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Monday, 25 April 2016

Donation: In memory of Michael Gilkes

On display: the Great Central 
Today we put out a new display exhibit, a brown, cream and gold Great Central Railway clerestory-windowed Corridor Coach, made by Bing for Bassett-Lowke in gauge 1 in around ~1904.

It's an early, rare and imposing piece produced as part of a promotional arrangement between Bassett-Lowke Ltd. and the Great Central Railway, and it's displayed behind our Bing/B-L GCR 1014 Sir Alexander locomotive, which was part of the same GC-BL production deal. As a historical aside, the high "spine" of the carriage has clerestory windows painted along the sides – the early Pullman carriages used this arrangement, with the overhead space allowing in extra daylight during the day, and also housing gas lamps for lighting during darker hours. This combination of wood, gas and flame was highly dangerous in a crash, and the shape of carriage roofs changed with the later introduction of electric lighting.

The purchase of the coach was funded by Audrey Gilkes in memory of her husband Michael Gilkes (1923-2014), one of the original founding trustees of the museum, who is much missed.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Donation: Britains Farmyard set

Today we received a donation of a Britains Farmyard set, together with a range of Britains Ltd hollowcast lead animals.
The Hugar for Britains Ltd Farmyard
We already have a nice display of farm buildings and hollowcast farm animals on display, but we were missing the "Hugar Models for Britains Ltd" buildings, so we were very pleased to be offered this one by Mary Wyatt, and we'll find some way to cram it into an adjacent display before too long, probably into the area below the main farm section in Arch Two.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Dollhouse Furniture display - My Dolly's Home

My Dolly's Home, front cover

The new dollhouse furniture display areas have now been fitted out with backgrounds adapted from Doris Davey's ~1920/1921 "My Dolly's Home".

Davey's book is a charming book that lets readers explore a flattened-out dollhouse - they can move between rooms by hinged doors, look inside cupboards, and peek over garden fences – it's essentially the equivalent of a modern interactive children's "tablet" app, but executed in paper in the early 1920s.

Changing the backgrounds to fit the proportions of the display space required a certain amount of digital trickery, with items of furniture being moved, new areas of wall being "cloned" or invented, new graduated stipplework being produced to allow pairs of pages to merge seamlessly together (which they sometimes didn't in the original artwork), and the recreation of occasional furniture legs and corners that were no longer obscured by other objects once we'd "stretched" a room.

The justification for all this work was our determination to produce a set of backgrounds that were stylistically absolutely in-period for the early C20th, to create an appropriate context for the actual exhibits. Most people admiring the dollhouse furniture will never stop to look at the backgrounds, and if they do, never notice all the digital reworking that we carried out, but that's exactly as it should be.

Thursday, 7 April 2016


Mobaco manual, front cover
Mobaco was a building construction set popular in the Netherlands between the wars. Consisting of baseboards, slotted wooden rods and panel pieces that drop down between them, it's reminiscent of a giant-sized Bayko set, and it's generally reckoned to have been the inspiration behind the smaller-sized Bakelite-based system designed by Charles Plimpton.

Since we have a significant quantity of Mobaco, we felt that it was high time that we built something from it, as although our construction set cabinets are pretty full, Mobaco buildings are large enough that we could display something made with the system on top of a cabinet.

Flicking through our copy of the No.4 set manual, there was only one real contender: the monster-sized five-storey Town Hall or School featured as a decorative and inspirational line-drawing on the last page of the manual, making it (apparently) the biggest official Mobaco building design.
No sense in starting small, eh?
Matters were somewhat complicated by our never having actually made anything with Mobaco before, and the fact that the picture didn't come with any sort of plans or instructions.
The second floor completed
Mobaco is a little bit more tricky than it looks, at least, for very ambitious models – the floor-pieces hold everything together, and have to be laid as double overlapping layers, a process that becomes progressively more difficult as a large building progresses and one starts to run out of key pieces. Another complication is the careful stacking of vertical pillars to achieve the required height, given the bizarre combinations of pillar-heights and piece heights. Although 90% of the building went up the same day, it took over a week of additional intermittent fiddling to get the complete building finished, with the process of carefully pulling out rods and replacing them with combinations of smaller rods making the process feel something like a cross between assembling a 3D jigsaw puzzle and playing Jenga.
M.C Escher must have had nightmares that looked like this
The final completed masterpiece(!) will be appearing in the museum for the 25th anniversary celebrations, starting on the 7th May 2016.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Meccano display, reborn

