“Novo Toys Limited” — this complicated name hid the affiliated intermediator company founded in the end of 1976 to support direct trade relationship with soviet “Novoexport” company. Actual management was under the supervision of “Rovex Models and Hobbies”, which then belonged to DCM concern.
The reason to say good-bye to FROG press molds was quite prosaic. In 1970s, British economics was in recession, which, coupled with a rise in oil prices made trade in plastic products almost unprofitable. The department of Rovex Models and Hobbies, directly related to FROG, though having lost its positions in the market, still continued to keep the lights on more or less confidently.
In this situation, top managers of DCM made a decision to sell manufacturing tools used for production of FROG models and kill this trademark for paying off the debts of other branches and affiliates. This process was initiated in 1974 and logically ended in 1977, when Revell bought molds for Axis planes.
However, Soviet period in the history of FROG products began a bit earlier. The contract for purchasing of press molds for production of plastic models, which had been distributed in the British market under FROG brand name, was signed up in August 1975. The interesting feature in this agreement was that Soviets did not want to pay for manufacturing tools (mostly of a certain age) with valuable currency; finally, the British agreed to accept manufactured sprue sets for settlements. It meant that all the printed items were manufactured in Great Britain and the process of kitting was also carried out in there.
These nuances were unknown in Soviet Union; it has given birth to two delusions, which are still widespread, in spite of obvious contradictions; it is high time to dispel them.
1. Novo Toys Limited was not a manufacturer of models. British counterpart received sprue sets manufactured in USSR.
2. Kitting of sets (printed goods + sprues) was not performed in Soviet Union. In 1981, the rests of printed goods were passed to Soviet party under an additional agreement.
Now, we will have much more on it.
As soon as the agreement had been reached, Rovex Models and Hobbies, in preparation for arrival of soviet-made sprue sets, decided to follow the path of the least resistance, and, in the end of 1975, released three test batches of boxes for Supermarine S.6B, De Havilland D.H.60 and Lavochkin La-7 kits. They were based on white H1 boxes with minimal form factor; all FROG attributes were removed as well as pictures of Axis planes shown, among others, on the bottom of the box. Such nameless boxes are often named today as “NOVOvski”, although they, in fact, are not related to NOVO; such firm did not exist yet. There was no time to print out assembly guide leaflets – however, certain amount of FROG decals was still in stock.
While test sales of kits in white boxes were planned, Novo Toys Limited trademark was registered – in Soviet Union, its name was reduced to more common name, NOVO. This trademark was officially registered on January 18 1977, when the development of blue boxes, well known to us, was already in process. The batch of white boxes was considered as unnecessary and sent to the warehouse.
It is noteworthy that British designers not always used latest FROG releases as initial samples when selecting box arts for blue boxes. Sometimes brand-new arts used (for instance, for “Skua” and Super VC10), while other products did not have any NOVO box-art – for instance, 1/16 car kits, R-100 airship, “Gladiator” fighter and “Britannia” airliner, as they did not have enough time to prepare printwork items.
Five-digit NOVO indexes also had some specific features. The first group of models, planned for shipment to USSR in 1976-1977, had indexes starting with 76 – e.g. 76002 (SNCAM Dewoitine D.520) meant that this model was No. 2 in 1976 shipment group. Correspondingly, the second group of models, which production was planned on 1978, got their indexes starting with 78.
76*** indexes did not mean, however, that the models produced under them were at once put into production on soviet enterprises. Quite on the contrary – in 1976, at least 8 items (5 planes, 3 ships) from 39 were still produced in Britain as FROG kits, while the remaining items were on their way to USSR. More of that, in spite of issuing 1976 NOVO catalogue, British modelers were acquainted with that trademark only in April 1977, during annual Birmingham Toy Fair. As for regular sales, these models appeared in UK shops long after that event and did not represent any kind of novelty, though for some time they were somehow competitive to Airfix and Matchbox kits in view of their retail prices.
There was one more controversial nuance with Ex-FROG models. As many people know, not all of them got exported – Soviets just did not have enough time to put molds into production or did not want to do it. Production of some models was restricted (see “Sea Fury” affair.) However, till the moment of liquidation of Novo Toys Limited due to DCM bankruptcy in 1980, British party managed to purchase about 4 000 000 molding sets, apart from so-called Promo (test batches) which number is now hard to calculate.
Now, let us go to the main quiz – which enterprises produced kits in Soviet times (i.e. from 1976 to 1991, inclusive), using FROG tooling?
Institute of Toys (Zagorsk, Moscow region, RSFSR) – 1977-1980
TsKTBI (states for Central Toy Design Bureau, Moscow, RSFSR) – 1977-1980
Baku Toy Factory (Baku, Azerbaijan) – 1979-1991
Donetsk Toy Factory (Donetsk, Ukraine) – 1977-2006
“Contact” plant (Saratov, RSFSR) – storage molds (Fokker F.VII)
“Krugozor” plant (Moscow, RSFSR) – 1977-2006
“Ogonyok” plant (Moscow, RSFSR) – 1977-2000
“Progress” plant (Moscow, RSFSR) – 1979-2006
“Sukhumpribor” plant (Sukhumi, Georgia) – 1980-1986
“Schetmash” plant (Kursk, RSFSR) – 1979
Naro-Fominsk plant of plastic masses (Naro-Fominsk, RSFSR) – 1979-1991
Production enterprise “Zakarpatpribor” (Uzhgorod, USSR) – 1988
Production enterprise “Mir” (Minsk, Belarus) – 1979-1996
Production enterprise “Sikharuli” (Tbilisi, Georgia) – 1979
“Odesskaya Igroushka” factory (Odessa, Ukraine) – 1988-1991
“Tchernomorskaya Igroushka” factory (Odessa, Ukraine) – 1988-1991
“Tashigroushka” factory (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) – 1978-1991
Frunze plastic goods plant (Frunze, Kirghizia) – 1978-1979
“Louch” chemical plant (Yaroslavl, RSFSR) – 1979-1991
As this now stands, one wonders, is it worth to scatter molds in such a way? The better solution could be, to gather them up at one, two, at least three enterprises. In fact, the issue is not so easy as it looks like, as there was so-called distribution concept adopted in USSR, in the frames of which, every soviet republic got his slice of pie. Due to that, manufacturing tools periodically migrated between soviet enterprises up to the mid-80s. One should also take into account that even when FROG existed, its current production line comprised no more than 70-80 models, as it was economically hard to keep the larger variety of goods in production.
There was no any additional principles of distribution according to type of vehicles represented, that’s why model tooling was dispersed among these plants in a casual manner. Another issue was that they managed to organize four model production centers – in Donetsk, Moscow, Minsk and Tashkent where more than 80% of all ex-FROG molds located. When the soviet period of model production was over, in December 1991, the composition remained, mostly, the same.