 different submarines. The book gives a detailed list of each of the naval kits with large colour photos of their boxes as well as many built and unbuilt models.

The Eagle license seems to have lapsed around mid-1961, interestingly about the same time that Mirror Group took over Odhams and hence Eagle, and the last new naval ship kit, Gniesenau, was released as an Eaglewall kit (as opposed to an Eagle kit) around November 1962 with an address in Brighton. Under the Eaglewall brand, the company went on to release a selection of kits in the last half of 1962 sourced from the US manufacturer Pyro including various rifles and an Eiffel Tower kit (Pyro having released some of the Eaglewall naval kits under the Pyro name in the US). The book tells us that the Eaglewall company ceased trading sometime in late 1962/early 1963.

The kits were small, and hence cheap for children to buy, and came with the option to display the ships on a stand with a full hull or to build them from the water line up which allowed them to be played with on the carpet or on, as the book title eludes, a table-top. The step change to naval modelling that Eaglewall introduced was the fact that all the kits were made to the same scale, in this case 1/1200, a concept that was common at the time with aircraft kits but not with ship kits.

Hood has enlisted the support of many British kit collectors for the book as well as the Dorking Museum which, remarkably, is based in the same building that spawned the Vulcan/Eaglewall company in the first place. In doing so he brings much needed facts to a subject that previously was the subject of much internet speculation and the vagaries of memory, but he is never slow to admit when he has not been able to locate information and when he is speculating. Unsurprisingly the book is written from a modeller’s point of view with lots of detail on the kits as well as plenty of photos of the boxes. Looking at it from an Eagle comic point of view, there are no details of why the company came to license the Eagle name and logo or why for that matter they changed their own name from Vulcan to Eaglewall. While the Eagle part could well be to do with tying in with the Eagle license, the "wall" is unknown although the book includes a suggestion that it might have been to tie in with Walls Ice Cream due to their early association with Eagle via the Tommy Walls strip. Personally I find that idea too much of a stretch.

However there is a direct link between the kits and Eagle comic that the book shows but fails to realise. One chapter is devoted to the artists who worked on the packaging and includes the three artists that signed the painted box illustrations. E. L. Blandford signed two while the majority of the boxes were illustrated by Charles Stadden signing his work as Chas Stadden. Stadden signed a total of 16 of the box illustrations which ranged from the lovely illustration for the HMS Prince Of Wales box to the awkward illustration of the HMS Duke Of York. While I had never heard of Stadden before, a quick check of the internet shows that he was a well known and highly respected artist, sculptor and author within the modelling community. The third artist signed only one box, that of HMS Orion, with a strong, clear, capitalised signature but whom, presumably due to the initial rather than a full first name, Hood was unable to locate any information on. That signature says H Johns and it is in the capitalised style that artist Harold Johns used. An Eagle Dan Dare artist painting an Eaglewall kit box? I don't remember ever having come across this piece of information before, either in articles about the artist or about the kits.

Due to its American origins there are a few oddities in the translation from English to American in the book such as Limited companies getting labelled as ‘LTD’ rather than ‘Ltd’ or the royal yacht being referred to as HMS (rather than HMY) Britannia, an unusual mistake given the naval theme of the book, but these are minor quibbles. While Douglas' writing style gives the impression of a long fan article rather that a more formal reference book, this gives the book a homely, familiar feel.

The previous best source of information on Eaglewall were the six pages on the company that were included in Arthur Ward’s Classic Kits book, published by Collins in 2004, so Eaglewall’s Table Top Navy is a big step forward for information on the company and its products. £40 for an A4 size, 136 page hardback book with over 100 colour photos may sound like a lot, and it is, but this is the definitive book on this range of kits and it is highly unlikely that it will ever be bettered – unless of course, as the author says, enough new information comes to light and the publisher can be persuaded that an updated edition is required.

Postscript:

In addition to knowing that H Johns was in fact Dan Dare artist Harold Johns, information that could go into an updated edition would be that the 9 April 1963 issue of the London Gazette, a journal of record of the British Government, tells us that an extraordinary general meeting of Eaglewall Plastics Ltd was held at Winchester House, London on 15 March 1963. At that meeting it was decided that the company could not continue its business and that it would be voluntarily wound up. That meeting appointed two liquidators, one from London and one from Brighton, to look after the affairs of the company and one of whom, Gerhard Adolf Weiss of the chartered accountancy firm of WH Cork Gully & Co, held the final meeting of the company on 5th August 1965.

Another piece of information that Donald Hood was unable to source was if Eaglewall ever ran any adverts for the kits in Eagle comic itself as he was unable to find a collector with a large enough set of the comics. It would seem to me that Eagle would be the obvious place for Eaglewall to advertise and, as the company ran Eagle kit adverts in the monthly magazine Royal Air Force Flying Review between September 1959 and January 1961, any adverts in Eagle could reasonably be expected to be around similar dates.

Eaglewall’s Table Top Navy by Donald D. Hood. Chris Daley Publishing ISBN 978-0-9841267-3-6, 25 April 2011, $60.

(This review was originally published in Eagle Times Volume 25 Number 3, Autumn 2012. For further information, visit the Table Top Navy Blog.)

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