One of the major 2016 exhibit improvements that we've been working on for the 25th anniversary is a complete overhaul and upgrade of our main Meccano display area, which we've now finally finished (save the occasional last-minute tweak) in time for the visitors who will be coming to Brighton for ModelWorld 2016.

This is a refit that we've been itching to do for the last seven or so years, as we've been progressively collecting more and more Meccano Ltd.-related rarities that couldn't be fitted into the existing display.  

Some Meccano rarities

The "original" version of the display with its crane centrepiece was was one of the museum's core attractions, and was originally assembled in a bit of a hurry, after which the difficulty of moving the monster crane meant that it was difficult to revise the display without essentially ripping everything out and starting again – a rather intimidating prospect. The new glass shelves mean that the space now holds a much larger number of items than it used to, and while the huge "Outfit No. 10" Meccano Giant Block-Setting Crane is still the centrepiece, the display now holds a far wider range of Meccano and Meccano-related pieces, including some extremely rare and desirable items that we've had in storage for a while, such as the Meccano Ltd Sawbench and Butter Churn
Meccano Ltd. made things other than Meccano

As well as standard Meccano and the Meccano Aeroplane Constructor sets and aircraft, the right-hand side of the revamped display now also includes a No.1 Meccano Motor Car Constructor set and the company's clockwork model Two-Seater Sports Car, more construction sets including examples of the short-lived British Model Builder / X Series sets, and some of the very rarest and hard-to-find parts. The left-hand part now has space to include examples of auxiliary Meccano Ltd. product ranges such as the Kemex chemistry sets, Dinky Builder, and Elektrikit and Elektron electrical outfits.

While there's no longer much that the company made that isn't represented in the display or elsewhere in the museum (we even have a solitary vanishingly-rare pre-Meccano ~1902 Frank Hornby Mechanics Made Easy pulleywheel), if anything else exceptional and Meccano-related does come our way, we probably now have the space to show it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Dollhouse Furniture display stands

Preparation work for our new dollhouse furniture display for Arch 2 continues...

We now have the two side-stands completed and in position in the alcove. Work still to be done includes kitting out the individual rooms with flooring and backdrops, completing renovation work on the Gottschalk dollhouse that will be standing between them, deciding on the auxiliary exhibit material for the display, and then ... finally ... getting our C19th/C20th dollhouse furniture out of storage, sorting it, and then deciding which pieces are going to get to go on display.

Since the rooms and their backdrops are modular and interchangeable, the tentative plan is that if it turns out that we still have too much important material to display at once, we may be able to rotate individual rooms on and off display. We'll see how it goes.  

Saturday, 30 January 2016

New exhibition-grade Bassett-Lowke traction engine model

Burrell-type traction engine, 1:16 scale exhibition-grade model
We've just put a new acquisition on display, a rather lovely 1:16 scale exhibition-grade model traction engine based on the Bassett-Lowke castings set. We believe it to have been engineered in around 1962, which is supported by the numberplate, GK 1962.

As well as being quite beautifully painted and lined the model has a wealth of additional fine detailing that wasn't standard for builds of the B-L kit, including wooden duckboards and accessories.

The model was in Chris' workshop for around a month before it went on display, eliciting oohs and ahhs from all who saw it. Apart from the exceptional build quality of the model, the model fills a "gap" in our collection, as the model was one of the longest-running products in Bassett-Lowke's catalogue, and featured regularly in their post-war advertising and catalogue covers, and until now we didn't have one.

We are now very happy.