Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ready, Steady.... Write!

One of the inspirations for my
NaNoWriMo entry this year.
Tonight may be Halloween, but for me it's simply the night before the National November Writing Month challenge. As I have for the past four years, I'll be participating -- by writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I have to admit the writing part's gotten easier. This will be the fifth NaNoWriMo novel I've written about the same characters, so that may have something to do with it.

As with the others, I'm writing an homage to the pulp writers of the 1930's. My outline's basically finished, but there are a few holes. And that's OK. Because sometime during the next 30 days I'll discover characters I never knew I needed, and they'll do things I never expected them to do (it's happened before). So it's good to leave them a little room to move around in.

The real challenge will be not only turning out the 1,600+ words daily to keep on schedule, but also keep posting to this blog five days a week. We'll see how all that plays out over the next 30 days.

In the meantime, here's the outline I'll be working from. Enjoy!

"When the Commissar Commands"
Working plot outline:
 [Introduction explaining that this is a reprint of a pulp novel of the 1930's. Give history of author, magazine, etc.]

Chapter 1

There’s a gathering of industrialists, including the Barrs. The government has contracted  five different companies, Ambrose, Harris, Michaels, Delany, and the Barrs to work on a special cannon for battleships. A creates the powder mixture by a special process, B supplies the special steel for the cannons, Michaels makes the cannons, Delany provides the special shell casings, and the Barrs provide the secure shipping of all materials to and from the plants. Because of labor unrest, Delany has been falling behind in production, and the late penalties threaten to ruin him. Michaels offers to shore him up by investing in the company. 

Michaels spent a significant amount of time in Russia, and is sure that the labor troubles are related to anarchist interference. Harris completely disagrees. All of the men have labor troubles, including work slowdowns, but D is hardest hit. D had employed a private detective to find out who the agitators were, and had called the group together to hear his report. There’s a knock at the door, but instead of the detective, it’s MacGuffy. The detective has been found dead with D’s business card in his pocket!

Chapter 3
Stanley is walking down an alley to meet an informant. He hears footsteps behind him and realizes he’s been lead into t a trap. Two men appear in front of him. All four are armed with bats, brass knuckles and blackjacks. Stanley overpowers the front two, and recognizes that they wanted this to be a quiet kill – so he takes out his gun and shoots the two behind him. One of the two surviving assailants lunges at Stanley, and he kills him also. Then he grabs the survivor and hauls him out of the alley ahead of the police. He has questions to be answered.

Chapter 4
The Barrs are in consultation with Rowland and MacGuffey the next day. They explain the trouble with labor, and MacGuffey agrees to help. He shows them the clue left by the detective, which points to a tavern on the lower East Side. The Barrs agree to investigate as Raven.

Stanley meets with Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s longshoreman protection racket is also being threatened by the labor unrest. Stanley was assigned to find out who was interfering with his business. The meeting with the promised informant proved to be a trap, and after interrogating the survivor, Stanley has determined that it’s a group of foreign agitators. Their meeting place seems to be the same tavern Raven’s headed for.

Chapter 5
Raven goes to the tavern. It caters to a large immigrant population, especially eastern Europeans. Raven notes several men come through and be ushered into the back – and they don’t leave. When the barkeep’s not looking, Raven makes his way to the back. There’s a door leading to the kitchen, and an empty hallway. The barkeep appears at the head of the hall and yells. Men pour out of the kitchen, and Raven fights. 

The men from the tavern gather in a darkened open room. There’s a desk in the front, beside a door. The door opens, and the Commissar steps out. Behind him the men can see radio equipment and a figure hunched over it. Morse code signals emanate from the room. The Commissar closes the door, sit at the desk, and asks for reports. The men are the labor agitators. As they begin, a light shines on the wall. There’s trouble in the tavern. The Commissar dispatches the men to help, and exits back into the radio room.

Chapter 6
The fight’s contained in the back of the tavern. Crow’s keeping watch outside and doesn’t see the trouble. Suddenly Stanley weighs into the fray. Stanley and Crow manage to fight their way through the kitchen and out the back door. It empties into a closed alley and they emerge back on the street beside the tavern, where Crow sees them. From the head of the alley, the two pull out guns and prepare to fight off the crowd, but after a brief exchange of shots, the men disappear back inside. Stanley and Raven take off in Stanley’s car before they’re cut off from men coming out the front of the store (which would surround them).
The men return to the meeting, and the Commissar again reappears. He orders them to step up disruption at the chemical plant.

