As I’ve previously written, many kids’ first introduction to plastic toy soldiers in the 50s-70s came through the Marx playsets offered through Sears. Marx’s colorful plastic toys offered the ability to imaginitively play right out of the box. But for a lot of us, our interest graduated from casual play to an actual hobby with Airfix.
For people with fond memories for Airfix model kits and plastic soldiers, there are two must-haves for your bookshelf. Arthur Ward’s “The Boys’ Book of Airfix” traces the development of the company from a toy-maker beginning in the 1930s to their late-20th-century growth into a leader in scale modelling. “Airfix’s Little Soldiers” by Jean-Christophe Carbonel focuses almost exclusively on Airfix’s 1/32 and 1/72 scale plastic soldier lines. With intensely creative packaging depicting soldiers in action, Airfix’s plastic soldiers were unparalleled for their detailed sculpting and variety of poses. Unlike Marx plastic soldiers, Airfix appealed to budding miniatures modelling hobbyists willing to put in the hours painting tiny plastic soldiers. Although the soft plastic Airfix used was notoriously difficult in holding glue and paint, many a future miniatures wargamer got their start with Airfix.
Aside from plastic soldiers, Airfix produced a large line of scale model kits (planes, ships, cars, military vehicles, etc.). Because of the hobbyist focus of Airfix, their models and sets were available not only in department stores and five-and-dime shops, but they also became a presence in more traditional hobby shops. The company also created marvellous diorama playsets such as the Beachhead Assault and Coastal Defense sets to enhance play with their expansive selection of plastic soldiers. Many of these sets continued to be re-packaged and sold over the years as anniversaries of World War II battles were celebrated by the media.
(photo via Vintage Airfix)
For fans of Airfix, you should also check out the Vintage Airfix website for a comprehensive look back at the evolution of their models and kits over the years. Both books conclude with the corporate mergers, changes in distribution and a look at competitiors Airfix faced over the years. By the end of the 20th-century, Airfix became more of a specialty brand in the US while their plastic kits remain widely available and popular in Europe. For me, holding one of those little Airfix boxes of soldiers still takes me back to the hours of painting and playing with plastic as a kid.