Everyone has memories of toys from their childhood, but my most vivid recollection is of a toy that I never possessed. I can’t have been much older than a toddler when, visiting an older child’s house, I was allowed to view their latest possession. Set out on the floor of their living room stretched a magnificent sea scene of ships and port facilities. I remember being totally amazed by how realistic and detailed at all looked. Obviously, these were toys for sophisticated older kids! I wanted them, but by the time I might have been old enough, the range was gone.
Many decades later, recalling the memory, I did a little online delving and discovered that what I had seen was a collection of Tri-ang Minic ships.
Minic Ships were a range of robust, simple yet reasonably accurate ship models in 1:1200 scale, produced c1959-64 by Minic Limited, a subsidiary of Tri-ang Toys. The range focussed on contemporary post-war passenger ships and Royal Navy warships, as well as a selection of modular components to construct harbours. Stylistically the models are distinguished, I think, by their clean lines and bold colours.
In the 1959 catalogue, Minic describe their new range as follows: “Tri-ang Ships are an exciting new series. Scale Docks, an Ocean Convoy or Fleet Manoeuvres – all can be reproduced in thrilling miniature. Each model has a heavy diecast hull, bringing out in precise detail the lifeboats, bollards, portholes and anchors. Masts, cranes, and other projecting parts are moulded in resilient plastic for strength and safety. New models are continually being built and will be introduced at frequent intervals.”
The range consisted of waterline items, i.e. the submerged lower hulls of the ships were deliberately not modelled. This enabled the models to be placed on a flat surface as if at sea, and encouraged imaginative play and the construction of dioramas. By 1962 the range had grown to over 100 items, and quite impressive harbour displays could be built (using the ubiquitous M836 Quay Straight).
Sadly, the range was only produced for 5 short years. However, some of the items were briefly resurrected in 1976 by then owners Hornby, and again in modern times, when the range was hugely expanded to include modern US and British naval ships, and a selection of merchant vessels.
It was perhaps inevitable that an early focus for Minic was the great transatlantic liners. These majestic and prestigious vessels were at their most celebrated between the wars, but remained potent symbols of luxurious travel and national pride in 1960 when the range was being introduced. However, the viability of their central role was already being undermined by the growth of air travel, and within a decade many of them were laid up. The RMS Saxonia is a typical example of the last generation of these liners, and would have been well-known to contemporary transatlantic travellers.
NB: The designation ‘RMS’ stands for Royal Mail Ship, a ship contracted to carry letters and packages by the British Royal Mail. Prior to the development of airmail, this was an important service.
Tri-ang Minic M708 RMS Saxonia
Year first produced: 1960
L154 x W20 x H27, Metal 74g, Scale 1:1200, Features: 0
As with all Minic ships, the main component of the Saxonia model is a single-piece mazak (a zinc-based alloy) casting, which is extremely tough and hard-wearing, and holds a fair amount of detail. The paint scheme is simple – black hull, white deck and upper works, and a little hand-painting on the top, e.g. cargo hatches, in brown. A plastic funnel is screwed onto the hull, and to complete the model, a set of plastic masts and derricks were supplied for attachment by the purchaser.
Minic models are generally fully-marked on the underside, so identification is easy by simply flipping the model over. The Saxonia carries both the Tri-ang trademark and Minic Ships logo, the model number and name, and “Made in England” (which it was, back then).
With mast and derricks inserted, the model certainly looks smart and (dare I say it) shipshape! And since a good model should encourage interest in the subject it models, let’s learn a little about the real Saxonia…
The Saxonia in Service
In the early 1950s, Cunard decided that they needed a new fleet to serve the growing Transatlantic passenger trade between Britain and Canada. John Brown & Co were contracted and eventually built four sister-ships. The first, named the Saxonia, was launched and entered service in 1954.
The Saxonia was primarily designed to carry up to 925 passengers in relative luxury, but cargo could also be carried in holds placed fore and aft. At first the passenger trade was hugely successful, but in 1958 the first Transatlantic airliner passenger service started and soon demand began to fall.
By 1962, Cunard was making a serious loss, and decided to shift from offering Transatlantic transport into recreational cruises. This demanded ships with better leisure facilities, so the Saxonia was taken out of service and refitted over the winter of 1962/3. The rear cargo areas were removed improving the accommodation, and the recreation spaces were increased, most notably by installing a lido area in the stern. In its new configuration, and painted in the famous Cunard cruising green, the Saxonia returned to service, now renamed the Carmania.
In a case of toys imitating real life, Minic were quick to replace their Saxonia model with an updated moulding representing the Carmania. Produced just before the Minic ships range was discontinued, the Carmania is now one of the rarest items.
The Carmania continued in Cunard service providing cruises until 1971, when she was laid up and eventually sold to Russian owners. Renamed the Leonid Sobinov, the veteran liner continued to offer cruises until finally being taken out of service in 1995, some 40 years after her launch.
The Saxonia had three sister ships. Minic produced them all by using identical moulds which differed only in the name and number cast underneath. Look out for M709 RMS Ivernia, M710 RMS Sylvania and M711 RMS Carinthia.
The Ivernia was also reconfigured as a cruise liner, and renamed the Franconia. True to form, Minic used the Carmania mould to also represent this ship. Strangely though, the model numbers were swapped over – M708 (formerly the Saxonia) was given to the Franconia, and M709 (Ivernia) to the Carmania. Confusing!
Other famous liners on the Transatlantic route produced by Minic include M703 RMS Queen Mary, M706 SS Nieuw Amsterdam and M707 SS France.