Chapter 7
Raven and Crow watch the tavern. They can’t figure out how men entered and disappeared. Raven sees a man from the other night exit the tavern. They decide to follow him. The man meets others and they go to the chemical plant, Raven following. They overpower the guard and enter. A chase ensues. The men have their orders, and go to key locations in the plant. Raven and Crow disable some, but not all. There’s an explosion and fire races through the plant.

Chapter 8
Raven and Crow escape the blaze, although Crow is badly burned. The conspirators are killed
X is now ruined. Michaels and the others offer to help rebuild the plant. Michaels purchases a major share of X’s stock. 
St
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
The Commissar orders an attack on the docks. Needed ores are coming in to
Chapter 12
There’s trouble on the docks. Conspirators attempt to blow up some cargo just off-loaded. They’re intercepted by Raven
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16

Chapter 17
Michaels visits secret room. It appears as if he’s the Commissar. He sits at the desk and shuffles papers. He’s spied on by Stanley, who can only see him. Someone comes into the room and Michaels talks to him in Russian. There’s a stirring and Stanley has to leave.
Chapter 18
Stanley reports what he sees and Raven and MacGuffy go to Michael’s office. They find him dead.
Chapter 19
Climax in meeting room. Harris exposed as Commissar, has final showdown with Raven.
Chapter 20
All is explained. Harris was the Commissar , and the radio room was a fake. The Morse Code heard was on a record, and there was a dummy seated at the radio. He had to have Michaels killed because Michaels had heard the Commissar – and knew that the speaker was not Russian. Michaels wanted control of all of the industries. Michaels was gaining controlling interest in them, and after all the power was concentrated in Michaels, then Harris would simply get rid of his rival and snatch up the businesses for himself. With complete control of the process, Michaels could make enormous profits from the weapon, or even sell its secrets for foreign governments.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Neukomm: Orchestral Fantasies - Haydenesque

Sigismund von Neukomm: Grande Sinfoie Heroique & 3 Fantasies
Die Kolner Akademie
Michael Alexander Willens, conductor
CPO

Sigismund von Neukomm was a student of both Michael and Franz Joseph Haydn. He helped with the production of some of Mozart's late compositions, and worked with Haydn on the editing and arranging of Haydn's music. At one point, he even taught Mozart's son composition. As one might expect, his musical style shares many similarities to those of his famous colleagues.

The earliest fantasy on this disc dates from 1806, the second 1808, and the latest from 1823 -- but there's little difference in style between them. All have a light, transparent sound of Mozart and Haydn. Neukomm's music is very clean and precise, with everything laid out and organized in a sensible fashion. Neukomm's melodies aren't quite as memorable as Mozart's but they do have the same natural flow and charming simplicity to them.

By contrast, the Grande Sinfomie heroique has a bigger feel than the fantasies on this disc. The orchestration is more varied, and the drama's heightened. If the other three works were comparable to middle period Haydn, then this would be more early Beethoven and late Mozart. The work never loses its sense of balance and proportion (so think of a very polite Beethoven), but it has greater energy than the orchestral fantasies.

Michael Willens directs with a light touch, and you can hear subtle inflections in the phrasing bring this music even closer to the Mozartian ideal. Highly recommended for any fan of the classcical era.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Knight Life Snickers

I enjoy Keith Knight's comic strip Knight Life. Recently Knight brilliantly pulled together two separate themes, gave them a twist, and came up with a great gag.


The strip references a recent Snickers ad with Joe Pesci and Don Rickles (which I could embed the video, but that wasn't an option -- you'll have to follow the link). In the ad, two men are talking to two women -- as Knight shows in the first panel. One of the men is crabby because he hasn't eaten, and is Joe Pesci playing himself. The man's given a Snickers bar, and turns back into a regular person. So far, Knight's strip parallels the ad.

The commercial ends with the pair returning to the women. But one of them's become crabby and turned into Don Rickles. Knight ends things a different way -- the candy bar had an unexpected effect.

What makes the gag works is the expectation that the strip will follow the ad storyline. The twist at the end provides the humor. But there's something else -- Knight uses comic strip celebrities, and the reader's knowledge of Lucy from "Peanuts" and Broomhilda gives the joke added meaning.

Sometimes cameos in comics don't work very well. But when they do -- as in Knight's strip -- it really makes a comics fan's Sunday.

