Aifix Collectors Club

 
Airfix Combs

Combs

The inspiration for this article came from Paul Morehead who sent me a photocopy of a very early Airfix catalogue, which featured the famous combs. Shortly after, I received a call from Jen Cruse who was writing an article for the newsletter of the Antique Comb Collectors Club International based on one which had appeared in the journal of the Plastic Historic Society about Airfix combs. She wanted clarification of one or two points that would require me to contact Ralph Ehrmann. He very kindly supplied me with lots of interesting facts which meant I had the basis of a good article myself.

What follows draws heavily on the research of Arthur Ward, Paul Morehead, Jan Cruse as well as Ralph Ehrmann and I am indebted to them all. I can’t guarantee that it will add much to the published history of Airfix, or that you will all still be awake at the end, but it does throw a little more light on the early days at Airfix.

However, when I started to compare the sources there were some major discrepancies between them. The PHS article was based on an interview given in 1990, shortly before his death, of one of the first Airfix employees. There were several points about the founding of and early years of Airfix which were completely different to the version supplied by Arthur Ward in his various books. Since Arthur’s sources were the original Airfix ones, his seemed more likely to be accurate.  As with the BT-K Spitfire saga, I turned again to Ralph Ehrmann who is probably the only person now who can answer questions about the early years at Airfix. Fortunately he has a good memory.

Airfix was founded in 1939, by Nicholas Kove who managed to survive the war manufacturing items such as utility lighters. Around 1947, he looked at various possible ways of expanding the business and one of the ways was to enter the comb-making market. This decision appears to have coincided with Windsor’s producing the very first injection-moulding machine in the U.K. There follows what is probably a happy coincidence because Islyn Thomas of Newark, U.S.A.  who ran Hoffman Tools (named after his wife), and was to supply Kove with his first mould, introduced Kove to Windsor’s who were keen to find an operator for their new machine. This fusion of needs resulted in Airfix operating the first injection-moulding machine in the country.

Thus with no competition the Airfix comb-making business in Hampstead Road, London NW1 thrived. So popular were the combs that the likes of Woolworth’s would come to Airfix to pick up the combs! By the early fifties Airfix was facing competition from other comb-making manufacturers and the toys and games were proving increasingly successful. Airfix was also embarking on a new range, the famous plastic construction kits which would immortalise the name of Airfix. So around 1951/52, manufacture of combs ceased at Airfix just as Airfix was about to enter its golden age.

There is an interesting footnote to the story of the combs. In 1959/60, Windsor’s took back the original moulding machine and placed it in their museum and supplied Airfix with a replacement brand-new machine. So presumably that original machine which was to eventually spawn the largest and most famous range of construction kits in the world is still in existence and proudly displayed by its manufacturers. A fitting tribute to Airfix.

Jeremy.

This article appeared in "Constant Scale" Number 21 - 2005

 

 

 

 

 




 


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