Composition Toy Figures
Time to leave plastic for a bit and have a look at some of the earlier materials used to construct toy figures. Composition is a widely recognised figure style used primarily from the late 19th Century in the manufacturer of toys such as dolls heads and other toys. Composition toy figures in a variety of sizes were made from this period right up to the 1940’s when other materials such as plastic began to be more used. The production period we probably most associate with Composition figures is the 1920’s and 30’s when production was prolific and many of the key pieces by the major manufacturers were made.
A heady Mixture – Sawdust. Glue and Kaolin and other stuff … Recipe Unknown !
When we use this term we usually are referring to a figure made of sawdust, often the leftover products from wooden toys the composite aspect of this being the construction of a figure using at least two materials. In the early days the glue made from animals and the sawdust wasn’t great and the high water content would lead to very mixed results. The later addition of kaolin helped to resolve this problem and the resultant harder material allowed the design of more complex and expressive pieces. The production process required a recipe of ingredients and to this day the specifics of each manufacturer’s recipe remain to a certain extent fully unknown.
What we do know is the compressed sawdust would be mixed with other materials such as glue and kaolin then constructed over a wire frame to provide stability and strength particularly for the arms, legs and head. This is often one of the best ways to identify a real composition figure and not one made of some later material as often over years damage to the figure would occur but it would still remain entirely intact although you would be able to see the wire armature exposed at the point of the damage. Think of this in the context of say early Timpo plastic which now can just disintegrate in your hands and you can see that these figures can still be found in good shape ( but not always ) even though they will be 80/90 years old.
Although composition figures were produced across the world it was Europe that developed the greatest expertise and produced some wonderful figures at a time when the world was changing very dramatically and against the backdrop of the two world wars. This links with the world wars is fairly important as the main manufacturers we are talking about were German and a good bit of the production and some of the most famous and expensive pieces reflects the rise of Nazi Germany in the early thirties.
It’s made of Elastolin … isn’t it?
German manufacturer Hausser is probably the most widely known manufacturers of composition figures and its huge and varied production has led to it brand name “Elastolin” becoming so synonymous with composition figures that a figure might be referred to as being Elastolin even though it might be from another manufacturer or even made in another country. In a similar way that your parents (if you grew up in the UK) might refer to the “Hoover” as a generic term for a vacuum cleaner even though the one they had was made by another company and not the “Hoover” vacuum cleaner company.
The main players ….
As I said earlier the key players were in Europe and most notably Germany led by Elastolin and the very sought after Lineol but also a large number of other companies in Germany and other European countries most notably Austria Switzerland , Italy and France. Companies such as Tipple -Topple , Leyla , Durso and others .
By the 1940’s new material such as plastic and cheaper moulding approaches led to the production of composition figures being commercial unattractive and most of the major players has either closed down or moved to plastic , often with mixed results. Hausser carried on producing Composition right up to 1969 although by then Plastic was key to its production. Elastoin Plastic being perhaps the most notable success with some of the figures produced in a hard plastic still very sought after.