Friday, October 26, 2012

CCC 049 - Ester Magi

This installment of our Consonant Classical Challenge features Estonian composer Ester Magi. Magi writes mostly choral and chamber music, but symphonic works have found places in the concert repertoire -- at least in Europe. Magi combines the folk music traditions of her country with more traditional harmonies. The melodic leaps and turns give her music an Estonian flavor, but it also has a fresh originality about it.

A good example of this is her Piano Concerto. Although it's formal structure is in line with classical concertos of the past, the angular nature of the melodies and robust modal motion give it a distinctive character.


Magi's Symphony No. 1 is a more complex work. The harmonic language is extended beyond simple triads, and there are some unusual skips in the melody. Although Magi is primarily a choral composer, her orchestration skills are rock-solid. She combines instruments in effective and subtle ways. 

 

Poem (Vesper) for Strings is a beautiful short work for string orchestra. The nature of the piece makes it very close to Magi's choral compositions. Why don't orchestras program this piece? It's a mystery to me.

 

Ester Magi is well-known in Eastern Europe, and her music is performed often. Although Magi writes in a tonal language, she doesn't write "pretty" music. Her compositions have real emotional depth, and while she frames her works in traditional forms, she does so in an original fashion.

Magi's music should appeal to traditionalists who enjoy Dvorak, Smetana, and other Eastern European composers. At the same time, younger multicultural audiences should enjoy the ethnicity of the music.

To keep this series going, I've have to do some serious exploring of the classical repertoire. But as long as discover composers like Ester Magi, I consider it time well spent.

Recommended Recordings

Ester M├Ągi: Orchestral Music

Tree of Song: Choral Music

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fuchs: Atlantic Riband - Rousing American Music

Fuchs: Atlantic Riband; American Rhapsody; Divinum Mysterium
Michael Ludwig, violin
Paul Silverthorne, viola
Carmine Lauri and David Alberman, violin; Paul Silverthorne, viola; Timothy Hugh, cello
London Symphony Orchestra
JoAnn Falletta, conductor

Kenneth Fuchs is a composer who's star is on the rise, and no wonder. His music is fresh, exciting, original -- and accessible. This latest release in Naxos' ongoing series of Fuchs recordings. The disc opens with  Atlantic Riband, a short, festive work that has some of the big, open feel of Copland.

The American Rhapsody for violin and orchestra is a more substantial work. It's elegiac, unabashedly beautiful music. The solo violin part's not that difficult technically, but it requires real musicianship to pull it off. Michael Ludwig plays with a great deal of sensitivity and authentic expression, really bringing across the lyrical nature of the work to come across.

Also included is the Divinum Mysterium, an excellent showcase for the viola. Fuchs takes advantage of the lower register of the viola (as compared to the violin) and supports it with very warm harmonies. It's based on a hymn tune, and while Divinum Mysterium is a deeply spiritual work, it's not always serious. There's a mild hoedown section in the middle that give the work an American flavor.

The Concerto Grosso for string quartet and string orchestra has an intersting dynamic to it. The music goes back and forth between the string quartet, and it's larger counterpart, the string orchestra. Discover the Wild wraps up the program. It's a short travelogue style overture full of good-natured energy.

Strong performances by the London Symphony Orchestra and JoAnne Falletta. This isn't the first time Fuch and Falletta have collaborated, and the depth of understanding Falletta brings to this music benefits both he composer, and the listener. Thoroughly enjoyable for first note to last.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zbigniew Bargielski String Quartets: Striking a Balance

Bargielski: String Quartets
Silesian String Quartet
Accord SACD

This 2-disc set present the six string quartets (and two works for string quartet plus one) by Polish composer Zbigniew Bargielski. Bargielski writes in a highly personal form of atonality, one that to my ears sounds similar to fellow countryman Henryk Gorecki in his early works. Bargielski's developed what he calls a "theory of center structures" that gives his composition direction. The idea is to balance the center sounds (melodies) with those of the harmonic centers, paying attention to dynamics, tonal color and duration.

One of the most effective works in this collection is "A Night of Farewells," for accordion and string quartet. I found it especially appealing because of the ensemble's interesting blend. The accordion doesn't playing anything remotely folk-like, yet it gives the work a decided Eastern European flavor. The clarinet in "Through the Looking Glass "(for string quartet with clarinet) also has a similar effect. Bargielski give the clarinet an aggressive sound and has it bending pitches that sound Klezmer-inspired.

At first hearing, the six string quartets seem remarkably similar. Only after living with the music for a while could I hear the gradual development of Bargielski's musical language from work to work as he explored the possibilities of his center structure concept. Make no mistake: this is difficult listening. But the music holds rewards for the thoughtful and attentive listener.

Bargielski's compositions are especially well-suited to the SACD format. His careful balancing of musical centers is done with precision and delicacy. Subtle changes in timbre and articulation that are lost on the CD version are easily heard on the SACD version.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nielsen Symphonies Shine in New SACD

Nielsen: Symphony No. 2, The Four Temperaments; Symphony No. 3,  Sinfonia Espansiva
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
DaCapo SACD


Carl Nielsen was one of the great symphonists of the 20th century, as this live recording readily demonstrates. His second symphony, "The Four Temperaments" features four movements, each depicting a different mood. Four different modes of expression. Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic take full advantage of the score, and offer up an exciting reading that not only shows the contrasts between the movements, but highlights the overarching continuity between them.

Nielsen's Symphony No. 3 is subtitled the "Sinfonia Espansiva," for good reason. Gilbert and the Philharmonic deliver on the bigness of the work, without making it sound bloated. Rather, Nielsen's music seems to just open up and build in a natural and unhurried manner.

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic perform these symphonies in an organic fashion. Conductor and orchestra work together as one to create a unified artistic vision (not surprising, given Gilbert's strong ties to the ensemble). The lyrical passages sing, and the climaxes arrive with power and authority. These are dramatic readings, but not overly dramatic. The music is dynamic and flowing, but never overwrought.

Although you can play this on a regular CD player, I highly recommend listening to it on an SACD player. The expanded detail and presence makes the performances even more engaging. I gained new appreciation for the precision for the Philharmonic's bass section, particularly during the third symphony. And for a live recording, the sound is amazingly clean and free of audience noise.

Monday, October 22, 2012

David Del Tredici: Gotham Glory has Glorious Counterpoint

Del Tredici: Gotham Glory - Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1
Marc Peloquin, piano
Naxos


David Del Tredici has an affinity for counterpoint -- and the talent to compose it, too. That impression really comes through in this new collection from Naxos. The release is mostly made up of what Del Tredici terms "Ballades," although they're actually paired toccatas and fugues.

The Aeolean Ballade is the most tonal of the bunch, using primarily the white keys on the piano. The Ballade in Lavender and the Ballade in Yellow are more adventurous, with pianistically challenging free sections (the toccata parts) moving to highly structured fugues of breathtaking complexity.

The S/M Ballade mixes tonal and atonal elements in an interesting fashion. The title suggests something edgy, and the music delivers. This is a deliciously dark thrill ride that give the pianist plenty to work with (and the listener plenty to absorb).

Pianist Marc Peloquin is more than up to the challenge of these works. No matter how difficult the material, he never seems to break a sweat. And his interpretation -- especially in the fugal sections -- keeps the music from sounding dry and academic. In Peloquin's hands, complex counterpoint seems to just grow naturally out of what comes before, like a flower blooming.

The title track, Gotham Glory, is Del Tredici's love letter to his native New York City. The work has some Gershwin-like jazz inflections, that provide a NYC flavor to the music, but the composition is Del Tredici's own. The first movement serves as a prelude, and the second is a fugue,and the third a perpetual canon, (which makes the work fit in with the rest of the program).

The fourth movement "Wollman Rink" is subtitled a "Grand Fantasy on the Skaters' Waltz" and is as long as the preceding three movements combined. It harkens back to the grand fantasies of the late romantic composers (with distinctively modern harmonies, however), and is a real showpiece for the pianist. And Peloquin doesn't disappoint.

A excellent recording of music by a modern American master. I look forward to volume 2.

Friday, October 19, 2012

CCC 048 Crt Sojar Voglar

This installment of the CCCC we feature a young Slovenian composer, Crt Sojar Voglar. Voglar has built up an impressive body of work in a very short amount of time. His overall style is quite lyrical, with some distinctively Slavic turns of phrase. Although his language in primarily tonal, it doesn't have the strong forward harmonic motion.

A good example of that can be found in his First Symphony. Note his use of orchestral color. Although he has a full orchestra at his disposal (and uses it for major climaxes), Voglar writes almost as miniaturist.


Voglar's composed two symphonies, several works for string orchestra and fifteen concertos for various instruments. One of those works is the Double Concerto for flute, harp and orchestra. He uses the solo instruments to good advantage, creating a  shimmery, Debussy-like ethereal work.


Voglar's Cello Concerto, as with his other concerti, presents challenges for the soloist with leaving the audience in the dust.


As with most composers, Voglar has written extensively for the piano and chamber groups to balance his orchestral output. His Woodwind Quintet No. 1 lays bare Voglar's structures. The harmonies aren't quite as lush, but the underlying tonality of his music is still present -- as is his fresh take on classical music.


Sometimes we forget that there are composers living and working all over the world who have embraced the classical music tradition -- not just in American and Western Europe. And many of those composers, like Crt Sojar Voglar bring something new to this old genre that makes their music both relevant for new audiences, and provides touchstones for older ones.

Unfortunately, there are no recordings of Voglar's music readily available in the US. But there are a number of Voglar works available to listen to on YouTube. Perhaps if concert-goers and symphony board members pressed their organizations, Voglar might get on concert programs in the US. And really, once that happens, the music can speak for itself.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wolf-Ferrari Wind Concertinos: Light and Delightful

Wolf-Ferarri: Wind Concertos for Oboe, Cor Anglais, Bassoon
Andrea Tenaglia, oboe
William Moriconi, cor angalis
Giuseppe Ciabocchi, bassoon
Orcestra Sinfonic di Roman Franchesco La Vecchia, conductor
Naxos

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is best known for his operas, particularly his comic operas. The same vein of light-hearted music with appealing, lyrical melodies run through this collection of his wind concertinos. The three works -- Idillio-concertino in A for oboe; Concertino in A-flat for Cor angles and Suite-concertino in F for bassoon -- feature a solo wind instrument backed by a small string orchestra. And all three share have the feeling of airiness and transparency.

Wolf-Ferrari composed these works between 1932 and 1947, but there's no trace of German dodecophonic ideology here! Instead, Wolf-Ferrari music firmly rooted in neo-classical tradition without a whiff of 20th century angst or atonality.

The melodies given to the solo instruments are quite vocal in nature; not surprising, perhaps coming from an opera composer. The oboe, cor anglais, and bassoon are instruments that can use breath to articulate phrasing just like a singer. Like an opera singer, each instrument lingers lovingly over long notes, letting the sheer beauty of the sound carry the music. And for the particularly warm sound of the cor anglais and bassoon, those are welcome pauses, indeed.

Great music? Perhaps not. Great listening experience? Absolutely. This is accessible, good-natured music that can easily brighten one's day. I know it brightened mine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rex Morgan and Foreshadowing Finesse

One of the characteristics of art (as opposed to craft) is depth. When one detail serves more than one function, then depth is added. And that adds an additional way to appreciate the art.

I know that most people don't think of comic strips as art, but look at these two recent sequences from Rex Morgan, MD, by Woody Wilson and Graham Nolan. (click on images to enlarge)


In the first panel of the first sequence, we see Rex and June Morgan walking along the boardwalk in conversation. In the second panel, the conversation continues as the couple stroll off to the right. In the foreground is an older couple.

Shifting perspective is very common comic strip technique to keep dialogue interesting -- otherwise you'd have a strip full of talking heads. After establishing who's talking in the first panel, the artist often uses second to provide further details about the scene by putting the conversation in the background. Ed Dodd artist/writer of Mark Trail often uses this as an excuse to do full panel wildlife portraits.

In this case, though, there's something else going on. Look carefully at the four figures. The older couple mirror the poses of the younger. Both couples in love, the commonality emphasized by their mirrored stances. Note also that Nolan didn't have all the heads at the same level, either. He could have drawn it that way to more closely match the two panels, but by having the older couple a little lower in the panel, it seems more natural. As people age, they shrink slightly in stature. By making the older couple appear shorter than the younger, Nolan makes a stronger connection between the two chronologically.

By itself, the sequence has an underlying theme of love through time. It's only the following day that the true purpose of the sequence is revealed. That couple in panel 2 has a medical emergency that Dr. Morgan responds to. So the primary purpose of panel 2 was to foreshadow the introduction of new characters.


We expect depth in the fine arts -- ballet, painting, classical music, sculpture, etc. But to find it in a medium that's considered disposable is remarkable. Nolan didn't have to draw that second panel the way he did. There were more prosaic ways to foreshadow (or even just break up the scene). Artistically, he did more than he had to. And that's something I appreciate.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles, Part 6

I've been spending the last few months researching the subject of postwar Japanese tin toy vehicles for a talk my father volunteered me for. I've documented some of my research adventures in the Collecting -- and Collecting Information series.


I gave my presentation before the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club. The talk provided a background for the toys, made between 1949 and 1963, along with examples from my surviving childhood toys. Also on display was the Straco Express layout, which showcased smaller Japanese toy cars from the period.

Part 1 features the final version of the talk in written form, subsequent parts include galleries of the toys actually discussed.

Two Nomura HO-scale trains, imported under the
Cragstan name.
Nomura Toy
Nomura made a wide variety of toys, including the large 8” and 10” vehicles. They’re one of the few companies to mark their pieces; the Nomura logo was an N with a superimposed T. Naito Shoten, a company with the AHI logo, is believed to have been a division of Nomura. Noguchi, a small company that used a letter N as a logo, is possibly another (they specialized in walking toys and space toys).

Several vehicles on the Straco display layout are Nomura, as is the Santa Fe freight set. It was imported by Cragstan, but the TN marking can be clearly seen at the end of each car. (click on images to enlarge)

A set of three Nomura penny toys. Sometimes an ambulance would
be included.
The Nomura penny toys I have illustrate a couple of interesting points. Often Japanese toy companies would use lithography to create "sets" of vehicles.

If you look carefully at the three cars in the picture, you'll notice that they were all stamped from the same mold. Only the graphics have been changed. And the line-up is fairly common. Most manufacturers putting out these penny toy sets had four designs they would use: a police car, ambulance, fire chief car, and taxi. In this case, only three of the four are represented.

The corresponding set of three trucks by Nomura. These vary
not just in graphics, but also in the embossed details.
The corresponding truck set is a little different. The embossed details vary from truck to truck, but the cabs are the same and the chassis identical. It was more common to find sets of panel vans, each with a different livery.

I also have another Nomura penny toy police car that represents the low end of the spectrum. Unlike the one in the set, it has no friction drive. It's much flatter, using far less tin in its body. The chassis is unfinished, and the wheels are crimped tin rather than rubber.

Two Nomura penny toy police cars. A big difference in quality!

The Nomura logo: N with a T superimposed. It's on the fender of the
car in the foreground, and the trunk of the one in the back.

There were other Japanese toy companies active during the postwar period who made tinplate cars. I didn't have examples of them, but I did research them in case club members brought some examples.

Marusan
“Maru” is the Japanese word for circle, and “San” means three (referring to the three founders). The Marusan logo was the word San in a circle. Marusan, founded in 1924, is still in business, making plastic robots and monsters. Originally they were toy wholesalers, but in the early 1950’s they began making their own toys.

In 1952 they came out with one of the most desirable toys of the era, a 12-inch model of a 1951 Cadillac. It was fully detailed, and comprised of about 175 individual pieces. The company also made Chevrolets, and Fords.

Yonezawa
Yonezawa was at one time the biggest toy manufacturer in Japan. They produced many Cadillac models, including an 18”-long model, and the largest of any company, a 22”-long model. Interestingly, the larger models weren't as detailed as their smaller models, and so aren’t quite as desirable to collectors.  Big isn't always better!

Alps
Alps was founded in 1948 and made a variety of tin toys, including cars. They were one of the companies that provided products shipped under the Cragstan brand.

Ichico
Ichico was one of the second-tier companies in terms of quality. Cragstan imported quite a few Ichico models. They mainly modeled Buicks and Cadillacs.

ATC
ATC was another company that made products for Cragstan. In the 8”-12” models, they specialized in Chryslers and Buicks.

Part 1: The Golden Age of Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles 1949-1963

Part 2: Bandai

Part 3: Haji and Masudaya

Part 4:  Cragstan and Shioji

Part 5: Line Mar and Marx

Monday, October 15, 2012

Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles, Part 5

The Marx "Untouchables" Playset. Those cars were
made by Line Mar, Marx's Japanese subsidiary.
I've been spending the last few months researching the subject of postwar Japanese tin toy vehicles for a talk my father volunteered me for. I've documented some of my research adventures in the Collecting -- and Collecting Information series.


I gave my presentation before the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club. The talk provided a background for the toys, made between 1949 and 1963, along with examples from my surviving childhood toys. Also on display was the Straco Express layout, which showcased smaller Japanese toy cars from the period.

Part 1 features the final version of the talk in written form, subsequent parts include galleries of the toys actually discussed.
Line Mar
Line Mar was an import subsidiary of Louis Marx & Co. and was founded in the 1950’s. It continued as a separate entity until 1968, when Marx absorbed the operation into the parent company. Line Mar products were manufactured in Japan, and were sold under their own brand. Because the logo was (deliberately) so close to Marx’s, Line Mar toys are frequently misidentified on eBay as being Marx.

Line Mar made this tractor trailer for the Washington, DC-
based Giant Food chain.
The tractor trailers I had on display were Line Mar products. Line Mar produced several variations of these trucks, usually for different companies. The Giant Food truck, for example, was sold only in Giant Food grocery stores, at an original price of around two dollars. The Allied Van Lines was purchased, but some of the moving van toys were given away to customer's children. Often these toys were given to business clients as well, or used for other types of promotion.(click on images to enlarge)

Heidi was the Giant Food house brand for baked goods. Note the
Line Mar logo on the door. Line Mar was one of the few companies
to brand their toys.
The Line Mar Allied Van Lines truck. Probably produced for Allied.
The rear door opened, so you could load your own cargo for moving
(for me it was mostly alphabet blocks). Note the logo on the door.
The two cars in the back came from a Marx "Untouchables"
playset. The convertible in the foreground was offered
for separate sale by Line Mar.
The “Cadillac” cars are interesting pieces. The sedan version and closed roof convertible were included in Marx’s “Untouchables” Playset. This same basic model was also available as an “Old Fashioned Rolls Royce” in brown and also green. As such, it was sold under the Line Mar brand.

The "Untouchables" cars were marked Rolls Royce. The Line Mar
convertible was marked Cadillac. Neither is correct, of course.
The Marx "Untouchables" Rolls Royce.

The "Untouchables" Rolls Royce sedan. Unlike the convertibles,
this car has no interior detail, leaving the friction motor
exposed.
What is the origin of this 3"-long penny toy from Line Mar?
We may never know.
Another unusual Line Mar piece is the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) truck. The color is similar to that of real Pepco trucks of the late 1950's. It’s an inexpensive piece, probably costing only a few cents to make and sold for less than a dollar. But it seems odd that if it was just a toy for general sale throughout the country that it didn’t bear a more generic name like “Power Company.”

Was it produced for Pepco as a premium? A giveaway? I have no idea, although one suggestion offered at the meeting was that a photo of a power company truck -- which just happened to have the Pepco livery -- was used as a design guide for this general-purpose toy. 

Part 1: The Golden Age of Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles 1949-1963

Part 2: Bandai

Part 3: Haji and Masudaya

Part 4:  Cragstan and Shioji

Part 6: Nomura and others (Marusan, Yonezawa, Alps, Ichico, ATC)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles, Part 4

I've been spending the last few months researching the subject of postwar Japanese tin toy vehicles for a talk my father volunteered me for. I've documented some of my research adventures in the Collecting -- and Collecting Information series.


The Old-Timer Limousine made for Cragstan by
Shioji. This 12" model features a detailed
interior and cloth convertible top.
I gave my presentation before the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club. The talk provided a background for the toys, made between 1949 and 1963, along with examples from my surviving childhood toys. Also on display was the Straco Express layout, which showcased smaller Japanese toy cars from the period.

Part 1 features the final version of the talk in written form, subsequent parts include galleries of the toys actually discussed.

Shioji & Co. Ltd.
Shioji, whose “SSS” fan-shaped logo is often seen on boxes, made a lot of toys for Cragstan. Cragstan was an importer who continued operation through the mid-1960’s The 12-inch “Old Timer Limousines” I have here were marked under the Cragstan brand but were made by Shioji. (click on images to enlarge)

Another of the Old-Timer Limousines by Shioji. These cars had
friction motors and with the exception of the tires and windshield,
made entirely with tinplate, hand-assembled.
Another view of the Cragstan/Shioji convertible. The metal frame holding
the cloth roof opens up. Note the steering wheel and gearshift.
Modeled vaguely on a Model T, these toys shared many
of the same parts.
The Model T pickup truck and the “Old Smokey” fire truck were also made by Shioji. Finding the latter with the rubber hoses intact is difficult.

The Shioji "Old Smoky" fire engine. The hoses and nozzles on the
side of the truck are embossed, providing extra detail.
The Cragstan/Shioji pickup truck.
I also have another Shioji vehicle. Although this isn't part of the same series as the firetruck and pickup, it shares some similarities. The friction drive is the same, as are the wheels and hubcaps.



The 1929 phaeton is another Shioji model. It was simple labeled an "Antique Car." There are several variations on this design. It can be found in both hard top and convertible models, in red, blue, or green.
The Shioji "Antique Car." The windshield folds up and down.
Another view of the Shioji convertible. Note the detail on the
dashboard and interior.

Part 1: The Golden Age of Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles 1949-1963

Part 2: Bandai

Part 3: Haji and Masudaya

Part 5: Line Mar and Marx
Part 6: Nomura and others (Marusan, Yonezawa, Alps, Ichico, ATC)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles, Part 3

The Haji three-wheeled penny toy. This 3" long car is
carefully designed to disguise the fact that there's only
one wheel in the front.
I've been spending the last few months researching the subject of postwar Japanese tin toy vehicles for a talk my father volunteered me for. I've documented some of my research adventures in the Collecting -- and Collecting Information series.

I gave my presentation before the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club. The talk provided a background for the toys, made between 1949 and 1963, along with examples from my surviving childhood toys. Also on display was the Straco Express layout, which showcased smaller Japanese toy cars from the period.

Part 1 features the final version of the talk in written form, subsequent parts include galleries of the toys actually discussed.

Another look at the Haji
vehicle showing its
missing wheel secret.
Haji Toys

Haji was another toy company that flourished in this period. They had an extensive line of mechanical and clockwork toys. Haji made a series of 8-inch Fords that are particularly desirable. I have some of their penny toys on the Straco display layout, including a three-wheeled sedan. (click on images to enlarge)

Masudaya Old-Fashioned Car. Part of a series of vehicles using
the level-wound spring drive. Mine was purchased in the
gift shop of the Luray Caverns Antique Car
Museum in the early 1960's.

Masudaya (Modern Toys)
Masudaya was founded in 1923, and is still in business today. The lever-action spring mechanism of the example I own was one that they used for several different toys during this period. Some of the Straco display layout toys are Modern Toys. Masudaya was one of the few companies to use logos on their toys – an M and T combined. It can be easily seen both on the clockwork car, and the smaller penny toys on the layout.




Part 1: The Golden Age of Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles 1949-1963

Part 2: Bandai

Part 4:  Cragstan and Shioji

Part 5: Line Mar and Marx
Part 6: Nomura and others (Marusan, Yonezawa, Alps, Ichico, ATC)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles, Part 2

I've been spending the last few months researching the subject of postwar Japanese tin toy vehicles for a talk my father volunteered me for. I've documented some of my research adventures in the Collecting -- and Collecting Information series.

I gave my presentation before the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club. The talk provided a background for the toys, made between 1949 and 1963, along with examples from my surviving childhood toys. Also on display was the Straco Express layout, which showcased smaller Japanese toy cars from the period.

Part 1 features the final version of the talk in written form, subsequent parts include galleries of the toys actually discussed.

The Golden Age of Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles 1949-1963
A Presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club, Washington, DC

The major companies (for which we have examples) 

Two examples from Bandai's "Automobiles of the World"
series. These 8" long vehicles had friction drive.
Bandai
Bandai was founded in 1950 and is still in business today. During the period we're discussing (1949-1963)  they produced a series of 8" models entitled “Automobiles of the World.” There were over 100 models in the series, including the Mercedes Benz and Nash Rambler I owned as a child. (click on images to enlarge)

Originally this Mercedes Benz had a soft plastic hood ornament. Otherwise,
this early 1960's toy is intact and in good condition.
Note the construction details on this Bandai Rambler. All the metal
parts are held in place by hand-bent metal tabs -- including
the luggage rack.


Three of the 6" Model A Ford series by Bandai.
These were originally purchased at Montgomery
Wards in Northern VA in the 1960's.
Bandai also made a series of Model A’s. We have three examples from that series here. A common practice was to use most of the same parts and make a variant of the model – which was cheaper than making an entirely new car. As you can see, in the case of these Model A’s, a truck body was swapped out for a car body, or a convertible up top was substituted for a convertible down top. Careful examination of these models will reveal the parts common to all three.

The Bandai Model A convertible pickup. Because the toy was made up
of many different parts, it was easy to substitute a few and
create a new toy. The tabs holding the folded down roof are same ones
used to hold the extended roof in the model below.


The Bandai Model A convertible pickup. By changing just one part and
the color, Bandai created a new toy.
The Bandai Model A four-door convertible. There is a version of this with
police markings. Bandai also made a version with the top down. And
used the same chassis for a panel van version as well.


Part 1: The Golden Age of Japanese Tin Toy Vehicles 1949-1963

Part 3: Haji and Masudaya

Part 4:  Cragstan and Shioji

Part 5: Line Mar and Marx
Part 6: Nomura and others (Marusan, Yonezawa, Alps, Ichico, ATC)